Tuesday, 29 January 2008

A fortuitous discovery

I'm rushing round like a mad thing at the moment (hence the thin posting—sorry) and trying to cope with not being terribly well. But I had to post this particular discovery—Wikipaedia in Latin! You'll find it here.

How about this?
Insidiae hamatae (Anglice phishing) informationum privatarum sicut tesserarum fraude accessionem significat, dissimulando quasi homo vel societas fida cui vero hae informationes necesse sunt, praecipue per litteras electronicas.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Pope Leo XII, the Quirinal, and other matters.

Pope Leo XII
No doubt largely as a result of my visit to Venice, I have begun reading about Pope Pius VII and his wonderful Secretary of State, Cardinal Consalvi.
John Martin Robinson wrote a very good biography of Consalvi, which I have read, and is now lying on the pile to be read again. But at the moment, I am reading Cardinal Wiseman's Lives of the Last Four Popes (=Pius VII, Leo XII, Pius VIII, Gregory XVI). They have all got rather lost behind the popes of the 'modern era' beginning with the Pope reigning when Wiseman was writing, Bd Pius IX.
The book is occasionally confusing, but always fascinating. I am learning so much that I cannot imagine why it has taken me so long to read this book, considering that it has been sitting on my shelves for at least twenty years.
For instance, I knew that the Papal elections before 1870 took place in the Quirinal Palace, and had heard that to this day in the attics there are all the partitions and paraphernalia necessary for a conclave. What I did not know was that the conclaves only began there in the nineteenth century; Pius VI and his predecessors were elected in the Sistine Chapel, as we are familiar with. Nor did I realise that each cardinal had had his apartment for himself and his entire staff, nor that a wicket gate was kept open in the conclave for each Cardinal to have his own meals prepared outside (usually from his own palace) and sent in, and for late arrivals to enter. Nor did I realize that the white smoke/black smoke is a recent thing. Even in the 19th century, any sort of smoke from the chimney outside the chapel was a sign that a particular ballot had been unsuccessful. The sign of a successful ballot was no smoke at all, followed by an opening of the bricked-up balcony window (which must have taken a while). Sometimes the Senior Cardinal Deacon announced the election to very few people indeed gathered in the Quirinal Piazza below.
Again, I did not know that until Bd Pius IX, who was buried in San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura and nearly had his body thrown into the Tiber getting there, it was customary for deceased Popes to be initally buried in a simple monument near the Choir chapel in St Peter's, with only their name marked on it. It was only when their successor died that they were moved to their permanent tomb and their successor took their place in the same temporary grave.
And how about this account of how Leo XII narrowly escaped death mere months after his election:
All Rome attributed the unexpected recovery to the prayers of a saintly bishop, who was sent for, at the Pope's request, from his distant see of Macerata. This was Monsignor Strambi, of the Congregation of the Passion. He came immediately, saw the Pope, assured him of his recovery, as he had offered up to Heaven his own valueless life in exchange for one so precious. It did indeed seem as if he had transfused his own vitality into the Pope's languid frame. He himself died the next day, the 31st December [1823], and the Pontiff rose, like one from the grave.
I'll post more if I find more worthy of posting. That, I think, is nearly certain.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Lost in translation…

I found this plaque pinned to the front of the Patriarchate building right next to St Mark's:
Mm: how to translate la vastitá ecumenica e i fermenti innovatori?

I can only think 'the ecumenical enormity and the innovatory ferments of his glorious pontificate' just about sums it up.

Though I have to confess a sneaking yet considerable affection for old Bd Pope John XIII.

Please don't try and post any comments about him being a Freemason, a Rosicrucian, a Protestant, whatever—I've heard them all, and I won't dignify them by publishing them on my blog. Imprudent, maybe, he was, even catastrophically so.

