Thursday, March 18, 2021

St. Joseph, Spouse As Mousetrap

Guido Reni, St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus
Italian, 1620s
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum
The image of St. Joseph has had a curious history, reflecting the attitude to Joseph as it has developed through time. Today we tend to think of him as the supportive companion of the Virgin Mary or as the strong, silent protector of the Infant Jesus or as the craftsman going quietly about his work. But all of these images are only a few centuries old, if that.

For most of the history of Christian art St. Joseph was either ignored or treated as a very minor background figure. Early depictions of the birth of Jesus don’t include him at all! And, since his appearances in the New Testament end with the episode of the Finding of Jesus in the Temple at the age of twelve, that (as a background figure at the Nativity) was pretty much the limit of inclusion for Joseph.

In early medieval images in both the East and the West Joseph, when he appears at all, is segregated from Mary and the Christ Child, even in Nativity images. Further, he is invariably shown not as a sturdy man in his prime, but as an old, indeed sometimes a very old. man.

Guido da Siena, Nativity
Italian, ca. 1270
Paris, Musée du Louvre

In this thirteenth-century Italian Nativity scene, Joseph (shown seating at the extreme left at the bottom) has about the same level of importance as the midwives who bathe the Baby Jesus or the kneeling shepherd and his dog.


Duccio, Nativity
Italian, 1308-1311
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art
In this picture, by Duccio, Joseph has increased in size, a sure indicator that he is becoming a more important figure.  So, he is now marginally more important than the midwives and the shepherds with their sheep and dog because he is bigger in size.


Both of these aspects of Joseph’s iconography, his advanced age and his detachment, spring from the concern to protect both the divinity of Christ and the perpetual virginity of Mary. It was thought that a younger, more involved figure might raise questions about his role.1

By the later middle ages this was beginning to change. While still shown as an old man, Joseph began to take a more active role in the scenes of Jesus’ life. He is brought into the same space as Mary and Jesus.  He begins to help at the birth, join Mary in adoration of the Child, welcome the Magi, take part in the Presentation in the Temple and to work.

Master of Flemalle, Nativity
Netherlandish, 1420
Dijon, Musée des Beaux-Arts

Fra Filippo Lippi, Adoration of the Shepherds
Italian, c. 1455
Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi

Jacques Daret, Adoration of the Magi
French, 1433-1435
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Jacques Daret, Presentation of Jesus
French, 1433-1435
Paris, Musée du Petit Palais

Other scenes, taken from apocryphal stories of the life of Mary, began to appear, among them the story of his choice as Mary’s husband and the marriage ceremony itself.  According to the stories, Mary had many eligible suitors.  In order to ensure that the choice would fall to a truly good man, the Temple elders required all the suitors to bring a dry rod to the Temple.  The rods were placed on the altar overnight.  In the morning, only one had blossomed, the rod belonging to Joseph.

Giotto, Mary's Suitors Bring Their Rods to the Temple
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Arena/Scrovegni Chapel



Giotto, The Suitors Praying Over Their Rods
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Arena/Scrovegni Chapel

Giotto, The Marriage of Mary and Joseph
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Arena/Scrovegni Chapel
In the scene of the wedding of Mary and Joseph he carries his lily topped rod as a symbol of his own purity and as the sign of divine appointment as foster father for Jesus.

Fra Angelico, Marriage of the Virgin
Italian, 1431-1432
Florence, Museo di San Marco


Raphael, Marriage of Virgin
Italian, 1504
Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera

Rosso, Marriage of Virgin
Italian, 1523
Florence, San Lorenzo

Alonso Cano, Marriage of the Virgin
Spanish, 1655-1657
Castres, Musée Goya

One of the most interesting images of Saint Joseph from the later middle ages/early Renaissance period appears on the right wing of the Annunciation triptych known as the Merode Altarpiece.

Workshop of Robert Campin (Master of Flemalle), Merode Altarpiece
Netherlandish, 1427-1432
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters Collection


This triptych, now in the Cloisters branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was painted by the Flemish artist Robert Campin and his workshop during the second quarter of the fifteenth century. The central panel shows the Annunciation taking place in a typical 15th-century town parlor. The right wing shows Joseph in his workshop.  He is seated at a bench and table by the open window of his shop, surrounded by the implements of his trade. 

