Monday, November 7, 2016

Call to action: rescue Italy's patrimony after the earthquakes.

As you know Italy has been hit by very strong earthquakes recently in the regions of Umbria and Le Marche, as many of you know those areas are home to some of the most astounding arts of the world, some are figurative like the Gothic and Renaissance works in Assisi, Spello, Spoleto, Orvieto or Montefalco, some slightly different, in those same areas and especially in that of Norcia, that is the case of the local salumi: salami, prosciutto, mortadella, the best in the world and part of the culture of that area since the Etruscan times. 

In Italian even the word that describes the shop that sells salumi comes from there: norcineria, after Norcia, the charming town that suffered most. The area is also famous for great truffle, pasta, cheese, honey, the world renowned chocolate... and each store has a peculiar specialty. Many of these shops have suffered great damages and are afraid they won't be able to continue the tradition, they are in need of help, our help, to survive and continue one of Italy's most ancient traditions. 

Instead of buying cheap, fake Italian food in a plastic boxes (in English supermarkets I won't mention but which had me terrified), if you're feeling particularly good you can purchase some excellent salumi from one of these stores that produce them themselves, here is the list I made in my blog:

- Il Botteghino della Gricia, near Amatrice. 

- Macelleria Casale de li Tappi, Norcia.

- Norcineria Felici, Norcia.

- Norcineria Ulivucci, Norcia.

- Cioccolateria Vetusta Nursia, Norcia.

- Prodotti Tipici Gaffi, Cascia. 

- Il Norcino di Campi di Norcia.

- Norcineria Fratelli Ansuini, Norcia.

- Norcineria Lanzi, Norcia.

- Azienda Agricola Persiani, Cascia.

- Moscatelli Tartufi, Norcia.

- Azienda Agricola Sibilla, Norcia.

- Miele il Massaro, Norcia and Castelluccio.

- General Website:

Only telephone:

- Prosciutteria del Corso, Norcia.
+39 3939772180

- Norcineria Coccia, Norcia.
+39 3337429996

- Valle del Sole, Castelluccio.
+39 3393724609
+39 3318149622

- Caseificio di Norcia.
+39 3331091291

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Review of the Opus Anglicanum at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Last week, while in London, the Roman Anglican, finally went to the V&A to see the most expected exhibition of 2016: Opus Anglicanum.

After about half a century since a similar exhibition, the greatest museum in the world of its kind, which already hosts the largest collection of this kind, presents to the public incredible survivals of Opus Anglicanum works, the outstanding embroideries, mostly produced by London masters, that were popular throughout Europe during the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. The English were for vestments what the Italians and Flemish were for tapestry and painting, in fact most of the works uniquely reunited in this occasion travelled from all of Europe: Spain, Italy, France, the Vatican and even the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

It is perhaps the most refined early English art had ever been and it is indeed a joy to admire, revaluate and even get to know these masterpieces.

Many would think that art during this age Europe was rather provincial and locally centred, it is not at all so, Flemish paintings moved to Florence, Florence bankers moved to Bruges, English wool and silk travelled from East Anglia to Florence, through the Flanders and London, artworks were often accompanied by these embroidered masterpieces. It is known that the Vatican ordered several Opus Anglicanum copes until the Reformation, Pope Benedict XI was quite impressed by these works when a delegation of English prelates came to Rome. They even went as far as Iceland. Europe and its art was pretty much connected at this stage, at least on its more refined level.

The spectacular London exhibition, located next to the cafe, hosts over a hundred of these beautiful works, both from the V&A collection and from abroad, with insights on the craftsmanship, production, the tools, materials and the people who made them, often together with related works, such as panel paintings, manuscripts or sculptures that inspired the embroideries.

Several works are on display at this exhibition, from an early seal-bag from the mid-12th century, containing the seal for the foundation of Westminster Abbey to treasures from the V&A's own collection, such as the lavishly decorated Clare Chasuble, the Jesse's Cope, depicting the Tree of Jesse, with all the prophets and ancestors of Christ, there is also an immense cope with saints, angels and stories from the life of the Virgin that comes from the Vatican Museums. The supposed mitre of Thomas Becket.

The Toledo Cope, a ceremonial cloak made for the former Spanish Capital's Cathedral dates to the early 14th century and it is incredibly fine. More fine works are the rich Butler-Bowden cope, or the Bologna cope, in which the beautiful silk and intricate patterns survive in perfect conditions. In the exhibition there are also funeral palls, single orfreys (the embroidered parts of amices, chasubles and copes, often in the shape of a cross), burial clothing from Kings and Archbishops and even secular works, that show how the works of the English masters were not only limited to commissions from the Church.

After the Reformation, in the 19th century a growth in interest for Medieval and early Renaissance art brought to the rediscovery of this treasure of the English artistic patrimony. If you are in London, I do suggest you to visit this exhibition.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Saint Edward the Confessor by Annibale Carracci, a rare work.

Saint Edward the Confessor, whom we are celebrating this week of Edwardtide is certainly not the most popular saint in iconographical terms, surely the Reformation might have something to do with this, as this great saint buried in the Abbey at Westminster was until the 13th century the patron of England. 
Oddly enough, there is one painting that portrays him, it is not the Wilton Diptych, no, it is a bit later and it is Italian! Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), Caravaggio's great rival, and even more than him, the great master that links the Renaissance and the Baroque. Carracci's work (c.1597 or 1598) is a representation of Christ in glory with Saints and the donor.

