Alessandro Bonvicino ("il Moretto") (1498 circa – 1554)
Il Cristo eucaristico con i santi Cosma e Damiano
Christ in the Eucharist with Saints Cosmo and Damian
Oil on canvas
261 x 160 cm
Chiesa parrocchiale dei Santi Cosma e Damiano, Marmentino (Brescia)
The inscription on the altar in the above painting reads:
"Panem Angelorum Manducavit Homo"
Alessandro Bonvicino ("il Moretto") (1498 circa – 1554)
Il Cristo eucaristico con i santi Bartolomeo e Rocco
Christ in the Eucharist with Saints Bartholomew and Rocco
Oil on canvas
254 x 175 cm
Chiesa parrocchiale di San Bartolomeo, Castenedolo (Brescia)
It is often forgotten that the Reform or Renewal of the Catholic Church did not begin with the Council of Trent (1545–1563), Saint Pope Pius V and St Charles Borromeo
Unlike Luther and his followers, reformers stayed within the Church and reformed from within
These reformers did not change doctrine but reformed morals and acts, starting with themselves
They started their work before Luther issued his 95 Theses in 1517
One of these centres of reform or renewal before Trent was Brescia in Northern Italy
The great impetus of this conservative reform came from the bottom up and was not top down and in particular came from lay confraternities aided and encouraged by sympathetic clergy
Unlike in Germany and unlike Luther and the reformers there, these conservative reformers were not clergy and not academics
They also kept out of the secular politics of the time and did not seek secular power
One of the great figures in this reform based in Brescia was St Angela Merici (21 March 1474 – 27 January 1540) who in 1535 with twenty eight companions founded the Company of St Ursula on 25 November
But this was part of a wider movement for renewal
Along with other Brescian painters, Moretto strove to interpret sacred themes in light of the fervent desire for church reform and renewed piety on the part of the lay community that swept through northern Italy from the 1520s
Moretto himself participated in this movement by his involvement in confraternities, such as that of the Santissimo Sacramento based in Brescia's cathedral of which Moretto was himself consigliere. He is also buried in the common tomb of the Confratelli della Scuola del Santissimo Sacramento in San Clemente
The thirteenth session of the Council of Trent was held on 11 October, 1551; it promulgated a comprehensive decree on the Sacrament of the Eucharist (in eight chapters and eleven canons)
At the twenty-second session, which was not held until 17 September, 1562, four decrees were promulgated: the first contained the dogma of the Church on the Sacrifice of the Mass (in nine chapters and nine canons); the second directed the suppression of abuses in the offering of the Holy Sacrifice; a third (in eleven chapters) treated reform, especially in regard to the morals of the clergy
As can be seen Moretto`s works with his own great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament anticipate the conclusions of the Council of Trent which did not publish its conclusions until well after his death
These conclusions at Trent were not in reaction to the Lutheran reformers but reflected the understanding of the faith prior to the break with the Lutherans and others
The works by Moretto were commissioned by Donato Savallo, the archpriest of the Cathedral in Brescia
Savallo had been in Brescia since 1524 and also had tied benefits to parishes in the region around Brescia including Marmentino and Castenedolo
It would appear that there was a strong and close connection between Savallo and Morettp since 1530 when Savallo corresponded with Moretto about the construction of the organ for the church at Salo at Lago di Garda
It should be noted that Aurelio Durante and Donato Savallo, archdeacon and archpriest of the Cathedral of Brescia were given papal authority to execute the Bull Regimini Universalis Ecclesiae (5th June 1544) confirming the Order of Ursulines after the death of St Angela Merici
It would be good to know more about the life of this rather unknown priest Donato Savallo who appears to have been one of the major figures in the renewal at Brescia
Moretto also had close connections with Vincenzo Stella and Agostino Gallo both closely associated with the Oratory of Divine Love in Brescia as well as St Angela Merici herself
The legacy of the reformers lasted well after they had passed to another life and their influence reverberated for centuries
Both works were for Chapels of the Blessed Sacrament and were built by the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament of which Moretto was a distinguished member
At Marmentino the work is still in situ but not in the Chapel but above the High Altar and it is a wonderful work. It can be seen on this website Itinerari Brescia from where the following photographs by Laura Gatti were taken:
On the website of the Parish of S Bartolomeo in Castenedolo, we learn that the picture of Saint Bartholomew can not be seen in the original chapel of the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament again built by the Confraternity of which Moretto was a member.