Robert Campin and Workshop, St. Joseph, the Mousetrap
Detail of the Merode Altarpiece,  Right Wing

Some completed projects appear on his workbench and on display in the window of the shop.  Most conspicuous among them are two mousetraps (one is on the table, the other on display in the open window). Scholars have identified the symbolic meaning of these mousetraps. They are “the devil’s mousetrap".2

Robert Campin and Workshop, St. Joseph with completed mousetrap surrounded by tools and wood shavings
Detail of the Merode Altarpiece,  Right Wing

Robert Campin and Workshop, St. Joseph with completed mousetrap on display
Detail of the Merode Altarpiece,  Right Wing

The idea of the mousetrap as a symbol for the Redemption is drawn from sermons of St. Augustine – the Incarnation is God’s mousetrap to catch the devil. The devil wasn’t expecting the Messiah to come in the form of a human baby, especially one born into such humble surroundings.  Further, St. Joseph himself is a third mousetrap. His presence as the apparent father of Jesus confused the devil further. The devil anticipated contending with a different kind of Messiah, not the child of a humble carpenter.  So, by inspiring the human death of Jesus the devil was himself destroyed.

This image, equating St. Joseph with the mousetrap, stands at a seminal point for the Josephite iconography. It is probably not a coincidence that this image appeared during the period in which devotion to St. Joseph began to develop. It was in 1479 that the feast of St. Joseph, celebrated on March 19, was added to the Roman calendar of commemorations.

During the later Renaissance and into the Baroque period Joseph became more and more evident and involved. His age began to change as well. Although some artists continued to depict him as an older man many began to depict him as young and vigorous. Even those who chose to make him older never again made him as old as did the earlier images.
Michelangelo, Holy Family (Doni Tondo)
Italian, ca. 1506
Florence, Gallerie degli Uffizi

Caravaggio, Rest on the Flight into Egypt
Italian, 1596-1597
Rome, Galleria Doria-Pamphilji

Philippe de Champaigne, Presentation of Jesus
French, 1648
Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts

Caesar van Everdingen, Holy Family
Dutch, c. 1660
Utrecht, Museum Catherijneconvent

Francesco Mancini, Holy Family
Italian, c.1730
Vatican City, Musei Vaticani, Pinacoteca


Artists also began to depict a closer relationship between Jesus and his foster father. They were more frequently seen in close connection to each other. Joseph now participates in family life.  He carries and cares for the infant Jesus and teaches the boy Jesus.

Lucio Massari, La Madonna del Bucato
Italian, c. 1620
Florence, Gallerie degli Uffizi


George de la Tour, The Boy Jesus and St. Joseph  in the Carpenter's Shop
French, 1642
Paris, Musée du Louvre


Sebastian Martinez, St. Joseph with the Christ Child
Spanish, c. 1650
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado


Juan Antonio Frias y Escalane, Saint Joseph and the Infant Christ
Spanish, c. 1660-1665
Saint Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum


Giovanni Battista Piazzetta, St. Joseph with the Christ Child
Italian, c. 1740
Private Collection



Noel Halle, Holy Family
French, 1753
Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum

Finally, with Mary and Jesus, he forms a sort of terrestrial trinity represented by the familiar formula: Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Bartolome Murillo, The Two Trinities
Spanish, 1675-1682
London, National Gallery of Art

In more recent times Joseph has begun to stand on his own, as a saint in his own right. On December 8, 1870 Pope Pius IX, in the decree Quaemadmodem Deus (“As Almighty God”) declared him the patron of the universal Church. *

In 1899, in the encyclical Quamquam pluries (“Although many times”) Pope Leo XIII urged all Catholics to give Joseph special honor during the month of March and especially on the 19th of March, his feast day.* 

Further the phrase “Blessed be Saint Joseph, her most chaste spouse" was added to the Divine Praises by Pope Benedict XV on February 23, 1921.  Benedict XV also encouraged devotion to Saint Joseph in the Motu Proprio, Bonum Sane (It was a good thing), of July 25, 1920. *

In 1955 Pope Pius XII instituted an additional feast day for Saint Joseph, under the title of St. Joseph the Worker. It is celebrated on May 1, although it is frequently displaced by the Easter weekday.

