Friday, 9 December 2011

Friday Fasting, Hanseatic Hamburg and Gourock, united by Herring

I’m not really known for my cookery skills nor do I have any interest in the UK’s current love affair with middle class “foodie” bores, you know the ones, those awful TV chefs with the massive mock-rustic kitchens. Most of all, I dislike the absurd notion that having an interest in food somehow makes you more cultured or interesting. Newsflash…A liking for Pasta does not mean that you are intimate with the films of Fellini or the music of Verdi. Having said that, one food which I do eat plenty of is fish, especially smoked and pickled Herring served with vegetables and potatoes (especially on a Friday as part of my abstinence from meat). With the consumption of Herring comes a genuine and AUTHENTIC rich cultural and historic tradition which you won’t find among the Gastro-bores. The difference between Herring culture and the pseudo-Gourmet guff of the foodies is the fact that the tradition of catching and eating Herring is firmly rooted in the industrial working classes of Northern Europe and before that, it was popular among the peasants of rural Europe. (You’ll not find pickled or smoked herring on the menu a Gordon Ramsay’s.) It’s also worth contrasting the difference between the childish hysterics of Gordon Ramsey with the noble, dignified conduct of east coast Scottish trawler men out on the seas risking their lives. These men remain stoically calm despite the high risks involved in this type of work. If a trawler man has a bad day at work then there is the very real risk of death by drowning. However, if Gordon Ramsay has a bad day in the kitchen then worst case scenario, some bloated bourgeoisie won’t get fed, hardly the end of the world?

However, getting back to the noble Herring…Smoked Herring (Kippers) were once commonly enjoyed as treat; most popularly with the urban working-class population of Scotland before World War II. Today the eating of pickled Herring is still hugely popular in Germany, Holland, Belgium and in Sweden too. This is because of the Hanseatic League and their association with Herring. The Hanseatic League was founded in the twelfth century by an alliance between the northern towns of Hamburg and Luebeck. Luebeck’s fishing fleet had easy access to the herring spawning grounds off the lower coast of Sweden. A large portion of the diet of Northern European Catholics was made up of Herring since there were many fast days and the church forbade the eating of meat on Friday. Abstinence from meat during the fasts were rigidly observed at this time. (Oh how things have changed) As such, Luebeck was in a strong position to capitalize on the market in herring. Meanwhile, Hamburg had easy access to the salt produced in the salt mines at Kiel, and salting and drying of meat and fish made transport and distribution possible. It made sense then, for the merchants of these two towns to trade together. The trade between the merchant associations of Hamburg and Luebeck provided a model for the merchant associations of the other North German cities to follow and in 1201 joined the league.
Today, there are many different variations of pickled Herring which are popular in the Netherlands and Northern Germany such as Soused herring, Rollmops and Brathering but it’s not just the Dutch and Germans who love Herring, Scotland too has a long tradition of fishing and eating Herring.

Indeed, three hundred years ago, Herring was so plentiful here in the Firth of Clyde that some boats came from as far afield as the Isle of Man to fish these waters. In Gourock, local fishermen used mussels to bait their lines and the shells, discarded by generations of fishermen, formed a blue-black embankment along the shore. It is also thought that the first Red Herring ever cured in Great Britain was cured at Gourock in 1688. (The picture above is of a trawler of the coast of Gourock.) Also, Mallaig was once the busiest herring port in Europe and is famous for its traditionally smoked kippers, as well as Stornoway kippers and Loch Fyne kippers. In fact, the Scots were even involved in a battle for the fish. The Battle of the Herrings was a military action in France, just north of Orleans which took place in 1429. The cause of the battle was an attempt by the French to intercept and divert a supply convoy of Herring headed for English forces. The French were assisted by a Scottish Army in this battle.

So perhaps it would be good to restore the Friday Fast again and get back to eating the good old Herring, real Northern European “folk” food!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Adolph Kolping and the Gesellenvereine: A model for Social Teaching and the Catholic working classes

One of the worst things about the decline of Catholic Europe is the fact that this decline goes hand in hand with growing influence American Catholicism, especially through social media. Click on any generic Catholic forum and it will be dominated by angry right-wing conservatives spouting there own garish brand of distinctly American Catholicism. For example, look at the especially crass Michael Voris or Father John Zuhlsdorf. With this type of U.S. Catholicism comes their Calvinist baggage and a faith which is highly confrontational, dualistic and individualistic with little or no interest in Social Justice, Peacemaking or Workers rights. Such social concerns are dismissed by our American cousins as Marxism. Sure, you’ll find that they have plenty to say on abortion, euthanasia, Gay Marriage etc…but don’t ever expect them to ever question their own heretical patriotism, flag worship, nationalism and loyalty to the worst kind of free market exploitation.

