Friday, December 6, 2019

Blue for Advent, an Anglican tradition.

Happy New Year! Last Sunday a new cycle of the Christian year began with the first Sunday of Advent. It is always an exciting moment to begin this season of expectation for the Incarnation, marked by the themes of repentance and a sense of general frenzy found in the readings. “Hark! A herald voice is sounding!”. But Advent brings with itself also the yearly long-debated Anglican tradition of what color to use, this short read aims at giving a short history of the tradition of the use of the color blue for Advent in Anglican circles.

The high altar at York Minster.

It is commonly thought that the use of specific liturgical colors began as early as the 3rd century with the establishment of Christianity in the West as a state religion. Originally, vestments began as an evolution of ancient Western or Oriental Roman garments, the color used to symbolize rank - for example, the very expensive violet dye known as Tyrian purple was traditionally worn by emperors and to this day it is associated to royalty, i.e. Queen Elizabeth II ordered purple hassocks for the Chapel Royal at St. James’ Palace. 
Tyrian purple, which is a sort of reddish violet, is produced by crushing Mediterranean rock sea snails known as Murex. The process involved tens of thousands of these snails as well as substantial labor, as a result the dye was highly expensive. 

Emperor Justinian I clad in purple in San Vitale, Ravenna. 

Until the Council of Trent and the reforms of Saint Pope Pius V in the 16th century, most continental rites differed hugely in the complexities of having established liturgical colors for specific seasons. By the 13th century, most countries or regions had a local rite, for example the rite of Seville in Spain, which eventually merged into the Mozarabic rite, the Florentine rite in Italy, the Parisian or Lyon rites in France, etc. Even religious orders had their own liturgical rites, most notably the Carthusians or the Dominicans, whose rites still survive to this day. 
For the season of Advent, the color violet was generally accepted in most places throughout the continent, beginning with the simplest of rites, the Roman one. The word used at the time to describe the color were either violaceo or indigo and that referred to a strand of purple that we would describe either as reddish violet or as blue - as most religious foundations actually would have used a type of blue (or even red) for this season, as any shade of purple would have been to expensive to make. Purple was in fact, in most cases, what we would have defined as either blue or red. In fact, until the Second Vatican Council, despite the regional variations, different strands of violet were used for the two different seasons of Advent and Lent, with one being more blue, and the other being more red. 

The Mass of Saint Gregory, Miguel Ximénez, c.1500.

Each rite to this point had vague rules regarding the use of specific liturgical colors, which Pius V would eventually reduce to six: white/gold, red, violet, purple, green, black. Some rites prescribed certain colors, some others did but were quite lax about it, some rites required the use of the best set of vestments, no matter the color, some were a merge of all these traditions. 
England also had its own pre-Reformation rites. There were several rites throughout the country, Sarum (Salisbury), Ebor (York), Durham, Lichfield, Westminster, being the most influential, and others. In the 19th century they were all erroneously recollected under the “Sarum Rite” denomination. In the English rites of the 16th century, liturgical colors were still not entirely defined, most foundations still favored the use of the best set as opposed to a specific color. 
Much more than in other places in Europe, England was the location were the use of liturgical blue was most common. While the 19th century “institution” of the “Sarum Blue” is certainly not historically accurate, red was the color for Advent in the Sarum Rite, found in many English pre-Reformation inventories, blue was certainly the widespread color of use for Advent, where a unified use of a specific color was prescribed. Blue or shades of blue were used in the rites of Lichfield, Exeter and most notably, Westminster. 

The Mass of Saint Anthony Abbot, Master of the Osservanza, c.1420s.

After the Reformation, in England, liturgical colors returned to their vague “use the best one” state but were only relegated to copes, and in extremely rare cases, altar cloths - but not until the Laudian reforms. However, with the 19th century ritualistic revival, there was a renewed interest in the uses and rites of Pre-Reformation England. Artists and architects began to redesign vestments and churches as they would have once been. One of the most renowned supporters of this revival was Percy Dearmer, an Anglican priest and social reformer, who wrote the Parson’s Handbook, one of the books that helped to define Anglican liturgy. As opposed to some of the ritualists who tried to bring a Roman Tridentine-like reawakening in the Church of England, Dearmer and others were happy as Anglicans and simply wanted to reinstate an English sense of aesthetics and a local sets of practises within the English Church. Like other liturgists at the time, he was a great supporter of the use of the color blue for Advent - and it is thanks to him if an Anglican tradition of using blue for Advent began. He writes: 

Putting on one side the peculiar customs of modern Rome as out of the question for every man who has taken vows of obedience to the Prayer Book, let me point out why the so-called Sarum use is also undesirable, (1.) The Prayer Book does not refer us to the diocese of Salisbury of the fourteenth century, but to the England of the sixteenth. (2.) No one knows what the Sarum use as to colours was for Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Ascensiontide, Whitsuntide, and Trinity Sunday; consequently the so-called Sarum uses are really one-half made up from the fancy of nineteenth-century ritualists. (3.) The common idea is that only those four colours which are casually mentioned in the Sarum books were used,—white, red, yellow, and (in some MSS.) black. But the inventories show that in Salisbury cathedral itself there were in 1222 vestments of Violette, Purpurea, de Serico Indico (of blue silk); in 1462 altar-cloths of purple, blue and black, white and blue, chasubles of purple and blue, altar-cloths and vestments of red and green; in 1536, three green copes and five chasubles, with tunicles, etc., of green; while the inventories, taken in the very year 2nd Edward VI., to which our Rubric refers us, give the vestments of the chantries in the cathedral as of ‘white, red, blue, green, black, purple, motley, of blue black and white combined, and “braunched of dyverse colours,” with white for Lent.’ 

Advent Blue is in use in most high church parishes of North America.

Given the historical proof of the use of the color blue in Advent, but also noticing with amusement that essentially, most of what was used originally as violet in the continent would have in fact been blue, it is fascinating that we Anglicans have been able to restore this beautiful practise. After all, all practises and uses started out of tradition and repetition, in every rite, in history. Ever since the Victorian Age, the use of liturgical blue for Advent has been spreading throughout the Communion, with notable examples of it being used being Westminster Abbey, various other chapels royal, York Minster and other cathedrals, several churches in North America, and even All Saints’ church in Rome, where it has been in use since 1897 - we recently purchased our latest addition, a Watts'&Co. communion set, in 2016. Today, in the Church of England, the color blue is an official color for the season of Advent. Purple: (which may vary from ‘Roman purple’ to violet, with blue as an alternative) is the colour for Advent. 

