Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Milan in the 1840s (2)

Giovanni Migliara (1785 – April 18, 1837)
View of the Façade of Milan Cathedral – View of the Cathedral Square in Milan
1819 -1828
Oil on paper mounted on canvas
47 x 61 cm
Cariplo Foundation, Gallerie di Piazza Scala,  Milan

Giulio Rossi 1824–1884
View of the Cathedral Square in Milan
1845 - 1850
Oil on canvas
33 x 40,5 cm
Cariplo Foundation, Gallerie di Piazza Scala,  Milan

The works illustrate the Cathedral before the urban clearance and redevelopment undertaken in the second half of the 19th century. 

It was this cityscape which greeted John Henry Newman and Ambrose St John when they came to Milan for five weeks in 1846 on their way to Rome. It was a year after their conversion to Catholicism

Some of the sights and churches which they may have seen are below

Giovanni Sagantini (1858–1899)
The Choir of the Church of Sant’Antonio Abate  in Milan
Oil on canvas
119 x 85,5 cm
Fondazione Cariplo, Gallerie di Piazza Scala,  Milan

Donato Bramante
Santa Maria presso San Satiro (1478), Milan

Donato Bramante
Santa Maria presso San Satiro (1478), Milan

Atrium, San Ambrogio, Milan

They had both converted to the Roman Catholic faith and were on their way to Rome to ascertain and be directed as to how they could serve the faith

Newman and St John appear to have been enthralled by the city

Part of the reason for Newman  was the city`s connections with the Early Fathers: St Ambrose and St Augustine in particular, as well as  with Saints Monica and Athanasius

In a letter to J Walker on 14th October 1846 Newman wrote:

In another letter to J D Dalgairns on 18 October 1846, he noted in particular the great devotion everywhere to St Charles Borromeo

Monday, April 28, 2014

Milan in the 1840s (1)

Alessandro Sanquirico (1777-1849)
The Exterior of the Duomo in Milan
From L'Incoronazione di S.M.I.A. Ferdinando I a Re del Regno Lombardo-Veneto
Lithograph Aquatint coloured on India paper
325 mm x 410 mm
Private collection

Alessandro Sanquirico (1777-1849)
The Interior of the Duomo in Milan
From L'Incoronazione di S.M.I.A. Ferdinando I a Re del Regno Lombardo-Veneto
Lithograph engraving on India paper
387 mm x 481 mm
Private collection

Alessandro Sanquirico was an Italian stage scene  designer, architect, and painter.

As well as designing sets for La Scala and other theatrical and operatic productions, he also provided the decorations for the celebration of the crowning of Ferdinando I of Austria, as King of Lombardy and the Veneto in the Duomo in Milan on 6 September 1838

The Kingdom of Lombardy–Veneto was created at the Congress of Vienna in recognition of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine's rights to Lombardy and the former Republic of Venice after the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy, proclaimed in 1805, had collapsed.

The pictures illustrate the coronation of Ferdinand I of Austria as King, a rather tragic figure

Ferdinand himself commissioned a work by Bisi of the interior of the Duomo in 1838 and the work was exhibited at the Esposizione di Belle Arti di Brera in 1840

The work  entered the Belvedere Gallery in Vienna but was auctioned in 1928

Luigi Bisi 1814 - 1886
Interior of Milan Cathedral
Oil on canvas
181 x 139 cm
Fondazione Cariplo, Gallerie di Piazza Scala, Milan

And in the following work Bisi returns to Milan Cathedral to depict a sermon in the cathedral:

Luigi Bisi 1814 - 1886
Sermon in Milan Cathedral
Oil on canvas
100 x 75 cm
Fondazione Cariplo, Gallerie di Piazza Scala, Milan

Austrian rule was certainly not popular in Milan especially under the real power in Austria, Prince Metternich

Italian liberalism and Italian nationalism bubbled under the surface until the popular revolution in Milan and Lombardy in 1848 ("The Five Days of Milan")

Austria also appointed the Archbishop of Milan, Karl Kajetan von Gaisruck (1769 – 1846) an Austrian Cardinal and the Archbishop of Milan from 1816 to 1846.

But Cardinal von Gaisruck  was a reformer

He started with the reform of the clergy. He took a census of all the priests and benefices in the diocese, assigned the empty benefices with open competitive exams, expelled many illiterate foreign priests particularly form Corsica, asked the government to open a penitentiary for priests (in San Clemente in Venice), and reopened the seminaries. 

He governed the diocese through a council of twelve Italian priests.

He preferred the secular priests formed in the seminaries of the diocese. 

His approach with the religious orders was complex: he did not allow the return in Milan of the Jesuits, Dominicans and Capuchins, but he allowed the Barnabites and the Somaschi, more active in assistance and education. 

Among the congregations of nuns, he allowed the reconstitution of the Ambrosians of the Sacro Monte and in 1844 the Ursulines

In 1841 he founded the journal L'amico cattolico (the Catholic friend) to promote an updated religious adult education

He reformed the Ambrosian Breviary.