On none of these forums will you ever read any criticisms of the worst excesses of de-humanizing capitalist materialism and consumerism. Instead, the Church’s entire Social teaching is basically ignored or labelled in the same box with the disobedient modernist, ultra-liberal wing of the Church (Most of whom are equally middle class). The problem we have here is that there is no real tradition of Christian Democracy or even Christian (Social) Democracy in the U.S.
Perhaps such Catholics would do well to look back to the politics of the various Catholic Parties, early Christian Democratic Parties and social movements of German Rhineland, Flanders and the Netherlands. All these movements were 100% loyal to the Magisterium but yet also concerned with the welfare of the working classes with no conflict between the two. The Christian Democracy movement forged the gap between the Catholic Church and the modern nation state. It did so by using Catholic social teaching, twinning solidarity – with its emphasis on the “social market” and the proper role of the state in economic life – and subsidiarity, with its support of the family and Trade Unions. This pro-family position could be seen in the parties actual economic policies such as fair wages. Compare this with our American “pro-family” cousins.

One such movement is the Kolping Society with its origins firmly rooted in the working classes of Cologne… The Gesellenvereine (usual translation Journeymen's Unions) were German Roman Catholic societies set up in the nineteenth century. They were originated by Adolph Kopling, called the “Journeymen's Father” (Gesellenvater). They had for aims the religious, moral, and professional improvement of young men 1849 Kolping was appointed assistant-priest at Cologne Cathedral. With friends, ecclesiastics and laymen, he founded a Gesellenverein, and began free instruction through it. The Cologne society soon acquired its own home, and opened there a refuge, or hospice, for young travelling journeymen.
Kolping was energetic and eloquent both as speaker and writer. He visited frequently the great industrial centres of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Hungary. In a short time societies of young Catholic journeymen were formed in many Rhenish towns, in Westphalia, and finally throughout the German-speaking world.
When Kolping died (4 December 1865), the Gesellenverein numbered about 400 branch unions. In 1901 they had reached the number of 1086, with a membership of 80,000 journeymen and 120,000 master-workmen. They existed in many other European countries, also. Besides providing for Catholic doctrine, the societies conducted classes (book-keeping, arithmetic, drawing, literary composition, music, natural sciences, etc.) In the larger cities there were free classes in crafts. Instruction was designed especially for those workmen who aimed at establishing a business of their own. The principal publication was the Kolpingsblatt.

The society still exists today, from the website…

The International Kolping Society is a catholic social organization founded by Adolph Kolping. The members create a family-like and life accompanying community. The International Kolping Society promotes through education and activities the development of its members in many fields of the daily life. It consists of local Kolping families which form diocesan or regional organizations and National Kolping Societies.

Goals and tasks

According to its programme the Kolping Society wants to:
enable its members to prove themselves as Christians in the word
in their profession, marriage and family, in the Church, society and state.
To offer help to its members and to the society as a whole.
To promote the common good in the Christian spirit through the active participation of its members, individually or as a group, and to take part in the continuing improvement and humanization of the society.

More trouble in Flanders

According to Rorate Caeli blog St Catherine's church in Brussels is soon to be turned into a fruit and vegetable market. Apparently, it serves too few of the faithful, St. Catherine’s Church is in the heart of the Belgian capital.

And it also sounds like a second reformation is happening in Flanders according to a report from the National Catholic Distorter...

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM -- The week before the start of Advent, four Flemish priests issued a church reform manifesto that called for allowing the appointment of laypeople as parish pastors, liturgical leaders and preachers, and for the ordination of married men and women as priests.

This is all very sad, I love both the Netherlands and Belgium very much, especially Flanders. What we have here is the classic Liberal-Traditionalist culture war on top of the terrible scandals which have caused so much hurt in the region. Perhaps cheer yourself up and think on happier times with the above painting by Pieter Bruegel or have a read at this excellent blog...

And also this very good Facebook Page devoted to good King Baudouin...

Pray for the good people of Flanders and all our brothers and sisters in the Low Countries