In 2012 Pope Benedict XVI, whose baptismal name is Joseph, proclaimed Joseph as patron of the New Evangelization during the special Year of Faith celebrated that year.*

Similarly, Pope Francis, in an Apostolic Letter, Patris Corde ("With the Heart of a Father"), dated December 8, 2020, has proclaimed the liturgical year 2021 to be a special year devoted to Saint Joseph during which Catholics will reflect on Joseph's life and qualities.  The Pope notes that it has been 150 years since Pius IX proclaimed Saint Joseph as patron of the universal Church. He adds further that 2020, the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, has reminded us of the importance of those seemingly hidden lives that keep the world going.  As he says "Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation. "*


© M. Duffy, 2012, updated 2021 and 2022.
___________________________________________
1. A good summary of the history of images of St. Joseph is found at http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=4464&CFID=126000758&CFTOKEN=56733566

2. Meyer Schapiro, "Muscipula Diaboli," The Symbolism of the Mérode Altarpiece, The Art Bulletin, Vol. 27, No. 3 (Sep., 1945), pp. 182-187. http://reserves.fcla.edu/rsv/NC/010014478-1.pdf

Also see: Margaret B. Freeman, “The Iconography of the Merode Altarpiece”, Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, Vol. 16, no. 4, December 1957, pp. 130-139.

*  The Papal documents referred to are available at the website of the Holy See (http://www.vatican.va/content/vatican/it.html).  The landing page is in Italian, but one can choose another language in the box at the upper right corner (for the entire site) and each document has translations available in multiple languages.  Scroll down on the landing page to the small portraits of the Popes and click on the Pope whose writings you are interested in.  That will lead you to the website devoted to the works of each Pope from Benedict XIV (1740-1758) to Francis.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Hail Glorious Saint Patrick!

St. Patrick in Stained Glass
Unknown origin, 19th-early 20th Century
Location Unknown
In spite of not knowing the origin or location of this window I am drawn to the image of St. Patrick that it presents 
-- an intense man in the prime of life.  This is probably how he might have looked at the start of his Irish mission.
"Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.









I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation."

(Excerpt from the Lorica, or Breastplate, of St. Patrick)


On March 17th, in many places around the world, special celebrations take place. In the United States the city of Chicago dies its river green, while in New York Fifth Avenue is transformed into a parade ground over which thousands of people parade in front of thousands of other people. All the events purport to honor the memory of a man who lived in the 5th century. His name was Patrick (actually Patricius) and he is the patron saint of Ireland and of the Irish.
 
The story of Patrick is fairly well known. Born in what was still Roman Britain, he was kidnapped by Irish slave raiders while still a teenager and brought to then-pagan Ireland. There he was sold as a slave to a landowner who put him to work as a shepherd. After six years of slavery, during which Patrick spent much of his time in prayer, he had a dream in which he was told that a ship awaited that would take him home. Patrick followed the dream message and fled his slavery. He did find a ship and reached home.

After a short time at home Patrick again had a dream. In this dream he heard what he called the “voice of the Irish” calling to him to come back and bring them the Gospel. He again followed the dream message, became a priest and then a bishop and returned to Ireland. The rest, as they say, is history.

Patrick was not the only missionary to the Irish, there were others as well, including some who were native Irish, but it is he who is remembered best.  His mission field appears to have been located between the north of the country and the midlands, while the south appears to have been evangelized by others.  Patrick is credited with some of the most high profile conversions among the Irish.  He is also credited with an elegant demonstration of the Holy Trinity, using the native three-lobed clover, called 'seamróg’, to demonstrate the doctrine of the Three in One.

He also was the inspiration for one of the foremost pilgrimages of medieval Europe, one that continues to this very day.  This is the very seriously taxing pilgrimage to what is known as "Saint Patrick's Purgatory".  The location is on an island in the middle of Lough Derg in County Donegal.  Here the pilgrim endures a really soul-touching experience of fasting, prayer and endurance under adverse conditions.  

The object of the pilgrimage is penance.  The story of the shrine is that Christ himself showed Saint Patrick a cave on the island in which he could see the tortures of the damned.  People initially came to the island to see the cave and to see for themselves the tortures they hoped to escape through their penitence.  The cave has been sealed since an attempt was made during the Reformation era to close the shrine (in 1632).  However, the pilgrimage has continued unabated.  

