Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Virgin Mary and her role in Anglicanism.

Anglicans, but also other fellow Christians, may often wonder what is the role of Mary within the Anglican Communion. The role of Mary, the Virgin and Mother of our God as most Christians define her, could in fact not find a vaguer position than in the Anglican tradition - this is what we're drawn to think, because of the breath and width of our churchmanship or because Anglicans never really had a definite theology besides the 39 Articles of Religion (blinking an eye there), finalised in 1571.
Although the articles ban any sort of devotion or invocation to the Virgin as the famous Article XXII states: The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration, as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God. However, what we find about Our Lady in the articles, especially Article II, about Christ's Incarnation, is in fact completely different and it ratifies traditional Christian Marian theology: The Son, which is the Word of the Father [...] took Man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance. 
Statue of the Virgin commissioned by Archbishop William Laud
in the mid 1600s for the University Church in Oxford
Whereas this article may seem obvious nowadays, it really shows how the figure of Mary never changed her purpose or form, even in early Reformation theology, this was basically the view of the Church of the first centuries. In truth, we Anglicans definitely have a Marian theology, but how has it evolved so much? Indeed, the Marian question in Anglicanism goes much deeper than the low, high church divide between those who only hear her name at Christmas and Easter and those who continue Mary's Dowry and go to Walsingham for pilgrimages and pray the Hail Mary - which thankfully both survive in our splendid tradition in which, as we have just seen, we all regard her as the Virgin Mother of God just as the first Christians or just as the first disciples!
But how has her figure evolved through the Reformation? Did she just remain there, in the Scriptures? Or did she somehow touch the hearts and minds of Anglicans to come? Did the restoration of Walsingham truly come out of the blue? Or just because the Tractarians thought it good to restore it because it felt "Roman"?
As we read in the great Anglican-Roman Catholic joint document Mary: Hope and Grace in Christ: as early as 1561 the Calendar of the Church of England (ratified in 1662) retained five feasts associated with Mary: Conception of Mary, Nativity of Mary, Annunciation, Visitation and Purification. Therefore, the Virgin also had a rather massive liturgical presence in the Anglican calendar, this is not to say, that there were high masses and long processions, but simply that the Mother of God was remembered on those days, every Book of Common Prayer edition until the latest 1662 refers to Mary as "pure Virgin", the main office of the day, Evensong has at its centre the Magnificat, the Song of Mary, she had a presence in the liturgical life of the Church, a way in which she could keep having a role in the theology of Revelation as part of God's manifestation and salvation among us, which really is what the joint document signed by both Anglicans and Catholics also proves.
14th century wall painting representing the Assumption
of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Lichfield Cathedral
However, what we might call a turn would be the 17th century with the great Caroline Divines, such as Lancelot Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor and Thomas Ken who even more so had a fuller appreciation of Mary in the prayers of the Church and in her very place within it and the eyes and hearts of the believer.
In the 20th century with the Anglo-Catholic revival the figure of a devotional Mary, in the form of the reinstitution of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, for example, will be once more reintroduced within the life of the Church in England founded by Saint Augustine, and in the last decade our Church ratified a document regarding the figure of Mary with the Church of Rome. However, Mary has always been in the hearts of the English, the people of Mary's Dowry, as it was known in the late Middle Ages. Still, today the people of the English Church regard Mary either in the pure way the first Christians did or in the way in which thousands of years and the Tradition of the Church combined with God's Revelation unto humanity has created, the last two being strictly intertwined. She is indeed remembered and placed high in our tradition and therefore she does have a place in our fragile and undefined Anglican theology, the place of the pure material and substance that gave birth to God:

Neither are we unmindful to bless Thee, for the most holy, pure, 
highly blessed, the Mother of God, Mary the eternal Virgin, with all the Saints:
Recommending ourselves and our whole life to Thee,
O Lord, our Christ and God:
For to Thee belongeth glory, honour, and worship. Amen.

Lancelot Andrewes

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Reflection about the Manchester attack.

