The Book of Mormon is a key sacred text of the Latter Day Saint movement that was published by Joseph Smith, the founder of the movement, when he was twenty-four years old. He claimed to have been visited by the angel Moroni who showed him the location of a buried book etched on golden plates in a previously unknown language referred to as ‘reformed Egyptian’. He translated the plates into English with the help of special spectacles or seer stones, and dictated the resulting text to a scribe.
Smith approached the printer and publisher Egbert B. Grandin after work on the book was completed in 1829. He was eventually persuaded to print 5,000 copies, but only went through with the full task after prosperous local farmer and early Mormon convert Martin Harris mortgaged his farm to cover the $3,000 security payment. It took Grandin’s staff of eight men and boys under the oversight of chief compositor John H. Gilbert almost eight months of working 12 hour, six day weeks to complete the job.
Concerned that the book might undermine existing Christian beliefs, and could even be blasphemous, local people in Palmyra organised a boycott. With thousands of original copies remaining unsold, the financier Martin Harris was later forced to sell his farm to cover to outstanding debt.
The original building in which Grandin printed and sold the first edition of the Book of Mormon was bought by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in October 1978. It was subsequently restored to its original layout and appearance, albeit with the addition of a visitors’ centre.
On the 23rd March 1540, Waltham Abbey in Essex became the last abbey to be dissolved by Henry VIII. Henry had visited the abbey a number of times and is known to have stayed there with Queen Anne Boleyn in 1532. However, despite surviving for a number of years Waltham Abbey eventually succumbed to the Dissolution of the Monasteries. This caused an economic disaster in the town, which had grown prosperous as a result of pilgrims visiting the abbey.
The Dissolution of the Monasteries saw the more than 850 religious houses that existed in England at the start of Henry VIII’s reign disbanded and their property taken by the crown. Although only some of these were actual ‘monasteries’, England’s religious houses together owned between a quarter to a third of all the land in England. Furthermore, many of them were rumoured to tolerate decidedly un-monastic behaviour.
Having severed his ties with the Catholic Church in the 1534 Act of Supremacy, Henry was free to deal with religious houses without needing approval from the Pope. Within two years his ministers began to shut down religious houses on financial grounds, and by 1540 all the abbeys except for Waltham had been closed. Abbot Robert Fuller surrendered the abbey and its property on the 23rd March 1540, and within just a few years all the buildings except for the parish nave were demolished or collapsed due to neglect. The Dissolution of the Monasteries was completed in less than four years, but brought Henry significant income as well as suppressing political opposition from those who might have sided with the Pope.
The Waco siege began in Texas after agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms raided the Branch Davidian church.
The Branch Davidians originated in the late 1950s as a sub-group of the Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Under the leadership of Benjamin Roden they took control of the Mount Carmel religious settlement 10 miles outside the Texan town of Waco, where they prepared for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
The mid-1980s saw a power struggle from which Vernon Howell, who later renamed himself David Koresh, emerged as the new leader of the group. Shortly after this Howell announced that God had told him that he should take multiple wives, with reports stating that some of these were as young as 11 years old.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had already been watching the Mount Carmel compound due to concerns that Koresh and his followers were stockpiling illegal weapons. They began making plans to raid the compound in late February but were prompted to action after the Waco Tribune-Herald newspaper began to publish a series of articles that included allegations of child abuse within the cult.
More than 70 agents raided the property on the morning of 28 February, but Koresh had already received a tip-off and had made preparations. Gunfire consequently broke out, although it is still unclear who fired first. The fighting lasted for almost two hours and resulted in the deaths of four agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms as well as a similar number of Davidians. The resulting siege lasted until 19 April when it was ended by the FBI in a raid that saw the compound destroyed by fire.
On the 23rd February 1455, tradition dictates that Johannes Gutenberg published his printed Bible – the first book to be produced with moveable type in the West. Although there is no definitive evidence for this publication date, numerous secondary sources state it and therefore it is accepted by most people.
Gutenberg was not the first person in the world to use moveable type, and nor was the Bible his first foray into printing with it. He didn’t even produce that many copies, with estimates ranging from 160 to 185 Bibles of which only twenty-three complete copies survive. However, the process with which Gutenberg printed his Bible revolutionised the production of books and is viewed by many as crucial to the developments that followed in the Renaissance and the Reformation.
