Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Everywhere we go I seem to notice the sheep. Driving over the Yorkshire Dales, over the mountains of Greece, and even in the stone carvings of early Christian Churches in Turkey, I see sheep. I don't know what it is about the furry little creatures, but I love them. Maybe it's because we had sheep when I was a child. Well, first we had pigs. My parents' first house was a farm in western Pennsylvania 25 miles north of Pittsburgh. The house, barns, corn crib, fields and woods were our playground and they figured prominently among my first memories. I'm not sure why we got the pigs. My dad worked in the city. Maybe it was a little like the television show "Green Acres", except our pigs were confined to the barn and one of ours was named Twinkle Toes. After the pigs disappeared, (my brother and I wouldn't eat pork chops for a while) we tried sheep. Patrick and Matilda were the Adam and Eve of our little flock. After that came Joshua and Jericho, then not in any particular order and not necessarily of the tribe of Patrick came Granny, Mary, and several others. The Ewes tried to nibble our leather shoelaces when we came down the stairs into their pen from the upper barn, but Patrick tried to board us into the wall like a 250 pound hockey player with a grudge. We steered clear of Patrick. When possible.

Sheep figure into early Christian decoration of churches, too. We went to Hagia Sophia in Istanbul - a soaring monument to power, it has served as a the "center of the universe," the imperial church, the first church in Christendom where the Byzantine Emperors were crowned and a great mosque after the fall of Constantinople. Now a museum, the building overtakes my senses with its scale. Easy to miss after all that grandeur was a small area off to the side dedicated to the fallen arches, columns, and decoration surrounding a drawing of the earlier Hagia Sophia. (The first St. Sophia was destroyed and the current church built over and around the site of the older church.) There on the grass were two long carved stone lintels decorated with sheep following one another nose to tail along the line of the carved molding. I noticed them immediately and thought, in the midst of all this imperial architecture and grandeur, in the vacuum created by the prohibition of figural art, the sheep were so welcome and familiar looking that they became at once one of my favorite things about the day.

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