The centre piece of his reforming zeal was based on St Charles Borromeo and his reforms

Both St Charles and his cousin Federico (his successor) Borromeo were everywhere

Nowhere more so than in the Duomo itself

In addition to his tomb, one had on exhibition in the Duomo the famous Quadroni di San Carlo: two cycles of huge paintings (5m x 6m each) - fifty four paintings in all - in celebration of the life and works of the great Counter Reformation saint

Here is but one:

Giovanni Battista Della Róvere (called Il Fiammenghino) (c 1575-1640)
San Carlo si ritira in esercizi spirituali sul monte di Varallo
Oil on canvas
Il Duomo, Milan

There was also a  huge church building programme. The architect of the Curia in Milan was Giacomo Moraglia who designed over thirty churches in a neo-classical style as well as seminaries

The architecture followed the rules set out by St Charles Borromeo in his Istruzioni di san Carlo Borromeo which were translated into Italian and published in 1823 by Leopoldo Brioschi

In 1843 - 46 the Cardinal had published new editions in Italian of Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensis

Other works relating to St Charles published in Italian at this time included St Charles` Monita ad confessarios, a theological classic

Around 1840 there were also published Regole delle Scuole della dottrina cristiana, Regole delle Confraternite del Sacramento as well as Istruzionni per la predicazione della parola di Dio, o per le congregazioni del clero

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Last Papal Canonisation

The last Pope to be canonised was Saint Pius X (2 June 1835 – 20 August 1914) on 29 May 1954

The two video clips above show the huge crowds which thronged St Peters Square and beyond that day to hear Pope Pius XII declare his predecessor a saint

The crowd in the Square and beyond was estimated at about one million

The cause had unofficially started almost immediately after his death but was not officially started until 14 February 1923

It gained impetus under the pontificate of Pope Pius XII. Beatification took place on 3 June 1951

The Catholic Herald`s edition of 4th June 1954 (above) was filled with news about the canonisation ceremony

As well as the front page, there was coverage on other pages such as page 4

In his allocution Pope Pius XII said of the day that  it was  "among the happiest days of our Pontificate, to which Providence has allocated so many sorrows and cares." A happy day too "for the entire Church which, gathered around us in spirit. rejoices all together in a great thrill of religious feeling."

"We offer heartfelt thanks to God in His goodness for allowing us to take part in this extraordinary event ... all the more so since for perhaps the first time in the history of the Church, the formal canonisation of a Pope is proclaimed by one who had the privilege of serving him in the Roman Curia."

The first 32 Popes from the time of St. Peter until the Edict of Milan AD 313 are all saints. All but three were martyrs.

From 313 until the year 1000 there were 108 Popes and of these 41 are saints, including two martyrs, St. John I (526) and St. Sylverius (537).

From the year 1000 until the present day five Popes have been canonised — St. Leo (1054), St. Gregory VII (1078), St. Celestine V (l246),  St. Pius V (1572), who was canonised in 1712 and St Pius X (1914)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Canonisations

Only two Popes have been canonised in the past 700 years

On Sunday another two will be canonised: John XXIII and John Paul II

It will indeed be a historic occasion

Vatican Magazine of Vatican TV has produced two small promotional videos. They will broadcast the canonisation ceremony live

Monday, April 21, 2014

Once in a Lifetime

15th April 1452
Notarial record of the birth and baptism of Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519)
Made by his grandfather Antonio on the last page of the notarial protocol book of his natural father, the notary Ser Piero di Guido da Vinci.
The date was recorded in the Julian calendar (April 23 according to the modern calendar)
Archivio di Stato di Firenze, Florence

Raffaello Sanzio (1483 – April 6, 1520)
Study for a Crucifixion
Pen on white card
Biblioteca Marucelliana, Florence

Holograph letter of Fra Girolamo Savonarola (1452 - May 23, 1498) to one of his closest followers, Fra' Angelo Maruffi (who was also accised of heresy, tortured and burned at the stake)
c. 1495
Archivio Guiccairdini, Florence

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 – 18 February 1564)
Sketch of blocks of marble with details for a Crucifixion
Archivio Buonarroti, Florence

Register of Male Baptisms in Florence 1512 - 1522
Part of a register from 1450 - 1900
Containing the record of the birth (12 June 1519) and baptism (20 June 1519)  of the Grand Duke Cosimo I de`Medici of Tuscany (marked at the side with a Crown) (died  21 April 1574)
 Archivio dell'Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence

As part of Firenze 2014 Un anno ad arte, the city has exhibited some of the treasures contained within the Archives and Libraries of the City

The exhibition is entitled Una volta nella vita. Tesori dagli archivi e dalle biblioteche di Firenze (Once in a Lifetime: Treasures from the Archives and Libraries in Florence)

British Pathé newsreel archive now on Youtube

Requiescat in Pace. Last pictures taken of His Holiness - Pope Benedict XV (British Pathé Newsreel 1922)

Requiescat in Pace. Late Pope Benedict XV lying in State (British Pathé Newsreel 1922)


The newly elected Pope Pius XI in 1922 imparts his first Apostolic blessing on the "the City and the World from Balcony of the Vatican - the first time a Pope has appeared in public since 1870.

