Archive for the ‘Historic Figures’ Category

Homeless Jesus

On today’s lunchtime outing I happened upon a sculpture unlike any other public artwork in the city. It is meant to merge with the environment, so it’s not on a pedestal or made with granite. The seven-foot-long sculpture depicts a person shrouded in a blanket and lying on a park bench. The figure is difficult to see because of being covered by the blanket, but upon closer inspection is identifiable by the crucifixion wounds on his feet sticking out from under the blanket. The sculpture, located outside Catholic Charities Headquarters at 924 G Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood, depicts Christianity’s central figure, and is entitled Homeless Jesus.

The work was created by Canadian sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz, who sculpts in the small town of St. Jacobs, outside Toronto. He said the idea to sculpt Jesus as a homeless person came to him while he was walking the streets of Toronto, and witnessed a man or a woman, he wasn’t sure which, covered and on the street.  He was both moved and shocked, and considered that he had just witnessed Jesus.  After creating the piece, which he sees as a visual translation of how Jesus would want us to see him, he initially couldn’t find anyone who wanted it.  So he said at the time, “Jesus has no home, how ironic.”

He estimates that he has made more than thirty of the sculptures, which he sells for about $32,000 apiece. The first was installed at Regis College, University of Toronto, in early 2013.  Since then, the statues have popped up on private property in cities across the country, including Denver, Phoenix and Chicago. The statues are usually financed by an anonymous private donor, as was the case for the sculpture here in D.C., which was subsequently blessed by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, to commemorate Ash Wednesday in 2015.

I like a statement the artist made at the time the D.C. sculpture was installed. He said, “Hopefully, people think it’s a real homeless person. I hope that when people encounter the sculpture, it will remind people of the gift that Christianity has given civilization: the idea that all humanity is sacred.” But even more, I particularly like the response of the artist to one of the criticisms he received about the work, which has received mixed reviews.  Someone said to him, “Oh, great, now when I see a homeless person, I’ll think of this sculpture.”  To which the artist responded, “That’s the best compliment I could get.”

         

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

(The statue makes me think of the verse in The Bible which can be found at Matthew 25:40. “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”)

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The Grave of Charles Forbes

On this lunchtime bike ride I returned to Historic Congressional Cemetery (MAP) on Capitol Hill, one of my favorite lunchtime biking destinations. I like it because even after numerous rides there, there is still so much more history within the cemetery to be discovered and learned. This time I visited the grave of Charles Forbes, who I often think about whenever I make a mistake at work. Let me explain why.

Forbes was born in Ireland around 1835 and at the age of 26 started working at the White House in 1861, shortly after President Abraham Lincoln’s first inauguration. He was one of several house servants assigned to President Lincoln. Quickly becoming a favorite with both the President and Mrs. Lincoln, Forbes became the personal attendant to the President, a position he held for approximately four years. He also occasionally watched out for Mary Todd Lincoln and Thomas “Tad” Lincoln III, as well.

And it was during this time working for the President that Forbes made one of the biggest mistakes on the job that anyone has ever made. Forbes accompanied the Lincolns to Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, the night that Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. That night Booth approached Forbes, who was seated outside of Lincoln’s box, and gave him his calling card. Forbes then allowed Booth to enter the door to the private box. Moments later the President was mortally wounded.

Forbes remains a mysterious figure in the events of that night. He never gave a witness statement nor did he ever leave a written or verbal account of the assassination of the President. But Mrs. Lincoln remained fond of Forbes, bore him no ill will for the evening’s events, and later presented him with the suit of clothes that Lincoln wore that night.

After Lincoln’s death, Forbes became a messenger for the U.S. Treasury Department and later for the Adjutant General’s office. He died October 10, 1885, at his home at 1711 G Street in northwest D.C., leaving his wife Margaret and a daughter, Mary. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Congressional Cemetery until 1984 when The Lincoln Group, a historical society, placed a marker on his grave.

So it was this mistake on the job of Forbes’ that makes me glad that the mistakes I make at work never result in the consequences his mistake did. Even the worst mistakes I could possibly make don’t result in altering the course of history, as his mistake did. So when I mess up, I just think of him and this bike ride, and I feel a little better.

