The chin and tongue of St. Anthony (via Anton Diaz)
Elaborately encased in gold, Anthony of Padua's tongue has arrived in New York City and is touring the major Catholic churches of the city throughout this week to commemorate the 750th anniversary of the discovery of the deceased saint's holy relics.
Renowned for the depth and beauty of his preaching, St. Anthony passed away of edema in 1231 and was buried in a small church in Padua, Italy, in accordance with his will. Canonized shortly after his death, the saint's body was exhumed thirty years later to be re-buried in a proper basilica that was constructed in his honor over the original church site. While his body had completely decomposed, Saint Anthony's tongue was found in shockingly good condition. It's said to have glistened, appearing as though it was still alive. Considered material proof of St. Anthony's gift at preaching and the eloquence of his spiritual sermons, the holy tongue was separated from the remains along with the saint's jawbone and left forearm, permanently preserved in reliquaries for veneration within the basilica.
Anthony was a Franciscan friar of Portuguese decent, but due to chronic health struggles and a sickly appearance, he spent much of his priesthood secluded in a rural hospice in Italy. It wasn't until a visiting group of Dominican friars arrived that Anthony was called upon to preach an impromptu sermon, and his power of speech was discovered.
The tone of his voice, the captivating manner with which he spoke, and the richness of his understanding and ability to convey the teachings of the Bible were so impressive that Anthony was asked to preach the gospel through out the country. He travelled through Italy and France, his preaching hailed as the "jewel case of the Bible" at the Papal court, with Pope Gregory IX declaring Anthony the "Ark of the Testament."Read More
The Snæfells peninsula in Iceland (all photographs and illustrations by the author)
Welcome to Snæfells, a little peninsula on the west of Iceland, around 190 km away from Reykjavík. Given the roads in the island (70 Km/h at most) and its population density, the place is basically in what I'd call the middle of nowhere. There are no major villages on the way — except for the fishing village Stykkishólmur (1,100 inhabitants), an early trading post in the XVI century. Nothing... except the entrance to the center of Earth. Or, at least, that's according to Jules Verne's A Journey to the Center of Earth (1864).
The road to the Snæfellsjökull
In his novel, Jules Verne describes how professor Otto Lidenbrock's expedition travels all the way to a volcano in Iceland, which he believes to lead to the center of the Earth after decoding some ancient notes in a runic manuscript (chapter XV):
We were now beginning to scale the steep sides of Snæfell. Its snowy summit, by an optical illusion not unfrequent in mountains, seemed close to us, and yet how many weary hours it took to reach it! The stones, adhering by no soil or fibrous roots of vegetation, rolled away from under our feet, and rushed down the precipice below with the swiftness of an avalanche.
The Snæfellsjökull volcano
This volcano was the Snæfellsjökull (Snæfells glacier), a stratavolcano around 1,200 meters (3,937 feet) high. Unlike other Icelandic volcanoes, this one seems to be particularly quiet: the last eruption was around 200 AD and, taking into account that I'm quite the jinx and it did not so much as shake during my visit, it looks like it will stay that way.Read More
Our team at Atlas Obscura is always exploring the overlooked and unexpected, whether in our own backyards or in far-flung locales. In One-Line Adventures, we send out some quick dispatches of recent discoveries.
"No one can know how many anonymous hands turned the late 1800s bluestone shards into the spiral staircase, throne room, arched doorways, firepits, and benches of Dibble's Quarry, nor can guess how many hikers since have rested weary bones on the cold royal seats, holding court while balanced on centuries of loose rock in the middle of the Vermont woods — but one thing about this eerie and magical is for sure; Dibble's Quarry invites the imagination to linger." — Michelle Enemark [Graphic Design, Video Production]
“On our last day in the Yucatán Peninsula, we found ourselves wandering alone through the Sian Ka´an Biosphere, gazing at the Mayan Ruins of Muyil, and dreaming of the 70 other structures believed to be hidden beneath the jungle.” — Erin Johnson [Field Agent, Los Angeles]
"The first snow falls on crumbling St. Patrick's Cemetery, the final resting place of Grass Valley, California's rowdy Gold Rush-era Irish Catholic." — Rachel James [Editor-in-Chief, Places]
"Surprisingly, this giant eye by Tony Tasset was hard to find in downtown Dallas, yet once you come upon its courtyard it's pretty reality rattling, and yes, those workers are taking their lunch in its ocular shade." — Allison C. Meier [Articles Editor]Read More
In the Big Four Ice Caves (photograph by Michael Matti)
Want to walk in a subterranean winter wonderland? Head to a melting glacier, where the changing of seasons and, many believe, the warming of the planet, contribute to the most ephemeral of secret chambers. In other parts of the world, deep mountain caves are also consumed with ice in strange otherworldly forms. Ice caves, as well as glacier caves, are both under constant change, always prone to collapse, and it's that dynamic aspect that makes them all the more beautiful.