Jesus constantly reminds us of forgiveness in Scripture, this message of salvation goes all the way back to the Old Testament, in the Book of Daniel we are reminded how "the Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him". 
In the light of the recent attack perpetrated in Manchester Arena, at an event attended mostly by youths, forgiveness is surely the last thought that would cross our mind - 22 people have been brutally killed by a suicide kamikaze with a bomb filled with nails and other metallic parts, among them several victims were children or minors, how can we respond to this? How will the relatives of these little, innocent infants react to such an unnecessary bloodshed? How will the psychologically damaged spared ones react? How will they live with this burden? Why can't our youths enjoy a moment of laid back joy in these short lives we have? What has brought us to this? Forgiveness is indeed the last thought that would cross our mind. 
Certainly, those of us who happen to be Christian, or religious or somehow not involved in this horror, will be comforted by the thought of eternal life, Christ said "let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." This can certainly comfort us, these are the words of our Saviour who despite he surely did not intend for children to come to him in this brutal way, has also a special place for them in the incredible power and continual love of his heavenly kingdom. But how will those directly involved in these deaths respond? I might have an idea: first we, as human communities, should respond by embracing these people with little acts of love, by showing them, we are there. It is in these moments humans truly show their greatest gifts, my mind goes to the taxi drivers of Manchester and Liverpool who rescued (freely) the many survivors of the attack, we could be taxi drivers and rescue those affected by evil, an evil which sadly seems to be happening over and over again. Now, how could these people, those who are directly involved in this tragedy, personally respond to it? I have one more idea, it should be forgiveness which always comes from God. How can you say that now?! Let me explain. I would not advise to begin a difficult mental process in which one would actually stop blaming the attacker for his crime, no, I suggest to simply forget about him, that's the forgiveness for him and for one's own benefit. God will think about his soul (and I can't but believe in hell as of now), now the grieving person's only goal is to begin a process of healing, without thinking about the perpetrator, that will indirectly be forgiveness for that awful person and for one's own heart. 
As we are not drawn to hatred as those who hated and killed did, let us find room for prayer, for the sick, for the grieving and suffering and let us think of all the little angels who joined God in his immense power above, the little angels we used to look after and who will now be our guardians. May they rest in peace and rise in glory.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Florence's Spedale degli Innocenti, beauty for good.

The Spedale degli Innocenti, sits elegantly on the beautiful Piazza della Santissima Annunziata in Florence is certainly one of the most renowned Italian landmarks and a staple of Western architecture. I recently visited this wonderful space, shortly after its long awaited restoration. 

The hospital portico

Its story is interlinked with that of the city and although changes don’t occur so drastically it is said that it is this building that started the architectural Renaissance. As I often like to remind in my blog, the late Middle Ages, what would eventually become the Renaissance, were not at all a bloody age dominated by selfish tyrants and murderers as tv shows like to portray, certainly life conditions were not as privileged as nowadays but this was also when the Church and those in power were interested in commissioning great art but also infrastructure for the needy, and often these could be combined together, the Spedale degli Innocenti is a primary example.
The Spedale degli Innocenti (Hospital of the Innocent) was founded as a foundling hospital in 1445 as a response to the rising problem of infant abandonment, a fact that was increasing mostly because of affairs between nobility and servants and also because the poorest families could not afford their offspring. The problem eventually came to the attention of the patrician families of Florence and especially the Church which was concerned about the abandoned children who often went unbaptised and died prematurely. In the first centuries the hospital was strongly supported by the reigning dynasty of Florence, the Medici family.

Detail of Corinthian capitol in the portico with Della Robbia Roundel

Construction began in 1419, Francesco Datini, a silk merchant from Prato, left a sum, for the construction of a portico by Filippo Brunelleschi, it is said that crowds would gather to admire this new building in the classical style in what was then a mostly Gothic city - the grand and harmonic portico with a series of classical arches, Corinthian columns and topped with Della Robbia roundels of swaddled babies, the symbol of this charitable foundation, was the pride of a civilised Renaissance society: beauty for good.