Captain Nathan Hale Statue

On this lunchtime bike ride I went to see a statue of Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale, which is located outside of the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building, located at 950 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in the city’s  Downtown neighborhood.  I went for two reasons.  First, to see the statue itself.  But the other reason I went to see the statue was to try to determine why it was located where it is.  As far as I know, Hale was not a lawyer or connected in any way to the Justice Department or the Federal government.  And he didn’t even have any known connections to D.C.  So I was curious why the statue was placed where it is.

Nathan Hale was born on June 6, 1755 in Coventry, Connecticut.  In 1768, at the age of 14, he attended Yale College along with his older brother Enoch.  Hale graduated with first-class honors in 1773 at age 18 and became a teacher in Connecticut, first in East Haddam and later in New London.

When the Revolutionary War began in 1775, Hale joined a Connecticut militia unit.  His unit participated in the Siege of Boston, but Hale remained behind.  It has been speculated by some that he was unsure as to whether he wanted to fight.  On July 4, 1775, Hale received a letter from his classmate and friend Benjamin Tallmadge, and the letter was so inspiring that, several days later, Hale accepted a commission as first lieutenant in the 7th Connecticut Regiment.

In September of the following year, General George Washington was desperate to determine the location of the imminent British invasion of Manhattan Island. To that end, he needed a spy for the Continental Army behind enemy lines.  Hale was the only volunteer.

During his mission, New York City fell to British forces, and Hale was captured.  Hale was convicted of being a spy, and according to the standards of the time, was sentenced to be hanged the next day as an illegal combatant.  While waiting for the sentence to be carried out, Hale requested a Bible, but his request was denied.  Sometime later, he requested a clergyman.  Again, his request was denied.  The sentence was carried out the next morning, and Hale was hanged.  He was 21 years old.

Hale is best remembered for a speech that he gave just prior to being executed.  It is almost certain that his last speech contained more than one sentence, but it is for the following sentence that he is best remembered.  His last words before facing the gallows were famously reported to be, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”  Subsequent to his execution, Hale’s body has never been found.

The original statue honoring Hale was created by American sculptor Bela Pratt in 1912, and stands in front of Connecticut Hall where Hale resided while at Yale.  The statue located at the south façade of the Justice Department building near the corner of 10th Street and Constitution Avenue is a copy of this sculpture.  The D.C. statue is also part of the “American Revolution Statuary”, a group of fourteen statues in D.C. that are scattered across the city, mainly in squares and traffic circles.  They are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

Unfortunately, despite visiting the statue and researching it later, I still have no idea why it is located where it is.  So if you know why, or have a theory, please feel free to share it in the comments section below.

         
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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The Brodhead-Bell-Morton Mansion

On this lunchtime bike ride, as I was riding near Scott Circle in northwest D.C., I saw what looked like commemorative brass plaques on the side of a building.  Wanting to find out more about the plaques and the building, I stopped to look into it.  According to the plaques, the mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and once belonged to Alexander Graham Bell.  Whetting my appetite to find out more about the house, I researched it later when I got back from my ride.

Originally designed in the Victorian style by John Fraser, with construction finishing in 1879, the house was built for John. T. Brodhead and his family.  Based on a subsequent series of prominent owners, it has come to be known as the Brodhead-Bell-Morton Mansion, and is located at 1500 Rhode Island Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s DuPont Circle neighborhood.

The Brodhead family did not live there long, however,  In 1882, just three years after construction was completed, Brodhead sold the home to lawyer and financier Gardiner Green Hubbard, the father-in-law of telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell.  According to the home’s National Register of Historic Places registration form, the Hubbards “offered the house to the Bells as an inducement to relocate from the Boston area, and Bell allowed himself to be persuaded.”

However, the original house was not large enough for Bell and his wife Mabel Gardiner Hubbard, so they added a two-story addition on the northeast corner and then a third floor with a steep slated roof.  Bell also made other changes to the house, the most interesting of which was the installation of the city’s first electric burglar alarm system.  It was composed of an elaborate system of wires and bells that connected every door and window in the house to a room Bell referred to as the “central office.”  Indicators in the central office would show instantly whenever a door was opened or shut, or only partially opened.  And if anyone tried to enter the house at night, bells would sound.

