Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Popes and Slavery

In light of the forthcoming bi-centenary of the passing of the Slave Trade Act 1815 by the Westminster Parliament, the question arises : When did the Catholic Church condemn slavery?

According to some notable figures, the Church did not finally condemn slavery until recently.

Judge John T. Noonan stated that it was not until 1890 that the Church condemned the institution of slavery, lagging behind laws enacted to outlaw the practice. He and others argue that slavery is one of the areas in which the Church has changed its moral teaching to suit the times, and that the time for this change did not come until near the end of the last century.

Theologian Laennec Hurbon may be cited as representing a belief among many authors that no Pope before 1890 condemned slavery when he stated that, ". . . one can search in vain through the interventions of the Holy See-those of Pius V, Urban VIII and Benedict XIV-for any condemnation of the actual principle of slavery."

In The Popes and Slavery: Setting the Record Straight by Fr. Joel S. Panzer in the January/February 1996 issue of "The Catholic Answer", Fr Panzer explains in detail that from 1435 to 1890, there were numerous bulls and encyclicals from several popes written to many bishops and the whole Christian faithful condemning both slavery and the slave trade.


Brother Bernardo Bitti, SJ (1548-1610) and The Cuzco School of Painting

Bernardo Bitti (1548-1610)
Madonna and Child (Virgen del pajarito)
Oil on Canvas 48 x 38 cm
Museo Nacional de Arte,

Bernardo Bitti (1548-1610)
The Coronation of the Virgin
Church of St Peter

Bernardo Bitti (1548-1610)
The Agony in the Garden,
Museum of Art

Three Italian artists introduced Mannerism to the Vice-Royalty of Peru in the 17th century: Mateo da Lecce (known as Mateo Pérez de Alesio), Angelino Medoro, and Brother Bernardo Bitti SJ, all of whom were trained in the great Italian workshops of the High Renaissance.

Bitti worked in the Cuzco region during the first years of the 17th century and left some disciples, including Pedro de Vargas and Gregorio Gamarra.

Until 1650, Cuzco painting followed the manner of the High Renaissance: monumental and enlarged figures dressed in voluminous clothes, presented either in small groups on neutral backgrounds or in large, crowded scenes that cover almost the entire canvas.

Engravings of complex sacred allegories and emblems, produced in the Flemish, French, or Italian workshops, spread throughout the Americas to support the propaganda of the church of the Counter-reformation.

The palette, limited to ochre, yellow, blue, and intense red, became increasingly complex and was enriched by the use of gold to re-create the luster of jewels and the rich and varied textures of cloth.

Bitti (born in Camerino, Italy) entered the Jesuits in 1568 at the age of 20. He was sent to Peru, and arrived in Lima on 1st May 1575. The following year the viceroy sent him to Titicaca to be in charge of the local missions. His works may be found in Lima, Arequipa, Cuzco, Huamanga, Puno, Juli, La Paz, Chuquisaca, Potosí and elsewhere.

Art historian Manuel Soria called him the best painter of sixteenth century South America.

Another "Last Supper" by Marcos Zapata

Marcos Zapata (active between 1748 and1773)
The Last Supper
The Convent of St Francis, Lima

A much more exuberant Last Supper- colourful showing the participants dining Roman style on triclinia and served by servants. Again, they are dining on Guinea-Pig, Papaya, And Yucca

Things to do when you retire

Hat tip to Mulier Fortis

"Working people frequently ask us retired people what they do to make their days interesting. For example, the other day I went downtown and into a shop. I was only there for about 5 minutes and when I came out there was a cop writing out a parking ticket.

I said to him, "Come on, man, how about giving a retired person a break?" He ignored me and continued writing the ticket. I called him a "Nazi." He glared at me and wrote another ticket for having worn tires.

So I called him a "doughnut-eating Gestapo." He finished the second ticket and put it on the windshield with the first. Then he wrote a third ticket. This went on for about 20-minutes. The more I abused him the more tickets he wrote. Personally, I didn't care.

I had come downtown on the bus, and the car that I was standing next to (the one he was putting the tickets on) had a bumper sticker that said "Hillary in '08."

I try to have a little fun each day now that I'm retired. It's important to my health."

A Last Supper- Peruvian style

Marcos Zapata (active between 1748 and1773)
Last Supper
Cathedral at Cuzco (Qosqo), Peru

Marcos Zapata was active between 1748 and 1773. By that time, Cuzco style art workshops had virtually become factories, producing canvases to export hundreds of paintings to Tucumán, Santiago de Chile, La Paz, Lima, and beyond.

Cuzco artists copied and renewed the pictorial language of Flanders’ illustrations, reproducing many of the allegoric Counter-Refomation compositions of Peter Paul Rubens (1577 – 1640), or others from the medieval calendar or Apocryphal gospels.

They changed the size of the figures within the structure of their compositions, freely interpreted the colours and drapery of the characters, or added angels, flowers, local birds or even phylactery with coded doctrine texts. What appear to be mere historical anachronisms in their paintings are in fact signs of commitment or adaptability.

On the middle of the composition is the table where there is a tray containing a roasted guinea pig, which was a delicacy in the Andes inherited from Incan Society and consumed only in the most special occasions. He also placed on the table papayas and hot peppers.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Famous Belgian: Philippe de Champaigne

CHAMPAIGNE, Philippe de (26 May 1602 - 12 August 1674)
The Annunciation
c. 1645
Oil on canvas, 334 x 214 cm
Wallace Collection, London

CHAMPAIGNE, Philippe de (26 May 1602 - 12 August 1674)
Ex Voto de 1662
Oil on canvas, 165 x 229 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

CHAMPAIGNE, Philippe de (26 May 1602 - 12 August 1674)
Triple Portrait of Cardinal de Richelieu (1585 - 1642)
probably 1642
Oil on canvas 58.4 x 72.4 cm
The National Gallery, London
Inscribed over the central head: "Celui au naturel"; and over the right head: "De ces deux profilz c[elui]/cy est le meilleur

Philippe de Champaigne (26 May 1602 - 12 August 1674) was born in Brussels.

He moved to Paris in 1621, where he worked with Nicolas Poussin on the decoration of the Palais du Luxembourg under the direction of Nicolas Duchesne, whose daughter he married.

After the death of his protector Duchesne, Champaigne worked for the Queen Mother, Marie de Medicis, and for Richelieu, for whom he decorated the cardinal's palace, the Dome of the Sorbonne church and other buildings. He was a founding member of the Académie Royale de Peinture in 1648.

He was a prolific artist.

The subject matters of his painting covered portraiture, landscape, and religious themes.

He was the one of the most important painters active in Paris in the middle years of the 17th century.