Madonna degli Innocenti, Domenico di Michelino, 1440

The hospital, which still operates on a smaller scale also has a rather good art gallery, with works accumulated through the centuries as donations, most reflecting the theme of the hospital's call. The gallery is found in the complex of the Spedale designed by Brunelleschi, commissioned by the Wool and the Silk Guilds of Florence: the cloisters, dormitories, refectory and rooms - a rational and elegant space despite its history. Although most artworks were sold in the 19th century, the collection still preserves some astonishing works. 

Sandro Botticelli's Madonna with Child and an Angel

Among them some Madonnas of the Innocenti, an iconography created for this hospital with Our Lady protecting the innocent foundlings under her cloak, a beautiful Madonna with Child and an Angel, by Sandro Botticelli, a melancholic work inspired by a previous, similar work by Filippo Lippi, the “Lippina”, in the nearby Uffizi Gallery, an eclectic Conversation of Saints with Our Lady by Piero di Cosimo, a pupil of Filippino Lippi, one of the most fascinating and extravagant artists of High Renaissance Florence, inspired by the masterpiece of the gallery, and like that one, designed for the hospital chapel.

Piero di Cosimo's Sacred Conversation with Saints

On 28 October 1485, Francesco di Giovanni Tesori, prior of the hospital, signed a contract with the renowned artist Domenico Ghirlandaio, for an altarpiece for the hospital chapel, Santa Maria degli Innocenti, the subject being the Adoration of the Magi, a popular iconographic theme at the time. The work had to be a tempera on panel altarpiece, with approximately no intervention of the artist’s workshop, as it used to be customary, to avoid any changes on the original drawing approved by the commissioner. As agreed the altarpiece was completed after thirty months for a sum of 115 florins. In 1917 it was removed from the church and placed in the gallery where it dwells currently. 

Domenico Ghirlandaio's Adoration of the Magi

The Adoration of the Magi is set in a modern composition, already experimented by Botticelli and Leonardo, the work is also very remindful of Ghirlandaio’s Tornabuoni Chapel in Santa Maria Novella, Mary is set in a pyramidal construction with the child Jesus and the other characters. 

Detail of the central scene

At the base of the imaginary pyramid are two Magi kings in the act of kissing Jesus’ foot, the third is on the left offering a decorated chalice as a gift. According to Christian iconography they represent the three ages of man: youth, maturity and the old age. 

Detail of Saint John the Baptist with an innocent child

Squatting at their sides are Saint John the Baptist, inviting the spectator into the scene and symbolically pointing to Jesus, and on the other side is Saint John the Evangelist, presenting a wounded child to the Virgin Mary, another child is on the opposite side with the Baptist, they are a clear reference to the Massacre of the Innocents and also to the hospital foundation.

St. Jon the Evangelist with an innocent child and a Magi king

Surrounding Our Lady are also Saint Joseph, watching the Christ vigilantly and the rather beautifully rendered ox and ass. The stable is made of an incomplete brick wall, a common 15th century rendition, symbolising the now destroyed Paganism, surrounded by four classical pilasters, decorated with grotesques and with Corinthian capitols, holding a simple roof made of straw. Above are four angels holding a banner reading the Gloria in Excelsis, representing how the scene bonds earth and heaven together and how Christ is the link between them, being adored by his people and being praised above by the company of heaven. 

Detail of the angels singing the Gloria

On the left are other bystanders, among them the commissioner of the work, in black and Domenico Ghirlandaio himself looking towards the spectator. On the right instead are members of the Magi’s cortege, richly dressed, they also represent members of the Silk and Wool Guilds of Florence, great benefactors of the institute. 

Detail of the commissioner and portrait of Domenico Ghirlandaio

The cortege is very long and in the background there is an ancient arch, another reference to the pagan world, reading the date of the work: MCCCCLXXXVIII (1488). It is interesting to notice that for the five horses were used the same drawings, minus minor variations. In the background it is possible to see the flying Angel announcing Christ’s birth to the shepherds. 

Detail of the Magi's cortege on the right

The background, properly Renaissance, is a fascinating landscape with a lake with ploughing ships, hills, mountains and an imaginary view on Rome, symbol of classicism, with the main monuments: the Colosseum, the Trajan Column, the Milizie Tower and the Pyramid of Cestius. The attention to the detail on both jewels, dresses and the background are inspired by the influence of Flemish art. 

Detail of the background

The lower predella, painted by Bartolomeo di Giovanni, from Ghirlandaio’s workshop consists of scenes from the life of Mary: the Martyrdom of Saint John the Evangelist, the Annunciation, the Marriage of the Virgin, the Presentation of Jesus to the Temple, the Deposition, the Baptism of Christ and last Saint Antoninus (one of the protectors of Florence and Bishop) consecrates the Church of Santa Maria degli Innocenti. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Raphael's Birthday.

Forgive me in advancement for the long post, but today is the birthday of Raphael, one of the most influential artist who ever lived. 
He started his career in Urbino in what is now the region of Le Marche, then one of the most important centres of the Renaissance. He began his work under the direction of Perugino, soon his genius arose and he started creating works of the caliber of the Mond Crucifixion and the Wedding of the Virgin, in 1502 he was even called to Siena to work under another renowned Umbrian artist: Bernardino Pintoricchio, with whom he worked on the striking Piccolomini Library in Siena. 

In 1504 he visited Florence, this is where his career took an important boost, under the inspiration of central works of the early Renaissance he began working for private commissioners, an incredible achievement for a non-Florentine at the time. 

Until now, between a Madonna and Child and a church altarpiece, Raphael’s style even if more gentle or slightly with more character (!) still resembled that of his master, his turn from post-Socratic to Platonic, was with the Borghese Deposition, this is when we can finally notice Raphael is spreading his wings (and brush) and letting his genius work for a sensational work that will change the history of art, the work was so fantastic that although being destined for a church in Perugia it ended up of one of Rome’s greatest art collectors. 

Rome, his final destination where he erupted into the genius he will become, working for Julius II for whom he painted a “private” Sistine Chapel, apartments decorated with a cycle of frescoes representing holiness and knowledge of which every single scene is a monument to the Renaissance genius.

He also worked for Cardinal Agostino Chigi, for whom he designed the futuristic chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo and painted the sublime Sibyls in Santa Maria della Pace, as well as the triumphant Galatea in his Trastevere villa. 

While in Rome he continued working on Madonnas as well as splendid portraits such as that of the “terrible” Pope Julius and that of La Fornarina. While in Rome, he studied the grotesques in the Domus Area which he replicated in the Vatican Loggia, the new temple of art. 

As with most artists of his time he was known to have a lot of fun, and despite being having lived more than one life for a lifetime, he died relatively young under his last, mystic work: the Transfiguration. 

He inspired artists to come, from Perin del Vaga to Edward Burne-Jones. He will lie in his beloved Pantheon, the temple of classical canons, which in his life he took to transcendental beauty. The inscription on his tomb reads: "Here lies Raphael, by whom nature herself feared to be outdone while he lived, and when he died, feared that she herself would die."

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Florentine glory: the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament in Sant'Ambrogio.

The greatest miracle happens every day at the altar, it is important to remember that it is the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Christ who is present in his flesh and blood at all times in this great gift that Christ has bestowed on us, a unique act of love. If the world would truly realise how great a miracle it is, there would be cameras all over the churches, security outside their gates, people would come from everywhere to attend the simplest Mass in the smallest chapel - because it is God that we see and receive, his blessing, his promise in the expectation of his coming in glory. As we approach the feast of the Resurrection, in which we give thanks in a joyful and festal way for the very presence of Christ on earth, later confirmed in the sacrifice of the Eucharist. I would like to write a little article about the Eucharistic miracle occurred in Florence some centuries ago. Whether you’re high church or low church, I think this is a moving story that recalls the sacredness and holiness of this godly gift of love, even if you do not believe in miracles, it is important and essential to remember what they represent: God and his love made manifest in humankind.

On 30 December 1230, an elderly priest called Uguccione, in the Florentine church of Sant’Ambrogio, after having celebrated the Mass, forgot to remove all wine from the communion chalice - the following day he found blood on it and everything soon became clear. The holy blood was soon collected inside of a little crystal ampoule and became subject of popular devotion. Initially, the Church was of course sceptic, as it often happens, the Bishop, Ardingo Foraboschi, kept the ampoule for a year for exams and only after that year, thanks to the help of the Franciscan friars, it was returned to the church. The Pope himself, did not really give the miracle much credit, very differently to what happened later to a similar miracle in Bolsena, even if these miracles actually proved that the beliefs of contemporary heretical groups, such as the Cathars and the Patarines, that did not believe in the real presence, and who were presence at all levels of society in the Ghibellines faction, that faction that during the wars of the Italian city states of the 12th and 13th centuries supported the Holy Emperor over the Pope.

In 1279 Beatrice di Capraia dei Conti guidi, a Guelph (pro-Pope), commissioned the decoration for the ampoule and gave an endowment for the hospitality of future pilgrims. From 1317 to 1344, also the Arte dei Giudici e Notaia, (a corporation of judges and notaries), one of the most powerful in Florence, paid for the entire celebrations of the anniversary of the miracle. In 1340, the blood was carried around the city in order to request godly assistance against the black death, five years later, a wool merchant, Turino Baldesi, a relative of Beatrice (see above), commissioned the construction of a chapel for the relic dedicated to “his soul and his brother Giannotto”. Meanwhile, the care of the Corpus Christi services was given to the Dominican friars of Santa Maria Novella, documents compiled by Thomas Aquinas show how the miracle lost importance. In 1405, the Ufficiali di Mercanzia, the heads of all corporations, took part of the feast of Sant’Ambrogio before war with Pisa, in 1425, the Signoria, before war Milan, opted for the procession at Santa Maria Novella. The Benedictine nuns of Sant’Ambrogio eventually established the Immaculate Conception as the main celebration of the church, a feast dear to both Saints Benedict and Ambrose. In 1431, the prior, Francesco Maringhi, commissioned a beautiful (and famous) Coronation of the Virgin, now at the Uffizi, this altarpiece would substitute the ampoule at the high altar and it would be moved to a side chapel. In 1468 Domenico Maringhi, related to Francesco, commissioned a new chapel with a tabernacle where to keep the precious ampoule, the tabernacle was inside of a panel by Alesso Baldovinetti with Angels and Saints Ambrose, Lawrence, John and Catherine of Alessandria. In 1481, the chapel was moved to the left of the high altar, in a chapel already belonging to the Zati family, a new beautiful marble tabernacle was commissioned to Mino da Fiesole, the outstanding Florentine sculptor, by the abbess. Between 1484 and 1486, Cosimo Rosselli, one of the great artists of the Renaissance, was commissioned, for a hundred florins, the decoration in fresco of the one wall on the left side of the chapel, the east wall, around the tabernacle, and the vault. Today the frescoes are not in an excellent shape, after the fire of 1595 and the flooding of 1966, but nonetheless are entirely viewable and in good condition. With the definite arrangement of the chapel, the Baldovinetti altarpiece was placed on another altar.

The chapel is located to the left of the main presbytery, slightly elevated by a few steps, the shape is rectangular and it is open on two sides and enclosed within a Baroque marble rail. 

Mino da Fiesole’s tabernacle is located above the altar, as an altarpiece, it was in the late 1400s that tabernacles started to occupy that position, a similar arrangement is that of the San Chiara Chapel at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The nuns were surprised by the size of a previous monumental work by Mino da Fiesole in the Monastero delle Murate and commissioned the work to the sculptor in 1482, despite better hopes, the work took three years (and 160 florins) to be completed.

The central panel is enclosed within two small pillars with a vegetal-themed bas-relief decoration and Composite style capitals, on top is a frieze with cherubim and a little lunette with God the Father giving a blessing between two angels and a cherub. The ciborium is framed within an imaginary niche, on its size are two other nice with Saint Ambrose and Benedict, the patron of the church and the founder of the nun’s order, both portrayed in the act of praying, above is the Holy Spirit’s dove, between two small panels with cherubim. Lower than this, two angels are holding the miraculous chalice, positioned on a cherub, the Child Jesus in the act of blessing is in a mandorla coming out of it, inspired by the ciborium of San Lorenzo by Desiderio da Settignano. His pose is similar to that of God the Father, and both with the dove, create a perfect iconography of the Holy Trinity, manifested in this miracle and sacrifice of the Eucharist, the holy food of our souls. In the base is a bas-relief in which the priest Uguccione gives te relic to the abbess of Sant’Ambrogio, the scene is set in a symmetrical way, as it was customary at the time, there are two groups of figures in the act of praying, mostly nuns and notaries. In the two niches on the two sides of the altar, in “very” bas-relief, there are personifications of Faith with a chalice and paten and a cross, in the other Hope in the act of praying. At their side, two women open doors to a series of kneeling figures. The work is signed as Opus Mini, Mino’s Work. Previously, some details of the tabernacle were gilded, today some traces remain.

Around the tabernacle, Cosimo Rosselli, the outstanding Florentine master, painted in fresco music making angels, to spiritually praise and glorify that miracle of the Eucharist, they respected the Corpus Domini’s directions by Thomas Aquinas. 

In a rather customary way, the vault is decorated with doctors of the church on a red background (that once was blue): Saint Ambrose, Saint Augustine, Saint Jerome with the lion and Saint Gregory the Great with the Holy Spirit whispering in his ear. 

The large lunette on the left wall portrays the Miracle of the Chalice, probably a representation of its exposition of 1340 against the black death. This, according to Renaissance art chronicler Giorgio Vasari, is his best fresco scene in Florence, apparently a young Fra Bartolomeo assisted the master in this work. The scene is realistic, it is set in the what the Piazza in which the church is located looked like back in the Renaissance, the side view is remindful of Masaccio’s work too, as well as being incredibly rich of portraits and buildings of the time. On the right is the church square with an original palazzo which is no longer existing, where a curious viewer assist to the scene below. 

The main scene is set on the right, where a group of priests and nuns is gathered around the ampoule, exposed by a bishop in a cope, at the foot of the steps are a group of acolytes, also in copes, holding candles for the Lord present in the sacrament and miracle. This is a rather “naturalistic” portrayal of the scene, for example in the shadows, the bricked up window in which the real window is shown by the pietra serena frame, the woman in the far palazzo on the left, hanging her laundry on the window, and in between these two palazzos in true Renaissance fashion, the scene spaces onto a view on the Florentine countryside, with gentle, green hills, and tall, thin trees. 

There is also clearly a lot of care in the clothing, hair-styles and hats, especially in women. The young lady holding two little boys, on the right, is inviting us to join the scene and participate, as if that miracle is happening now and in fact its presence is real and right on the other side of the wall!

The procession, where women and men walk separately, has several contemporary portraits, as Vasari also states. On the extreme left is Rosselli’s own portrait, looking towards the viewer. In the same fashion of Ghirlandaio, Florentine fashion in fact, there is a group of three young men: Marsilio Ficino, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Agnolo Poliziano. 

In the centre is Pico, dressed in green, with his typical hair-style, he is holding arms with his colleagues. The three elderly men kneeling in the church square are probably members of the Medici family. The bishop, might be Antonino Pierozzi, is donating the sacrament to Francesco di Stefano della Torre, behind him is the abbess maria de’Barbadori in the act of praying. 

Essentially, this great scene in which there is a clear glorification of the miracle of the eucharist invites us to join them in celebration, to give us a sense of awe and belonging to the celebration, that celebration still located in the blood and body of Our Saviour, in the nearby tabernacle. Next to the frescoes is also the sinopia of the fresco, in which we can see how the artist imagined and reimagined the work, before and during its execution.

The first reliquary of this miracle was commissioned right after the miracle by the nuns, this is proven by a breviary compiled by the nuns under bishop Ardengo Trotti who dreamt about it. It was a little ivory urn, decorated with porpora and gold inlays. Unfortunately, this one was lost, and the only testimony of it and what it looked like is the Rosselli’s fresco, the recent one dates to 1511 and is by a certain Bartolomeo di Piero Sasso. This might also be a revisitation of the original reliquary. Today the blood is contained in a small ampoule protected by a crystal cylinder. The “new” reliquary is partially gilded and it is remindful of an hexagon-shaped ostensory. In the little niche in it are two angels flying and a third is symbolically holding the ostensory, the figures are rather fluid and plastic, in proper Renaissance style. Once the chapel was also adorned with two Della Robbia angels. 

This chapel is a triumph of eucharistic devotion, that devotion inspired by the greatest miracle bestowed by God the Christ on us, his very presence, in the awaiting of his coming in glory of his salvation.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Historical visit of the Pope to an Anglican church in the Eternal City.

Today my parish church, All Saints' Anglican Church in Rome, had the pleasure to welcome Pope Francis himself. Needless to say it was a remarkable occasion, the first of its kind, before today Popes had only visited Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. The rather long service of Evensong began with the dedication of our new icon of Saint Saviour by artist Ian Knowles from the Bethlehem Icon School in Israel. Then we proceeded to renew our baptismal vows and subsequently the altar party (led by me) reached the sanctuary while His Holiness slowly sprinkled our worshippers with holy water under the thundering notes of Stanford's setting of Psalm 150 to Anglican Chant. The Pope then preached about charity and mercy, reminding us of our brotherly relationship and the path of faith that we keep following together. Sharing prayer with the Holy Father, believe me, is a humbling experience. Then it was the time of the peace, which we all gladly shared with His Holiness, from the highest ranking members of the Church of England, to the sick, elderly and young of our church community, sharing the peace with Pope Francis really didn't require any additional words, the physical contact was enough to give us a sense of peace and hope. As customary it was then the time for questions, two answers from the Pope got stuck in my head: that we have to understand that when our Churches split times and circumstances were different, but we still share a love for Jesus Christ and his saints and much of our traditional way of practicing Christianity is unchanged, he then moved to an especially moving answer, he explained how we can look to the new churches of the global south, how we can worship together where canon law or theology can't get, as in the case of a diocese in his familiar Argentina where local Anglicans and Catholics worship at the same churches and services depending on the availability of the clergy. On this occasion our church was also twinned with its namesake Roman Catholic partner, with whom we recently started a new service for helping the homeless and the hungry of this large city. Gifts were then exchanged as we sang the beautiful strains of the hymn "For all the saints". Today was an especially touching and humbling experience, we will surely treasure it in our hearts for the years to come. This is truly God's own handiwork. That they may all be one.

Monday, February 20, 2017

History in the making in Italy, Anglicans and Catholics praying together.

Following 50 years of ecumenical partnership between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, culminating in last October's events in Rome, the next few weeks will once again mark historical occasions that will tighten the bonds between the two greatest Christian bodies of the West.

All Saints' Church Rome.

On Sunday 26th of February Pope Francis will visit the Anglican Church of All Saints' in Rome in Via del Babuino, not only this would be the first visit of its kind, but it will also be the first time a Pope will ever join an Anglican church community in prayer, before Popes had only visited Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, a cathedral and a royal peculiar, never a church! The service will be a modified version of Vespers during which His Holiness will preach, bless a special icon commissioned for the service and even get to meet members of the congregation, which we are sure it will be the part he will enjoy most! All Saints' will also be officially twinned with All Saints' Catholic Church, Ognissanti, with whom we have recently started a project for feeding the homeless together each Friday. 

The icon of Our Saviour that will be blessed by Pope Francis.