It’s too bad that Bell installed a burglar alarm system rather than a smoke detector, however, because a fire destroyed much of the building in 1887. Although it was insured, the damage from the fire was more extensive than what the policy covered.  Bell was able to have the mansion restored anyway.

Then in 1889, just a couple of years after the fire, Bell sold the mansion to Levi Parsons Morton just prior to Morton’s swearing in as Vice President under President Benjamin Harrison.  Morton immediately had the building enlarged with a new east wing, that was designed by John Fraser, the home’s original architect.  Some years later, Morton remodeled the house, converting it into the neoclassical Beaux-Arts architectural style that was all the rage at that time.  Under the hand of prominent American architect John Russell Pope, who later designed The Thomas Jefferson Memorial, The National Archives and Records Administration Building, and the West Building of the National Gallery of Art, among other important buildings, Morton had the house transformed into its present-day form.

The mansion would go on to have a number of additional prominent owners and residents, including the Embassy of Russia, U.S. Secretary of State Elihu Root, Massachusetts Congressman Charles Franklin Sprague, and Count Arturo Cassini, the Russian Ambassador to the U.S.  It then became home to the National Democratic Club, who sold it to the National Paint, Varnish and Lacquer Association.  Finally, in February of last year, it was purchased by the country of Hungary, which moved the Embassy of Hungary there late last year.

I’m glad I noticed the house during this bike ride, and then looked into it later.  The house turned out to have quite a history.  Of course, D.C. is full of history and interesting stories, if you just take the time to look for them.

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Saint Ignatius of Loyola Statue

A statue of Saint Ignatius of Loyola is located in front of White-Gravenor Hall (MAP) on the campus of Georgetown University.  And as I was riding around the sprawling campus on this lunchtime bike ride I stopped to check it out.

Born Inigo Lopez de Loyola, the man who would become known as Ignatius of Loyola entered the world on October 23, 1491, in Loiola, Spain.  At the time, the name of the village was spelled “Loyola,” hence the discrepancy in spelling.  Loiola is a small village at the southern end of Azpeitia, in northern Spain, and is where Inigo came of age.  Inigo was the youngest of thirteen children. His mother died when he was just seven, and he was then raised by Maria de Garin, who was the wife of a local blacksmith.  At about the age of eighteen Inigo began to refer to himself as Ignatius, a variant of Inigo, because he thought it sounded more dignified and would bring him wider acclaim and recognition.

During his lifetime he was many things, including a member of the aristocracy in a Basque noble family, a knight, and a hermit.  He was also an officer in the Spanish Army.  It was during this time in the military that he was struck by a cannonball in the leg.  Oddly, he thought that his leg had been set poorly after the cannonball incident and that, as a result, he wouldn’t look good in his courtier’s tights. So he had a doctor rebreak his leg and start over.  Eventually part of his leg had to be amputated and caused him to walk with a limp for the rest of his life.  It was during his time recuperating from his injury that he became a devout Christian.  And by the spring of the following year, Ignatius had recovered enough to leave bed.

On March 25, 1522, he entered the Benedictine monastery, Santa Maria de Montserrat.  And beginning in 1537 he became a priest and theologian who would eventually go on to found the religious order called the Society of Jesus. Some people did not appreciate the Society of Jesus and dubbed them “Jesuits” in an attempt to disparage them. While the name stuck, by virtue of their good work the label lost its negative connotation.  The Jesuit Order served the Pope as missionaries, and they were bound by a vow of absolute obedience to the Pope.

The Jesuits would soon find a niche in education. Before Ignatius died, it established 35 schools and boasted 1,000 members. Today, the Jesuit Order is known for its work in educating the youth around the globe. Several universities have been founded in the name of Ignatius and in the traditional Jesuit spirit, including  Georgetown University, which is the oldest Catholic and Jesuit-affiliated institution of higher education in the United States.

