Tattoos II

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Following on from a post on holiday tattoos in Jerusalem I’ve come across an interesting reference to tattoos and conversion in Nabil Matar’s article ‘‘Turning Turk’: Conversion to Islam in English Renaissance Thought’, Durham University Journal, 1 (1994), pp. 33-50.

Matar talks about the phenomenon of Christians in the Ottoman Empire tattooing their children with a cross. This provided an indelible mark of faith as permanent as circumcision, and as the tattoo was commonly placed on the hand, arm or face, it was a visible reminder of the individual’s religious affiliation (pp. 38-39). Matar argues that the use of such bodily markers was designed to counteract the attractions and habits of the cultural and religious environment of the Ottoman Empire and prevent conversion to Islam.

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‘Go your ways for an Apostata’: the converting Courtesan

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van Honthorst, Smiling Girl, a Courtesan, Holding an Obscene Image, 1625

I’m really delighted to have been given the chance to contribute to the Dutch Courtesan project, an all-singing, all-dancing (and all-acting) web resource that has accompanied and informed a brilliant recent production of the play here at the University of York.

My interest in the play was piqued by one peculiar phrase, in which the title character declares: ‘Mine body must turn Turk for twopence’. Intrigued by this glimpse of an Islamic conversion, I began to explore the connections between religion and inconstancy that underpin this difficult, but intensely rewarding, drama. To find out more about my conclusions, read my article on the Dutch Courtesan project website.

Update: Magdi Allam

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Magdi Cristiano Allam, the Egyptian naturalized Italian journalist and convert from Islam to Catholicism profiled in an earlier post, made a new announcement on Monday regarding his religious identity.

In it, Allam announces his formal departure from the Catholic church, saying that “I consider my conversion to Catholicism over,” though he continues to consider himself a Christian “and to proudly identify myself with Christianity as the civilization which more than any other moves man closer to God.”

Behind the timing of this move lay the recent abdication of Benedict XVI, who personally baptized Allam on Easter Sunday in 2008, and the subsequent election of Pope Francis, who has called for greater dialogue with the Islamic world. Continue reading

The Medici Press

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In 1584, Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici founded one of the world’s first Arabic printing presses in Rome, an enterprise with a clear missionary purpose: to provide a vehicle for spreading the Catholic faith to the Arabic speaking peoples – Christian and Muslim – of the Near East, and for training native clergy in Rome.

Over the following decades, under the guidance of Giovanni Battista Raimondi, a traveller and student of Eastern languages, the press became a center for the collection, editing, and publication of a range of Arabic and Syriac texts, including a famous edition of the New Testament replete with illustrations of the life of Christ. Continue reading

‘This chocolatical confection…’

A world of chocolate: Sophie's map included tea, coffee, chocolate, and sugar to remind us that these 'new world' products transformed the habits of old Europe.

A world of chocolate: Sophie’s map included tea, coffee, chocolate, and sugar to remind us that these ‘new world’ products transformed the habits of old Europe.

What better way to mark the first of our public lecture series, ‘Cultural Encounters: Travel, Religion, and Identity in the Early Modern World’, than with a chocolate map of the world, prepared for us by Sophie Jewett of the wonderful York Cocoa House? We’re hugely grateful to Sophie not only for her chocolate cartography, but for serving up delicious drinks made in accordance with two early modern recipes — one for hot chocolate, dating from 1644, and one, from 1710, for a pretty potent chocolate wine.

But why chocolate (as though that’s ever a real question…)? Continue reading

Cultural Encounters: Jesus and Jerusalem in the Mughal Court

Mughal Painting from the Royal Court, c. 1600

Searching the V&A catalogue, I stumbled across this fabulous image. It is a characteristically refined and naturalistic painting done by an unknown artist at the Mughal royal court, probably between 1600 and 1610. The Mughal Empire stretched across most of present-day India and Pakistan, where it consolidated the presence of Islam, and spread Muslim (and particularly Persian) arts and culture into South Asia. Continue reading

Early modern word of the day: ‘collop’

NB: An occasional (not daily!) feature…

In Philip Massinger’s The Renegado, or The Gentleman of Venice, a play first performed in 1624 and published in 1630, Gazet, a bumbling and clownish servant, resists conversion to Islam, exclaiming:

                                      No, so I should lose

A collop of that part my Doll enjoined me

To bring home as she left it: ‘tis her venture,

Nor dare I barter that commodity

Without her special warrant. (1.38-42)

What Gazet is worried about is circumcision. The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that a collop is an egg fried on bacon, which — though Doll might well enjoy it — doesn’t seem quite right here. The term gradually shifted to mean any slice of meat (though presumably Gazet is keen not to experience the popular dish of ‘minced collops’). Continue reading