On The Annunciation by Philippe de Champaigne, see the appreciation in The Telegraph by Richard Dorment at

He came under the influence of the Jansenist movement. This seems to have been because his daughter was cured as a result of prayer at the Convent of Port Royal.

L’ex-voto of 1662 commemorates what de Champaigne considered as the miraculous cure of his daughter from paralysis. His daughter, Soeur Catherine de Sainte Suzanne, was a nun at Port-Royal. By this work, Champaigne showed his gratitude to Christ for the cure. It is shown by the inscription which reads:

"AU CHRIST UNIQUE MÉDECIN DES CORPS ET DES ÂMES La soeur Catherine Suzanne de Champaigne après une fièvre de quatorze mois qui avait effrayé les médecins par son caractère tenace et l’importance de ses symptômes alors que presque la moitié de son corps était paralysée que la nature était déjà épuisée et que les médecins l’avaient abandonnée s’étant jointe en prière avec la Mère Catherine Agnès en un instant de temps ayant recouvré une parfaite santé s’offre à nouveau. Philippe de Champaigne cette image d’un si grand miracle et un témoignage de sa joie a présenté en l’année 1662."

The painting represents Mother-Superior Cathérine-Agnès Arnauld and Sister Cathérine de Sainte-Suzanne, the daughter of the artist.

Jansenism was an austere branch of Catholic thought that emphasized original sin, human depravity, the necessity of divine grace, and predestination. Amongst its followers included Blaise Pascal. On Jansenism, see:

Catholic Encyclopedia:


Infoplease on Jansenism
On Port Royal

In 1679, the Convent of Port Royal was forbidden to accept novices, heralding its eventual dissolution. The convent itself was decreed abolished by a bull from Pope Clement XI in 1708, the remaining nuns were forcibly removed in 1709, and the buildings themselves razed in 1710.

Hybrid embryos: fait accompli ?

In Scientists triumph in battle over ban on hybrid embryos, The Times reports that plans to outlaw the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos for potentially life-saving stem cell research are to be dropped after a revolt by scientists.

The report continues:

"The proposed government ban on fusing human DNA with animal eggs, which promises insights into incurable conditions such as Alzheimer’s and motor neurone disease, will be abandoned because of concerns among senior ministers that it will damage British science.

While ministers will not endorse the research in full yet, they are no longer seeking legislation to prohibit it, The Times has learnt. The Government will instead provide the fertility watchdog with funds for a public debate on the subject before new laws are drafted.
This will allow the authority to mount a “public engagement” programme, involving citizens’ juries and in-depth opinion research, rather than simply inviting submissions from pressure groups.

Scientists are keen to use animal eggs to create cloned human embryos as laboratory models for studying disease. DNA from a patient with a condition such as motor neurone disease would be inserted into the shell of a rabbit or cow egg from which the nucleus has been removed. The embryo would be 99.9 per cent human, and would carry genetic errors implicated in the disease in question. It would then be split up to create stem cells, for studying the condition’s progress and testing new drugs. "

From the article, it would appear that the forthcoming "consultation" by the HFA on "chimeras" is to be window-dressing and that the decision has already been made.

Religious Belief and Secularism

Larry Siedentop in The Times in an article entitled "Do you realise Europe is in the throes of civil war? A battle of ideas that is blinding the West" discusses the relations between secularism and religious belief.

He writes:

"Europe is in the midst of an undeclared “civil war” — a struggle that has been boiling away since the 18th century. It is a war between religious believers and secularists.

The French Revolution was the decisive moment in this clash between Church and anticlericalists. It created two hostile camps across the whole of Europe — pitting the followers of Voltaire, who sought to écraser l’infâme, as they described the Church, against those who saw the separating of Church and State as an insurrection against God.

Over the past hundred years the religious camp has come, by and large, to accept civil liberty and religious pluralism. The anticlericals have — with the exception of hardline Marxists and writers such as Richard Dawkins — given up on the attempt to extirpate religious belief.

But the old antagonism still lurks under the surface. It resurfaced over the debate whether the proposed constitutional treaty for the EU should recognise the Christian roots of Europe. The visceral reaction of the French Left has its counterpart in Church rhetoric deploring the growth of “godless” secularism. Even Pope Benedict XVI, the most learned pope for many years, recently called for an understanding between religions in order to combat secularism.

This split is as tragic as it is unnecessary."

Full article is at

A great deal depends on the definition of "secularism": a notoriously vague word which a variety of definitions.

For a discussion on the differences between "hard" secularism and "soft" secularism, see Kosmin, Barry A. "Hard and soft secularists and hard and soft secularism: An intellectual and research challenge."

It is a .pdf file at

The Return of the 'Foundling Wheel'

Hospital of the Innocents, Florence

Zadok reports on a recent article in The Telegraph at

"A Rome hospital that reintroduced a modern version of the medieval foundling wheel, following a spate of abandoned babies, has had its first "deposit".

The device allows women to leave their new-born children in hospital instead of abandoning them in telephone boxes or on doorsteps or, in an extreme case, killing them.

The original wheels were a cylindrical hatch set in the outside wall of a church. Mothers would place their baby in the hatch, close it and then ring a bell to warn the priest or nuns.
The system has been brought up to date with a heated soft bed complete with sensors and cameras to alert staff when a baby has been abandoned.

The wheel, installed at the Policlinico Casilino last year, was used for the first time late on Saturday night, when a three-month-old boy was left there.

The 14lb boy was named Stefano after the doctor who first treated him."

Now, what else can we re-discover from History that`s been thrown away as a result of a belief in Progress ?

Highway to Heaven

Whispers in the Loggia reports on a telephone conversation he had with someone in Rome.

"The heavily-accented speaker asked if I'd like to hear him sing AC/DC's "Highway to Hell," it became clear that this was no joke, but truly the supremo of Sant'Anselmo and abbot-primate of the Benedictine Confederation, Dom Notker Wolf.

He did end up conjuring Bon Scott and singing a verse and chorus of "Highway," complete with opening riff.

The abbot-primate has gotten his biggest buzz in Europe for his spot as rhythm guitarist and flutist for Feedback, a "contemplative" rock band. He got to know his current bandmates when the other members were in boarding school together in Germany, before his election as primate. Alongside AC/DC, the band cites the Stones, ZZ Top and Jethro Tull amongst its influences."

He`s soon to tour the United States. Dates and venues of the gigs will follow.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Renaissance - Carpet of the Sun

June 17, 1977
Sorry but I`m posting this because I remember when it came out. Annie Haslam was one of my favourites. Annie never has nor ever will lip sing to sound perfect on stage.