Ignatius was beatified in 1609, and then canonized, receiving the title of Saint on March 12, 1622.  Saint Ignatius is venerated as the patron saint of educators and education, Catholic soldiers, the Military Ordinariate of the Philippines, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Jesuit Society, all spiritual retreats, the Basque country, and various towns and cities in his native region.  He died on July 31, 1556, his feast day in the Catholic Church, as a result of the Roman Fever, a severe case of malaria that recurred in Rome, Italy, at different points in history.

However, Ignatius was not always very saintly.  During much of his young adult life he was vain, with dreams of personal honor and fame. According to one of  Ignatius’ biographers, he was a fancy dresser, an expert dancer, a womanizer, sensitive to insult, a gambler, and a rough punkish swordsman who was arrested but used his privileged status to escape prosecution for violent crimes committed with his priest brother.  One time, upon encountering a Moor who denied the divinity of Jesus, he challenged him to a duel to the death and ran him through with his sword.  Another time, he allowed the donkey on which he was riding to determine whether he should follow and murder someone he thought had insulted the Blessed Virgin Mary. Fortunately, the donkey chose the path that led away from the insulter.  Ignatius is said to have dueled many other men as well, gaining a reputation in his time.  As some have noted, having been arrested for nighttime brawling with intent to inflict serious harm, he may be the only saint with a notarized police record.

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Nelson Mandela Statue at the South African Embassy

On this bike ride I stopped outside the South African Embassy, located at 3051 Massachusetts Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Embassy Row neighborhood, to see a statue of Nelson Mandela.  Mandela was a South African activist and former president of that country who helped bring an end to apartheid, a system of segregation or discrimination based on race, and went on to become a global advocate for human rights and for AIDS awareness and prevention.

Born with the name Rolihlahla into a royal family of the Xhosa-speaking Thembu tribe in the village of Mvezo, Transkei, on July 18, 1918, the name means “to pull a branch off a tree” and “troublemaker.”  The man who would come to be know as Nelson, a name given to him at the age of seven by his teacher on his first day of elementary school, grew up in a rural area where he engaged in herding animals.  His father passed away when he was 12 years old. Afterwards, wealthy relatives had custody of him, and he attended boarding school.  He later attended Fort Hare Missionary College, but was eventually expelled for organizing a strike against the white rule of the college.

A member of the African National Congress party beginning in the 1940s, he was a leader of both peaceful protests and armed resistance against the white minority’s oppressive regime in a racially divided South Africa. His actions landed him in prison for almost three decades and made him the face of the antiapartheid movement both within his country and internationally.  While in prison, he was told in 1985 that if he stopped his acts of violence, he would be allowed to go free.  He did not agree to this provision and remained incarcerated for another five years.  Finally released in 1990, he participated in the eradication of apartheid which culminated in 1994 when he became the first black president of South Africa, forming a multiethnic government to oversee the country’s transition.

After retiring from politics in 1999, he remained a devoted champion for peace and social justice in his own nation and around the world until his death in 2013 at the age of 95.

The statue resembles Mandela’s pose, his right arm extended into a fist above his head, on this day 27 years ago today (1990) when he was released from over 27 years of incarceration.  And the statue is in an ideal D.C. location, because it is on the same spot where daily anti-apartheid demonstrations took place, led by Randall Robinson, the noted author and activist, Georgetown professor Eleanor Holmes-Norton, civil rights activist Mary Frances Berry, and former D.C. Congressional Delegate Walter E. Fauntroy, beginning in November of 1984.

“We entered this building nearly 29 years ago,” Robinson said, with the belief that the struggles for justice in the United States and South Africa were inextricably “bound up together.”  At one point, Robinson recalled in his remarks, Norton left the meeting to speak with those waiting outside. Then the others announced they were not leaving until the government began to dismantle apartheid and released political prisoners, starting with Mandela.

They did leave, but under arrest and in handcuffs.  Their arrests were followed by more than 4,000 others as the protests continued day after day, month after month, until apartheid in South Africa finally ended a decade later, and Mandela became president of that country.