S. Giorgio Maggiore and Pope Pius VII

A visit across the Giudecca Canal on the no 82 Vaporetto (shortly about to become the new no 2) to the Benedictine monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore, a lovely Palladian building, reminded me about one of the more interesting sidelights of Church history.
Napoleon I, you will remember, took Pope Pius VI prisoner in an attempt to finish off the Church, or at least control it. The poor man died in captivity in Valence, August 29, 1799. Rome at that time was being fought over between the Neapolitans and French, so it was inconceivable to hold a new election there. The Austrians had got hold of Venice in 1797, and many of the cardinals had taken refuge there, including the now penniless Cardinal Henry (King Henry IX) Stuart, Duke of York.
Rather generously, the Hanovers eventually provided a pension for him (kindness or bad conscience?).
Anyway, Venice seemed the obvious place to hold the new conclave, under the circumstances.
The Holy Roman Emperor (in the last throes of that ancient institution) was happy enough to agree to the conclave taking place in what was now his territory, and actually coughed up 24,000 scudi for the expenses. Naturally he assumed that this would give his candidate a certain chance of success; important, because Austria had nabbed some of the Papal States for herself and wanted to hang onto them.
Thirty five or so of the 46 extant cardinals entered the conclave. It didn't go well. Herzen, the Viennese Cardinal, and Albani, another pro-Austrian Cardinal, tried hard to get the other Cardinals to elect Mattei of Ravenna, who was known to be pro-Austrian. This scandalized the electors, and, exceptionally, the conclave was suspended for 11 or 12 days while a messenger was sent to Vienna to consult with the Emperor. It was not unknown (indeed it was a recognized right of a Catholic sovereign) to exercise a veto in a conclave. It last happened in 1903. But actually to break a conclave to consult a sovereign in mid-course was unheard of. There was deadlock.
Finally Cardinal Chiaramonti of Imola was elected as a compromise candidate, and took the name Pius VII. He was known to have been sympathetic to the French Revolution; he had had printed on his writing paper 'liberty' and 'fraternity', and under the Cisalpine Republic had described himself as Citizen-Cardinal. Despite differences, heated arguments, and an imprisonment, once Pope, he actually got on personally rather well with Napoleon.
The conclave had begun on 30 November 1799, and finally the new Pope was elected on 14 March 1800.
The Emperor, furious that his candidate had not been elected, refused permission for the coronation to take place in St Mark's Basilica, so it happened here in Palladio's church of San Giorgio, with the overflow congregation assisting in gondolas from the Giudecca canal. There was, of course, no tiara, since Napoleon had confiscated all the treasures from Rome, and so, I seem to remember, they manufactured one out of papier maché.
Palladio's façade of San Giorgio.

The view from San Giorgio across the Giudecca canal.

The interior of San Giorgio, where the Coronation Mass took place. These days it seems pretty much abandoned to the tourists. There is a notice saying that Mass and all the offices take place in another chapel, and not in the lovely choir stalls behind the high altar.

Pope Pius VII

A tiara given by Napoleon to Pius VII. I quote in full from this site, whence I got the pic.

"A gift from Napoleon Bonaparte to Pope Pius VII in 1805, the irony is that the tiara was made of treasure looted from the Vatican eight years before when French troops invaded the Papal States. Ostensibly, the gift was a gesture of atonement from Napoleon for the plunder nearly a decade earlier, but the base was so small Pius VII could not wear it--an intentional slight by Napoleon. Most of the original jewels adorning the tiara were replaced with cut glass during the 19th century, but the huge milled emerald supporting the diamond-studded cross at the top--the Emerald of Gregory XIII--remains (and had actually been mounted on several different tiaras used by Pius VII's predecessors). Also stripped from the tiara were three engraved bas-reliefs that depicted scenes of Napoleon's coronation as Emperor of France, re-legalization of public worship in France and the signing of a treaty between the Vatican and France. I think it's safe to say that even without the original jewels and engravings, this is still an overwhelmingly opulent piece. Even if nobody ever got to wear it."