Daniel Seghers: Floral Wreath with the Virgin and Child

Daniel Seghers. (1590-1661)
Floral Wreath with the Virgin and Child.
Oil on canvas, 86 x 62.
Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

Daniel Seghers was born in Antwerp in 1590. He was a pupil of Jan Brueghel the Elder and joined the St. Lukas Guild of Antwerp in 1611. On December 10, 1614 he became a lay brother of the Jesuit order and took his vows in Brussels in 1625.

Seghers specialized in painting garlands of flowers to frame religious scenes. This style can be traced back to the Madonna in a Floral Wreath, by Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder.(c. 1620. and now in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany). But Seghers paid more attention to flower motifs, trying to recover their spiritual symbolism.

His compositions repeat the same scheme without great variations: rich garlands of flowers painted with meticulous attention to naturalistic phenomena according to the Flemish tradition of which Bruegel had been the leader, and false frames in stone that surround sacred scenes or figures of saints placed in the centre.

Biography at Jesuit Family Album

Jan Davidsz de Heem : Eucharist in Fruit Wreath

HEEM, Jan Davidsz. de (b. 1606, Utrecht, d. 1684, Antwerpen)
Eucharist in Fruit Wreath 1648
Oil on canvas, 138 x 125,5 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Jan Davidsz de Heem was one of the greatest European still-life painters. He is claimed as a Flemish as well as a Dutch painter.

He settled in Antwerp in 1636. In Antwerp de Heem found his special province. There he painted his famous flower pieces, large compositions of exquisitely laid tables which occasionally have overt moralizing messages as well as the vanities.

In Antwerp he made contact with the Flemish Jesuit Daniel Seghers (1590-1661), who, was a pupil of Jan Brueghel the Elder and also an accomplished south Netherlandish flower painter.

Colourful extravagance and opulence, typical of Flemish taste, imbue his still lifes.

Religious flower still-lifes are a special category and was developed by Seghers. Apart from the Virgin Mary, Seghers and his pupils had a preference for Eucharistic motifs. The host has a mysterious luminescent quality which emphasized the process of transubtantiation.

The Eucharist was a particular popular theme in the Catholic Counter-Reformation. This subject was painted especially frequently by Jan Davidsz. de Heem.

The chalice (of gold, silver and precious jewels) and the luminous Host, symbols of Salvation, are surrounded by a superfluity of wheat and grapes of different types. Rare fruit of all kinds, large plums, peaches, cherries, oranges, lemons, and others in fine condition and state of ripeness together with hanging garlands, individual blooms, leaves, tendrils are all delicately painted as decoration and adornment. The lower plants, farther away from the light of heaven, droop and wilt.

All are placed in a smooth niche and its frame of shell motifs and twisted horns.

Father Ted's legacy pulls pint-swilling, married nuns

On a lighter note, The Times reports on the annual festival and "pilgrimage" to the island where the popular Channel 4 TV programme Father Ted may or may not have been set.

"Sister Deborah Gallagher was having a hard time lighting a cigarette while trying to stop her habit from being blown clean away by the wind.

Up to 1,000 fans of Father Ted had descended on the island to pay homage to the sit-com. Muttering “Feck!”, “Drink!” and “Erse!” and dressed as nuns, priests, cardinals and devils, they more than doubled the population. The only genuine priest on the island was nowhere to be seen; instead, the festival blessing was performed by a Celtic “druid”.

The decision to hold the festival on Inis Mor, which has one hotel, three pubs and a handful of B&Bs, sparked a dispute with people living on neighbouring Inis Oirr, who said that they were the real Craggy islanders because a shipwreck featured in the show’s opening sequence is a landmark of their coastline.

The row was settled on the beach with a five-a-side football match, the two teams managed by the footballers John Aldridge and Tony Cascarino. The score was 2-0 to Inis Mor."

The moral failure of the new modernism

In Religion isn’ t the sickness. It’s the cure, William Rees-Mogg in The Times discusses the moral failure of modernism, and characterises the present age as "an age when modernists regard religion with something approaching panic".

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The secret life of nuns : Veiled ambitions

The Economist has a review of Nuns: A History of Convent Life By Silvia Evangelisti (Oxford University Press; 301 pages; £17.99. To be published in America by Oxford University Press in May)

It would appear that far from being sidelined by society, Renaissance nuns enjoyed a life of considerable enjoyment, social standing and power

"Silvia Evangelisti, who specialises unpromisingly in “gender history” at the University of East Anglia in England, presents picture of nuns, observed mostly in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, as independent, jolly, productive and determined. They never needed men anyway, and rejoiced in the only life that could give them a proper social standing outside marriage. (“A husband or a wall” were the alternatives.)

They wrote, painted, put on theatrical shows, sang like angels and ran their own communities as competently as any male—so competently that if any bishop tried to saddle them with rules they did not like, they had a good go at defying him....

In Florence, between 1500 and 1800, almost half of the female elite lived in convents; in Milan, three-quarters of the daughters of the aristocracy could be found with rosaries and wimples, piously enclosed."

St Walburga

Fr Nicholas Schofield of Roman Miscellany writes about one of the great Anglo-German saints: St Walburga.

Her shrine is at Eichstätt.

According to tradition, she was born in Devon around 710, the daughter of St Richard, often referred to as ‘King’ of Wessex, and ‘Queen’ Wuna. She came from a family of saints: her uncle was the great St Boniface (Archbishop of Mainz) and her brothers were St Winnebald and St Willibald, who would later become Abbot of Heidenheim and Bishop of Eichstätt respectively.

At an early age, she was entrusted to the care of the Benedictine nuns in Wimbourne (in Dorset) where she eventually made monastic profession.

Eventually she became abbess of the monastery at Heidenheim, a double monastery of men and women founded by her brother St. Wunibald, who served as its first abbot. The tenth-cetury legend of her life tells stories of her gentleness, humility and charity, as well as her power to heal the sick through prayer.


The Abbey of St Walburga

Catholic Forum

Catholic Encyclopedia

Jumelage avec Notre Dame

In Jumelage avec Notre Dame , Mgr Langham of Solomon, I Have Surpassed Thee
posts pictures of a visit by the Westminster chaplains to Paris to meet their conterparts at Notre Dame Cathedral.They were taken into the heart of the great building, to view areas usually unseen by the public.

More than worth a look.

No PowerPoint at the funeral please

The Times February 24, 2007 reports that Cardinal George Pell, the leader of the Catholic Church in Australia, has intervened to ensure the main focus of the funeral Mass remains an act of worship, and has issued guidelines for the conduct of mourners.

"Keep it brief and don’t mention sex or drunkenness — those are the new rules for delivering a eulogy during a funeral Mass in the Roman Catholic Church in Australia. "

"Eulogies should, in future, recall the deceased’s human qualities, including their faith, and speak honestly and compassionately about their life. It is neither necessary nor desirable that speakers give “a life history of the deceased”, and they should omit any embarrassing remarks about romantic conquests, drinking abilities or attacks on the Church’s moral teachings.