The painting was commissioned by Odoardo Farnese, a Cardinal of holy mother Church and a member of one of the princely families of Rome (though unlike some others his title was elevated in a rather peculiar way, but I will write another article about that). Cardinal Farnese appears in the artwork as the donor. During the 17th century the painting was moved to the Camaldoli Hermitage in Tuscany, and eventually in the end of the century, the Grand Duke, Ferdinando II, took it to Florence. 
This is quite a unique work for the presence of the English saint, patron of the Cardinal, there is also a hidden symbolism in this work, the Cardinal being presented to Christ by the English saint would underline the claim of the Farnese family to the English throne, based on the fact that they descended from the Lancasters through Maria d'Aviz of Portugal. The presence of Saint Ermenegildo, another saint and king, also venerated by Felipe II of Spain, related to the Farnese, would also confirm his pretence over an European throne. The painting eventually ended up in the Palatine Gallery in Florence once the international aspirations of the Cardinal ended. Cardinal Odoardo was also granted the title of Protector of England and some scholars believe this painting might celebrate that. The original location is disputed nowadays, but there are two thesis regarding its first location in the Camaldoli Hermitage, the first one would be that Farnese had commissioned a chapel in the main church and this work would have been its altarpiece, another is that the Cardinal might have sent the painting away, in order to hide it, once its royal aspirations ended. In favour of the first theory, even considering Cardinal Farnese's character... it is the fact that Saint Mary Magdalene appears in the painting, after whom the Farnese Chapel was dedicated. This work is also sided by a chasuble and an altar frontal which were also in Camaldoli, but are now in Florence, in the Duomo's museum. The two liturgical objects have the family coat of arms and its symbols: the fleur-de-lys and unicorns, they are also attributed to Annibale Carracci, Saint Edward and Saint Ermenegildo are also present in these two works, an important detail that was used to identify the author. This theory, supported by the fact that the Cardinal's character would have never allowed him to forget about the English throne seems to be most plausible.
The altarpiece's upper section represents Christ in glory, sitting on clouds held by Cherubim, he stands triumphantly between Saint Peter and Saint John the Evangelist, both recognisable for the symbols of the keys and the eagle. The two saints are receiving the intercessions from below, and present them to the glorious God the Son, below are Saints Ermenegildo, Magdalene and Edward, the latter is in fact presenting Odoardo, in the act of praying, to the above sphere. This setting is probably inspired by that of Giulio Romano in his Deesis between the Saints Paul and Catherine in the National Gallery of Parma, also inspired by Raphael, Carracci probably saw the work in Parma. The scene is set in a pre-Baroque bucolic setting and in the background in the a game of light and shadows is the shape of the new Basilica of Saint Peter (not completed, as the lantern of the Clementine Chapel is not yet finished). Interestingly, going back to the link with Saint Edward the Confessor, in the centre is someone creeping on his knees, this is a reference to one of the saint's miracles, in which Edward healed him, becoming patron of the sick.
Not only there is a strong influence from Raphael, but also another from the Parma Renaissance, especially by Correggio, this helps a lot to identify the time of execution of the painting, that last bit of 16th century in which the Roman style is still mixed with the new fashions. There is also a Classical reference in the painting, as the Magdalene reminds of the statue of Niobe, part of a group of statues, brought to Rome by the Medici. This was not the first time they were inspired by them. There is an excellent preparatory drawing for this work in Lille, at the Palais des Beaux-Arts. Apparently, Bernini was also inspired by this work.
On this Edwardtide it is good to be remembered of the influence of this saint, not only in England but abroad, the name of this very blogger is Edoardo, and he wishes all of you prayers from the Shrine at Westminster Abbey.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

36 Anglican and Catholic bishops to gather in Rome to share 50 years of dialogue and friendship.

On Monday thirty-six bishops of the Catholic and Anglican churches met in Canterbury to start three days of celebration for the 50 years anniversary of official dialogue between the two churches, today the party will arrive in Rome. The dialogue officially began in 1966 with the join declaration signed by Paul VI and Michael Ramsey.
This pilgrimage is promoted by the Iarcuum, the commission for unity and mission instituted in 2000, and the Anglican Centre in Rome, the two leaders are now the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Regina, Donald Bolen, and the Anglican Suffragan Bishop of Europe, David Hamid. The bishops come from 18 different countries and their pilgrimage will have its end in a beautiful celebration of Choral Vespers to be held in San Gregorio al Celio, the church of Pope Gregory the Great in Rome (the Pope who sent Saint Augustine to Canterbury). The service will be celebrated jointly by Archbishop Justin Welby and Pope Francis.
Iarcuum met in Canterbury to analyse the work that the two churches have accomplished in the past 50 years, to rejoice in the common cores and to continue the fruitful dialogue concerning holy orders, the role of Mary, ecclesiology, of the Eucharist, etc. Then, the prelates met in the Cathedral, on the tomb of Thomas Becket, where in 1982, John Paul II met with Archbishop Robert Runcie. The dialogue informally began in 1960, when John XIII had a private meeting with Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher. On 24 March 1966 Paul VI and Archbishop Ramsey met in Rome to sign a joint declaration, it was the birth of Arcic and of the Anglican Centre in Rome, Canterbury's embassy to the Holy See. On that occasion the Pope made the inspiring move of passing his ring to the Archbishop. 
This Roman pilgrimage wants to be an occasion to celebrate this dialogue on a pastoral level. The several bishops have just arrived in Rome and will pray at the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul.
Tomorrow, on the 5th of October, there will be a series of lectures and conferences about our relationship at the Pontifical Gregorian University. Finally, the day will culminate in a service of Choral Vespers, sung by the choirs of the Sistine Chapel and Canterbury Cathedral, at San Gregorio al Celio, where Saint Augustine of Canterbury started his journey to England in 595. Here Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin will pray and lead the service together. For the bishops and others the day will end in a great Gala dinner at the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj on the Corso, home of the Anglican Centre, kindly hosted by this old princely family since its birth. The Centre, the Anglican Communion's embassy to Rome, has been since its creation a great instrument of unity and ecumenism and it has served both on a high level and on a more pastoral level in which pilgrims of all faiths can come and learn more about Anglicanism both from the use of its chapel and that of its immense library, therefore it will be a great occasion to celebrate this 50th anniversary. To learn more about the Anglican Centre and its mission, Click here!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Eternal City is under attack, our freedom and values are in danger.