Here are six of the most stunning ice caves to explore:
MENDENHALL ICE CAVES
Juneau, Alaska, United States
photograph by AER Wilmington DE
The receding Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska has been gradually melting away, revealing an ancient forest, as well as these gorgeous ice caves. On the interior, water pools in alien-like grottoes and drips over the curved overhangs to create rippling effects like stained glass. It's just 12 miles from downtown Juneau, but adventurers must first take a kayak and then ice climb in order to experience the temporary wonder.
Entrance to the ice cave (photograph by Kenneth J. Gill)
NIGARDSBREEN ICE CAVE
photograph by Guttorm Flatabø
The Jostedal Glacier in the Nigardsbreen region of Norway is also retreating, and its spectral ice cave was revealed in 2007. Described by some as an "ice cathedral," it is also in a state of constant flux, with the light from above diffused through its ice ceiling.
photograph by Guttorm Flatabø
photograph by Manuel Scheikl
Unlike our first two ice caves, Eisriesenwelt, also known as the "World of the Ice Giants," is an actual 42-mile limestone cave that curves through the Tennengebirge mountains, formed by a river that flowed through millions of years ago. Only the first mile beneath the surface is filled with ice, though, and before it was discovered in 1879 it was known only to local hunters who feared it as a gate to hell. Now visitors can tour through the ice formations that melt and refreeze throughout the year.Read More
Atka, Wolf Ambassador
(all photographs by Steven Acres, visit http://stevenacr.es to view more of his work)
Last week, the New York Obscura Society hosted the Wolf Conservation Center of South Salem, New York, at Greenpoint's Broken Land bar for an evening of cocktails and a discussion of our historic relationship with wolves, the part we've played in decimating our country's critically endangered wolf species, and our necessary role in their survival.
Atka, 11-year old Arctic gray wolf, and the star of the night
Our featured guest for the night was Atka, an 11-year old Arctic gray wolf and one of the center's three Wolf Ambassadors. Raised by the center's staff since he was a young pup of three weeks old, Atka is comfortable in the presence of humans and frequently travels around the Northeast, making appearances at schools and museums to aid in educating the public about the plight of our nation's wolves and to encourage a greater involvement in conservation efforts.
Spencer from the Wolf Conservation Center leading the evening's programming
Awaiting Atka's arrival
While Atka is certainly the celebrity of the Wolf Conservation Center, the center's real focus is on the captive breeding and preparation for release of Red and Mexican gray wolves, both highly endangered species which were at one point hunted to the brink of extinction in the wild. Unlike Atka, these wolves are kept in heavily wooded enclosures with as little human interaction as possible. A healthy fear of humans is crucial to a wolf's ability to survive upon release. Centuries of negative mythology and misinformation still plague wolves, making humans one of the greatest threats to native wolf populations.
Our guest of honor arrives
Atka waited in his greenroom van with his German Shepherd companion during the WCC's presentation, making his grand entrance as a finale to the night. Followed by a handler, he paced the length of the bar, undeniably majestic in his winter coat and seemingly un-phased by the myriad of camera lights and excited murmurs of his admirers.Read More
Few places in the world can claim such an artistic legacy as Fingal's Cave. The sea cave on the edge of the uninhabited Scottish island of Staffa had its strangely uniform hexagonal basalt columns formed thousands of years ago when lava slowly cooled and cracked. Ever since the cave was rediscovered in 1772 by naturalist Sir Joseph Banks, those six-sided forms have offered endless wonder to composers, artists, novelists, poets, and others who are captured by the curious sight.
