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Predicting the Past

“The most difficult task for a Communist historian is to predict the past.” —damned if I know where this comes from

Ahab may require more mental gymnastics than many other parts of the Agincourt story. I wonder if these threads can make a tapestry?

  • Living (and dying) in the late 3rd century Mediterranean, Ahab was a fisherman-turned-pirate in its Adriatic arm, heavily traveled with cargo from the eastern Empire. He might be described as “an accidental Christian”, martyred in the Christian cause but not actually being a believer himself. So, despite his relics having been brought to Azincourt, France by returning Crusaders, the saint has a place in both the Eastern and Western kalendars. The icon format seems entirely appropriate.
  • Sister parishes (Azincourt and Agincourt; yes, the French spell it differently) dedicated to this obscure Liburnian saint each look to Croatia, site of his martyrdom, burial, and first miracles. Perhaps it was his piracy against Rome that had made Ahab so attractive to Constantinople: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And then the East-West saint—martyred in one; interred in the other—found his way to northwestern Iowa. Plausible.
  • Christ the King parish in Agincourt had initially been dedicated to Ahab, the only church in this hemisphere bearing his name. And 2018 is its 150th anniversary, an opportunity to celebrate, perhaps the exchange of gifts. The icon under discussion is coming here; I wonder what is going the other direction.
  • Despite “The French Connection”, an English artist would be far better equipped to incorporate Pre-Raphaelite imagery. But the English Channel is as potent a cultural barrier as the rift that divides Rome from the Orthodox East. Ah, but my research on the British presence in Dakota Territory gives me a likely scenario: Did you know the Channel Islands, where the Union Jack flies within sight of France, were populated with large numbers of Huguenots, French Protestants who came when it was unsafe to practice their faith on French soil? One of those exotic characters showed up in the Red River Valley in the 1890s, a grain dealer named Gautier de Ste Croix, who had offices in Ada, Grand Forks, and Duluth, and actually proposed a canal from the Red eastward to Lake Superior and a more direct route for Dakota grain to lucrative European markets. Screw Pillsbury and Peavey!
  • Do I know enough about the de Ste Croix family to suspect an artist was among them? It’s only slightly more problematic to imagine him/her with a passion for the Pre-Raphaelites.
  • So…a Huguenot artist paints an Orthodox religious icon for a Roman Catholic parish in the style of Holman Hunt. Makes perfect sense to me.

The beautiful thing about stew is that everything maintains its identity but works as one.

“Night with her Train of Stars” (1912) / by Edward Robert Hughes (1851-1914)


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