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Sir William Blackstone Statue

Being on leave from work for the past several weeks, first for the holidays and then unexpectedly for personal reasons, has made me miss my lunchtime excursions to explore the city.  But I am back in the office now, and on my first outing of the new year I encountered a statue located in front of but off to the side near the United States Courthouse.  That statue is of William Blackstone, and like many of the statues and memorials here in D.C. it has an interesting backstory.

Sir William Blackstone was an English jurist, judge and politician of the eighteenth century who is best known for writing a four-volume work on English law. These volumes, known as Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, would not only dominate the common law legal system for more than a century, but also help shape America’s Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and have a substantial influence in American law.  His Commentaries would also influence the likes of  Alexander Hamilton, John Marshall, John Adams, and Abraham Lincoln.  And to this day, his Commentaries still continue to be cited in Supreme Court decisions.

In the early 1920’s the American Bar Association presented a sculpture of Blackstone to the English Bar Association.  The gift, however, was too tall to be placed in the Royal Courts of Justice.  The sculpture, designed by American artist Paul Wayland Bartlett, was later cast in Europe and the statue was presented back to the United States for display.

The bronze statue is a nine-foot standing portrait of Blackstone dressed in his judicial robes and long curly wig, and holding a copy of his legal publication entitled “Commentaries” in his left hand.  It is elevated on a granite base.  Congress approved the placement of the sculpture in 1943, and appropriated $10,000 for the installation.  It was installed later that year under the authority of the National Park Service.  The statue is on the grounds of the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse, at 333 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Judiciary Square neighborhood.

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Statue of Albert Gallatin

Abraham Alfonse Albert Gallatin was born in Geneva on January 29, 1761, to an aristocratic Swiss family. He immigrated to America when he was 19 years old, where he became a politician, diplomat, ethnologist and linguist. He served as a Representative, Senator, Ambassador, and he became the fourth and longest-serving Secretary of the Treasury in United States history.  And on this bike ride, I went to see a statue dedicated to him, which is in front of The United States Department of the Treasury Building, located at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), next door to the White House in northwest D.C.

Gallatin was originally elected to the United States Senate in 1793. However, his political career got off to a bumpy start, and he was removed from office by a 14–12 party-line vote after a protest raised by his opponents suggested he did not meet the required years of citizenship. The dispute that resulted in his removal had important ramifications though. At that time, the Senate always held closed sessions. However, the Senators in the newly established nation were leery of anything which might hint that they intended to establish an aristocracy. So they opened up their chamber for the first time for the debate over whether to unseat Gallatin. Soon after, open sessions for the Senate and a more transparent government became standard procedure.

Gallatin’s brief initial time in the Senate before being removed also had important ramifications for him. Not only did the election controversy add to his fame, but he also proved himself to be an effective opponent of America’s first Secretary of the Treasury’s, Alexander Hamilton’s, financial policies.

Returning home to Pennsylvania, Gallatin found himself embroiled in the Whiskey Rebellion, which involved a whiskey tax imposed in 1791 by Congress at the demand of Alexander Hamilton to raise money to pay the national debt.  Gallatin helped bring about a non-violent end to the conflict just before President George Washington, who had denounced the tax protesters and called out the militia, lead the army into western Pennsylvania to end the rebellion.  As a result of the  popularity he gained in advocating their cause, he was again elected two years later, this time to the House of Representatives, were he served until 1801. There he inaugurated the House Committee on Finance, which later grew into the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

Gallatin’s mastery of public finance during his three terms in Congress lead to President Thomas Jefferson appointing “the foreigner with a French accent”, as he was described by his critics, as Secretary of the Treasury in 1801.  He would go on to serve until 1814, under both Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, holding the longest tenure in this office in American history.

Gallatin went on to achieve other accomplishments after leaving the Treasury Department.  But the remainder of his career after serving as Secretary of the Treasury began with just as bumpy a start as his career in government began.  He was nominated to run for vice president, but was forced to withdraw from the race because he lacked popular support.  Gallatin was again offered the position of Secretary of the Treasury by President John Quincy Adams, but turned it down.  After that, however, he went on to become the American ambassador to France, was one of the founders of New York University, and became president of the National Bank of New York City, which was temporarily renamed Gallatin Bank.  His last great endeavor was founding the American Ethnological Society.  And based on his studies of Native American languages, he has been called the father of American ethnology.