Since it seems that no considerable press coverage has been given to the recent attacks occurred in Rome, either in Italy or elsewhere in the world, I decided to write mine own article in the hope not to incite hatred or intolerance, but rather to make people aware.

Last night a non-Italian individual entered the 9th century Basilica of Santa Prassede, just around the corner from the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major, the rather robust man started to smash everything he found, especially statues and candlesticks, right before a group of parishioners who were quite scared. The two devotional statues of Saint Anthony of Padua and Saint Prassede were heavily damaged, the attacker did not have time to finish his job as he was heading towards the sanctuary and the crucifix when the police arrived. Later, according to video-recording proof he also entered the church of San Martino ai Monti, where he smashed a devotional statue of the Madonna and Child.

This morning two further attacks occurred in the Basilicas of San Giovanni de' Fiorentini, on the Via Giulia, and San Vitale, on the Via Nazionale. Here statues, candlesticks, crucifixes were smashed, the perpetrator at this time had time to admit that it was not right that we worshipped in this way. 

Most artworks in San Giovanni de' Fiorentini were over 300 years old, but even if other statues and religious furniture weren't that old or precious we must realise that not only our art, culture and identity are in danger (and to us Italians they are the dearest thing we have, what makes us what we are), but our very freedom of worship, our own religion, here in Rome, here in the heart of Western Christianity.

Jesu mercy, Mary pray.

Please share.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Christ the Fair Glory and the Holy Angels: A reflection on this Feast of Michaelmas.

Today is the feast of Saint Michael and all angels, today we give thanks for this great gift God has bestowed upon us, it is always so moving and so uplifting to only try to think about something so pure and holy like the blessed angels of God, who was so good to bestow all these heavenly creatures, this great army of love, to each single one of us.

The Angelic Host by Antoniazzo Romano in the Bessarione Chapel in SS. Apostoli

Angels in the Holy Scriptures are those pure, mysterious, created intelligences who are not human and who adore and glorify God in heaven and have and do take part in the most important moments of the "history" of God and who act as His messengers here on earth. Of course we do not know much about them, our Lord describes them as rejoicing over penitent sinners in the Gospel of Luke. In the Gospel of Matthew Christ describes the angels as the beholders of the face of God. In the Old Testament there are several references to "messengers of God". It is here that the word angel originates, the word for messenger in Hebrew is Malach which in Greek is Angelos or Angelus in Latin. By the time of Christ, Jewish devotional beliefs included several specifics about angels, such as a primitive idea of angelic hierarchy, they also happened to have different names. The most famous were the four archangels: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel.

Saint Michael by Raphael

Michael ("Who is like God?") is the mighty captain of the heavenly host, he is mentioned in the Books of Daniel and Jude, where he is said to be the prince of the people of Israel and where he disputed with the devil over the body of Moses. Again, in the Book of Revelation he famously led the heavenly armies against the dragon. In Christian iconography he is pictured with an armour, carrying a lance, his foot is on the neck of the dragon that is being pierced by the archangel.

Saint Gabriel in Antoniazzo Romano's Annunciation at Sant'Onofrio

Gabriel ("God is my champion") is the most important messenger of God to mankind. He initially appears in the Book of Daniel, later, in the Gospel of Luke he is said to have announced the births of John the Baptist to Zachariah and of our Lord to our Lady. In Christian iconography he is usually portrayed with blue or white garments and holding a lily (representing the Theotokos) and/or a trumpet, a shining lantern, a branch from Paradise presented to him by the Theotokos, or a spear in his right hand and often a mirror, made of jasper and with a Χ (the first letter of Christ (Χριστος).

Saint Raphael by Perugino with Tobias

Raphael ("God heals") is mentioned in the Apocryphal Book of Tobit, where he is disguised as a man and leads the young Tobias on a quest and enables him to accomplish it. He is "forefather" of the guardian angels. In Christian iconography he is often depicted holding a staff, as he is also the guardian of journeys. He is also often depicted holding or standing on a fish, which alludes to his healing of Tobit with the fish's gall.

Saint Uriel in the Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo

Uriel ("God is my Light") is mentioned in the Book of Enoch and is a messenger, usually of less "fortunate" happenings. He also appears in the Book of Esdras in which Esdras has to answer important questions and God sends those answers through Uriel. In the Christian tradition he helps the Holy Family through their flight into Egypt. "He stands over the gate of heaven and watches over thunder and terror". In Christian iconography he is often depicted carrying either a book or a scroll, both of which represent wisdom. Another symbol connected with Uriel is an open hand holding a flame, which represents God’s truth.