Monday, 14 January 2008

San Marco and Sunday Mass

St Mark's Basilica is, of course, one of the most wonderful of the churches in the world. Until Napoleon ended the Venetian Republic, it was, essentially, the Doge's private chapel—the cathedral was elsewhere. But now it is the Cathedral, and famous for many events in history. It has been served by many famous musicians, too, including Claudio Monteverdi and Gabrieli. So one might reasonably expect that the liturgy and music here would be something special—it still was until as recently as the 1960s. But no more, I am told. Such splendours are considered elitist. There is one 'big' Mass on a Sunday, at 10.am, and I was warned to expect guitars. I toured St Mark's a couple of days before, and although the High Altar has fairly sensitively been arranged to make a versus populum celebration highly possible, this clearly wasn't good enough. A little table had been put at the opening of the iconostasis with a high chair about two paces behind and a lectern about two paces to one side. That told me all I wanted to know about the liturgy in St Mark's. I wasn't going to risk it. Now perhaps some of you reading this might tell me that the table in front is all for show, and they carry it off on Sundays and in fact perform the most glorious music, but somehow, I don't think you will.

There has been some effort to make the sanctuary pretty. I suppose they use the High Altar when the Patriarch presides, having removed the stupendous Pala d'Oro and ferial reredos several feet back to enable versus populum celebration. The entire sanctuary, though, has been carpeted over—I presume it has one of those magnificent cosmati pavements underneath—with a pretty vile carpet. This pic is one I took with my phone showing the carpet, and the steps behind the altar.
If you'd like to see some more pics of St Mark's, there is a good selection here, though the site is a bit slow. Anyway, my friend and I decided to go elsewhere for our Mass for the Feast of the Epiphany. We found our way at 11.00am to the little church of S. Simeone Piccolo near the railway station, where the Fraternity of St Peter celebrate the traditional rites each Sunday, and had advertised it here as being 'with gregorian chant'.
Now I have 'feelings' about gregorian chant. When it is sung well, there is nothing better. When it is sung badly, there is nothing worse. In parish churches, it's usually sung badly. So I was a little apprehensive. I needn't have been. Two baritones sang the chant absolutely beautifully, and supplemented it with a Venetian Mass in two parts sung, again, beautifully, one of the singers also playing the continuo on a little chamber organ. The Mass was a solemn one, the MC being a priest I have known slightly in the past. What a treat for the Epiphany!
I took a couple of pics, but trying to be discreet (not using flash, for instance) resulted in rather a blurry outcome. Sorry.

The servers interested me a bit; the MC was a priest, as I have said, but the other two both wore cassocks with Roman collars and fascias with blue tassels. They aren't clergy—by some accident we saw them later having lunch in the same pizzeria, in lay dress. Perhaps they are members of some confraternity or other. The collar doesn't necessarily imply clerical status in Italy: I gather that even the carabinieri wear the Roman Collar when in formal attire.

It was a good pizzeria, by the way. Good and reasonably-priced eating is hard to find in Venice. This place, Ae Oche, not far from the church of San Giacomo dell'Orio*, has its decorative theme centred around American Baseball. We were much amused to see that they didn't quite know their stuff, for although they had collected quite a lot of authentic-looking paraphernalia in one corner, the pride of place was given, naturally, to the baseball bat. Only, er, it wasn't a baseball bat, but a cricket bat! I tried a photo, but it turned out even more blurred than the above.

* St James of the Black-and white American biscuit†


I've been to Venice!

Having spent an afternoon there when I was sixteen, I have long determined to make a return. Well, it was January, and so the weather was mostly Januaryish (we arrived in a flurry of snow as we crossed in a vaporetto from the airport), but it was lovely to avoid the crowds, and everything was open for business as usual.

Thursday, 3 January 2008


I won't be posting for about ten days now.

Best wishes


Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Please Say a Prayer

My mother spent Christmas with me, as usual now that my father has died. I took her home yesterday, and her house had been burgled. She hadn't got much of value, but it was all taken, including all the little bits of jewellery that my father had bought her through their 48 years of marriage.
I suppose I can be grateful that there was no 'unneccessary' damage in the house. Other than what the burglar took, there was no malicious destruction.