The guidelines also frown on the use of PowerPoint presentations about the deceased, and playing his or her favourite song. Those activities should be left for the vigil Mass, on the eve of the funeral, or for the cemetery."

Full story is at

Saturday, February 24, 2007

A Lenten Meditation on the Passion

A Lenten meditation on the Passion

The Palmieri Assumption of the Virgin

BOTTICINI, Francesco (about 1446 - 1497 )
The Assumption of the Virgin, probably about 1475-6
Egg tempera on wood, 228.6 x 377.2 cm
National Gallery, London.

BOTTICINI, Francesco (about 1446 - 1497 )
The Assumption of the Virgin, probably about 1475-6 (detail)

The altarpiece was placed in the funerary chapel of the Palmieri family in San Pier Maggiore, a church belonging to Benedictine nuns in Florence.

Matteo Palmieri (1406–1475) was born into a prosperous Florentine merchant family, and followed his father into the profession of an apothecary. In 1427, he ranked among the top taxpayers in Florence. At twenty-seven he married Niccolosa de’ Serragli, the daughter of a prominent Florentine. In 1432 he started his political career, holding several posts within the city, the most important of which was Gonfaloniere di Guistizia (Standard-bearer of Justice) in 1453. He also travelled extensively as an ambassador for the city. Palmieri studied with a number of prominent humanists.

Palmieri wrote several books and chronicles, the most well known being Della Vita Civile (1436), a treatise on civil life as well as the poem, Città di Vita (ca.1464), an imitation of Dante’s Divine Comedy (1306-21).

On the 15th April 1475, two days after his death, Palmieri was given a ceremonial funeral in San Pier Maggiore arranged and attended by the city’s most important citizens.

The painting was only finished after Matteo Palmieri`s death.

Matteo Palmieri is depicted kneeling on the left. Opposite him is his widow, Niccolosa, in the habit of a Benedictine nun, the Order which owned the church.

In the centre, the Apostles marvel at the tomb of the Virgin filled with lilies while above Christ receives her into the highest circle of Heaven. Angels are ranged in nine choirs, divided into three hierarchies. Unusually, saints have been incorporated into the ranks of angels.

The painting depicts Palmieri`s poem, Città di Vita and his ideas.

In his poem, Palmieri had depicted the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, the subject matter of the painting. The indecision of the Church at the time as to the actual manner in which the Virgin was taken to heaven gave artists a measure of freedom in their interpretation of events. Artists drew heavily for visual guidance on such scenes from the hagiographical book, The Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine (ca.1230-1298/99). See The Golden Legend or Lives of the Saints compiled by Jacobus de Voragine: The Assumption of our Lady at

In his poem and his works, Palmieri had set out Origen’s condemned doctrine on pre-existence and universal redemption: that the angels who remained neutral during the Fall of the Rebel Angels were made into men so that under the spur of passion they might make their choice between good and evil. This doctrine was condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Council in AD 553. There are signs that the painting also illustrates Origen`s theories.

After his death, Palmieris work was condemned. As regards the painting there were always rumours that Palmieri and Botticini had perpetrated heresy. This is set out by Giorgio Vasari in his Lives of the Artists. But interestingly, Vasari confuses Botticini with Botticelli and ascribes the painting to Sandro Botticelli.

Palmieri`s family status and wealth are shown through the use of landscape in the painting. The extent of the landscape in the paintin is unsual for the theme of the Assumption. Florence and Fiesole are shown.

Clearly identifiable are the Cathedral and the Palazzo Vecchio with San Pier Maggiore just behind him. Also depicted is the river Mugnone, and the bridge is probably the Ponte alla Badia. The buildings to the left are the Badia di Fiesole with the Chapel of Saint Romolo beside it. On the bank in front is the Villa Palmieri and the ‘Schifanioa’, a farm owned by Palmieri.

The landscape behind Niccolosa might depict the farms in Val d’Elsa that formed part of her dowry

The Villa Palmieri had a rather distinguished history.

It was the setting of the first refuge of Boccaccio's seven young women and three young men when they fled from plague-stricken Florence in 1348 and told tales for ten days. It is now generally agreed that if Giovanni Boccaccio (June 16, 1313 – December 21, 1375) had any particular house in his mind it was this.

The Villa had a bust of Matteo Palmieri, which was an autheticated work by Antonio Rossellino (b. 1427, Settignano, d. 1479, Firenze) (1468). Until the nineteenth century it was displayed over the exterior portal of the house so that it is damaged and most detail effaced. It is now in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence (see below).

ROSSELLINO, Antonio (b. 1427, Settignano, d. 1479, Firenze)
Matteo Palmieri 1468
Marble, height: 53,3 cm
Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence

Villa Schifanoia was built over the remains of the ancient Villa Palmieri.

In the early nineteenth century, the English artist Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851 ) visited Florence. His sketch book shows his sketches taken while he was in the Villa. See the online sketchbook at the Tate Gallery website at

In 1888, 1893 and 1894, Queen Victoria visited Florence. She stayed at Villa Palmieri and Villa Fabbricotti together with her retinue and some members of her government. She was visited there by the Italian King and Queen. At that time, the Villa was owned by the family of the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres.

In 1927 the property passed into the hands of Myron Taylor, the United States Ambassador to the Vatican during the pontificate of Pope Pius XII. Taylor restored the villa to house his own art collection and also laid out a beautiful Italian-style garden on the large stretch of land on the south side.

In 1986 the villa was bought by the Italian State and converted into a European University Institute where it houses The Department of History and Civilization , The Department of Law and The Academy of European Law.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Hinton St Mary, Dorset

In 1963, on the southern edge of the village of Hinton St Mary in North Dorset, a mosaic floor of Roman date was discovered by Mr W J White, the local blacksmith, during building work. The mosaic contains a portrait generally accepted to be of Christ. It is of importance as evidence for early Christianity in Britain in the third and fourth centuries AD.

Shortly after its discovery the mosaic was removed and taken to the British Museum for conservation (where it is now on display).

The mosaic covered two rooms of possibly a Roman villa. It is largely red, yellow and cream in colouring. On stylistic grounds it has been dated to the 4th century and is attributed to the workshop of the Durnovarian school of mosaic art.

The panel in the larger room is 17ft by 15ft. A central circle surrounds a portrait bust of a man in a white pallium standing before a Christian Chi Rho symbol and two pomegranates. He is generally identified as Christ, although the Emperor Constantine has also been suggested. On each side of this are four semi-circles, each featuring forest and hunting scenes, mostly of a dog and a deer. In the corners are four quarter circles containing portarit busts, either representing the winds or the seasons.

