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Understanding the Background of the Crown of Thorns

Brooke Hurbert

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The “Crown of Thorns” has a rich and illustrious history quite apart from its recent spike in pop-media mention in relation to the tragic inferno surrounding the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Firefighters have gained fame and notoriety by their epic efforts to save the crown of thorns from the flaming cathedral. Historically, of course, the crown was intended to be an ironic gesture in mock reverence to the King of the Jews, with proclamations that first surfaced at the time of his birth, and were then repeated by Pilate at the trial leading up to the trial and subsequent crucifixion of Jesus.  

Why is the Crown of Thorns Important?  

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The Crown of Thorns is one of the instruments of the Passion, a device used to cause Jesus pain (and thus of great importance). It was placed on his head just prior to his crucifixion and death, and it is thus considered a sacred relic, first described as such by St. Paulinus of Nola in 409 A.D. Mentions of the Crown of Thorns continued to pop up in literary references. In 530 AD, Breviary or Short Description of Jerusalem places the crown at the Basilica of Mount Zion in Jerusalem, which is later confirmed by an “anonymous pilgrim” and the monk, Bernard. In De gloria martyri, Gregory of Tours referenced the miraculous renewal of the thorns, claiming that they turned green every day.   

The Travels & Evolution of the Relic  

The Crown of Thorns was transferred to Byzantium in 1063, but it was also during this time that the crown was “dethorned”. Thorns were removed from the headpiece with some given to St. Germain, Bishop of Paris, and housed at Saint-Germain-des-Prés. In 798, Empress Irene gave Charlemagne thorns which were deposited by him at Aachen, a Roman settlement and spa. Charles the Bald gave four of the thorns to Saint-Corneille of Compiègne in 877. Hugh the Great, Duke of the Franks, passed one thorn onto King Athelstan, and the thorn eventually appeared at Malmsbury Abbey.  

Emperor Baldwin II gave the Crown of Thorns to King Louis IX of France. While there was some back-and-forth due to debt and political upheaval, including the French Revolution, the crown went to the Bibliothèque Nationale, where it stayed until it was relocated to the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.  

Modern Iterations 

With such a wide and varied history, the fact that the relic still exists into modern times is a testament to how much religious fervor has surrounded it. Even small fragments (thorns) are important. With the grave danger of this headpiece was under in the flaming cathedral, it’s no wonder the world has risen up in celebration and morning. The “safe” place that had been the home for the Crown of Thorns for so long was not the sanctuary that all those faithfuls had thought it to be.  

In the aftermath of the tragic blaze, though, the speed at which the entire world responded and immediately sent millions of dollars to renovate the Notre-Dame Cathedral, though, is just one small reminder of the true depth of appreciation for the place and its historical and cultural importance. The imminent danger of the Crown of Thorns, though, has also revived the mythology surrounding the legendary piece. The wealth of literary and multimedia adaptations of various tales related to religious relics has been constant and growing. Though tragic and troubling, the destruction of the Notre-Dame Cathedral gives both the place and everything of historical relevance that’s housed therein, an even more cherished stature. It has also helped to spearhead the renovation and rehabilitation of sacred and historically important places in the US and around the world.  

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History

Could the Wreck of the Last Slave Ship Have Been Found?

Cynthia Brooke

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The international slave trade was outlawed far before slavery itself was banned in the United States; however, these laws didn’t stop people from trying to smuggle in new slaves of their own. During the height of slavery, one owner of an Alabama plantation made a friendly wager with a friend that he could still smuggle slaves into this country on his boat, which he called the Clotilda; however, one a fateful day in the hot summer of 1860, this plantation owner was worried that the authorities were going to catch them. He had just returned from West Africa and had to quickly unload his slaves in the middle of the night. Then, he set his beloved Clotilda on fire in an effort to hide the evidence in the Mobile Delta.

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A Possible Discovery by a Local Reporter

Now, close to 160 years later, a reporter from Alabama claims to have possibly found the wreck of this boat. Following a “bomb-cyclone” that went through the area in January of 2018, the wreck might have been revealed. Ben Raines, a reporter for AL.com, used historical records and the journal of the Clotilda’s captain to start his search. The intrepid reporter also relied on interviews from the time, local lore, and even the memoirs of local residents.

Revealed by a Massive Cold Front, a Bomb-Cyclone

As a result of the massive cold front, a burned-out wreckage of a ship was revealed just a few miles north of the Mobile Delta, where the ship was supposedly ditched. There are iron spikes, charred wood, and what appeared to be the body of the boat. The reporter, who posted a video along with one of his recent articles, stated that he had a gut feeling that this might be the wreckage of the long-lost slave ship. He might have uncovered a piece of the international slave trade.

A Chapter of the International Slave Trade

About thirty years after setting the boat ablaze, the financier of the voyage boasted about his smuggling abilities to a local newspaper. This newspaper story highlighted the importance of the slave trade to the local area. Many slaves were brought in from Benin (located in Africa) aboard the famous ship, even after emancipation had been declared. This area was dubbed “Africatown.” Since that time, many of the local residents can trace their roots back to ancestors who were brought over on this ship, signifying the place that the Clotilda has in history. Furthermore, historians such as Sylviane Diouf have even written entire books discussing the ship.