This visit signs the unique bonds of friendship that in the past years have characterised the relationship between us, where there is no communion, our bonds of love in Jesus Christ will do the job for now. Make sure to view the service in streaming on All Saints' website.

Bishop Lane and Bishop North.

On March 7th, Bishop Libby Lane, the first female Bishop of the Church of England, and Bishop Philip North, who stands with the Forward in Faith movement and against the ordination of women, and who operate in the same diocese, will both give a lecture at the Anglican Centre about how to work together, how to overcome difficulties and find one common goal under Jesus Christ. The fact that this will be held in Rome is of great importance and I invite all my Roman Catholics friends to come and be inspired by this important testimony.

St. Peter's Basilica.

Another important occasion will occur on March 13th, when Choral Evensong, the fascinating service of sung Evening Prayer deriving from Benedictine Vespers and famous for its solemn liturgy and glorious music, will be held in the Basilica of Saint Peter, yes you have heard it right. St. Peter's Basilica. The service will be led by Archbishop David Moxon, the director of the Anglican Centre in Rome and representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Holy See. The service will be sung by one of England's leading choirs, that of Merton College Oxford one of the oldest in Britain. It can't be stressed enough how important this great act of hospitality is. I sure will be there to attend this unique event and enjoy the best church music under the best church art!

Florence Cathedral.

What a list you would think! That is not it, if I would ask, what's that city closest to Rome, famous for its world renowned art, what would you say? Yes, it's Florence. We all love Fiorenza and we all know its famous Cathedral, home to works to some of the greatest artists: Paolo Uccello, Andrea del Castagno, Luca della Robbia, Giorgio Vasari, under Brunelleschi's dome and the shadow of Giotto's campanile... right I am done, forgive my art historian streak. Florence is also home to one of Italy's most vibrant Church of England chaplaincies, St. Mark's, a growing community of Anglicans with great ecumenical bonds. The church also boast an incredibly fine choir that due to the friendship between the church and the cathedral will perform in the latter. That's right, on March 12th Choral Evensong will be held for the first time in one of the world's most famous and beautiful cathedrals and by all means I will be there! English church music, the greatest form of art Anglicanism has, will be performed in this house of visual arts in which much Italian Renaissance polyphony resounded in ages past. When that music was composed and when that art was produced we would have probably burnt each other. How far have we come!

St. Mark's Church Florence.

The next few days and weeks will be of great historical importance and it is incredible to see how far we have come, it will be a great occasion for each and every single one of us to be part of the great work of love that is the body of Jesus Christ and which we are trying to bring together, at least in friendship because... that they may all be one.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

An Italian celebration of Christmas.

Nowadays, not many are aware that Christmas does not end on December 25th, but it goes on for twelve nights! To say the truth we can say it lasts until Candlemass, the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus to the Temple at the end of Epiphany Season, we could say a continuation of Christmastide. Tomorrow the twelve days will end with the Adoration of the Child Jesus by the Magi, a very important continuation of the Nativity where the humble community of shepherds is joined by three kings bringing gifts to the holy child. 
In Italy, this feast or better, "Epiphany Eve" has always been just as important as Christmas culturally, and Italian children not only have to wait for Santa Claus or Father Christmas but also for a lovely elderly lady called "La Befana" (after "Epifania" = Epiphany).
The legend goes... the three kings were looking for shelter the night before visiting Our Lord to bring Him gifts, they arrived to a small village where the locals addressed them to the best place, the house of a caring granny that gave them a place to sleep and excellent food, they were so touched they invited her to join them... she denied the offer, but the following day she changed idea, and started looking for the kings and especially Jesus! In the attempt to bring gifts to Jesus, she gave candies and sweets to all children... she still does today! Filling long stockings with any kind of sweet, candy or chocolate delicacy, unless you have been naughty, in which case some coal (made of sugar) will be left for you, pink coal is an option too, if you haven't been that naughty! At least in Italy! Tonight let's wait for this lovely granny! Viva viva la Befana!