References for the British Museum:$+with+all_unique_id_index+is+$=OBJ1264&submit-button=summary

Michelangelo`s private room at the Vatican

A 450-year-old receipt has provided proof that Michelangelo kept a private room in St. Peter's Basilica while working as the pope's chief architect, Vatican experts said.

While going through the basilica archives for an exhibit on the 500th anniversary of the church last year, researchers came across an entry for a key to a chest "in the room in St. Peter's where Master Michelangelo retires."

"We now know that Michelangelo definitely had a private space in the basilica," said Maria Cristina Carlo-Stella, who runs the Fabbrica di San Pietro, the office where the basilica's archives are kept. "The next step is to identify it."

Full story at

Hat tip to Maior autem his est caritas at

This follows on from the recent discovery of Leonardo da Vinci`s study and workshop in Florence.


Jimmy Akin has a good roundup of Lenten information. Essentially everything that you wanted to know about Lent, what you never knew about Lent, what you thought you knew about Lent but were mistaken, and what you didn`t want to know.

A New Take on the Renaissance

Elizabeth Lev teaches Christian art and architecture at Duquesne University's Italian campus. In her article reported in Zenit at (Reference: Code: ZE07022228; Date: 2007-02-22), she reports in a change in attitude and response by her students to Renaissance architecture in Florence. The change is a happy one to note. A more mature response is now coming to the fore. Her article reads in full as follows (I`m copying it as it does not seem to have an individual web reference)

"A New Take on the Renaissance

Every semester, during our Florence field trip, my students give oral presentations on various monuments in the city. After six years of hearing everything from "Donatello's 'David' is a homosexual icon" to "Michelangelo was anti-Catholic," I have learned to brace myself for whatever their "research" has unearthed.

But last weekend my students took me completely by surprise as they gave presentations connecting the reason of Renaissance architecture to the faith of Florentine society.

All the architecture presentations were on the works of Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446), best known for his construction of the enormous dome of the cathedral of Florence, Santa Maria del Fiore. Although this project earned him everlasting fame, it didn't offer Brunelleschi the possibility to reveal all he had learned about proportion, measurement and space while studying the ancient ruins of Rome.

Brunelleschi designed and built several churches in Florence. While these buildings do not boast such a dramatic dome, their carefully organized, proportionate and bright spaces presented a completely new style, especially when compared with the dark, vertical Gothic-style churches such as Santa Croce.

The first remarkable presentation took place right outside Santa Croce at the Pazzi Chapel built in the 1440s. The students filed out of the dimly lit church built with octagonal piers, pointed arches and wooden beams across the ceiling, and stood before a neatly defined structure with a columned porch.

The student explained how surprising this building must have looked to the Florentines, so neat and measured amid the earlier forms of architecture. Pointing out the circle of the dome and the square of the building, he told the students that in architecture, the dome traditionally symbolized heaven, while the square represented earth, and that Brunelleschi, through his design and decoration, was trying to reconcile the two elements.

Watching a student explain the function of a church building and the connection between heaven and earth at the altar where Jesus, God and man, becomes truly present, was one of the brightest moments of my teaching career.

But there was more to come. The next students presented the churches of San Lorenzo and Santo Spirito, also by Brunelleschi. These students asked their peers to note the space around the churches and how these solid, proportionate buildings gave a sense of order among the winding and confusing streets that surrounded them.

They also brilliantly presented Brunelleschi's modular system of building. This technique, learned from the ancient Romans, takes a fixed measurement, such as the diameter of a column, and uses that length as the basis of the whole building. The aisle would be 10 column widths, for example, the nave 30, the height triple that number and so forth.

This system of perfect proportion lends harmony to a structure, and as the students pointed out, the emphasis on the concordant interaction of the space in the church, is meant to mirror the harmony of heaven and God's divine plan.

During the Renaissance, architects left behind the splashy gold mosaics and stained-glass windows which once dazzled the medieval world into sensing a transcendent space, and replaced it with mathematical organization, using the sciences to focus people on the perfection of God.

For many years, I have heard students repeat the tired mantra that the Renaissance era, fascinated by the empirical study of nature, used science to liberate itself from religion, and that this emancipation is reflected in the art and architecture of the time.

But as these young people pointed out, the Renaissance used mathematics, geometry and architecture to enhance their understanding of God, seeing in the harmony of numbers God's essence as logos, or reason.

This remarkable era of faith and reason, understood and explained by young people from another country 500 years later, is an example the amazing universality of the Christian artistic tradition."

The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa of Ávila

Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1680)
The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa of Ávila
Marble, height 350 cm
Cappella Cornaro, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome

Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1680)
Loggia of the Founders
Cappella Cornaro, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome

Unfortunately the best selling book "Angels and Demons" by Dan Brown has tended to devalue in the public mind the sculpture as well as the vision behind the Sculpture. The altar, you will recall, is supposed to be one of the altars of the so-called Illuminati: part of "the Path of Illumination," a trail to the meeting place of the Illuminati in Rome. Further he repeats the 18th century canard that the sculpture is "sexually explicit": the Saint is supposed to be in some kind of sexual ecstasy.

The sculpture can only be judged in the setting for which it was made. It is an unum quid with the chapel for which it was made. It was made in the Counter-Reformation. The influence of Spain and its spirituality was immense in the Rome of the time.

Santa Maria della Vittoria, a small basilica and titular church, was begun in 1605 as a chapel dedicated to Saint Paul for the Discalced Carmelites.

After the Catholic victory at the Battle of the White Mountain in 1620, the church was re-dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Turkish standards captured at the 1683 Siege of Vienna hang in the church, as part of the theme of victory.

The work, The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa of Ávila, is not a solitary piece of sculpture. It is the central marble group of a sculpture complex designed and competed by Bernini for the Cornaro Chapel within the Church.

The Venetian Cardinal Federico Cornaro (1579-1673), had chosen the church of the Discalced Carmelites for his funerary chapel. The chapel chosen had previously depicted St. Paul in ecstasy. The Cardinal replaced it with the ecstatic event undergone by the first Carmelite saint, St Teresa (1515-82) , recently canonised in 1622.

Full biographies and images of the Cardinal can be found at

The Cornaro Chapel, located in the Northern transept of the Church is composed in a theatrical way. The group of Saint Theresa and the angel is situated in a framed niche lighted beautifully from an unidentifiable source. There is a hidden window which lets in natural light.

Bernini placed the bust-length figures of the living and dead members of the Cornaro family in oratories.