With the Help of Drone Technology: Gathering Evidence

Raines took a drone and recorded some aerial videos and snapshots of the famous wreck once it had been uncovered. Furthermore, he even took a visit to the site of the wreckage with a specialist to analyze the build and construction of the boat. With the help of professionals, everyone agreed that the design of the ship matched that of other boats that had been built during the time period of the international slave trade. Furthermore, it did show signs that it had been set ablaze, further confirming the identity of the vessel. In order to gather more evidence and information, he will need access to the hull of the ship. It could hold other artifacts that might identify it as a slave ship. Unfortunately, this will require Raines obtaining special permits to access the body of the vessel. With more time, funding, and manpower, Raines might be able to learn more about this small piece of history.

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History

A Recovered 1930s Interview Tells The Story Of The Surviving Slavery

Brooke Hurbert

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Many avid readers enjoy a good book by Zora Neale Hurston. What they may not know about her is that her talents ran much deeper than writing. Unbeknownst to many, she tracked down a man with an extraordinary story to tell. She found not just any man, but the last one that survived being held captive on a ship filled with slaves being transported from Africa to the U.S. 

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Not only did Hurston find this man, she thoroughly interviewed him as well. Unfortunately, she was not able to put the interview into book form, despite her best efforts. It wasn’t until 2018 that the interview was finally published in the form of a book titled Barracoon: The Story of The Last “Black Cargo.” With the release of Hurston’s book many longtime unanswered questions were suddenly answered. 

Barracoon tells the story of a man born with the name Kossula, which later became Cudjo Lewis.  When he was born he lived in Benin, a country in West Africa. At the age of 19 he was kidnapped by the Dahomian tribe. Against his will he was moved to the coast and sold as a slave, along with approximately another 120 men. He and the other slaves were forced to reside on the Clotilda, a slave ship which would take them from their home country to America.

In 1860 the ship arrived in Alabama with all captured slaves on board.  Despite the declaration in the U.S. that slavery was legal, bringing slaves in from other countries was illegal. The ship arrived in Alabama during overnight hours. They were then confined to an area swamp for a matter of days. For fear of being caught, the kidnappers set the ship on fire. There is a distinct possibility that the remains of the ship were found in early 2018. 

Those that read the book will get a firsthand view of the ordeal through Lewis’s eyes. Throughout the book, Lewis expresses how it felt to be sold into slavery against his will. He talks about how even though his fellow slaves lived together on the ship, they were separated once they reached Alabama. Readers experience the pain of the ordeal right along with him. 

Lewis talks about how he struggled with being placed on a plantation he felt out of place in. Due to language barriers, he and the plantation workers could not effectively communicate. The frustration Lewis experienced during that time is evident throughout the story. He also shares with Hurston that the Civil War had started and he’d had no idea at the time. He later gained knowledge that the point of the war was to free him and his fellow slaves. 

Following Robert E. Lee’s April 1865 surrender, Lewis told Hurston that Union soldiers came to the boat he was working on. They then delivered the news that the slaves had finally be freed . Not content to return to his prior life, Lewis and his fellow freed slaves teamed up to purchase land in Alabama. Located near Mobile, the men transformed the land they christened Africatown. 

Though Hurston faced controversy for her handling of the book’s subject matter, she kept the book intact. Much of the book took Lewis’s exact words and put them on paper. At the time she was trying to get it published, this prevented her from being able to do so. As her readers know, Hurston was known for her controversial views on anthropology and not shying away from dialogue considered vernacular. Much of that is evident in this book. 

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History

When Trucking Leads to Change

Anjali DeSimone

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The United States decision to resupply the Israeli military marked the beginning of a national crisis. In response to this decision, Arab members of the OPEC banned exports of petroleum to the United States and other supporting countries of Israel. Subsequently, oil prices quadrupled, and the economy begin to suffer. One of the people affected by this crisis was JW Edwards, A meat truck driver from Overland Park, Kansas. In an attempt to financially survive the crisis, Edwards and other truck drivers made up code names to let each other know where to find diesel fuel; however, this this did not last very long, as many gas stations did not supply enough diesel to meet trucker demand.   No gas meant no deliveries, and no deliveries meant no money. Not only was there no gas, but there had been talk of changing the maximum speed limit to fifty-five miles per hour. Edwards knew that if this continued for too long, he would be forced out of business. “I had to take things into my own hands.” he said. “My family was depending on me.” 

On the night of December 3rd, while passing through Blakeslee, Pennsylvania Edwards ran out of gas in the middle of the interstate. He had had enough. He picked up his CB radio and invited other nearby truckers to come block the interstate in protest.

When John Robinson, a local trucker from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania heard Edwards on the radio, he headed that way to show his support. Robinson knew and understood Edwards’ frustration all to well as he and his family were also feeling the affects of the oil crisis. He had been in the trucking business for thirty years, hauling lumber from state to state. Not only was this his families only source of income, but at the time, his wife had recently given birth to their fourth child. “Some nights he would come home and not say nothing,” remembers Mrs. Robinson. “I knew that he was worried, but I trusted that he would figure it out.”

The protest stretched nearly twelve miles, causing a standstill for nearly one thousand vehicles. It wasn’t long before truckers in other states followed the lead. The protest caught national attention, and although some state leaders promised changed, gas prices continued to rise. Since the protest had begun, food shortages were on the rise and the economy was a mess due to the over 100,00 people who were now unemployed.

It wasn’t until a group of six truckers from the Independent Driving Association decided to come together to speak with government officials that things begin to get better. Government officials agreed to ensure that the truck stops had enough diesel fuel to meet the demands of the truckers. They also worked together to appeal the decision to decrease the maximum speed limit.

In March of 1974, approximately six months after it had all started the embargo ended.  Negotiations between Israel and Syria were finalized. The affects of the crisis however, including the high fuel prices, lasted  throughout the 1970s.  

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