The High Altar at All Saints' church in Rome.

Personally, I like it how this use is so characteristic of our tradition, and I do appreciate the differentiation between the two season, a penitential Advent would diminish the significance of Lent, also, it is the color of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the color blue speaks of expectation, the expectation of a Christ that is to come incarnate on Christmas Eve.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

St. Paul's within the Walls, an American Episcopal church in Rome.

Ever since the beginning of the early 18th century British Anglicans had been coming to Rome during what was then known as the Grand Tour, when affluent young men and women were sent to Italy to learn about the art and history of the Classical and Renaissance world of which Italy had been the epicenter, and to mingle with the local aristocracy for decadent yet fancy social events. 
These young Anglicans sometimes brought with them copies of the Book of Common Prayer for private worship, as non-Catholic public worship was still illegal within the city walls at the time. Throughout the Papal States, it was still not seen in a good light. The first official Anglican act of worship, a service of morning prayer, took place in 1816, in a tiny apartment in the Via dei Greci, near the present Church of England parish of All Saints’ on the Via del Babuino, much like in the early Church, services began to take place in private apartments and foreign legacies, until a Chapel was finally granted for Anglican use outside the Porta del Popolo in the mid-19th century. 
With the settling down of the Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars ("1812" for the Americans) - affluent Americans of the upper crust began to travel themselves to Italy, coming from a nation built in neo-classical architecture and living in a political system fashioned around the foundations of the ancient Roman canon - they began to flock to Rome from the late 18th century to early 19th century, they began the American Grand-Tour. 


The first official Episcopalian service was held in Rome in an apartment in the "English Ghetto" of Rome, near the Spanish Steps, in 1859 - it was a service of Holy Communion, led by Alonzo Potter, the then Bishop of Pennsylvania. That same year the Rev. William C. Langdon arrived in Rome with the purpose of forming an American church. The first service was held on 20th November, and after two days, the American community of Rome decided to form a church community, an Episcopal church, being that the de-facto national Church of America, and having been the historical home of many presidents, dignitaries, and cultural figures, to this day. The community became known as Grace Church, Langdon was elected as rector by the vestry the following year - in 1861, the American Church recognized the community as part of its own and like for the English, a former granary was given to them outside the Porta del Popolo for use as a chapel. Grace Church, the first Episcopal church in Italy, was formed. 


However in less than 10 years, Italy became a unified nation and the temporal power of the Popes over Rome ended, thus allowing non-Catholics to build houses of worship within the city walls. That same year, in 1870, after two weeks from the establishment of the new regime, the vestry met to discuss the building of a new church. In 1872 land was purchased near the Quirinal Palace in what used to be land belonging to Cardinal De Merode, the Papal secretary of war, which then passed to a nunnery and then private owners. Funding for the building of the new church was raised quite quickly, but was soon redirected to Chicago in the light of their 1871 fire. 
Within the next year, generous donors made sure that twice as much as needed was found. That was thanks to the help of the great Episcopalian tycoons of the Gilded Age, that includes names such as J.P. Morgan or the Astor Family, also donors of some of the greatest Episcopal churches of Manhattan, and both also visiting Rome very often - Morgan having founded the American Academy, and William Waldorf Astor working in the diplomatic scene, and both being deeply involved in the local social scene of the time. The American Gilded Age, was in a way, a new Renaissance - great family names like the Morgans, Vanderbilts or Astors, (think of the Medici or the Gonzaga in Italy), gained power and affluence, and in order to establish themselves as more than just new-moneyed Americans, they used the power of patronage and philanthropy, much like their predecessors, to found churches like Grace Church Broadway or St. Paul’s Rome, cultural foundations like the MET, or beautiful houses like the Isabella Gardner House in Boston, the Frick Collection or the Morgan Library in New York - accumulating beautiful art from the past while commissioning some newer. 


Grace Church changed its name in 1871, as the name “Grace” in Italian is only strictly relatable or associable with Our Lady. Grace Church became St. Paul’s within the Walls. St. Paul himself lived and preached in the nearby area, so the choice was spot-on! St. Paul’s first rector, was very much a fruit of the Gilded Age - the Rev. Dr. Robert J. Nevin, was an avid collector of late-Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque art. He commissioned St. Paul’s to be built in a shape that would not contrast with the surrounding Roman landscape, and decorated in a way that would have shown the Roman Catholics that other forms of Catholicism existed, a Reformed Catholicism. Nevin’s collection, catalogued by Italian art historian, Federico Zeri, was phenomenal - it included early Renaissance pieces by Paolo Veneziano and Carlo Crivelli, as well as a Baroque painting by Luca Giordano. The rectory he commissioned to George Edmund Street, still in use today, was an eclectic take on a Venetian palazzo, and it was richly decorated with ancient pieces of marble, neo-classical fireplaces from the demolished Palazzo Torlonia in the Piazza Venezia - it came with a library, a ballroom and even a gallery. It was the ideal Gilded Age dream where a rector could entertain his guests. 


On 5th November 1872, ground was broken for the foundations of the new church. During excavations various ancient artefacts were found, among them some three large Roman vases (or oil jars) - one of them can still be seen in the garden at St. Paul’s - the other two went to America, one is in the garden at Grace Church in Broadway, making it Manhattan’s oldest piece of public art, the other one is in the Newport villa of Catherine Lorillard Wolfe, a great donor of St. Paul’s and New York philanthropist, who thought it would have looked quite attractive in her garden. The design of the church went to renowned British ecclesiastical architect George Edmund Street, who had already gained considerable fame in England, for his rediscovery of Italian Medieval architecture as seen in the light of the new High Church revival of the 19th century. 