Assumption of the Virgin by Francesco Botticini

In Christian theology, as it evolved during the Middle Ages, thanks to the great minds of Pseudo-Dionysius (On the Celestial Hierarchy) and Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica) we can divide the different angelic spheres into different categories. Of course these Medieval philosophers did not operate out of their fantasy but on sound theological proof.
Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father,] far above all principality and power, and might, and dominion,.... (Eph 1:21) 
For by him [the Son] were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him. (Col 1:16) 
And having disarmed principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it. (Col 2:15).
The definitive classification system is the fruit of several theologians, from Saint Jerome and Saint Ambrose to Saint Gregory the Great and Saint Thomas Aquinas. We can divide the angelic host, the choirs of angels, into nine orders divided into three triads of three each. Above of all of them are the four Archangels, of whom Michael is the head of the whole company, it has to be mentioned that they are different from the archangels in the third triad as they are Archangels with capital letter. This great congregation of angels adores and glorifies the Holy Trinity in a turmoil of love in heaven, here is the hierarchy:

Interestingly, the angelic hierarchy can be also divided according to the colours of the angels' wings:

Detail of the Annunciation by Lorenzo Monaco in Santa Trinita in Florence

In the first sphere, right under the Archangels, are the heavenly servants of God, those who are closest to the Trinity.

The first sphere

1) The Seraphim, which literally means "the burning ones", first mentioned in Isaiah, are the highest angelic class and they take care of God's throne, they adore, glorify and sing incessant hosannas, they are fiery six-winged angels, two wings cover their faces, the other two cover their feet and the last two are used for flying.
2) The Cherubim, first mentioned in Isaiah are the guardians of the holy throne of God and the tree of life. In traditional iconography (like the evangelists) they have four faces, those of an ox, a lion, a man and an eagle and four wings, in later Medieval iconography they began to be represented as putti looking like angels, in this case the wings are their iconographical mark.
3) The Thrones, mentioned by Saint Paul in the Letter to the Colossians are the living symbol of God's justice, power and authority, among their symbols is in fact a throne. They can probably be associated with the Ophanim angels in the Book of Daniel. They are represented as a beryl-coloured sort of wheel of wings, their rims are covered with hundreds of eyes. They are closely connected with the cherubim, sometimes they are associated with the twenty four elders of the Revelation and are represented as adoring elders who listen to the will of God and present the prayers of men.

In the second sphere are the heavenly "governors of the creation" who subject matter and guide the spirits.

The second sphere

4) The Dominions or Lordships, found in the letters of Paul regulate the duties of lower angels, they rarely make themselves known to humans. They look like beautiful humans with a pair of wings, just like we imagine angels. Sometimes they have orbs of lights fastened to their swords and sceptres.
5) The Virtues or Strongholds, found in the Letter to the Ephesians are those through whom signs and miracles are made visible in the world, they have control over the movements of celestial bodies, the weather and nature. They are closely interlaced with saints because of their role. They look like the Dominions. They usually hold a sceptre and an orb.
6) The Powers or Authorities, again found in the Letter to the Ephesians, are warrior angels, they are opposed to evil spirits and demons which are cast down by them. They also distribute power among the human race. They are represented as soldiers with full armours, helmets but also with weapons like spears and shields. They supervise the world and maintain order in it.

In the third and last sphere are the angels that directly act as guides, protectors and messengers to mankind. Angels in these categories look like the way we have always imagined them, with large white cloths and a pair of feathery wings.

The third sphere

7) The Principalities or Rulers, found in the Letter to the Ephesians, are the angels that guide and protect individual nations, groups of people and institutions such as the Church. They preside over lower bands of angels and charge them with the orders coming from above, some of them minister, other assist. They carry their orders to the main groups of people on earth, they are thought of as guardians of the realms of earth. They also inspire the arts and science. They are usually are represented with crowns and sceptres.
8) The archangels, it is the same order to which it belongs the ruler of the heavenly host: Michael and the other three Archangels. Since they are at a higher level, they are also seraphs above all other seraphs, and therefore Archangels with capital letter as opposed to the other archangels in this category. The word comes from the New Testament, from 1 Thessalonians and Jude to be precise. The archangels are the direct guardian angels of nations countries and personally deal with politics, military matters, commerce and trade, but also with tricks played by demons on mankind, which they protect and guide in special cases. They look like "regular" two winged angels.
9) The Angels are the lowest order of angels. They are the ones concerned with the affairs of singular living things, they are regular messengers to mankind. Guardian angels come from this class, they guard upon single humans.

Christ in glory with Angels, Renaissance master in the Church of the Crocifisso and Gonfalone in Fano

I think it is a moving thought to be protected and guarded by such a heavenly host, directly linked with God, who was so good to give us such a heavenly host of pure and good hearted creatures, serving Him, to our own good, bringing love, protecting us and bringing us on the right path. From our own personal, guardian angels to the great Archangels. It is a comforting thought and it certainly moves each and everyone of us if we stop and think about it. Angels have always been present at important moments like the Annunciation of our Lord, they are central beings in the story of God's manifestation to mankind but also to our own personal life, it is not a case if in Christian iconography the most touching moments of the lives of saints when they were still human beings were surrounded by comforting or cheering angels. Each one of us is helped by these great and pure creatures, and the love and protection of God are manifest through them, and when this happens to all of us, it is in the forms of the great angel saints. On this their feast day let us give thanks to the great heavenly host, to all angels from Michael to our own personal guardian angel, let us praise them, let us praise them and God, while they protect, guide us and praise God. One of the most beautiful canticles of Medieval Christianity is indeed the Te Deum, so dear to us Anglicans. There is one great point about it, it is that we are not singing it, or better, we are, but we are not alone, when we utter, sing, its words, we are actually doing it with the whole company of heaven, in that very moment, we have to imagine the sky open upon us, and together with their celestial voices we will have a mystic vision of heaven: To thee all Angels cry aloud; the Heavens, and all the Powers therein; To thee Cherubim and Seraphim continually do cry, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth; Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of thy glory!

