Human Chess

The cruelty of the Inquisition is somewhat axiomatic in the modern West, yet it seems that even they had a light-hearted, if dark, side.  Spain was enormously popular in Spain, having been brought there through the Muslim conquerors of Al-Andalus.  In 1485, Pedro de Arbués is said to have set up a game of human chess, using those convicted by the Inquisition as pieces.  Two blind monks played, although if this part is true, it must have been quite an achievement, since while blind chess is relatively common today, at the time, it was nothing short of a marvel.  As each piece was captured, the person was executed.  What happened to the survivors is unknown, but most likely, they, too, were put into the bag, as we all are someday.

The Porcelain Apes of Moses Mendelssohn

In Europe, the Jews faced innumerable forms of discrimination, but perhaps the oddest was as follows. The first porcelain factories in Europe we rarely profitable, and so often needed state subsidies in order to collect the experience and quality necessary to become self-sustaining.  Frederick the Great, always eager to save the state a thaler, hit upon an unusual idea: every Jewish Prussian would, upon marriage, be required to buy a certain amount of porcelain products.  The exact objects would include whatever the porcelain factory had lying around unsold.  When Moses Mendelssohn wed, his porcelain surprise included over twenty life-size porcelain apes, surely one of the more unusual wedding presents imaginable.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is believed to stand upon the spot where Jesus was crucified, and contain the spot of his burial and resurrection, as well.  Located in Israel, it was fought over for centuries.  The Christians are so unable to share the location, that the keys to the church belong to Muslims, who control it and maintain it and keep Christians from killing each other over it.  The church itself is managed by five competing Christian delegations, representing the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic, and Syrian Orthodox churches.  The Nuseibeh and Judeh families have for centuries served in these hereditary roles, able to do what the Christians cannot at the final resting place of their own savior.