On the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, on 25th January 1873, the corner-stone, an actual stone taken from Independence Hall in Philadelphia, was laid on the Via Nazionale ground. The church was completed three years later. The church was consecrated on the Feast of the Annunciation, the 25th March 1876 - celebrations lasted for a week and despite the lack of a pipe organ - the music proved to be great, the first organist and choirmaster of St. Paul’s was Dr. E. Monk of York Minster who directed the choir masterfully, a choir mostly made up of ladies and gentlemen from the Anglican English and American congregations, to whom Dr. Nevin extended his praise in his minutes. The music was great; at Mattins, the Venite and Psalms were set to Anglican Chants by Tallis, Monk and others - the canticles were by Boyce, Gilbert and Foster. At Communion, the Mass setting was Tuckermann in C, the anthem “Praise the Lord, O My Soul” by John Goss. The American Bishop of Long Island was there to lead the service, accompanied by the missionary Bishop of South Dakota, the British Bishops of Gibraltar and Peterborough were present, as well as the Irish Bishop of Down and Connor. The English Chaplain of Rome was also present to bring the support of St. Paul’s sister Anglican congregation in Rome. Celebrations lasted for eight days, and all the bishops present, preached at different services. 


During the Great War, St. Paul’s rector was the only English speaking minister in Rome - despite the high number of servicemen in the city. After the war he took responsibility for the refugees and orphans. During WWII, in 1940 St. Paul’s was closed and placed under protection of the Swiss Legation in Rome, like its sister church of All Saints’, but not before its rector, the Rev. Hiram Gruber Woolf, was arrested by the Fascist authorities for having flown the American Star Spangled Banner from the Rectory and having had the carillon playing American patriotic songs rather loudly - he was then interned in a Nazi concentration camp. St. Paul’s reopened as a chaplaincy for American troops in 1944, the rudimental pews, still used today were built by the quartermaster corps from a stockpile of pine words originally meant for cheap wartime coffins. The post-war period for St. Paul’s was a time of reorganization and repair after the neglect of wartime, it was time to stabilize the finances and rebuild the congregation. The then rector, the Rev. Charles A. Shreve, did exactly that. During his tenure St. Paul’s became a hub of Dolce Vita enthusiasts who came to Rome for one reason or another, he was friends with Henry Fonda, and his children, including Jane Fonda, who worshipped at St. Paul’s many times, Gloria Swanson, Olivia DeHavilland also became parishioners while in Rome. Ambassador Clare Boothe Luce also became a member of St. Paul's. President Eisenhower also joined St. Paul’s for Sunday morning worship while in Rome in 1959. Shreve was completely immersed in the social scene of the Rome of the time. 


During the 1960s and the 1970s the church celebrated the Second Vatican Council with a liturgical rearrangement of the sanctuary and the commission of two bronze doors celebrating the new ecumenical movement. The basement became an alternative Cultural Center for students and artists, the crypt became a place for American teenagers and young adults to hang out. In the 1980s St. Paul’s began to prepare to launch itself into the new century and millennium by opening a refugee center, now known as the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center, founded in 1984, and by opening its doors to Rome’s Latin American community in the early 1990s for a Sunday Eucharist in Spanish. Today, under the leadership of Fr Austin Rios, St. Paul’s continues to maintain its call as an Episcopal Church parish in Rome by growing as a dynamic and welcoming community, there are fundraising activities for the ever successful refugee center, weekday worship, often followed by fellowship, such as the Compline, Soup and Bible study event every Wednesday, as well as new opportunities to enjoy its amazing musical scene, like the Advent Carol Service, and most recently also the celebration of Choral Evensong. St. Paul’s success is probably rooted in its dynamic and realistic approach to the modern world’s changes and necessities, while functioning as an active church community. A high fruit of the Gilded Age and the Grand Tour that manages to stay relevant despite the changes and chances of this fleeting world.


However, its crowing jewel is certainly its art. When St. Paul’s was built, Dr. Nevin, a connoisseur of beauty, spared no expenses (even at the expense of his own salary) to transform St. Paul’s into a triumph of Anglican art rooted in the local Catholic language. The building, designed by G. E. Street, probably being his most unique work, was inspired by Northern Italian architecture, and especially by the basilica of San Zeno in Verona, as we can see by the similar vault, and the same polychrome motif of the brickwork. The interior is rather fascinating as well, originally, the quire followed the scheme of an early-Christian schola cantorum, with two pulpits on either side, one for the Gospel and one for the Epistle - with the quire being designed in the traditional Anglican style, enclosed by a marble gate, with brass “peacock” gates, reflecting the motifs in the mosaic above, and finally finding its apex in a beautiful high altar, decorated with embroidered frontals, some of which still survive today, and raised by a few steps, then topped with a cosmati gradine, now part of the episcopal chair base. The pulpit baluster is in green, white, and red marble to honor the Italian flag, so were also the now gone sanctuary steps. The sanctuary still has the three seats for subdeacon, celebrant, and deacon. The side chapel, dedicated to Saint Augustine of Canterbury hosts a fine early Christian cross, the sacrament is reserved there - the two brass crosses for the high altar and chapel are now found in the Library. 


The sanctuary was rearranged in the 1960s to accommodate the new liturgical style in the light of the recent ecumenical movement. The church boasts two baptismal fonts, an early Medieval one of Roman manufacture, and a Victorian one. The bell tower has the largest playable carillon in Rome, while the rectory, also by Street, is an eclectic take on a Venetian Palazzo. The stained glass windows tell the story of the life of St. Paul, and like the ones at its sister church of All Saints’, were commissioned to the English firm Clayton&Bell of London. The three lancet windows, with Christ in Glory in Heaven, originally in the apse, are now beautifully framed in the parish hall. The mosaics in the counter-façade and in the façade were only added in the 1920s by George Breck, then director of the American Academy in Rome and friend of J. P. Morgan. They represent the Nativity, Adoration of the Shepherds and of the Kings, in between the holy cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem, above the rose window is the hand of God the Father in the act of Creation. Outside, around the rose window are the four evangelists, while over the west entrance door there is a further mosaic of St. Paul preaching in Rome. 


Perhaps St. Paul’s real crown jewels are the stunning mosaics commissioned by Dr. Nevin to renowned English Pre-Raphaelite artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones, first for the upper section of the apse, and then for the entirety of the apse and the quire. The mosaics, paid for with Morgan money, are so fine that they have been designated a National Monument by the Italian Government. The cartoons for the mosaics by the artist still exist in the rectory at St. Paul’s. The Pre-Raphaelite movement started in 19th century Britain as part of the Arts&Crafts movement as a post-Romantic call back to the Italian art of the late Gothic style and the early Renaissance style, part of it was also religiously inspired, as shown in the writings of John Ruskin - Burne-Jones was part of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood with William Morris (who might have designed the design for the tiles in the nave at St. Paul’s), Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and in the first Pre-Raphaelite wave, St. Paul’s is perhaps their crowning jewel outside of Britain, especially in the light of the courageous cultural dialogue it was putting itself into. 


