Mortmain + Ascension Homily

First, I have to apologize.

Back in February, I told you an untruth. I claimed that the covered bridge in Philippi, West Virginia, crosses the Buckhannon River.

In fact, the Buckhannon flows into the Tygart Valley upriver from Philippi. The bridge crosses the Tygart Valley River.

Union troops marched across the bridge 150 years ago today. The ‘first land battle’ of the Civil War ensued…

…From the Sister-Death File:

“Mortmain.” Know what it is? This is a legal term for the way in which a community of vowed religious owns property. (The term can also apply to corporations or charities.)

Vowed religious individuals are already civilly dead. The passage of time does not bring the usual legal events in ownership of their property, like wills and estate taxes. The mort main, the ‘dead hand,’ grasps the property forever…

…Not sure when Ascension Day occurs?

Me, neither.

But here is a sermon:

Continue reading “Mortmain + Ascension Homily”

Wagon Train


(Click here to go to the full 3,752 × 2,380 pixels map.)

Not to be indelicate, but the air today was balmy enough for tromping through places where frog couples are busy making more little frogs.

I found myself skirting the Pigg River and made a captivating discovery.

The Iroquois made a warpath here in their endless seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century battles with the Catawba. In 1744, at the Treaty of Lancaster, Pa., the Iroquois ceded the use of their Great Warrior Path to the white man.

Countless Scotch-Irish and Germans, having made landfall in the New World at Philadelphia, travelled to homesteads in “the backcountry”—Virginny, the Carolinas, and Georgia—along this path.

The 1751 map of the “Carolina Road” (above) fascinates me for a number of reasons.

1. The wagon road that passed along the Pigg River, down the hill from my rectory, also passed through Lancaster, Pa.–my dear mom’s hometown, 350 miles away.

2. The road passed into the piedmont at Big Lick, later to be known as Roanoke, through the pass formed by the Staunton River, also called the Roanoke River.

3. Heading upriver from Jamestown, the river named for King James forks near the land of Thomas Jefferson. The larger fork, which drains acreage from the westernmost reaches of the eastern seaboard, used to be called the Fluvanna, for Queen Anne. (These days, the whole thing is called the James.)

4. The town of Upper Marlboro in Prince George’s County, Md., where I lived three very happy years, appears on the map. But the city of Washington does not. (Washington did not, as yet, exist.)

5. Fry and Jefferson made an exquisite map. It depicts all the rights-of-way in use at the time with enough precision to aid in making practical travel decisions. I especially love the way they depicted the mountain ridges–no pretense of topographical accuracy but thoroughly helpful in travel planning.

One more fascinating geographic fact:

As everyone knows, the capital city of our nation is divided into four quadrants. And everyone knows that the U.S. Capitol serves as the axis-forming point. From the Capitol, the Mall divides northwest Washington from southwest Washington, North Capitol Street divides northwest from northeast, and East Capitol and South Capitol Streets likewise divide the quadrants.

Roanoke, Va., also has four quadrants. In Roanoke, the axis is formed by Jefferson Street, and the old Norfolk and Western railroad bed!

(If you hate geography geeks, you are visiting the wrong website.)