But it was his time as Secretary of the Treasury that earned Gallatin the honor of the statue outside of the Department of the Treasury Headquarters.  And it is located on the northern patio of the building, which is the opposite side of the building from the statue of his rival, Alexander Hamilton.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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Statue of Brigadier General Thaddeus Kościuszko

On this ride I went to Lafayette Square Park, located just north of the White House between Pennsylvania Avenue and H Street, and between 15th and 17th Streets (MAP).  I went there to see one of the four statues which anchor the four corners of the park.  Today, I went to see the statue of Brigadier General Thaddeus Kościuszko, located at the northeast corner of the park.  The other three statues, which all outrank Kosciuszko, are of Major General Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette, Major General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, and Major General Comte Jean de Rochambeau.

The four corner statues located in Lafayette Square honor foreign volunteers who fought for the new nation during the American Revolutionary War.  As such, they are four of a total of fourteen statues known collectively as the “American Revolution Statuary”, which are scattered throughout D.C., mainly in squares and traffic circles, and are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Kościuszko statue was designed by a Polish sculptor named Antoni Popiel as part of a competition in 1907 to design a monument for the park.  Popiel’s design placed second in the competition.  For unknown reasons, however, President Theodore Roosevelt selected Popiel’s design for implementation.  It is unknown what happened with the design of the contest’s winner.  Kościuszko design was then erected in 1910, and dedicated by President William Howard Taft that same year.

The Kościuszko statue honors the Polish army officer, military engineer and statesman who gained fame both for his role in the American Revolution, and his leadership of a national insurrection in his homeland.

Born to a family of noble origin sometime in February of 1746,  Andrew Thaddeus Bonaventure Kościuszko began his rise to prominenace when he attracted the attention of King Stanisław II Augustus Poniatowski while working as an instructor at a military academy in Warsaw.  The king was so impressed, in fact, that he sent him to Paris for further study.  Upon his return to Poland, he taught the daughters of General Józef Sosnowski.  During this time he fell in love one of the daughters, Ludwika, and rather than ask her father for his daughter’s hand in marriage, he tried unsuccessfully to elope with her.  Facing the wrath of her father, Kościuszko fled to France, and in 1776 he came to America, where he joined the colonial forces in their fight for independence.  At the end of the war he was given U.S. citizenship.

In 1784, however, Kościuszko returned to Poland.  But because of his association with the Czartoryski family, then in opposition to the king, he could not secure an appointment in the Polish army.  So for the next five years he lived in poverty on a small country estate.

With the advent of reforms in Poland in 1789, Kościuszko returned to military service. Under the protection of his former love, Ludwika, now the wife of Prince Lubomirski, and with the support of local nobility, he was granted the rank of general major.  Then in March of 1794, Kościuszko organized an uprising against Russia which, under the rule of Catherine the Great, had invaded Poland in an attempt to end Polish internal reforms designed to liberate the nation from Russian influence.  While serving as commander-in-chief of the uprising, Russian forces captured him at the Battle of Maciejowice in October 1794, which led to the defeat of the Kościuszko Uprising.

In 1796, following the death of Catherine the Great, Kościuszko was pardoned by her successor, Tsar Paul I, and he emigrated back to the United States.  It was then that be became a close friend of Thomas Jefferson, with whom he shared many ideals of human rights.

After receiving news of fresh possibilities to promote Poland’s cause in France, Kościuszko  secretly left the United States on May 5, 1798.  But his return to France was a disappointment when he could not gain Napolean’s support for Poland’s independence, nor later on, that of Alexander I of Russia.  Hence, Kościuszko retired from public life, and for the rest of his life remained in exile from Poland, living first in France and later in Switzerland.  It was not until after his death in 1817 that Kościuszko was finally able to return to his native Poland, when his remains were carried to Kraków and buried among the kings’ tombs in the cathedral.