On the first arch, above the quire, is a peculiar representation of the Annunciation based on an early legend (and using an iconography Burne-Jones used again and again) in which Mary is seen drawing water from a spring when she sees the Archangel Gabriel greeting her. The reddening colour of the skies signifies it’s the time of the Angelus (6.00 pm). In the left-hand corner there is a pelican, a Medieval symbol of Christ, peaking its breast to feed its hungry young. Under the scene is the greeting from Gabriel: “Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee” (Luke 1:28) and Mary’s answer “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word.” (Luke 1:38). On the second arch above the quire, Burne-Jones represented the Tree of Forgiveness, Christ is outstretching his arms while being suspended before the green-leafed Tree of Knowledge between Good and Evil. The thistles from which spring lilies symbolise the Annunciation. Under this scene is written in Latin: “In the world, ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) 


In the great mosaics of the rear wall of the apse, is Christ in glory, at the top is a blue vision of heaven with a glimpse of the choirs of angels. Below is Christ seated in majesty, enthroned in between Cherubim and Seraphim, on the left hand, he’s holding a transparent orb, while he’s in the act of blessing with his right hand. From his feet are the four streams of living water from Revelation, as well as the rainbow, that is “round about the Throne.” (Revelation 4). On either side of Christ are the archangels, each standing before a gate of heaven, one is empty, that would have been Lucifer’s. Below is the sea of firmament, broken by an inscription in Hebrew which reads: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) and one in Greek: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God.” (John 1:1). Below, is a series of angels, much like the sheep representing the apostles in early Christian mosaics, dividing the two halves of the mosaics, although here the angels are separating heaven and earth, in the lower register, we have the saints, the Church Triumphant. 


Against the background of the Heavenly City, we have the five traditional group of saints, on the left are the ascetics, the prophets of the Church, such as Saint Francis of Assisi, then are the matrons, representing the service of God in ordinary life, among them Martha with her keys and Mary Magdalene with the holy oils. The major group at the center represents the great figures of the Church’s past, five fathers from the Western Church, and five from the Eastern, with Saint Paul in the front, wearing a chasuble. To the right are the Virgin and Saints, among them: Saint Catherine, Saint Barbara, Saint Cecilia, Saint Dorothea, and Saint Agnes. Finally on the right are the Christian warriors, Saint George, Saint Andrew (holding their shields respectively, representing the origins of the American Episcopal Church), Saint James, Saint Patrick and Saint Denis. Again, following the philanthropic heritage of the Renaissance, Dr. Nevin, commissioned these saints to also represent contemporary figures of the time, among them, Junius Morgan (Father of J. P. Morgan) who helped paying for the mosaics, Archbishop Tait of Canterbury, General Grant, Giuseppe Garibaldi, and Abraham Lincoln. One would think that Dr. Nevin went too far in trying to imitate a Roman church, but while that was true for aesthetic reasons, they also went very close to portraying the Pope in the mosaics as the anti-Christ! 


St. Paul’s today is a welcoming and dynamic community, with amazing qualities in outreach and charitable work, housed in one of Anglicanism’s most beautiful buildings, if you’re visiting Rome, make it part of your list of things to see. It is truly unique.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Call to Action: Help Mexico fight against Slavery, Torture, and Murder.

I rarely use the Roman Anglican for anything which is not related to art or history and yet during the past week or so I reflected on how to use my discreetly large following in a constructive and helpful way, or at least I hope so, because of some tragic facts I learnt a few days ago. If you are a follower who’s easily touched by acts of human cruelty or compassion, please do read and make this known, if you’re allergic to social justice, I invite you to read further, as this will change your mind. My goal is to unite each other as the one body of Christ that we are and help as much as we can by bringing this following story to the attention of as many as possible. 


My name is Edoardo Fanfani, I am a Church of England intern in the Diocese of Europe parish of All Saints’ in Rome - every Tuesday I attend the Anglican Centre, funded in the late 1960s as a diplomatic mission of the Anglican Communion to the Roman Catholic Church - despite its main ecumenical focus, the centre also fosters collaboration between the two Churches for the prevention of poverty, social injustice, and most recently human trafficking, which is a nice word for slavery. 
Every Tuesday at 12,45, the Anglican Centre offers a community Eucharist followed by refreshments, my experience last week was not the usual one, as it touched me both on a human and personal level but also initiated action in what is my vocation as a Christian to achieve the common good between all people. 
Shortly before the intercessions at Mass, the brand-new director of the Centre, the Former Archbishop of the Indian Ocean, +Ian Ernest, invited the former Anglican Bishop of Mexico, +Sergio Carranza Gomez, and one of his priests: Fr Carlos Aurelio Ramirez, to share with us an extremely touching story: 


Just about a month ago, his 21 year old niece, Jennifer Hazel Romero-López, was kidnapped by some men of an official branch of the Mexican military in the northern region of the country, near the border with the United States - after her body was recovered, the police carried an autopsy and her kidneys were found to be removed. (The next few lines will be quite graphic). Not only that, the culprits tried to hide the deed by dressing the body in military uniform only to then proceed to shoot a bullet into the girl’s head, the process was entirely completed post-mortem. 


Hearing this by a sobbing relative, left me in an odd place - it was sad, deeply sad. A young woman, like any. Tragic. 
Young girls are groomed into this circle of evil by attractive and charming individuals, then the horror begins, manipulative behaviour ensues and the girls are moved from place to place, the luckiest ones become sexual slaves, never spending more than a couple of days in a single location, some of these the world’s most luxurious cities and resorts, the least lucky ones are used for organ-harvesting, are murdered and their organs are sold to China or India through the black market. 
She is only one of dozens of young women and men who suffered a similar fate in that area of Mexico, where sadly corruption starts from the very governmental forces that should protect their citizens - it is a terrible injustice and only one among the many victims of the so called Tamaulipas-Guerrero case. 