Guillaume Vrelant, Christ Showing Purgatory to Saint Patrick
From the Speculum historiale by Vincent of Beauvais
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1455
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 310, fol. 161

During the three-day pilgrimage, the pilgrim eats very little, goes at least one night without sleep and follows a prescribed route around the island, praying barefoot in whatever kind of weather conditions prevail for that day.  It is not for the faint of heart.  

Master of the Roman de Fauvel, Saint Patrick Blessing a Pilgrim About the Enter the Purgatory
From Vies de saints
French (Paris), c. 1300-1350
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 183, fol. 242v

Chroniques II Workshop, Saint Patrick Blesses a Man About to Enter the Purgatory
From a Legenda aurea by Jacobus de Voragine
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1445-1465
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 673, fol.178

Jacques de Besancon, A Pilgrim Named Nicolas at Saint Patrick's Purgatory
From the Legenda aurea by Jacobus de Voragine
French (Paris), c. 1480-1490
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 244, fol. 104v

Two friends of mine made the pilgrimage in 2018.  They joined a long line of pilgrims going back to the late fifth or early sixth century.  

Jeanne de Montbaston, Pilgrims at Saint Patrick's Purgatory
From Vie de saints
French (Paris), c. 1325-1350
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 185, fol. 190
I particularly enjoyed finding this illumination because of the fairly accurate representation of that uniquely Irish structure, the round tower.  Round towers were especially associated with monasteries and one wonders how Jeanne de Montbaston learned about them.  Perhaps she or one of her family members made the pilgrimage themselves.

Aside from the illustrations of the pilgrimage, Patrick’s contribution to art is not direct. He did not create any art that we know of and there are few images of him that are not very late and derivative. BUT, the impetus given by Patrick and the other Christian missionaries to the arts in Ireland is immeasurable. In the centuries following their conversion Irish artists created a unique merger of the old Celtic La Tène art forms with the narrative forms inherent in the late antique Christian images which came to them from the Continent. This fusion produced some of the most impressive works of the early middle ages.

Ruins of the monastery of Clonmacnoise
Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly

This was a golden age for Ireland. The monasteries were filled with clerics studying both pagan and Christian literature and creating their own works from their own thought. In addition to this they collected and set down the old pre-Christian legends of Ireland, which would have been lost given the turmoil that would beset that country in centuries to come. It has long been acknowledged that during the years of invasion that brought down the remains of the Roman Empire and the aftermath (called collectively the “Dark Ages”) it was the activities of the Irish monasteries that kept classical learning alive in Western Europe. Irish monks were missionaries to Dark Age Britain and Europe, returning to the Continent what they had received and taking it forward into the new medieval age.

Among the great works of art produced during this golden age were:

The Insular Style of manuscript painting, most famously the amazing Book of Kells The book contains the four Gospels of the New Testament and includes some of the most detailed works of interlaced ornament in northern Europe, predominantly clustered in the Gospel of Matthew.  It blends elements of abstract La Tene and Viking ornament with figures inspired by classical antiquity into something quite distinctively unique to Irish culture.  Although probably produced in an Irish monastic settlement off the coast of Scotland, it was carried to Ireland by monks seeking refuge from the Viking invasions.  The various episodes in the life of this book may have caused the loss of pages.  Indeed, it is almost miraculous that this book has survived for so long, given the sometimes perilous nature of the years through which it has passed.

Madonna and Child
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 7v


Breves causae, Matthew 1 to 3
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 8r


Evangelist Matthew
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 28v


Christ in Majesty
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Tinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 32v


Chi Rho at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew
from Book of Kells
Irish, 6th century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 34r



Matthew 26:30, Christ in Gethsemeni
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 114r

Matthew 27:38, Jesus is Crucified Between Two Theives
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 124r

Symbols of the Four Evangelists, placed between the Gospels of Matthew and Mark
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 129v

Opening Page of the Gospel of Mark
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 130r

Mark 15:25, "And it was the third hour: and they crucified him"
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 183r

Mark 16:19, The Ascension
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 187v


Opening Page of the Gospel of Luke
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 188r

Luke Chapter 4, The Temptation of Christ
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 202v

Luke 4:1,"The Spirit led Jesus into the desert"
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 203r

Luke 24:1, The Resurrection
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 285r


Symbols of the Four Evangelists, placed between the Gospels of Luke and John
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 290v

Evangelist John
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 291v

Opening Page of the Gospel of John
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 292r


The High Crosses of Irish monasteries, such as those at Clonmacnoise and Monasterboice


Cross of the Scriptures (replica)
Irish, 10th century
Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly
Here you can get an idea of the scale of the high crosses.

