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There Are Now Only Two Living Members of the Shaker Faith

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Until recently, there were only three known members of the Shaker faith living in the United States—and now, the Associated Press reports, the number is down to two.

According to one of her peers, Brother Arnold Hadd, Sister Frances Carr, 89, died on Monday after battling cancer. Hadd, 60, and a woman named Sister June Carpenter, 78, are now the only Shakers left in their tiny religious community—a village in New Gloucester, Maine, called Sabbathday Lake.

The Shakers are a Christian denomination whose basic tenets include gender equality, pacifism, communal property ownership, and celibacy. They formed in England during the 1700s, from a group that had left the Quakers. The physical act of shaking and ecstatic movement during worship led to the group's unofficial moniker: “Shaking Quakers.” (The group’s formal name is the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing.)

To escape persecution, the Shakers left England in 1774, and settled in the American colonies to freely practice their beliefs and attempt to form a utopian community. They became renowned for their furniture craftsmanship, and for inventions like the flat broom and the spring clothespin.

The Shakers were never a large religious community, but over the decades, their numbers dwindled. Prior to the Civil War, nearly 6000 Shakers lived in the U.S.—and at one point, Sabbathday Lake, which was settled in 1783, had nearly 200 members. The group’s decline is largely due to their celibate lifestyle, and also due to the fact that they no longer take in orphans and raise them in the Shaker faith. (The Shakers adopted Carr.)

Today, Sabbathday is home to the only active Shaker Community in the world, according to the community’s website. But despite the odds, its surviving members remain hopeful that the Shaker way of life will persevere. “As long as we do God’s work I believe in the essence of my soul that there will always be vocations sent to this way of life,” Hadd told PBS in 2010.

[h/t Associated Press]

Two Unknown Paintings by Raphael Discovered on the Vatican's Walls

The Vatican Museums are home to numerous famous art treasures, created by masters like Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo. Now, artnet News reports, the galleries can add two previously unattributed paintings by Italian Renaissance painter Raphael to their list.

Inside the Palace of the Vatican is a suite of four frescoed rooms called Raphael's Rooms. During the early 16th century, they served as Pope Julius II's apartments. The Pope commissioned Raphael and his pupils to paint the rooms, and they adorned each one with a different theme.

Three of the rooms contain paintings by the master himself. But experts didn't think that the fourth—and largest—chamber, called the Room of Constantine, bore Raphael's personal handiwork.

The Room of Constantine depicts four significant moments in the life of Emperor Constantine I, who's credited with converting the Roman Empire to Christianity. Experts had always believed that Raphael had sketched plans for the frescoes, and his pupils finished them after Raphael's sudden death on April 6, 1520. But new restoration efforts prompted experts to take a closer look, and they noticed that two allegorical figures in the frescoes appear to have been painted by Raphael.

One fresco depicts the Vision of the Cross, the moment Emperor Constantine claimed to have seen an image of a holy cross in the sky before a decisive battle. At the edge of the large-scale painting floats a woman who represents Friendship, Smithsonian reports. A second scene, which depicts the battle between Constantine and his pagan brother-in-law Maxentius, shows the figure of Justice. Experts now say that Raphael painted both images.

Italian newspaper La Stampa was the first to break the news, which they reportedly received from a YouTube video released by the Vatican’s press office.

"By analyzing the painting, we realized that it is certainly by the great master Raphael," said restorer Fabio Piacentini, according to a translation provided by artnet News. "He painted in oil on the wall, which is a really special technique. The cleaning and removal of centuries of previous restorations revealed the typical pictorial features of the master."

"We know from 16th-century sources that Raphael painted two figures in this room as tests in the oil technique before he died," added art historian Arnold Nesselrath, who serves as the Vatican Museums' technical and scientific research head. "According to the sources, these two oil painted figures are of a much higher quality than the ones around them."

"Raphael was a great adventurer in painting and was always trying something different," Nesselrath continued. "When he understood how something worked, he sought a fresh challenge. And so, when he arrived in the largest room of the papal apartment, he decided to paint this room in oil, but he managed to paint only two figures, and his students continued in the traditional method, leaving only these two figures as autographs of the master."

[h/t artnet News]

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