Fr Carlos Aurelio Ramirez as an Anglican priest reminds us that for these monsters, victims come from any religion and background, and he works with the Roman Catholics as well as the Lutherans to fight this evil, risking his life day by day. His laudable charisma and great strength should be an inspiration to us all - even we, in the comfort of our homes can do something, we must do something, both prayer and action. These young people could be our relatives, and they are our relatives in Christ, feeling the pain that their relatives might have experienced must force us to act. 
This tragedy called me as a Christian to act, it is true that we are only individuals, but it is when individuals get together in the name of Christ that change begins to happen. I feel called to share this with my public and I invite you to share this with your friends and relatives so that we can help the present slaves and walking victims in memory of those who died, let us help Fr Carlos and let us remember that Christianity is first and foremost this. The Anglican Centre, and other foundations in Rome, have pledged to act on this, you can do your part as well. Christ calls us to do so. 
This is the real Christian fight. Fight for Christ, with his love, for his people. These people’s pain is God’s pain. We can and must stop the horror. I don't care if you share this or not, but do let people know. We are called to.
The Anglican Centre in Rome, All Saints' Church in Rome, Other Foundations, The Roman Anglican, Edoardo Fanfani, and others, stand with Fr Carlos and the victims. Show your support.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

An English master in a Flemish church in Rome.

October can be a lovely month in Rome, summer weather has not gone, yet the terrible heat has - a few mornings ago I was determined to get to see one of Rome's hidden secrets and yet another link with England.
The present Largo Argentina square is yet another fruit of Mussolini's demolitions in central Rome, when the Duce and previously the Savoy monarchs, tried to transform Rome into a new Haussmann's Paris - thankfully, they did not complete the project. Just nearby the piazza, we can get an idea of what the area looked like before the 1930s - here is the little Via del Sudario, which hosts one of Rome's tiniest churches - never open to the public, it is the small church of San Giuliano dei Fiamminghi.


According to legend, the history of the church goes back to the time of Pope Gregory II, in the 8th century, when the Flanders had just been converted to Christianity - soon the new converts turned into pilgrims visiting the most sacred sites in Rome. It was customary at the time for the Church, often supported by national monarchs, to provide guesthouses for the pilgrims from various parts of Europe, some of which still survive. Like the English one (Santa Maria in Saxia, then restored by Sixtus IV in the Renaissance) and many others, the first Flemish hospice was built in the proximity of the first St. Peter's Basilica, it was dedicated to Saint Julian the Hospitaller, the patron saint of the Flanders. The foundation date coincides with the visit to Rome of Robert II, Count of Flanders, in 1096, on his way to the Holy Land for the First Crusade.
The first church dedicated to the saint was established in the 15th century, its statutes and regulations date to the year 1444. With the return of the Papal Court from the exile in Avignon, and the beginning of the Renaissance, Rome once again became a hub for both pilgrims but also Flemish and Netherlandish merchants and bankers - modern banking was coming to life and therefore bankers were moving between the Flanders and Italy, especially Florence and Rome, the arts were deeply inspired by this process. 


With the Renaissance popes, Rome became a magnet for painters, sculptors, musicians and scholars, the foundation of St. Julian became an immigration hub for the Flemish between the 15th and 17th centuries. From merchants, to artists, from goldsmiths to tailors - the foundation which kept precise records, hosted over 21,213 guests over the two centuries. The institution was both cultural and religious and it acquired further prestige in 1536, when Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire, born in Ghent, became a fellow. The foundation, now sponsored by the Belgian crown still maintains the same mission rooted in the fostering of culture and dialogue through the gift of hospitality.
The small church of San Giuliano dei Fiamminghi retains little of the original 15th century building, save for the architectural frame surrounding the statue of its patron on the façade. The present church was renovated in 1681-82 and in the early 18th century it got its octagonal shape, partly inspired by Bernini's Sant'Andrea al Quirinale. The church hosts some fine late Baroque and Neo-Classical Flemish artworks, including a monument by the school of Antonio Canova.


But perhaps the most interesting yet bizarre detail is the decoration of the ceiling; the central medallion of the vault depicts a fine apotheosis of Saint Julian the Hospitaller in the trompe-l'œil style. This late Baroque frenetic fresco was painted in 1717 by prominent English master William Kent. The young artist was sent to Italy to learn about antiquity, as many did during the Grand Tour, he was greatly inspired by Palladian architecture, which he later introduced to Britain, and in Rome, where he learnt both from antique and contemporary art, as seen in the fresco above, he became one of Cardinal Ottoboni's (future Pope Alexander VIII) favorite artists. He is known for working on prominent buildings such as Chiswick House in London, he is also said to be the creator of the English garden. It is during his stay in Rome that he created this almost unknown masterpiece - perhaps even more bizarre as it was painted by a genius, but nonetheless a genius who lived most of his life as an Anglican, and an Anglican at a time under the reign of William and Mary and later Queen Anne. It is perhaps surprising to see the hands that inspired the rational Georgian aesthetics, painting such an inherently emotional and irrational piece of Catholic art, on the other hand, perhaps few know that neither in the 17th nor the 18th century, high church Anglicans ever stopped commissioning iconographic and decorative art in churches, but let us leave this for another article. As of today, this bizarre fresco remains yet another testimony of the grandeur that is the marriage between the English genius and Roman pathos.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Every tiny church is a hidden jewel in Rome.

Recently, I stumbled across a little church near the Piazza Farnese which is very seldom open to the public: Santa Caterina della Rota. Rome is a city with hundreds of tiny churches, each being a tiny jewel in itself, often housing great artworks or hiding a fascinating history.


It's one of the oldest churches in the Rione Regola (districts in central Rome are named rioni). It was founded in the 1186 with a bull signed by Pope Urban III and dedicated as Santa Maria in Caterina - its name bore resemblance to the nearby San Carlo ai Catinari, named such because of its location next to a series of potteries, known as the Catinari, in old Roman. Although in this case, the church is named such because of a similar word Catene which effectively means chains. This is because a hospital complex was funded here for former prisoners of war to the Saracens in North Africa, on their return they would hang their chains on the altar dedicated to the Virgin, eventually the church known was rededicated to Saint Catherine, given the word pun with the Italian word for chains: Sancta Maria de Catenariis.


