Vincent van Gogh (pictured above), the painter and former evangelist, cut off his ear today in 1888. According to newspaper reports, he fought with fellow painter Paul Gauguin and chased him with a razor. When he failed to to catch him, he cut off the lower half of his own left ear, took it to a nearby brothel and gave it to a girl called Rachel, saying, ‘Guard this object carefully.’
Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter Day Saints, or Mormons, was born today in 1805, in the town of Sharon, Vermont. By the time he was 15, during the religious revival sweeping the American states, he was starting to experience the visions which led to his publication of The Book of Mormon.
Edward Schillebeeckx, the Belgian Catholic theologian, died today in 2009 at the age of 95. He helped reshape Catholicism at the Second Vatican Council, but he was hauled over the coals three times during his life (thankfully, not literally) by Rome’s doctrine police, who suspected his books of heresy.
‘I do not begrudge any believer the right to describe and live out his belief in accordance to old models of experience, culture and ideas, but this attitude isolates the church’s faith from any future and divests it of any real missionary power.’ Edward Schillebeeckx
Today in 551, the Pope did a runner. In the still violent, centuries-old dispute over the nature of Christ, the eastern emperor’s representatives tried to arrest Pope Vigilus in the basilica of St Peter of Hormisdas in Constantinople, but the altar toppled, almost crushing the pope. Vigilus fled and hid in a church in Chalcedon.
Today in 1987 the Finnish Tourist Board got Santa Claus an audience with the Pope to prove that the real deal was from Finland.
Image: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam