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Monday, December 30, 2013

Chess and Religion

     Bet you didn’t know chessplayers had a patron saint, did you? In the 16th century, St. Teresa of Avila was proclaimed patroness of chessplayers by church authorities in Spain.
     At one time or another, chess was forbidden by Muslims, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Jews, the Puritans, and most recently by the Taliban. Chess (shatranj) was a legal issue after Mohammad died in 642 and in 655 his son-in-law disapproved of the game for his sect of Muslims because he believed the carved figures of the chess pieces were graven images. In 780, the caliph al-Mahdi wrote to Mecca religious leaders to give up chess played with dice. In 1005, chess was banned in Egypt and all the chess sets and pieces were ordered to be burned.
     In 1061, Cardinal Damiani (1007-1072) forbade the clergy to play chess and wrote to the Pope complaining that chess was being played by some clergy and lay people. In 1093, chess was condemned and forbidden by the Eastern Orthodox Church.
     In 1125, the Eastern Orthodox monk John Zonares issued a directive banning chess as debauchery and 1128, St. Bernard of Clairvaux forbade the Knights Templar from playing chess. In 1195, rabbi Maimonides included chess among the forbidden games. 
     In 1240, the Worcester Synod of England forbade chess to the clergy and the monastic orders and in 1254, King Louis IX issued a religious edict forbidding chess as a useless and boring game. Then in 1260, King Henry III instructed the clergy to leave chess alone. In 1291, the Archbishop of Cantebury threatened to put the prior and canons on a diet of bread and water unless they desisted from playing chess and priests were forbidden to play chess up to 1299.
     In 1310, chess was forbidden to the clergy in Germany in a decree from the Council of Trier. in 1329, chess was banned by the clergy in the Synod of Wurzburg in Germany and in 1375, King Charles V of France, under the influence of the church, prohibited chess.
     By 1500 Jews were allowed to play chess on the Sabbath. In 1551 the leading clerics of Russia compiled rules which included the prohibition of chess. Clergymen in Russia associated chess with witchcraft and heresy in the late 16th century. The Puritans greatly discouraged chess, but that should be no surprise; they discouraged just about everything.
     In 1981, chess was forbidden in Iran by Ayatollah Khomeini but he had a change of heart in 1988 and decided to allow it. Chess was forbidden by the Taliban in Afghanistan for 15 years.
     Some Popes played chess: Pope Leo XIII (Gioacchino Pecci), Pope Gregory VI, Pope Innocent III, Pope John Paul I, Pope John Paul II, and Ope Leo X.
     Many years ago I played in a week tournament and a certain pastor asked me how I did. I replied that I did OK on Saturday, winning all three games, but Sunday was a disaster; I was tired and lost both games. His reply was, “I think it was probably because you were playing on Sunday.” He thought chess was a waste of time to begin with and playing on Sunday was definitely a no-no.
     An article titled The Symbolism of Chess by Titus Burckhardt appeared in Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 3, No. 2. (Spring 1969). It seems rather absurd to me, but I’ll give the link to it anyway. HERE
     Other: The Best Ever Sports Talk Blog, Religious Chess Sets (no kidding!) In 1859 a fellow named Edmond Neville authored a book titled The Chess Players, Sermon to Young Men

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