The church was rebuilt in the late Renaissance style in the 16th century by Ottaviano Mascherino, who already worked on various churches in Rome as well as the Quirinal Palace. With the new rededication to Saint Catherine the church became known as Santa Caterina della Rota, literally of the wheel, indicating the instrument of martyrdom of the virgin who refused to convert to Paganism. The church has a single nave with four niches, each with an altar - a testament to its Medieval origins is the cross shaped quire, with three apses, each with an altar, and the central one hosting the high altar. The façade was redesigned in the 18th century in the Roman Rococo style popular at the time, known as Barochetto Romano


Two notable works in the church are the Flight from Egypt on the north side by Girolamo Muziano, who worked in Saint Mary Major and Orvieto Cathedral, and the charming Mannerist frescoes representing the Annunciation and below, the Madonna and Child with Saints Apollonia and Catherine , probably by the School of Perin Del Vaga, one of Raphael's greatest pupils. One of the north-side niches also hosts a rather vernacular sculptural composition with Saint Anne and Our Lady, once used in the procession of the Panze; pregnant ladies, departing from Sant'Anna dei Palafrenieri in the Vatican and which usually culminated on the Sant'Angelo Bridge where the Castle's cannon would fire blanks in celebration.


The church is only open once a month and during my visit I got to experience the preparation for the annual Mass of the Papal Household which uses this church as their primary chapel. The Venerabile Arciconfraternita dei Palafrenieri was founded in 1378 and has been serving the Popes in various capacities ever since, most notably as papal footmen for the gestatorial chair carried in processions until the second half of the last century. Some of these footmen are still alive today, their former uniforms were on display, and they still serve the papal court in other capacities - their families have often been doing this for generations. 


Their other church is Sant'Anna dei Palafrenieri within the Vatican walls. The confraternity is known for having commissioned Caravaggio's Madonna dei Palafrenieri - known both for its Baroque pathos as well as for its Counter-Reformation symbology in the foot of Mary crushing the serpent, representing Protestantism, but not on its own, Jesus' foot is in fact above the Virgin's, opposite to this, Saint Anne stands separate from the scene, as a religious icon, in fact the painting was destined to public devotion. Unfortunately Caravaggio raised the price (how very him), and the painting ended up in the stunning Galleria Borghese.


Do visit this tiny but wonderful church, Rome's tiny churches are always full of the most astonishing surprises!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Georgian beauty meets the modern age in South London.

A few of you may have noticed my renewed interest for English Neo-Classical architecture. While exploring new and old bits of London, I came across some rather interesting examples of Anglican Georgian architecture, one of them is St. Paul’s Church in Clapham.
St. Paul’s is located in a trendy bit of the London district of Clapham, older than the Doomsday Book, located just south of the river bank right in front of Chelsea, in Southwark Diocese. The area is serviced very well by public transport but it’s also one of London’s greenest and youngest areas, disseminated with lovely and cozy housing as well as independent coffee shops and the occasional Waitrose or M&S store. A short walk from Clapham Common tube station will take us to Rectory Grove.
St. Paul’s is still located in a charming green space which also serves as churchyard, the 18th and 19th century classical tombs covered in ivy prove to be an excellent and peaceful background to the church. Because of its quiet position it truly has the feel of a country parish, which also makes it perfect for weddings!


A place of Christian worship dedicated to the old English title of Saint Mary the Virgin stood on this site at least since the 12th century, during the later Middle Ages it fell under the influence of Merton Augustinian Abbey which appointed its ministers. After the Reformation, the Gothic building was rededicated to the Trinity. Like most south London churches it survived the fire of London, but by the 17th century the building was in a state of decay and was considered unstable. The church was finally demolished in the late 18th century when in 1774 an Act of Parliament authorised the construction of a new one. Because of the unhealthy nature of London living in the 18th century, the much healthier Clapham Green grew in population. Afterwards a new Holy Trinity church was built by Clapham Common in 1776, but St. Paul’s remained the main parish church, as it is today.



The church was rebuilt in the early 19th century by architect Christopher Edwards, a rather well known London architect of the time. The first service was held on 24th September 1815. The church designed in the classical style with London stock brick, had Greek Revival elements, such as its geometrical shape and a general sense of Georgian simplicity. It is perhaps one of London’s finest examples of late Georgian ecclesial architecture. It reflects the structure of pre-Tractarian high church worship, with its single-aisled single nave, gallery (two further galleries were taken down during the last century), and spacious windows. In 1875, the prominent Victorian architect Sir Arthur Blomfield, known for having designed Selwyn College Cambridge, extended the east-end of the nave. Thankfully, in my opinion, this was bricked up post-WW2 to make room for the parish hall, preserving the Georgian proportions of the nave. Also Georgian is the lovely rectory to the left of the churchyard, thankfully, also still used as such. In 1955, the church became a grade-II listed building.


The Lady Chapel also hosts a fine set of five 17th century Baroque memorials, originally found in crypt, near the original tombs. The memorials are of members of the Atkins family, the parents and children. They’re fine examples of English Baroque sculpture, the father is dressed in a beautiful ancient Roman armour, calling back to England’s renewed interest in classicism. The father was Lord of the Manor. In the nave there is a fine memorial to William Hewer, who was Samuel Pepys’ understudy in the Navy Office, and with whom he lived during his last years. 
St. Paul’s is a growing parish with a welcoming and inclusive charism centred in the liberal Catholic tradition of the Church of England, the present vicar only recently took his position here having previously held the prestigious position of Anglican vicar of Rome! He is preceded by a wonderful list of notable female clergy.


A wonderful testament to St. Paul’s inclusive history is a rather obscure fact, between 1799 and 1806 Clapham became home to a group known as the “Clapham Sect”, made up of key abolitionists such as William Wilberforce, Thomas Buxton and Granville Sharp who set up an “African Academy” aiming at educating boys of African descent aged 10-17. Students learnt a variety of subjects, centred around a religious curriculum as the Clapham Sect was primarily a Church of England social reform organisation. Sadly, the school didn’t have a long life as most of them died as a consequence of a measles outbreak, only six children survived. Their bodies now rest in St. Paul’s churchyard, their stories are still recorded in the parish registers, making the church a fascinating part of British Black History. 


St. Paul’s is also renowned locally for offering a rather good Opera. Opera in a Georgian church and picnic in the greenery is about as English as you get. In July I was privileged to be invited by the vicar to attend an outstanding rendition of the Nozze di Figaro.
Whether it’s for good worship or good culture, St. Paul’s is the right place for this growing and vibrant young area of London, I’d definitely pop in if I were you!

Friday, August 9, 2019

Baroque rebirth and the emergence of the Anglican sanctuary: Wren's City churches.

I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower, and there got up upon one of the high places, Sir J. Robinson's little son going up with me; and there I did see the houses at that end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side the end of the bridge - this is an account of the Great Fire of London by the renowned diarist Samuel Pepys. The fire swept through central London for four nights between the 2nd and the 6th of September of the year 1666. It devoured over 13,000 houses, 87 parish churches as well as the Old St. Paul’s Cathedral. The fire easily consumed through the timber houses of what was still effectively Medieval London, only 16 people lost their lives, perhaps the fire saved more than it killed as London soon grew out of its wooden ashes, but this time in solid stone.

The apse at St. Bride's in Fleet Street.
Amongst the major losses of the fire was in fact the vast amount of Medieval architecture that was lost, among the endless number of churches only St. Bartholomew’s the Great, the Temple, and about seven others survived in the city and surrounding areas. London had been deprived not only of its housing but also of its temples, where people had always found refuge in time of trouble. There was the occasion for a new major task.

The spire of St. Mary-le-Bow.
Within two weeks from the fire, Baroque architect Sir Cristopher Wren (1632-1723), presented a new project for the city and the reconstruction of 51 of its major churches. Wren is today renowned for his works at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, the Royal Chelsea Hospital, Hampton Court Palace as well as churches such as St. James’ Piccadilly - but it is the legacy left by his churches in the City as well as the new St. Paul’s Cathedral which truly formed his astonishing legacy. Today, despite “19th century” vandalism and war destruction, 29 of them survive, (this number includes those where only the bell tower remains intact). 

St. Bride's iconic three-tier wedding cake spire.
Work began in the 1670s. Cristopher Wren is widely recognised as the Father of English Baroque, however, stylistically his is a more toned-down version of the Baroque architecture found in the Continent. Wren’s Baroque was in fact more rational and characterised by its penchant for the classical and rooted in a post-Palladian search for the order of antiquity. Wren’s subtle extravaganza is visible to a trained eye who can spot the likes of Borromini or Bernini in some of his architectural details. The interior of his churches was usually plain decoratively speaking, leaving the arts and furnishings to do the rest of the trick. His windows were usually in clear glass, but he was masterful in his juxtaposition of brick, Portland stone and stucco.

The sanctuary of St. Clement's Danes.
Wren’s churches, and their layout became an inspiration for all Anglican houses of worship until the early 19th century, inspiring later architects such as Nicholas Hawksmoor, known for St. Mary’s Woolnoth and St. George’s Bloomsbury, as well as James Gibbs, known for St. Mary’s-le-Strand and St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields, both his pupils, but also the more rational Georgian architecture of the 18th century which then inspired the colonial churches of the new continent. Most of which were inspired by Wren’s tallest church: St. Bride’s in Fleet Street, with its spire; the first example of a three-tier wedding cake bell tower, or indeed the exuberant spire at St. Mary’s-le-Bow or the restrained Anglican elegance of St. Vedast-alias-Foster and St. Lawrence Jewry’s sanctuaries. Wren’s quintessentially English Baroque style, deeply rooted in the respect of classical rigidity and yet extravagant elegance is widely praised; the spires of his city churches, mostly completed in the 1690s, are a testament to his genius, it is in them that he truly gave his imagination full reign.

The orderly sanctuary of St. Vedast-alias-Foster.
However, liturgically speaking his churches, or in fact most Anglican churches or their interior arrangements between the late 16th and early 19th century are often denigrated to the status of “preaching boxes” - that happens when they're read through the deforming glasses of the Oxford Movement. This is unfortunately due to the recent trend of blaming the Tractarians for anything remotely catholic within the Church of England, as if the Oxford Movement triggered some sort of Renaissance from the post-Reformation “dark ages”, at the expenses of the soft Reformation of Elizabeth, the theology of Hooker, and the very 17th century Divines, some of whom, gave their life to preserve the historical policy and ideas of that English Church, long before the 19th century. Critique has seen the late 17th century to the early 19th century Church as a lethargic fossil - the truth is very different and those high churchmen are still awaiting for much awaited praise and fuller consideration, for preserving and fostering a proper Anglican high church tradition, that yes existed and that no, the Tractarians "didn't bring back to life".

The altarpiece at St. Lawrence's Jewry.
The Church of England always preserved its catholicism in its own way, and we must recognise the efforts of those who made this actually possible, it was all there in the first place. It is about time the general critique of the 17th and 18th century Church would change, this article aims at restoring that truth by praising Wren’s genius. This was a new English and Anglican catholic tradition, shaped in the language and ideas of the Book of Common Prayer. The English Church had always been catholic and certainly even without the “aid” of the Tractarians. Nowadays, most of these churches still offer Prayer Book services, most famously, St. James Garlickhythe, the headquarters of the PBS, a favourite of Prince Charles. Wren's churches are an important testimony of pre-Oxford Movement high church arrangements, mostly left unscathed by the Tractarians.

The spire of St. James' Garlickhythe.
It is in the 17th century high church Arminian tradition that we find Cristopher Wren and his churchmanship, his father, also Christopher, had been chaplain to Lancelot Andrewes, Charles I and Dean at Windsor, his uncle Bishop Matthew Wren, was a Caroline Divine and a great supporter of Archbishop William Laud. It is in Wren’s buildings, centred around the altar, but where the pulpit is also imposing, that we find the clues and ideas of how the Church of England and its historical form and ideas survived throughout history, not only the seed, but the "high church" substance was all there - according to its own Anglican tradition. These were not preaching boxes, but expressions of English catholicism as understood in the new vibrant tradition of the Book of Common Prayer. It is also at this time that we see a resurgence of figurative Christian art in churches.