Kościuszko was not only a supporter of American independence and a Polish national hero, but also a believer in social equality.  Kościuszko wrote a will in 1798 dedicating his assets to the freedom and education of American slaves.

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Note:  If you want to learn even more about Thaddeus Kościuszko, I would recommend a visit to the foundation named after him.  Founded in 1925, on the eve of the 150th anniversary of his enlistment in the American revolutionary cause, The Kosciuszko Foundation is a national not-for-profit, nonpartisan, and nonsectarian organization dedicated to promoting educational and cultural exchanges between the United States and Poland, and to increase American understanding of Polish culture and history.  It is located about ten blocks from the statue, at 2025 O Street (MAP), in northwest D.C.’s DuPont Circle neighborhood, just a block down the street from Sonny Bono Memorial Park.

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Saint Martin of Tours Catholic Church

On this lunchtime bike ride I went back to Saint Martin of Tours Catholic Church.  It located at 1908 North Capitol Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Bloomingdale neighborhood, and is situated on hill next to a bridge where T Street passes over North Capitol Street.  I say I went “back” to the church because although it’s been many years, I have been there before.  My first (and current) wife and I were married there almost two decades ago, and this was the first time I’ve been back since.

Saint Martin’s Church was built in phases over time, and embraces an architecturally eclectic mix of neo-classical Greek and Roman styles. Beginning in 1902, a parish hall was constructed to serve the church, which was established the previous year. The original parish hall remains, and now serves as a community center. As the church continued to grow, a basement church was built on the corner of North Capital and T streets in 1913, and the main church was eventually added in 1939.

Martin of Tours was born in in Savaria in the Diocese of Pannonia, in what is now Szombathely, Hungary. Born of pagan parents, his father was a senior officer in the Roman Army who was later stationed at what was known as Ticinum, now Pavia, in northern Italy, where Martin spent much of his childhood. At the age of ten he attended the Christian church against the wishes of his parents, and became a catechumen. As the son of a veteran he was forced to serve in the Roman Army beginning at the age of 15. Then at the age of 18, while still in the Roman Army, he was baptised. This would eventually lead to a conflict of conscience and, at the age of 23, Martin found his military duty incompatible with his adopted Christian faith. He refused a war bonus and told his commander: “I have served you as a soldier; now let me serve Christ. Give the bounty to those who are going to fight. But I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight.” After great difficulties, he was discharged.

After living as a Catholic for some time, Martin traveled to meet Bishop Hilary of Poitiers, a theologian who would later also be canonized a saint. Martin’s spirituality and dedication to the faith impressed the bishop, who asked the former soldier to return to his diocese after a planned journey back to Hungary to visit his parents. While visiting them, Martin persuaded his mother, though not his father, to join the Church.

Martin became be a disciple of Hilary of Poitiers, and was ordained an exorcist. He then became a monk, living first at Milan. Later, he moved to a small island named Gallinaria, now Isola d’Albenga, in the Ligurian Sea, where he lived the solitary life of a hermit. Eventually Martin returned to France and established what may have been the first French monastery near Poitiers. He lived there for the next decade, forming his disciples and preaching throughout the countryside. It was after this time that the people of Tours demanded that Martin become their bishop. A story was devised of a sick person at the church in Tours who was in need of Martin’s assistance. The ruse worked in bringing Martin to the church, where despite the deception he reluctantly allowed himself to be consecrated bishop.

After his appointed as Bishop, Martin continued to live as a monk, dressing plainly and owning no personal possessions. In fact, throughout the rest of his life Martin continued to live an austere life focused on the care of souls. In this same spirit of sacrifice, he traveled extensively as a missionary to places where Christianity was as yet barely known.

During his lifetime, Martin acquired a reputation as a miracle worker, and he was one of the first nonmartyrs to be publicly venerated as a saint.  Saint Martin of Tours has historically been among the most recognizable and beloved saints in the history of Europe.

I enjoyed learning more about the church and the saint after whom it was named as a result of this ride.  But even more, I enjoyed seeing the inside of the church again after so many years.  And it is exactly how I remembered it.

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