Fingal's Cave (photograph by Michelle O'Connell)
1774 engraving of Fingal's Cave, illustrated by John Cleveley (via Wikimedia)
The name Fingal comes from an epic 18th century poem by James Macpherson, but the legend of the cave is much older than that. One story goes that it's part of a bridge an Irish giant named Finn McCool built to go wage war on his Scottish giant rival Benandonner. It happened that the rediscovery of the cave coincided with Romanticism, a time when nature with its danger and splendor was central to art, which played no small part in its high profile as a tourist destination and inspirational source. And it still has an influence, appearing in everything from Pink Floyd's early music to Matthew Barney's Cremaster films.
Here are just a few examples of art inspired by Fingal's Cave:Read More
Photograph taken before the 1910 execution of John D. Lee, who sits beside his future coffin, for his part in the Mountain Meadows massacre (via Salt Lake Tribune)
When executions in the United States changed from public spectacles to private affairs in the 19th century, there was a curious trend of formal invitations to the guests. These invitations to hangings and other forms of execution could be as ceremonial as an invite to a wedding, sometimes handwritten, other times specially engraved.
Invitation to a hanging from 1892 in the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum (photograph by the author)
For example, here's an 1892 invitation to the execution of one John Burns in Missoula, Montana, that is on display in the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. The fonts are varying and elaborate (keep in mind this all had to be set and printed by hand) and it has a somber dark border, despite its polite request of your presence making a macabre affair seem more like an afternoon party.
Burns was a jewel thief who attempted to shoot his partner-in-crime so he could have all the reward, but ended up killing an innocent young volunteer firefighter name Maurice Higgins instead. Curiously, his execution was followed with a report in The Missoulian that "The Body of Burns is Not in the Grave," and instead had been embalmed and put on display, although this wasn't confirmed, and was furthermore chased by rumors of his skin being made into shoes.
The first execution invitation for George Smiley (via truewest.ning.com)
The invitations to jurors, public figures, and law enforcement officers were often a requirement for sheriffs in the Old West, but how they carried them out showed their own individual flair, for better or worse. Perhaps none had such a frivolity with his execution invitations as F. J. Wattron in Arizona's Navajo County. The initial invitation for the hanging of George Smiley was printed on gold-lined paper that read:
You are hereby cordially invited to attend the hanging of one George Smiley, Murderer. His soul will be swung into eternity on Dec. 8, 1899, at 2 o'clock, p.m., sharp. Latest improved methods in the art of scientific strangulation will be employed and everything possible will be done to make the proceedings cheerful and the execution a success.
According to an article by Kathy Weiser for Legends of America, the invitation was acquired by a journalist and ended up being reprinted across the country and even in Europe, making it all the way to Berlin. President McKinley himself was apparently none too pleased with Wattron's blithe invitation, and as a punishment ordered a 30 day stay on the execution, which of course required the printing of a whole other invitation. This one Wattron apparently tried for a bit more restraint, keeping to a black-edged paper instead of the flashy gold, but you can practically see the sheriff's eyes rolling behind the new text: "With feelings of profound sorrow and regret, I hereby invite you to attend and witness the private, decent and humane execution of a human being; name, George Smiley, crime, murder." This was followed by a listing of the new date and time, as well as an urging to "deport yourself in a respectful manner."Read More
Dr. Evermor's Forevertron (photograph by Matt Bergstrom)
Around the world, self-taught builders have been inspired by dreams and daydreams to decorate their homes and yards with elaborate sculptures and artwork. These spectacular art gardens are visions of a more magical world realized through obsession. Here are eight of the world's most stunning outsider art gardens.
photograph by M.Maselli
One of the oldest documented outsider art gardens is the grandly named Palais Idéal, built by letter carrier Ferdinand Cheval in Hauterives, France.