William Snow's dome painting at St. Mary's Abchurch.
Wren’s churches were located in the City of London and as such, right after the Civil War and Restoration, one could possibly not have found a more “conformist” area in all of England, and as such Wren’s churches met all of the regulations of the time. Depending on the state of decay of the Medieval church he was going to substitute, Wren opted either for classical squared churches or sometimes he re-used the elongated shape of the Medieval naves, in either case, the seating was usually arranged in box-pews, either in the normal west-to-east fashion or sometimes, in a more collegiate fashion, such as at St. Vedast-alias-Foster. A large pulpit would often throne on a side to the chancel, in the new reformed tradition, a good sermon was of essential importance.

Communion table and pulpit at St. Stephen's Walbrook.
Usually, communion tables were located at the east end of the church, encircled by an altar-rail as was customary since the time of William Laud (although some churches already had railings since at least Elizabethan times) - also in Laudian fashion was the fact that the sanctuary was usually raised by a few steps, these chancels usually decorated by Wren with rich chequered marble floors. The communion table was usually rather small and wooden but rather attractive, sometimes decorated with a carpet of satin, velvet or silk - at the time Anglicans would not receive more than twice a year, but this was true of the laity of the Church of Rome as well until the Pius X’s reforms in the 20th century, except that in the Anglican case, Matins became the main service, regular Communion remained a rarer affair (usually once a month), (except when it happened and due reverence would have been given, its frequency depended on how big a foundation the church was, in cathedrals and royal or university chapels it was mandatory to have it weekly), and the communion table became more elegant and evenly sized - above it, according to law, there would have been an altarpiece with the Lord’s Prayer, Creed and the Ten Commandments, the three texts that make up the catechism of the prayer book, or sometimes a suitable painting. 

The Anglican altarpiece with the Commandments, Creed and Lord' Prayer boards at St. Vedast-alias-Foster.
This was a way of complying with the new Canon Law of 1604 which made the boards with these texts to be made compulsory in every church so that they could easily be read by all of the congregation during services. Some Anglican reredos also contained pictures of Moses and Aaron on the altarpiece, the symbolic keepers of the Law - some others had proper paintings of scriptural subjects, such as most commonly, pictures of the Last Supper. Article LXXXII of the 1604 canons reads: 
Whereas we have no doubt, but that in all Churches within the Realm of England, convenient and decent Tables are provided and placed for the Celebration of the holy Communion, We appoint that the same Tables shall from time to time be kept and repaired in sufficient and seemly manner, and covered in time of Divine Service with a Carpet of Silk or other decent Stuff thought meet by the Ordinary of the place, if any question be made of it, and with a fair Linen Cloth at the Time of the Ministration, as becometh that Table, and so stand, saving when the said holy Communion is to be Administered. At which Time the same shall be placed in so good sort within the Church or Chancel, as thereby the Minister may be more conveniently heard of the Communicants in his Prayer and Administration, and the Communicants also more conveniently and in more number may communicate with the said Minister: and that the Ten Commandments be set up upon the East-end of every Church and Chapel where the people may best see and read the same, and other chosen Sentences written upon the Walls of the said Churches and Chapels in places convenient: And likewise, that a convenient Seat be made for the Minister to read Service in. All these to be done at the Charge of the Parish.

The altar at St. Stephen's Walbrook.
A great number of Wren’s City churches preserve the original 17th century arrangement of the chancel, perhaps the most beautiful examples survive at St. Mary’s Abchurch, St. Stephen’s Walbrook and of course St. Margaret’s Lothbury, where the delightful tiny communion tables take a place of prominence in the architecture of the church, a prominence exalted by the aforementioned altarpieces, in most cases carved by the great Grinling Gibbons, who often worked alongside Wren - and who was indeed highly appreciated also at court at the time. St. Margaret’s Lothbury is perhaps the most complete Wren sanctuary, it also includes a beautiful carved screen but in true Reformation style, topped with the royal arms rather than a rood. On the two sides to the altarpiece are two paintings with the prophets Moses and Aaron. 

The sanctuary at St. Margaret's Lothbury, with the Grinling Gibbons carvings in the screen and altarpiece.
At St. Mary’s Abchurch the beautiful dome is decorated with a stunning trœmpe-l’oeil by William Snow (1708) and it is a Baroque apotheosis cantered around the depiction of the Hebrew name of God the Father. The two churches are a triumph of Baroque and yet canonically classical architecture with their unsupported domes and truly express the genius of Wren, which I would personally define as perfectly English despite its “Baroqueness”: canonically perfect classical extravaganza.

The sanctuary at St. Mary's Abchurch with the Grinling Gibbons pulpit and altarpiece, and the William Snow dome painting.
Wren’s churches are a testimony to the forefathers of our Anglican faith - but not only that, they’re a stunning collection of delightful experiments in that bizarre rational form of Baroque which was its English expression. Wren’s architecture was inspired by the severity of antiquity, somewhat anglicised through the likes of architects such as Inigo Jones, and at the same time mitigated and scalded by some hot Roman wind that at times seems to have been fuelled in his direction by Borromini himself! Wren knew what was going on in the continent architecturally speaking and he made it all fit for purpose for Anglican England through the eyes of his genius by reinventing it all.

St. Vedast-alias-Foster and its Borrominesque spire.
An example of the latter would be the wonderful Italian-looking spire at St. Vedast-alias-Foster, the theatrical Baroque stage which is the church of St. Clement Danes, the exuberant façade of St. Martin’s-within-Ludgate with its Italian volutes, or the splendid domes of St. Mary’s Abchurch and St. Stephen’s Walbrook, the latter, possibly the most perfect building in Britain, clearly inspired by the Roman Pantheon, Wren’s preparatory design for St. Paul’s which was highly praised at the time, so much that Antonio Canova himself once said: he would like to return to England so that he could again see St. Paul’s Cathedral, Somerset House, and St. Stephen’s Church, Walbrook.

The dome at St. Stephen's Walbrook.
Wren invented the archetype of the high Anglican parish. All these fine buildings are a testament to one of the greatest architects of all time, perhaps they equal his masterpiece in terms of importance, the majestic and imposing building that is St. Paul’s Cathedral, the monument to a new England that for the first time crowned herself with the crown of classical architecture, an epitaph on Wren’s tomb there reads: reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.

The spire of St. Martin's-within-Ludgate on the left, with St. Paul's Cathedral in the background.