The setting of Bernini's group consists of a carefully articulated variety of stones retrieved from ancient ruins in Rome (some twenty different kinds, including jasper, breccia, alabaster, lapis lazuli, red marble from France and black from Flanders).

The central sculpture is based on an incident (the "transverberation of the heart" ) described in Chapter 29 of St Theresa`s Autobiography. The incident of the piercing of the Saint`s heart took place probably in 1559. The Carmelites kept the feast of this piercing of the Saint's heart on the 27th of August.

It is worthwhile quoting more than just the relevant short passage at § 16 and following.

The Chapter is headed "Of Visions. The Graces Our Lord Bestowed on the Saint. The Answers Our Lord Gave Her for Those Who Tried Her.":

"11. It is not possible for any one to understand these impetuosities if he has not experienced them himself. They are not an upheaving of the breast, nor those devotional sensations, not uncommon, which seem on the point of causing suffocation, and are beyond control. That prayer is of a much lower order; and those agitations should be avoided by gently endeavouring to be recollected; and the soul should be kept in quiet. This prayer is like the sobbing of little children, who seem on the point of choking, and whose disordered senses are soothed by giving them to drink. So here reason should draw in the reins, because nature itself may be contributing to it and we should consider with fear that all this may not be perfect, and that much sensuality may be involved in it. The infant soul should be soothed by the caresses of love, which shall draw forth its love in a gentle way, and not, as they say, by force of blows. This love should be inwardly under control, and not as a cauldron, fiercely boiling because too much fuel has been applied to it, and out of which everything is lost. The source of the fire must be kept under control, and the flame must be quenched in sweet tears, and not with those painful tears which come out of these emotions, and which do so much harm.

12. In the beginning, I had tears of this kind. They left me with a disordered head and a wearied spirit, and for a day or two afterwards unable to resume my prayer. Great discretion, therefore, is necessary at first, in order that everything may proceed gently, and that the operations of the spirit may be within; all outward manifestations should be carefully avoided.

13. These other impetuosities are very different. It is not we who apply the fuel; the fire is already kindled, and we are thrown into it in a moment to be consumed. It is by no efforts of the soul that it sorrows over the wound which the absence of our Lord has inflicted on it; it is far otherwise; for an arrow is driven into the entrails to the very quick, and into the heart at times, so that the soul knows not what is the matter with it, nor what it wishes for. It understands clearly enough that it wishes for God, and that the arrow seems tempered with some herb which makes the soul hate itself for the love of our Lord, and willingly lose its life for Him. It is impossible to describe or explain the way in which God wounds the soul, nor the very grievous pain inflicted, which deprives it of all self-consciousness; yet this pain is so sweet, that there is no joy in the world which gives greater delight. As I have just said, the soul would wish to be always dying of this wound.

14. This pain and bliss together carried me out of myself, and I never could understand how it was. Oh, what a sight a wounded soul is!--a soul, I mean, so conscious of it, as to be able to say of itself that it is wounded for so good a cause; and seeing distinctly that it never did anything whereby this love should come to it, and that it does come from that exceeding love which our Lord bears it. A spark seems to have fallen suddenly upon it, that has set it all on fire. Oh, how often do I remember, when in this state, those words of David: "Quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum"! [See Note 1] They seem to me to be literally true of myself.

15. When these impetuosities are not very violent they seem to admit of a little mitigation--at least, the soul seeks some relief, because it knows not what to do--through certain penances; the painfulness of which, and even the shedding of its blood, are no more felt than if the body were dead. The soul seeks for ways and means to do something that may be felt, for the love of God; but the first pain is so great, that no bodily torture I know of can take it away. As relief is not to be had here, these medicines are too mean for so high a disease. Some slight mitigation may be had, and the pain may pass away a little, by praying God to relieve its sufferings: but the soul sees no relief except in death, by which it thinks to attain completely to the fruition of its good. At other times, these impetuosities are so violent, that the soul can do neither this nor anything else; the whole body is contracted, and neither hand nor foot can be moved: if the body be upright at the time, it falls down, as a thing that has no control over itself. It cannot even breathe; all it does is to moan--not loudly, because it cannot: its moaning, however, comes from a keen sense of pain.

16. Our Lord was pleased that I should have at times a vision of this kind: I saw an angel close by me, on my left side, in bodily form. This I am not accustomed to see, unless very rarely. Though I have visions of angels frequently, yet I see them only by an intellectual vision, such as I have spoken of before. [See Note 2] It was our Lord's will that in this vision I should see the angel in this wise. He was not large, but small of stature, and most beautiful--his face burning, as if he were one of the highest angels, who seem to be all of fire: they must be those whom we call cherubim. Their names they never tell me; but I see very well that there is in heaven so great a difference between one angel and another, and between these and the others, that I cannot explain it.

17. I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.

18. During the days that this lasted, I went about as if beside myself. I wished to see, or speak with, no one, but only to cherish my pain, which was to me a greater bliss than all created things could give me.

19. I was in this state from time to time, whenever it was our Lord's pleasure to throw me into those deep trances, which I could not prevent even when I was in the company of others, and which, to my deep vexation, came to be publicly known. Since then, I do not feel that pain so much, but only that which I spoke of before,--I do not remember the chapter, [18]--which is in many ways very different from it, and of greater worth. On the other hand, when this pain, of which I am now speaking, begins, our Lord seems to lay hold of the soul, and to throw it into a trance, so that there is no time for me to have any sense of pain or suffering, because fruition ensues at once. May He be blessed for ever, who hath bestowed such great graces on one who has responded so ill to blessings so great!"

(1) Psalm xli. 2: "As the longing of the heart for the fountains of waters, so is the longing of my soul for Thee, O my God."

(2) In Chapter 27,. § 3. of the Autobiography, St Teresa wrote:

"3. At the end of two years spent in prayer by myself and others for this end, namely, that our Lord would either lead me by another way, or show the truth of this,--for now the locutions of our Lord were extremely frequent,--this happened to me. I was in prayer one day,--it was the feast of the glorious St. Peter,--when I saw Christ close by me, or, to speak more correctly, felt Him; for I saw nothing with the eyes of the body, nothing with the eyes of the soul. He seemed to me to be close beside me; and I saw, too, as I believe, that it was He who was speaking to me. As I was utterly ignorant that such a vision was possible, I was extremely afraid at first, and did nothing but weep; however, when He spoke to me but one word to reassure me, I recovered myself, and was, as usual, calm and comforted, without any fear whatever. Jesus Christ seemed to be by my side continually, and, as the vision was not imaginary, I saw no form; but I had a most distinct feeling that He was always on my right hand, a witness of all I did; and never at any time, if I was but slightly recollected, or not too much distracted, could I be ignorant of His near presence."