Music making angels - detail from the East Window at York Minster

Personally I love this Feast of Michaelmas, in old England it signed the beginning of the working year, it still does in Oxbridge, it all started in between the 5th and 8th century in Rome, when a basilica dedicated to the holy angels was consecrated in Rome, a huge celebration followed and today it still is here. I feel very lucky to live in Rome, after many centuries the city still keeps a strong link with angels.
The feast of Michaelmas is the only angel's feast that is mentioned before the 9th century, it was provided for in the Sacramentary of Pope Leo I, in the middle of the fifth century. Originally the feast had reference, and probably took its rise from, the dedication of a church, long since lost, in the suburbs of Rome. It was a very popular festival at Rome, for in the Sacramentary there are set down five forms of service for its celebration. Other commemorations of Saint Michael were observed in Constantinople on November 8, Eastern Christians still celebrate the feast on this day, in connection with an appearance of the Archangel on Mt. Garganus in Apulia. In the calendar of the Roman Church, September 29 is the Dedicatio S. Michaelis Archangeli, an abbreviation of the old designation Dedicatio basilicae St. Michaelis Archangeli, which connects the festival with the dedication of the church, referred to above. The calendars of the Sarum Missal and Breviary, have simply, Michael Archangeli, and this commemoration of St. Michael alone, apart from the addition "and all Angels", is found in the calendar of the Book of Common Prayer from 1549 to 1662; when for the first time, at the last revision of the Prayer Book, the addition "and all Angels" there appears.
Pope Paul V (A.D. 1605-1621), at the request of Ferdinand, afterwards Emperor of Austria, added to the Roman calendar the festival of the Guardian Angels, Angelorum Custodum, to be observed on October 2. The collect for Michaelmas may be traced to the Sacramentary of Gregory, and it is most interesting to find that, in a sermon of that great bishop, for the 3rd Sunday after Trinity, there should be so much which illustrates the first clause of the collect. "Gregory is preaching on the Gosepl of the day, which consisted then, as it does now, of the two parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. He gets to the subject of the angels in expounding the latter parable. Nine of the pieces of silver represent the nine orders of the unfallen angels, while the tenth (or lost) piece represents the human race, which by the fall was lost to God. The notion that there are nine orders is borrowed by Dyoniysius as we mentioned previously. And the collect goes "O Everlasting God, Who hast constituted the services of angels and men in a wonderful order" refers to this. It is related by Isaac Walton in his biography of Richard Hooker, that this great Churchman passed away contemplating the divine order in the heavenly places, with the words on his lips: "I am mediating the number and nature of angels, and their blessed obedience and order, without which peace would not be heaven, and oh, that it might be so on earth!" In his famous Ecclesiastical Polity, Hooker speaks of the holy angels as "in number and order they are huge, mighty, and royal armies. In the chapel at New College, Oxford, are a beautiful series of windows, depicting members of the nine choirs of angels. The colour for Michaelmas is white.
As aforementioned Rome is home of several locations dedicated to angels, here are the main ones:

Sant'Angelo in Pescheria

The oldest (still-standing) church dedicated to Saint Michael was Sant'Angelo in Pescheria (8th century) in the Jewish Ghetto, it was built inside the ancient Portico d'Ottavia, where, according to legend, Saint Michael appeared.

Saint Mary of all Angels and Martyrs

In 1561 the former Baths of Diocletian were transformed by Michelangelo (nonetheless) into a great basilica dedicated to Angels and Martyrs.

The Castle Sant'Angelo and Bernini's Angels' Bridge

Another place in Rome where the role of angels is central is the former Mausoleum of Hadrian, the Castle Sant'Angelo. Dedicated to Saint Michael when he appeared on top of it twice, once to report the end of the plague of 590 and another when Pope Gregory I had heard that Romans, even Christians, were revering and old Pagan idol which was smitten to the ground by thunders. Today a gigantic statue of the angel saint shines over its top. Also, the bridge is renowned for its Angels' Bridge by Bernini, decorated with statues of angels that welcome pilgrims to the Christian side of the river.

Guido Reni's Saint Michael

Last but not least, Rome is home of the most famous art work portraying Saint Michael, the beautiful masterpiece by Guido Reni in Sant'Immacolata dei Cappuccini on the Via Veneto. A spectacular, sensual Baroque masterpiece that elegantly shows the power of God's goodness over evil.

My church, All Saints' Anglican Church, has a spectacular window by Clayton&Bell in the Lady Chapel, it represents the Archangels Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel, Zadkiel and Chamael.

Collage of angels to be found in Rome

Today in Rome we can see angels everywhere, in churches, bridges and in all sorts of works of art: from annunciations, to nativities, they are everywhere. To remind us that as they were present in those cases, to glorify God or comfort the saints, they are also always with us.
May Saint Michael protect you, may Saint Gabriel guide you, may Saint Raphael restore you, and may Christ the fair glory and the holy angels bless all of us.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Troyes Altarpiece at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

As I once mentioned in an earlier article, it is very difficult to write articles about entire museums or art galleries and their work, this is why in these cases I always focus on a single work. Recently, I once again visited the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, perhaps one of my favourite ones - it is famous for being the greatest and most important collection of decorative arts and design. I always spend time admiring the Italian works in the Renaissance wing, especially the beautiful Crivelli, I find the English section quite fascinating, all the Opus Anglicanum works are frankly amazing, the main gallery though, is probably the best, filled with Renaissance treasures from across Europe: Flemish altarpieces, breathtaking Della Robbias and even a Renaissance chapel from a Florentine church. This time my eyes once again fell on somewhat less looked upon perhaps: the Troyes Altarpiece, a masterpiece of the French Gothic Courtois, or International Gothic as we would call it, a transitional stile that was already looking at the Renaissance. That last breath of Gothic that was looking into the Renaissance, still retaining that last breath of Medieval charm found in the intricate pattern of its decorations, almost like branches, leaves and trees - very much like a French Cathedral, but then that's where this masterpiece is from. This work is from about 1525, but whereas Italy was well into the rediscovery of its Classical heritage, the rest of Europe was still developing its late Medieval style and we can actually see this from this very work, whereas in Italy (or the Flanders, though not always) altarpieces were painted, in the rest of Europe altarpieces were mostly sculpted, because architecture and sculpture were the main forms of art - we can see how the frame is integral part of the work - an architectural character that shapes and converses with the different scenes. Architecture, just like in the 1500s is still the protagonist, it is the container of the scenes but also the stunning factor. Whereas in Italian or some Flemish art the "stunning factor" would actually be the perfection and detail in which the characters are portrayed.
The style of the altarpiece was rather popular among similar works in the regions of the Champagne and Aube, the iconography is also rather popular in Northern circles, the six scenes represent the Passion of Christ: the Flagellation, the Betrayal of Christ, Christ carrying the Cross, the Crucifixion  (allegedly based on Albrecht Dürer's engravings of the Small and Large passion), the Entombment, the Resurrection. Behind these main scenes are smaller ones representing: the Betrayal, the Mocking of Christ, the Crowning with Thorns, the Ecce Homo (Christ presented to the people), the Deposition and the Harrowing of Hell, the three Maries at the Sepulchre, the Noli Me Tangere and Christ appearing to the three Maries, all the scenes are surrounded with complementary images and figures. In the upper section is the Annunciation, crowing the whole work and creating a not so imaginary bond with the heavens above.

Let us start this adventure into this enigmatic work. We can start from the central scene: a crucifixion, because this was an altarpiece, this was a necessary iconography - the sacrifice of the Mass had to be represented in the art work, creating a sort of interactive link between heaven and what is occurring on the altar. The donor, in true Renaissance fashion, is kneeling at the foot of the Cross, Jean Huyard l'Aine, who was a laywer and canon of St. Peter and Paul's Collegiate Church in Troyes, where the altarpiece used to be, his coat of arms can be seen on the the left and right panels. 

Here in the centre we have the whole crucifixion scene: the three crosses, the Roman soldiers and Longinus piercing Christ with his spear, dressed in a Renaissance armour, (in late Medieval and Renaissance art it was customary to dress figures in contemporary clothes) and helped by another soldier on a horse in full regalia. On the right, the two Marys are holding Our Lady who is fainting, in the centre another soldier in awe is probably acknowledging that He was truly the Son of God. Saint John is holding the Cross, this sort of pathos created the cult of relics, as John is holding the Cross, creating a link with his lost Lord, so many others will want to have a link with someone dear to them, a saint or even a family member, like we do today with family pictures or objects. However, above this main scene we can spot another cross being prepared for another brutal execution, the author of the work really used sculpture at its best here, in an painted altarpiece we would have had angels weeping and collecting Christ's blood, here we have the brutal truth, another cross, another death, another soul for whom this very Saviour died. The whole scene is framed by a Gothic looking like portal, a brutal door into heaven and the Passion.

Above the Crucifixion, in a rather common manner is the Annunciation, the heavenly link of this our Lord, the angel Gabriel announcing this lowly, and now Queen, Lady the birth of a God. The scene is quite traditional, in that the angel presents that will that shall be done, to a Mary reading the Scripture on a Renaissance lectern, next to a Renaissance bed, whose curtains are waving, this scene is indeed very Renaissance! It is partly because biblical scenes were represented in the style of the time, but also because the story of Christ, the story of our Salvation belongs to all ages and it happens all the time on the altar. As usual there is something in between Mary and the angel: a vase with fleur-de-lis, symbol of Mary and of the Trinity. The Annunciation is strongly linked with the below Crucifixion as the Son of God was destined to save the world since this very moment. Above the whole scene (including the Crucifixion) in a Gothic canopy are God the Father, God the Holy Spirit, and the whole company of angels and saints, presented to us during this very sacrifice of Christ and of the Eucharist. We must imagine, the priest and congregation looking at both scenes during the Mass: the sacrifice that leads us to the glory and salvation of heaven.

On the left, in what looks like the aisle of some Medieval French Cathedral, with a blue ceiling, Gothic carvings, and even Angel bosses are the Flagellation, Christ carrying the Cross - behind these are the minor scenes of: the Betrayal, the Mocking of Christ, the Crowning with Thorns, Christ presented to the people (Ecce Homo). 
In the first scene, the Flagellation, the soldiers are dressed in French Renaissance military uniforms, their rather flamboyant outfits are completely the opposite of the weak looking-like Christ, his halo though is much bigger than any of their hats! Above this scene are the Betrayal and the Mocking of Christ, this is probably the most violent scene after the Crucifixion, though the iconography is quite traditional.  On the right is Christ carrying the Cross, this time in his simple alb and Crown of Thorns Christ again has to deal with soldiers dressed in Renaissance military outfits, though they seem less sadistic than the precedent ones. Behind are the Crowning of Thorns and the Ecce Homo, these are the last moments of life of Our Saviour, the Passion is going to conclude in its sacrifice of Salvation.

On the right is the completion of the mission of Salvation of Christ, beginning from the back with the Harrowing of Hell, the Descent into Limbo, The Three Maries at the Sepulchre, Christ appearing to St Mary Magdalene (Noli me tangere) and Christ appearing to the Three Maries.
Here, after the Crucifixion, the story continues from the death of Jesus, but unlike the other side, this concludes in hope and one can feel it immediately. The first scene is the Deposition, the cadaver of Christ incredibly skinny is being placed in the sepulchre, once again notice it's a Renaissance one - this is a Renaissance work with a Gothic frame and looks!  Traditionally, John is shown to held Mary as she faints.  The other two Marys are also present and behind them. In the background are the Harrowing of Hell and the three Marys at the Sepulchre where the angel warns them that Christ is no more among the dead, an incredible sequence that shows how important is the role of the woman in the Passion of our Lord, present at the Deposition, the first to know the Lord has risen and also present at the Crucifixion - what really the Eucharist is about (not to mention the Descent of the Holy Spirit in the Pentecost, where Mary was also central). 
In the second scene is finally the resurrection of Christ, the soldiers are shocked by what they are witnessing, they are once again dressed in Renaissance outfits (and weaponries). In true late Gothic/Renaissance style, Christ is literally bursting out of the tomb, with the flag of the Resurrection and symbol of hope - his mission of Salvation is complete. Behind this are the Noli Me Tangere, when Mary Magdalene is the first to meet Our Lord and tells her "do not touch me" for he was risen, "have faith"! The last scene is Christ appearing to the Three Maries, including his Mother. A truly moving scene that really transmits all sorts of emotions to the viewer and I will leave that to your own feelings and interpretation.
My favourite scene, a rather rare iconography is the descent of Christ into Hell, showing an already triumphant Christ with his Resurrection flag to save all the righteous people who died before his birth. The mouth of hell is a rather "interesting" Medieval feature, the whole scene is quite "cozy" and quite magical, especially thanks to the charming blue ceiling with golden stars. Another detail, on the frame, is the carving of Jonah and the Whale. Medieval people loved monsters.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Building love: 50 years of Anglican Centre in Rome.

Rome is the home of a unique place: the Anglican Centre, acting as a sort of embassy of the Anglican Communion, it has a key role and great instruments in the modern dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church. No other Church shares such an exclusive institution and privileged position, making it one of the greatest successes, examples and fruits of modern ecumenism. Today - its role goes far beyond this original task.

Exactly fifty years ago, during the hopeful years of the Second Vatican Council and for the first time since the Reformation an Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, made a historic and touching visit to Rome, in which Pope Pius VI symbolically passed his ring on to the English primate. This warm meeting led to a series of consequences: the birth of an Anglican-Roman Catholic ecumenical commission, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the very Anglican Centre. Although, hopes were high during the 1960s, we must not underestimate the work and achievements of these institutions: it is thank to them that we can pray together, our sisters and brothers can be married by priests belonging to either churches, we share a baptism, similar views on the Eucharist, a joint document on the Blessed Virgin Mary, Popes and Archbishops have regularly met ever since and much more!

Since its very early days the Anglican Centre has been based in the charming Palazzo Doria-Pamphilj in Rome, not far from the Pantheon, thanks to the generosity of this renowned princely family. The Palazzo hosts one of the world's greatest private art galleries with astonishing works by Old Masters and fairy Baroque galleries with the Anglican Centre being another two floors up.

The Anglican Centre is not "only" an ecumenical centre but much more and it especially takes its pride in hospitality, first of all, by being blessed with the presence of the Chapel of Saint Augustine of Canterbury since its very beginning: a holy space of prayer inspired by those hopeful years, where an Anglican Eucharist is regularly held on Tuesdays at 12:45pm and where people of all faiths can gather together to worship the one Lord - the service is usually followed by what Anglicans can do better: fellowship, in the shape of a lovely meal where one can actually get to meet many interesting people. Through the years the chapel has also gained, thanks to the presence of two Anglican churches in Rome, a rather regular congregation as well.

The Centre is also widely renowned for having the largest Anglican Library in continental Europe, with more than 15,000 volumes, it has a focus in theology, ecclesiology, history and of course ecumenism.  It is often an essential tool to the Anglican scholar or student but sometimes also to the Roman Catholic one - making it a special way of exchanging the favour, as Archbishop Ramsey said: the Anglican student is often a debtor to writers within the Roman Catholic Church. This Centre is an attempt to repay that debt by making available the resources of Anglican learning to any who will come and enjoy them.