Center image of Cross of the Scriptures (original)
Irish, 10th century
Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly
The original cross is now preserved indoors at the Clonmacnoise Interpretive Center.



Cross of Muiredach
Irish, 10th century
Monasterboice, Co. Louth

Central Image of Cross of Muiredach
Irish, 10th century
Monasterboice, Co. Louth


Amazingly intricate metalwork, including

The Ardagh Chalice

Ardagh Chalice
Irish, 8th century
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland
The chalice is much larger than the typical chalice used for liturgy in later periods.

Ardagh Chalice (detail)
Irish, 8th century
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland


The Derrynaflan Chalice
Derrynaflan Chalice
Irish, Early 9th century
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland



The Clonmacnoise Crozier

Crozier of Clonmacnoise
Irish, Late 11th century
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland



This is probably the most complex and beautiful metal object produced in Ireland in the early middle ages.  It is also the climax of the style.  During the second half of the 12th century Ireland came more and more under English control and lost much of its unique and separate artistic identity.2

Cross of Cong
Irish, 1123
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland

The cross was made around the year 1123 to house a relic of the True Cross which is recorded to have been presented to Turlough O'Conor, the High King of Ireland at the time, in 1122.  Recent conservation work on the cross has revealed the oak wood core into which a small receptacle was carved to contain the fragment of the True Cross.  The core was clad in a composite brass shell and the receptacle was covered with a dome of rock crystal, which has miraculously survived.  The exterior decoration is "golden filigree, gilding, silver sheeting, niello and silver inlay, and glass and enamel settings".3

Central section, Cross of Cong
Irish, 1123
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland
The central crystal ornament once covered a small fragment of the True Cross.


Portion of the upright section, Cross of Cong
Irish, 1123
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland


Cross of Cong, Base of the Cross
Irish, 1123
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland
Detail of Cross of Cong showing details of filigree work, casting, enameling and jewel setting

Further details of the rock crystal, filigree in gold and silver and enamel work from the center of the cross.

On a small personal note -- It is interesting to me that two of the four names inscribed on the cross belong to two people with my own last name:  Muiredach Ua Dubthaig (Muiredach O'Duffy) and Domnall mac Flannacain Ui Dubthaig (Donal mac Flanagan O'Duffy), both of whom were important churchmen.  The other inscribed names are those of the High King of Ireland, Turlough O'Conor, and of the craftsman who made it.  The inscription is in Latin and Irish and runs around the edges of the cross.  

Edge of the Cross of Cong, showing part of the inscription.



The translated inscription reads:
+ By this cross is covered the cross on which the creator of the world suffered (in Latin)
A prayer for Muiredach Ua Dubthaig, senior ecclesiastic of Ireland (in Irish)
A prayer for Tairdelbach Ua Conchobair, king of Ireland, by whom was made this ornament (in Irish)
A prayer for Domnall mac Flannacáin Uí Dubthaig from the borders of Connacht, successor of Commán and Ciarán, by whom was made this ornament (in Irish)
A prayer for Máel Ísu mac Bratáin Uí Echach, who made this ornament (in Irish)
+ By this cross is covered the cross on which the creator of the world suffered (in Latin).4
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1.  Obtaining free images of the illustrations in the Book of Kells that are decent quality has previously been very difficult.  Understandably Trinity College Library has been very protective of their prize possession and of their copyright privileges.  However, highly detailed images of the entire book are now available on  the Trinity College Digital Collections website at  http://digitalcollections.tcd.ie/home/index.php?DRIS_ID=MS58_003v  I have taken advantage of this wonderful new opportunity to capture images and to understand the book as a whole and have, hence replaced all the former images on this blog.

2.  https://www.museum.ie/en-IE/Collections-Research/Irish-Antiquities-Division-Collections/Collections-List-(1)/Late-Medieval


  3.  https://www.museum.ie/en-IE/Collections-Research/Irish-Antiquities-Division-Collections/Collections-List-(1)/Early-Medieval/The-Cross-of-Cong/Materials,-Workmanship-Recent-Discoveries











© M. Duffy, 2012 and 2016, with major revisions 2021.