Bernini has cast aside all reserve and restraint. The scene depicted shows emotion at a high pitch. It is within the tradition of the spiritual interpretation of the Song of Songs. The saint is shown in the throes of the final "spiritual marriage". The face of the saint shows the intense emotion being experienced.

The group is so placed that the saint is seen to hover without support in the frame of the praescenium.The handling of the draperies is significant. They do not fall in dignified folds. They writhe and whirl as if she is being tossed and twirled like a lifeless rag doll.

The scene is not a sexual one or an obscene one. It depicts the moment in time that the Creator turns his whole attention to an individual soul and the effect of the Divine regard on that soul.

As a matter of taste, the Northern viewer may find the effect of the piece too theatrical and too emotional. But the intent was to inspire in the viewer feelings of fervid exultation and mystic transport.

Bernini is faithful to the vision as described by St Teresa. What St Teresa was at pains to emphasise was the vision was not physical but intellectual. Bernini was masterful in his achievement of the depiction of the vision in so far as it is possible to depict the same in a material form.


Three chapels by Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Ecstasy of St Theresa
Cappella Cornaro, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome

Convent of St. Teresa, Ávila

The Works of St Teresa

Short Biography of St Teresa Avila

The Teresian Carmel: St. Teresa of Avila

The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus by Herself (Project Gutenberg)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Montserrat Figueras sings

Jordi Savall leads Les Concert des Nations and La Capella Reial de Catalunya in a performance of Claudio Monteverdi's opera L'Orfeo. The concert opens with a Toccata and continues with a Ritornello and Montserrat Figueras, as La Musica, singing "Dal mio Permesso amato." The venue is the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona.

Slave Trade Abolition Act

Memorial to William Wilberforce by his grave at Westminster Abbey, London

BBC Radio 4`s In Our Time marks the bicentenary of the Slave Trade Abolition Act.

Wilberforce was persuaded to lobby for the abolition of the slave trade and for 18 years he regularly introduced anti-slavery motions in Parliament. The campaign was supported by many members of the Clapham Sect and other abolitionists who raised public awareness of their cause with pamphlets, books, rallies and petitions.

In 1807, the slave trade was finally abolished, but this did not free those who were already slaves. It was not until 1833 that an Act was passed giving freedom to all slaves in the British Empire.

There is a very good website promoting the bi-centenary at Wilberforce Central

Bernini: The Chair of St Peter, St Peter`s Basilica

Whispers in the Loggia carries a post for the only day the general calendar dedicates to an object, as opposed to a person.

It also carries a translation of the General Audience catechesis on the subject of Peter's Chair given by Pope Benedict XVI on his first 22 February as Pope.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Antonello da Messina: St Jerome in his Study

Antonello da Messina
(b Messina, c. 1430; d Messina, between 14 and 25 Feb 1479).
St Jerome in his Study
c. 1460
Oil on wood, 46 x 36,5 cm
National Gallery, London

Antonello da Messina (b Messina, c. 1430; d Messina, between 14 and 25 Feb 1479) was Italian painter of the Southern Italian school. He was the greatest Sicilian artist of the 15th century and the only one to achieve international renown. Antonello was one of the first of the Italian artists to learn from Netherlandish art.

Further references:

Web Gallery of Art: Biography of Antonello da Messina

Antonello da Messina by Antonella Gallo

National Gallery (London)

Antonello da Messina Website

Wikipedia: St Jerome in His Study

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Amillia, the tiny miracle baby, goes home

Amillia Taylor weighed just 10oz at birth and was not expected to survive. However The Times at reported that the world’s most premature living baby, born the length of a ballpoint pen at 21 weeks and six days, is to be allowed home from a Florida hospital.

Does this mean that the time limits for permitting abortion in the United Kingdom in the Abortion Act 1967 need to be re-considered ?

Does this mean also that The Nuffield Council on Bioethics which published a report Critical Care Decisions in Fetal and Neonatal Medicine in November 2006 may have to reconsider its guidelines ? See

El Greco: Portrait of Cardinal Don Fernando Niño de Guevera

GRECO, El (b. 1541, Candia, d. 1614, Toledo)
Portrait of a Cardinal
c. 1600
Oil on canvas, 171 x 108 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The sitter is usually identified as Cardinal Don Fernando Niño de Guevera (1541-1609), Grand Inquisitor and, from 1601, Archbishop of Seville. The painting was executed c. 1600, when Inquisitor-General, and certainly before he became Archbishop of Seville.

Unlike the previous portrait of Cardinal Tavera, the portarit is that of a living character. There is an element of detachment and menace. There is anair of confidence and power in the sitter.

A biography of the Cardinal is at

El Greco: Portrait of Cardinal Juan Pardo de Tavera

(b. 1541, Candia, d. 1614, Toledo)
Portrait of Cardinal Juan Pardo de Tavera (1472-1545)
Oil on canvas, 103 x 83 cm
Hospital Tavera, Toledo

Juan Pardo de Tavera (1472-1545) held both important ecclesiastical and political offices under Charles V, being active among other things as Grand Inquisitor and government chief of Castile.

The portrait was commissioned by Pedro Salazar de Mendoza, an important figure in Toledo's religious life, and the administrator of the Hospital de San Juan Bautista (orphanage), which had been founded by the Cardinal.

El Greco had nevermet the Cardinal before his death. The Cardinal was long dead at the time of the painting. El Greco would have had to rely on the Cardinal`s death mask and effigy on the tomb (see below) for an idea of what the Cardinal looked like.

Perhaps that explains the lack of characterisation and vivacity in the portrait.

A life of the cardinal is at

Tomb of Cardinal Tavera 1554-1556
Hospital de San-Juan-Bautista, Toledo

Monday, February 19, 2007

El Greco and Toledo, Spain

Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco)(1541–1614)
View of Toledo 1597-99
Oil on canvas; 47 3/4 x 42 3/4 in. (121.3 x 108.6 cm)
H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco)(1541–1614)
View and Plan of Toledo c. 1610
Oil on canvas, 132 x 228 cm
Museo de El Greco, Toledo

View of Toledo is one of the earliest independent landscapes in Western art.

In 1577, El Greco emigrated first to Madrid, then to Toledo.

El Greco did not plan to settle permanently in Toledo, since his final aim was to win the favour of Philip II and make his mark in his court. Lacking the favour and patronage of the king, El Greco was obliged to remain in Toledo. He lived there for the remainder of his life, nearly forty years.

Previously the city was the political capital of Spain. In the time of El Greco, it was still the ecclesiastical capital and the centre of religious reform in Spain after the Council of Trent.

The old city is located on a mountaintop, surrounded on three sides by a bend in the Tagus River. The view in both paintings is from the North. He has imaginatively reconfigured the city, showing the cathedral not in its actual position but to the left of the Alcázar palace.