The Library is also the symbol of the learning and education centre that this institution also is. Several courses are offered each year and are open to everyone, they can be lectures, sometimes followed by trips to significant places in and outside Rome. They are committed to all, from the newly curious to students and scholars of history, theology, etc. This very side of the Centre has sometimes been essential in developing strong relationships and bringing fruits to the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue. These courses can be also part of pilgrimages, the Centre welcomes nearly a thousand people each year from all backgrounds, churches but also bishops and other prelates.

The Anglican Centre of the 21st century is doing incredibly well, as if the differences between the two Churches are almost non-existent. This is because good Christians know what is the focus: the focus is of course unity and the love we share in Jesus Christ.
In recent years, not only the Centre, but the entire Communion has been blessed by a great symbiosis between the two churches: first we had two great theologians and scholars in the figures of Archbishop Rowan and Pope Benedict, followed by two spiritual and charismatic ones in the figures of Archbishop Justin and Pope Francis - not only this but they were helped by two directors very similar to them: Canon David Richardson and Archbishop David Moxon. Both have led the two churches in sharing many gifts: first the great artistic patrimonies of both traditions - I still vividly remember the unforgettable time when the Choir of Westmister Abbey came to Rome, the great musical tradition still continues and the Centre still works to share this amazing English traditions with our Roman sisters and brothers. Under Canon Richardson the Centre also started a strong relationship with the local charity of Sant'Egidio to help the disadvantaged. Archbishop Moxon led the dialogue to another level, our two Churches now share an incredible goal: that to stop human trafficking and slavery. I myself can testify just how I saw the relationship between our two Churches grow during recent years, it has been a blessing to see our Bishops and priests share so many important moments with His Holiness, more and more often. Just good media coverage? Don't think so!
The director of the Anglican Centre, to put it briefly, is the Ambassador of the Anglican Communion, and more specifically, of the Archbishop of Canterbury, to the Pope. I hope and pray that this institution will grow greater, thanks to our prayers - its work and the fruits it brought are a blessing, perhaps it is not directly given credit for what it does, from those who enjoy what it achieved (my mind goes to baptism or the "concelebration" of marriage by priests of different denominations), but this is also very Christian, we Anglicans are blessed to have this unique institution and the possibility to share and grow so much together, despite our differences, that I hope and pray will be overcome. It is the Lord's doing and it is marvellous in his eyes. May they all be one; Even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you; may they be one in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. [John 17:21]

To celebrate fifty years of growth, love, hard work and great achievements, the Anglican Centre will observe a couple of days blessed by great events and the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury himself. There will be a colloquium given by the Anglican-Roman Catholic commission in which bishops and other prelates will present and describe to the public how they worked together, there will be a great service at St. Gregory's Basilica on the Celio, previously the place of so many ecumenical events between Popes and Archbishops - it holds a special place in the hearts of English Christians, here Gregory the Great sent the first Archbishop of Canterbury to England. The Pope himself will preside. There will also be many more treats, but the real "deal" will be the Gala dinner on the evening of October 5th, hosted by the Archbishop(s) in the beautiful gallery of the Doria-Pamphilj palace, under kind permission of Prince Jonathan and Princess Gesine. I am looking forward to that!
This celebration, not only has the goal to enlarge the Anglican Centre family, but also to raise donations to support this incredible mission. I think that every Christian has the duty to take some responsibility and donate, to support the Centre, this mission may seem distant but it truly helps all people, from the less-fortunate, to the modern slaves, to young Anglicans or Catholics who want to marry each other. Help Christians to find more and more common goals. Help to take this mission into the future!

Here is a link where you can donate to the Centre by joining the incredible celebratory events, click here:

Anglican Centre 50th Anniversary Events

Or click here to buy tickets for the Gala dinner:

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Reflection on the 15th anniversary of the attacks of 9/11.

As many people I still remember where I was and what I was doing when I first learned of the attacks in America, I also have family in New York, and like many New York families my relatives knew people that died in the Twin Towers. On this fateful day we commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that brought death, pain and grief to America and shock to the rest of the world. On this day, on a Sunday it is important to remember all those who have died, those who have lost someone and those who have suffered greatly from this tragedy within our congregations at church, at mass; this horrible attacks also represent the too many that followed them and still do nowadays, we should think of how to respond to terrorism and hatred, at least on our behalf, with love and prayer. So many people lost their lives, so much has been said about 9/11 but it is important to never forget this macabre "queen" of attacks. There should not be a poll of tragedies, but this was absolutely an immense one, too many brutally lost their lives or friends, partners, children, parents, in a terrible, visible, immense slaughterhouse that too well portrayed the pain in which these people died. I could not be frank enough on this. May the light of God always shine on evil, just like the lives of those saints that saved lives and often died in the attempt, on that day. The Roman Anglican's thoughts and prayers are with all the victims and relatives, that peace may triumph and that love that only Christ gave us may conquer this unjust world in which too many smaller 9/11s occur. There is always a dawn, there is always a resurrection. Jesu mercy, Mary pray. We must never forget.

Eternal and gracious God, hear the prayers of your people as we remember in sorrow all those who died on this day in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania fifteen years ago. As we commemorate the precious gift of their lives we commend them, in faith and trust, to your embracing love and mercy. We remember too all the families and hearts everywhere which have been broken through such act of violence and terrorism, that they may be held through the pain of grief, surrounded with the gentle care and strength they need to continue their lives in hope and peace. We also pray in gratitude for the bravery and endurance of the emergency services throughout the world, especially for the members of the Fire and Rescue Services. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.