Beguines – the good women of northern Europe

Amidst the fervant religiosity of the Crusades a female movement emerged at the start of the 12th century. Across the Low Countries and the German lands women began to live alone, and devoted themselves to prayer and good works. They were not nuns, they did not take vows or give up property, but they devoted themselves to attending to the poor.

About the beginning of the 13th century some of them grouped their cabins together to form a community, called a Beguinage. The movement would decline over the 16th century, but survived with a handful of Beguines into the 21st century.

The Art of Germany, Andrew Graham-Dixon, BBC 4

From spires to shards – London’s 2012 skyline

By 2012 London’s skyline will have been transformed. Since the Second World War a city of church spires dominated by the dome of St. Pauls has slowly given way to taller buildings. By 2012 both the Gherkin and Tower 42 will be topped by the Heron Tower (or the Walkie Talkie) at 202 metres tall, the Bishopsgate Tower (or the Cheese Grater) at 235m and the Pinnacle (or the Helter Skelter building) at 288m. And all of these will be dwarfed by the London Bridge Tower (or the Shard) at 310m or 72 floors.

This will make the Shard the tallest bulding in the EU when it overtakes the Commerzbank Tower in Frankfurt, Germany (at 259m). It will not be the tallest building in Europe, however. That title will go to the 380m high Mercury City Tower in Moscow, to be completed next year. And by 2016 the Federation Tower East in Moscow will reach 506m.

From the Economist, Friday 3 December 2010

Qatar – small enough to fit in your pocket

Qatar is ranked 164th in area and 148th in population amongst the world’s sovereign states. This makes the gulf state about the same size as Yorkshire (11,437 km² to 11,897 km²) and has a population a little bit bigger than Merseyside (1.69 million to 1.35 million).

It is a little bit smaller than Connecticut (14,357 km²) or Puerto Rico (13,792 km²), but is nearly three times as big as the USA’s smallest state, Rhode Island (4,002 km²).  Its population is sandwiched between Idaho (1,584,985) and Nebraska (1,842,641).

In 2022, it will be hosting the World Cup.It is by far the smallest country to have ever hosted the World Cup – the next smallest is Switzerland (41,285 km²) who hosted in 1954. But in population terms, Qatar is only just the smallest – Uruguay only had a population of 1,734,000 in 1930 when it hosted the World Cup in 1930.