While walking his long country mail route he often passed the time pondering architecture and world history. One day in 1879, he tripped over a rock that startled him from his reveries. Looking down, the strange shape of this stone inspired him, and he decided he must get to work now or he’d waste the rest of his life daydreaming. At first he would fill his pockets with other interesting rocks found on his route, and then later he used a wheelbarrow to gather increasing quantities of stone.
photograph by Daderot/Wikimedia
Working late each night with the experimental new modern material of concrete, he spent 33 years building his fantasy palace, which was finally complete in 1912. The structure is a romantic confection, densely covered with shapes and textures evoking exotic architecture, plants, and animals. Three colossal figures of César, Vercingétorix, and Archimedes support the Barbary Tower lookout. The trusty wheelbarrow is enshrined in a grotto inside the structure, and the strange stone that inspired the place is cemented in a place of honor as well. Along the walls are dozens of Cheval's boastful inscriptions about his accomplishment as a lowly but patient toiler who succeeded in making his dreams a concrete reality.
photograph by Gachepi/Wikimedia
photograph by Marine69/Wikimedia
THE GARDEN OF EDEN
photograph by soupstance/Flickr user
On the other side of the world, in the small town of Lucas, Kansas, Samuel P. Dinsmoor was also experimenting with cement to build a backyard Garden of Eden. After retiring from farming nearby in 1905, Dinsmoor moved into town and constructed an unusual stone house in the style of a log cabin.
photograph by Aaron Sumner
Instead of an ethereal dream palace like the Palais Ideal, Dinsmoor conceived of his "Cabin Home" as a showcase for his populist political views addressing the injustices of American society. Perhaps inspired by Masonic allegorical imagery, he filled the yard with a complex tableau of dozens of three dimensional figures leading from Adam and Eve’s original sin to the modern-day struggles of workers against capitalist injustice.Read More
In the Photo of the Week feature, we highlight an exceptionally amazing photograph submitted by an Atlas Obscura user.
Who needs a viewfinder when the ancient Romans built one for you? Atlas user Monica Petrus was able to use the remarkably preserved architecture in the ancient city of Dougga to perfectly frame this image of an even more complete structure. This composition was discovered by accident as she remembers it:
"As I broke away from the group like I always do, I found myself wandering silently through the ruins. I turned around and came upon a literally, perfectly framed shot."Read More
The Gowanus Canal (all photographs by the author unless indicated)
Having grown up in Brooklyn just a few blocks away, the stench of Gowanus Canal reminds me of my childhood, but for all the time I've spent smelling the canal I never imagined I’d one day go canoeing on it — and then, this October, I did.
The Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club is a volunteer organization that believes people should enjoy their waterfront, no matter how much lead, mercury, pesticide, cholera, typhoid, typhus, gonorrhea, and something called black mayonnaise (a 10-foot thick layer of various pollutants which cakes the bottom of the canal) it may be filled with. Logging over 2,000 trips last season, they have free outings weekly, the only requirement being that you wear a life vest. When I asked veteran dredger Owen Foote if he’d ever accidentally come in contact with canal water, he responded: “Certainly, and I have superpowers because of it.”
Indeed, both on and below its surface the Gowanus is filled with many a poison. Liquid coal tar, usually measured in parts per million, is measured in parts per hundred in the canal, and microbes found in the water have evolved a resistance to filth. Canoeing on the canal means pushing away plastic bags and empty soda cans with your oar, the vessel gliding over rainbow-colored clumps of chemicals and woefully soggy take out containers. At one point, I even passed a bubbling whirlpool of gunk, casually glugging away under one of the canal’s seven bridges.
1851 oil painting "Sunset at Gowanus Bay" by Henry Gritten (via Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, Tasmania)
Everybody’s favorite brownfield, today the Gowanus is practically venerated, a source of backwards Brooklyn pride as one of the most polluted spots in the nation — but it used to be much, much worse. Built in the mid-19th century in place of the Gowanus Creek, it quickly became a favorite dumping spot for local ink factories and the Mafia. In the 1880s, the canal was given its nickname “Lavender Lake” after its changing daily pigment due to the nearby dye manufacturers’ waste. At the time, some poor people were convinced that the rising rank fumes had healing powers, and would stand their asthmatic children on the canal bridges to absorb them. A common pastime in the warmer months was to stand on the banks and watch decomposing sludge boil and spit bubbles the size of basketballs ride the surface.Read More