Unfortunately, the original church was destroyed by an earthquake in 1799
It would appear from the website that the Confraternity there at the time was called the ‘Disciplina di San Rocco e San Sebastiano’ which explains the presence of San Rocco
The commentary on the work and its history in the website is most interesting
Here is a picture of the work in its present setting:
Four hundred years later, it was that great citizen of Brescia, Pope Paul VI with his Encyclical Mysterium Fidei (3rd September 1965) who had to step in and set out clearly concisely and precisely the dogmas on the Eucharist and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the face of misguided calls (again mainly from Germany and Northern Europe especially the Netherlands) to undermine and change the Dogmas at the Second Vatican Council
"3. In order to make the indissoluble bond that exists between faith and devotion perfectly clear, the Fathers of the Council decided, in the course of reaffirming the doctrine that the Church has always held and taught and that was solemnly defined by the Council of Trent, to offer the following compendium of truths as an introduction to their treatment of the Most Holy Mystery of the Eucharist:
4. "At the Last Supper, on the night when He was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the Sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until He should come again, and so to entrust to His beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of His Death and Resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is eaten, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.''5. These words highlight both the sacrifice, which pertains to the essence of the Mass that is celebrated daily, and the sacrament in which those who participate in it through holy Communion eat the flesh of Christ and drink the blood of Christ, and thus receive grace, which is the beginning of eternal life, and the "medicine of immortality" according to Our Lord's words: "The man who eats my flesh and drinks my blood enjoys eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."
Both the paintings depict Eucharistic Adoration.
Of this Pope Paul VI said this:
"ON THE WORSHIP OF LATRIA
56. The Catholic Church has always displayed and still displays this latria that ought to be paid to the Sacrament of the Eucharist, both during Mass and outside of it, by taking the greatest possible care of consecrated Hosts, by exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful, and by carrying them about in processions to the joy of great numbers of the people.
57. The ancient documents of the Church offer many evidences of this veneration. The bishops of the Church always urged the faithful to take the greatest possible care of the Eucharist that they had in their homes. "The Body of Christ is meant to be eaten by the faithful, not to be treated with irreverence," is the serious warning of St. Hippolytus.
58. In fact, the faithful regarded themselves as guilty, and rightly so as Origen recalls, if, after they had received the body of the Lord and kept it with all reverence and caution, some part of it were to fall to the ground through negligence.
59. These same bishops were severe in reproving any lack of due reverence that might occur. We have evidence of this from the words of Novatian, whose testimony is trustworthy in this matter; He felt that anybody deserved to be condemned who "came out after Sunday service bringing the Eucharist with him, as was the custom, . . . and carried the holy body of the Lord around with him," going off to places of amusement instead of going home.
60. In fact, St. Cyril of Alexandria denounced as mad the opinion that the Eucharist was of no use to sanctification if some of it were left over for another day. "For Christ is not altered," he says, "and His holy body is not changed; instead the power and force and life-giving grace of the blessing remain in it forever."
61. Nor should we forget that in ancient times the faithful—whether being harassed by violent persecutions or living in solitude out of love for monastic life—nourished themselves even daily on the Eucharist, by receiving Holy Communion from their own hands when there was no priest or deacon present.
62. We are not saying this with any thought of effecting a change in the manner of keeping the Eucharist and of receiving Holy Communion that has been laid down by subsequent ecclesiastical laws still in force; Our intention is that we may rejoice over the faith of the Church which is always one and the same."