“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Friday, 29 March 2013

A Boob Jar

The piece of pottery pictured below caught my eye during a visit to the National Museum of Scotland. The caption that accompanied the jar stated that it is dated from circa 1400-1200 years BC.  It also noted that mothers milk was believed to have healing properties and that a sick child might have been given milk from a jar like this.

When I saw this jar I wondered if the Great Ormond Street Hospital would ever administer milk to one of its patients in such a jar. Sadly however I doubt it!

Picture, Edinburgh (October 2011).

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Friday, 22 March 2013

The home of the Antipope

The recent election of the new Pope reminded me of my visit to the home of an Antipope, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Palais des Papes in Avignon, southern France. The palace served as the papal residence and the seat of Western Christianity during the 14th century, and during this time the palace witnessed the elections of Popes Benedict XII (1334), Clement VI (1342), Innocent VI (1352), Urban V (1362) and Gregory XI (1370).

The Palais des Papes only served as the legitimate seat of the papacy for a relatively short period, and in 1370 the papal seat was relocated to the tomb of St. Peter (Vatican City). Although this relocation occurred in 1370, the Palais des Papes still served as the home to a few more Popes (in this case Antipopes), they were notably the Antipopes Clement VII (1378–1394), Benedict XIII (1394–1423) and Clement VIII (1423–1429).

If you are wondering what an Antipope is, it is another claimant to the papacy, in opposition to the legitimately elected Pope of the time, who have typically had significant support from various cardinals, secular kings and kingdoms. What is not clear however, is if an Antipope coming in to contact with a Pope would result in some form of explosive annihilation!

If the subject of "Papal Prophecies" takes your fancy pope over to Andrew May's Forteana Blog.

The  Palais des Papes. 
The rock on which part of the palace is built.
Palace courtyard.
Tombs of past Popes.
Decorative floor tiles on display.
Antipope  Benedict XIII.  
Pictures, France (October 2012).

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Friday, 15 March 2013

The Horror of Oradour

I first heard of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane when I read a book that suggested that the events that occurred there during World War II were an act of reprisal by a small company of German Waffen-SS, for an attack on a convoy of trucks. The book claimed that a local band of French Partisans had attacked the German convoy, which was laden with plundered gold enroute to feather the nest of a high ranking German Officer. The Officer in question was less than impressed with this theft and decided to enact a terrible revenge on the perpetrators.

A subsequent book suggested that French Partisans had captured a German Officer, and that the attack was an act of revenge for this affront. However, in a tragic irony, the Germans attacked Oradour-sur-Glane mistaking it for the village of Oradour-sur-Vayres.

Whatever the truth, the events that unfolded in Oradour-sur-Glane went down in infamy.

The village of Oradour-sur-Glane lies 25 km North West of Limoges in France. The original village was destroyed on 10 June 1944, when all of its inhabitants and any visitors or passers-by who happened to be in the village were brutally killed by a company of German Waffen-SS.

When the Germans arrived in Oradour-sur-Glane on the 10 June, they sealed off the village and ordered all the people to assemble in the market square for an identity check. The people gathered up included the villagers and whoever else happened to be unlucky enough to be in the Oradour-sur-Glane on the day (such as guests at the hotel, people visiting family, six people who happened to be riding their bikes through the village at the time, and children from nearby villages). Once the people were mustered, the Germans began the process of separating the men from the women and children. The men were divided into six groups and secured in barns, the women and children were detained in the church.

A single shot was the signal for the massacre to begin.

The barns containing the men, were raked with volleys of machine gun fire, which were setup low to the ground, and mainly caused leg injuries to their victims. Once the machine gun fire abated, the Germans moved through the barns finishing off any survivors they found with pistol shots, before piling straw and other combustibles onto the bodies in order to burn them. Because some of the men in the barns only suffered leg injuries in the initial machine gunning, it was believed that a number of victims would have been burnt alive in the ensuing blaze. 190 men were killed in the barns, but 6 men did manage to escape. Their escape was effected by playing dead after the machine gunning had ceased, and escaping unnoticed from the barns while they were ablaze. One of these men was subsequently noticed and gunned down.

While the men were being killed in the barns, the women and children were locked in the church with an incendiary device. After the device was ignited, women and children began to try to escape through the doors and the windows of the church. Their efforts were met by machine-gun fire. The ensuing blaze in the church was so fierce that the bronze church bells ended up as a molten mass. In total 247 women and 205 children were killed, however two women and one child did managed to survive.

These were not the only acts of savagery perpetrated by the Germans. The people who could not muster in the market square when the Germans first arrived (the ill or old for example), were shot in their homes or left to burn when their houses were set on fire. A number of prams were found riddled with bullet holes or shredded by grenade fragments and the bodies of the Baker and his family were found charred in the Bakery's oven.

In total 642 people died in Oradour-sur-Glane and the village was left in a state of ruin.

The market square.
The Doctor's car.
A deserted street.
A deserted street.
One of the locations where a group of the men were killed. 
Destroyed car.
The church.
Sign outside the church.
The molten church bells.
The confessional, in which the bodies of two children were found.
WWI memorial with bullet holes.
The Mechanic's workshop.
The Post Office.
Bullet riddled pram.
Memorials to the fallen.
 Memorial to the fallen. 
Communal burial of unidentified bones.

Pictures, France (October 2012).

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Thursday, 7 March 2013

The Quatermain Connection

As you enter the Natural History Museum in London you may notice a relief of a man holding a rifle, which adorns the far wall overlooking the staircase. The man honoured in this relief is Captain Frederick Selous (1851 - 1917). Selous was a British explorer, officer, hunter, and conservationist, who gained fame for his life of adventure and his exploits in Africa.

Selous’ adventures began when he was just seventeen, when he was one of the survivors of the “Regent's Park tragedy”. Ice covering the local lake broke while around two hundred people were skating. Forty people died, but Selous managed to escape by crawling across broken ice slabs to reach safety.

At the age of just nineteen Selous travelled to South Africa and spent the next eighteen years exploring little-known regions of South Africa, hunting and collecting specimens for museums and private collections. His explorations added greatly to the western world’s knowledge of the south eastern parts of Africa and helped to open Zimbabwe up to British rule.

Selous also took part in actions in Africa during World War I (at the young age of 64), gained the rank of Captain and won a Distinguished Service Order.

Selous’ adventures were not even hampered by his death in 1917. Selous was the inspiration for Rider Haggard’s famous adventurer Allan Quatermain (who was first introduced to the world in the 1885 novel King Solomon’s Mines). Quatermain became a childhood hero to a number of different generations and still remains a popular fictional character, most recently portrayed by Sean Connery in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in 2003.

Frederick Selous in the Natural History Museum.
Selous seen from a distance.

Pictures, London (May 2012).

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