The earliest examples of moveable type – the use of individual components that can be ordered to produce a printed document – date back to China’s Northern Song Dynasty at the turn of the last millennium, but the enormous number of characters in scripts based on the Chinese writing system made the system unwieldly. Gutenberg therefore benefited from the much smaller number of characters in the Latin alphabet, but also invented a reliable way to cast large numbers of individual metal letters using a device called the hand mould. Furthermore, he developed an oil-based ink that was optimised for metal-type printing onto paper.
With 1,286 pages a complete copy of the Gutenberg Bible is now estimated to be worth up to $35 million dollars, but the value of the printing press itself is immeasurable. Gutenberg’s creation was responsible for an intellectual revolution.
Relations between Catholicism and Judaism cover a long, complex and violent history in which Christians revered the Jewish scriptures yet held Jews collectively responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. However, the murderous anti-Semitism of the Nazi Holocaust led to moves for reconciliation between the two religions in the second half of the 20th century.
A key milestone in relations came when the Second Vatican Council published Nostra aetate, (‘In Our Time’) in 1965. This document formally rejected the idea of collective Jewish responsibility for the crucifixion. Two decades later, John Paul II became the first Pope to visit a synagogue where he called Jews “our beloved elder brothers” and condemned anti-Semitism.
Despite these positive steps towards reconciliation, the diplomatic negotiations between Israel and the Holy See in the 1990s were still enormously complex. Significantly the Vatican maintained its call for Jerusalem to have ‘international status’ due to its unique position as a holy site for Christians, Jews and Muslims. Property rights and tax exemptions for the Church in Israel also featured heavily in the discussions.
The agreement was signed by Monsignor Claudio Celli, the Vatican Undersecretary of State, and Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin. However, it has never been ratified by the Israeli Knesset due to ongoing economic disputes over the legal status of church properties in Israel. Despite this, the Vatican appointed an apostolic nuncio to Israel in 1994 while Israel appointed an ambassador to the Vatican.
On the 27th December 537, Hagia Sophia was inaugurated by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I and Patriarch Menas of Constantinople. The current building is the third church of Holy Wisdom to be built on the site, after the first two were destroyed in separate riots and revolts. However the third church’s long history saw it serve as both a Greek Orthodox cathedral and a Roman Catholic cathedral, before Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II in 1453. He ordered it be converted into a mosque, which it remained until being secularised and reopened as a museum on the 1st February 1935.
The architects of the enormous basilica were the physicist Isidoros of Miletos and mathematician Anthemios of Tralles who, as the first to put together a comprehensive compilation of the mathematical theories of Archimedes, was clearly heavily influenced by the Greek academic. The two architects devised a series of complex vaults and semi-domes surrounding a high central dome with a diameter of over 31 meters. Supported by four marble-clad arches, this dome is probably the most immediately recognisable part of the building although it is not the original structure. The first dome collapsed during an earthquake on the 7th May 558, and was rebuilt over the next four years.
After Mehmed II was victorious in what became known in the west as the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, he ordered the basilica be converted into a mosque. This involved stripping it of Christian iconography but also building the four minarets that surround the central dome and are now a major part of the Istanbul skyline.
The Exorcist is one of the highest-grossing films of all time, but originally opened in just twenty-six American cinemas. Famed for its ground-breaking special effects, the film terrified audiences yet was nominated for ten Academy Awards of which it won two.
The film, directed by William Friedkin who had previously had success with The French Connection, was adapted from William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel of the same name. This was itself inspired by reports of the real-life exorcism of an anonymous boy known by the pseudonym Roland Doe that emerged in the late 1940s. Blatty described his novel as ‘an apostolic work’ that sought to prove that if supernatural evil existed then so too must supernatural good.
These themes came through in Friedkin’s film, but for many audience members it was the sight of the twelve year-old Regan’s spinning head, levitation, vomiting and other extreme behaviour that proved most shocking and most memorable. With newspapers reporting cases of people fainting at screenings, The Exorcist quickly became a social phenomenon.