Although its subject is secular, View of Toledo has an undeniably spiritual, even apocalyptic, dimension.

Toledo features in many of his paintings: in the Laocoön , the Christ in Agony on the Cross, and the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception in all of which it takes on an apocalyptical character appropriate to the themes.

The Opening of the Fifth Seal (The Vision of St John)

Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco )
(b. 1541, Candia, d. 1614, Toledo)
The Opening of the Fifth Seal (The Vision of St John) 1608-14
Oil on canvas, 222,3 x 193 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The Opening of the Fifth Seal (The Vision of St John)[detail: of St John]

The work represents a passage from the Revelation of St John.

St John is represented on the extreme left of the picture. He is in rapture and raises his arms in prophesy.

In the passage, the Lamb summons St John to "Come and see" the opening of the Seven Seals.

'And when He had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying ``How long, O Lord, holy and true, does Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the Earth.` And white robes were given to every one of them . . .'
(Revelation of St John, VI, 9-11).

The nude figures are the martyrs who receive the heavenly gift of white robes.

The composition is lop-sided. It adopts the Mannerist approach of over-long figures.

Within the realm of Spanish religious mysticism which flourished at that time, his Mannerist treatment was neither elitist nor unacceptable. In many ways, it is "modern": very much ahead of its time.

The Opening of the Fifth Seal is a large fragment of one of three altarpieces El Greco contracted to paint in 1608 for the church of the Hospital of St John the Baptist (the Tavera Hospital), just outside the walls of Toledo.

This project was El Greco's last large-scale undertaking, and he did not live to complete it.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, Toledo

Domenikos Theotokopoulos known as El Greco ("The Greek")(b. 1541, Candia, d. 1614, Toledo)
The Burial of the Count of Orgaz (1586-88)
Oil on canvas
460 x 360 cm.
Church of Santo Tomé, Toledo

In 1323, a certain Don Gonzalo Ruíz, native of Toledo, and Lord of the town of Orgaz, died. The family received the title of Count, by which he is generally known, only later.

A legend grew up that because of his great works of charity, at the time he was being buried, Saint Stephen and Saint Augustine themselves, descended from heaven and buried him in front of those present.

The painting remains in the chapel - the purported scene of the event - for which it was ordered. Don Ruiz is buried by the painting.

In his Will, Don Ruiz left a charge on the town payable to the priest of Santo Tomé. After many years the townsfolf of Orgaz (part of Toledo) refused to pay the money. The parish priest sued them and in 1570 won his case.

To commemorate this, in 1580, the Archbishop of Toledo authorised the commissioning of the painting. The townsfolk of Orgaz were to pay for the painting.

The assessor of painting assessed the value of the painting very highly and accordingly, El Greco`s fee was high. However El Greco had great difficulty in obtaining his fee from the people of Orgaz. Litigation again followed over the valuation.

Despite its huge size, El Greco painted it in nine months.

Why such a great picture was commissioned for such a local and obscure event is not known.

The upper part of the painting is the heavenly vision. It occupies more than half the painting. One of the attendants in the celestial sphere is King Philip II, who at that time was very much alive.

The lower part of the painting represents the miracle itself. The foreground is the act of the two saints. Around them are the serried ranks of various notables.

Andrés Núñez, the parish priest, and a friend of El Greco's, who was responsible for the commission, is the figure on the extreme right. The artist himself can be recognised in the caballero third from the left, immediately above the head of Saint Stephen. The artist's son, Jorge Manuel, acts as the young page. The signature of the artist appears on the handkerchief in the pocket of the young boy.

Further references:

El Greco: The Burial of Count Orgaz, 1586
Two saints bury the munificent donor

By Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagen

Wikipedia has an article on the painting with more information and commentary on it. See:

The Web Gallery of Art has a large section on El Greco as well as this particular painting. See:

Official website of the Church which houses the painting. See


Liisa Berg: El Greco in Toledo

Mann, Richard G. (2002). "Tradition and Originality in El Greco's Work". Journal of the Rocky Mountain 23: 83–110. [Note-.pdf file]

El Greco. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Department of European Paintings.

How to beat the Spanish Inquisition
Independent on Sunday, The, Feb 8, 2004 by Mark Irving

Abbé Jacques Paul Migne

Abbé Jacques Paul Migne

PITRA, O.S.B., Jean-Baptiste-François (1812-1889)

Jacques Paul Migne (25 October 1800 - 24 October 1875) was a French priest who published inexpensive and widely-distributed editions of theological works, encyclopedias and the texts of the Church Fathers. No scholar himself, he used the Benedictine Pitra (see PITRA, O.S.B., Jean-Baptiste-François (1812-1889) at to make sure of his standards. He did take endless trouble to ensure that the texts which he printed from earlier editions were correct. He attempted to put together the best editions then existing.

Although perhaps disreputable, he did do academic good. Many people used his work and profited by it. Within the Roman Catholic Church, Migne's editions put many original texts for the first time into the hands of the priesthood.

Migne had become convinced of the power of the press and the sheer value of raw information widely distributed. In 1836 he opened his great publishing house at Petit Montrouge. He brought out in rapid succession numerous religious works meant for the use of the lesser clergy at popular prices that ensured a wide circulation.

The three great series that have made his reputation were Patrologiae cursus completus, Latin series in 221 vols. (1844-5); Greek series, first published in Latin (85 vols., 1856-7); with Greek text and Latin translation (165 vols., 1857-8). Though scholars have always criticised them, these hastily edited, inexpensively printed and widely distributed texts have only slowly been replaced during a century and a half with more critically edited modern editions.

The Patrologia Latina is a monumental work and is still influential for scholars of the Middle Ages. See The University of Chicago Library:Patrologia Latina Database:Published by Chadwyck-Healey, Inc. at
Also Online version of Volume 83 at
and Volume 108 at

The Patrologia Graeca (or Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Series Graeca) includes both the Eastern Fathers and those Western authors who wrote before Latin became predominant in the West in the 3rd century, e.g. the early writings collectively known as the Apostolic Fathers, such as the Epistles of Clement and the Shepherd of Hermas, Eusebius, Origen, and the Cappadocian Fathers Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa.
For index see:

His Imprimerie Catholique developed into the largest privately held press in France. Tragically, however, for Migne, the night of 12-13 February 1868 a devastating fire, which began in the printing plant, destroyed Migne's establishment.

The archbishop of Paris forbade the continuance of the business, and even suspended him from his priestly functions. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 inflicted further losses. Then from the curia of Pope Pius IX came a decree condemning the use of Mass stipends for the purchase of books, in which Migne and his publications were especially named.