The film went on to sell 6 million tickets within just three months of its release in the United States despite a mixed response from the critics. While Variety praised its “expert telling of a supernatural horror story”, the New York Times criticised it as “a chunk of elegant occultist claptrap”.
Such negative responses failed to affect the film’s success, however. The Exorcist was the second most popular film of 1974 and, once gross earnings are adjusted for inflation, remains the ninth highest-grossing film of all time.
On the 27th November 1095, Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade with an impassioned speech at the Council of Clermont. The Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos had appealed to the Pope for support against invasion by the Seljuk Turks, and many historians argue that Urban II took advantage of the situation as a way to reunite Christendom under the papacy.
By the 11th Century, Christianity had secured a stable base across most of Europe. However the Byzantine Empire was on the very periphery and faced continuous threats from Muslim conquests. The city of Jerusalem had been in Muslim hands since 638, but ongoing wars between different Arab dynasties had resulted in it being captured by the Seljuks in 1076. When their army began threatening to attack Constantinople, Alexios appealed to the Pope for assistance.
There is no record of how many people responded to the Pope’s call, but estimates suggest anywhere between 60,000 and 100,000 of which a large number were ordinary peasants. Exactly why so many people chose to “take the cross” is also a question subject to fierce debate. Certainly some nobles went in the hope of seizing riches along the way, but a large number of crusaders almost certainly did so out of piety.
Although Pope Urban had intended the Crusade to depart on the 15th August 1096, large numbers of peasants and low-ranking knights set off earlier on what became known as the People’s Crusade. Poorly disciplined and with little to no military training, these Crusaders killed thousands of Jews in the pogroms of 1096 before even leaving Europe.
On 2nd October 1187, the Siege of Jerusalem came to an end when Saladin captured the city from the crusaders who had ruled the city since 1099. Having been defeated at the Battle of Hattin on 4 July 1187, the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem was left with only its capital city having not been captured by Saladin’s armies. The siege lasted for just twelve days before Jerusalem’s leader, Balian of Ibelin, agreed to surrender the city.
King Guy had been taken prisoner during the Battle of Hattin, leaving Balian as the most senior noble in the Kingdom. Having travelled to Jerusalem to rescue his wife and family, Balian was persuaded to stay and lead the defence of the city although this meant breaking an oath he had sworn to Saladin that he wouldn’t stay in Jerusalem for more than a day.
Arriving at the city on the 20th September, Saladin provided an escort for Balian’s wife and children who were moved to safety in Tripoli. Meanwhile, he began a relentless assault on the city that eventually led to a breach in the wall. Although the attacking army was unable to gain access to the city, the lack of knights available to maintain the city’s defence led Balian to negotiate the surrender. In return for unconditional surrender, Saladin agreed that anyone who paid a ransom would be able to leave the city in safety. He later freed thousands more who were unable to pay, but approximately 15,000 inhabitants were enslaved.
Two years later, the Third Crusade was launched to reconquer the Holy Land from Saladin.
Moscow’s Trinity Church, later renamed Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat and better known as Saint Basil’s Cathedral, was consecrated.
Ivan the Terrible had originally constructed a series of small wooden memorial chapels as a way to commemorate his numerous military successes against the Tatars. These were built next to the original Trinity Church in the centre of the marketplace near the Moscow Kremlin. Ivan ordered the construction of the new stone church in 1555 to commemorate his capture of Kazan and Astrakhan.
What later became Saint Basil’s Cathedral is therefore a more lavish replacement of an earlier building. Little is known of its construction, with even the identity of the architect a mystery. Tradition dictates that two architects, Barma and Postnik, built the church although later writers have suggested that these are simply different names for the same person.
The building itself consists of eight outer churches arranged around a ninth central one, and is constructed on top of a white stone foundation that matches the nearby Kremlin. A series of later developments led to the nine separate structures becoming joined into a single building, and the bright colours that decorate the walls of the cathedral were added from the late 17th until the middle of the 19th century. These are said to reflect the colours of Heaven described in the Book of Revelation. Before they were repainted, the domes were uniformly decorated with gilded tin.
The Cathedral was confiscated from the Russian Orthodox Church as a result of the Bolshevik Revolution and introduction of state atheism. It continues to function as a public museum.