The newly elected Pius XI with Students of Propaganda College at the Vatican (1922)

Newsreel archive British Pathé has uploaded its entire collection of 85000 historic films, in high resolution, to its YouTube channel

The Collection covers footage from the years from 1896 to 1976– not only from Britain, but from around the globe 

Here is the section on Popes of the Twentieth century
Below is the footage of Queen Victoria's Funeral (1901). . After 63 years on the throne, Victoria died at the age of 81 at Osborne House on The Isle of Wight. Her military state funeral was held on Saturday 2 February 1901 in St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Sacrament of Marriage

Many  have been touched by the story in The Zaneville Times Recorder of Kenneth and Helen Felumlee who passed away recently within hours of each other after 70 years of marriage

Helen Felumlee, of Nashport, Ohio, died aged 92 on April 12. Her husband, 91-year-old Kenneth Felumlee, died the next morning.

The couple's eight children say the two had been inseparable since meeting as teenagers, once sharing the bottom of a bunk bed on a ferry rather than sleeping one night apart, the  Recorder reported.

They were introduced when they were just 18 and 19. They immediately hit it off, dating for three years before deciding to elope.

They had  eight children, no easy task, but the couple was determined to make it work. Both Helen and Kenneth had grown up working, and they were not afraid to put in the extra effort.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Women at the Sepulchre

Benjamin West (1738-1820) 
The Women at the Sepulchre 
Oil on canvas
79.3 x 58.4 cm
Private collection

Benjamin West (1738-1820)
The Women at the Sepulchre 
Oil on panel
83 x 86.5 cm
Brooklyn Museum, New York

The American Quaker Benjamin West  treated this subject on at least eight occasions

The alternative title is  The Angel at the Tomb of Christ

Pope Paul VI once gave an address to the organisers and members of an International Symposium on the Resurrection of Christ (4th April 1970)

He said:
"Is not all the Gospel-history centred on the Resurrection? Without this, what would the Gospels themselves be, those Gospels which announce "the Good News of the Lord Jesus"?Do we not find there the source of all Christian preaching? (cf. Acts 2:32).

Does it not always remain the fulcrum of the whole epistemology of the faith, which without it would lose its consistence - as the Apostle Paul himself says: "If Christ be not risen... our faith is void" (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-4).

Is it not this same Resurrection - which alone gives meaning - to all the Liturgy, to our "Eucharists", assuring us of the presence of the Risen Christ, Whom we celebrate amid thanksgiving: "We proclaim your death, O Lord Jesus; we celebrate your Resurrection; we look forward to your return in glory" (Anamnesis).

Yes, all Christian hope is based on the Resurrection of Christ, upon which is "anchored" our own resurrection along with Him. Indeed, even now we are risen with Him (cf. Col. 3:1) - the whole fabric of our Christian Life is woven through with this unfailing certainty and this hidden reality, along with the joy and dynamism which they produce."

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Lamentation

Moretto da Brescia (Alessandro Bonvicino) (ca. 1498–1554 )
The Entombment
Oil on canvas
240 x 189.2 cm
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

This was probably Moretto`s last work before his own death. He died within a few months of the work being complete

The inscription in the painting comes from St Paul while in imprisonment in Rome, just before his own death

After the death come the lamentation and the funeral rites

In Italian this work is known as "Il compianto sul cristo morto" - The Lamentation of Christ, which is probably more accurate than the title ascribed by The Metropolitan

After the body of Christ was removed from the Cross, his friends and relatives mourned over his body

In this, his mother Mary is holding his body

Also present are Mary Magdalene, St John the Evangelist,  Joseph of Arimathea and  Nicodemus

Joseph of Arimathea is recognised by the act of holding the crown of thorns and nails

Nicodemus  is recognised by his pincers and hammer

The inscription at the bottom of the painting - always important in Moretto`s works - reads:
""Factvs est obediens vsqve ad mortem" 
"He was made obedient unto death" and the quotation is from St Paul`s Letter to the Philippians (Chapter 2)

The full quotation from the Epistle is:
"5 Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, 
6 Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. 
7 Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance, 
8 he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. 
9 Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name, 
10 that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 
11 and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father."

The themes of the Chapter in the Epistle are:
the Imitation and contemplation of Christ;
the total humility and self-giving of Christ to the point of meek servility, like a slave;
total obedience to the Father;
the recognition and confession that Jesus is God
St Paul shows his enthusiasm for Christ as the key to life and death, the bringer of salvation to all on earth

The presence of St John the Evangelist is important because of the confraternity which commissioned the work and the patron saint of the Church in which it hung

The work was commissioned by a lay confraternity known as the Disciplina di San Giovanni Evangelista.

 It was  for their oratory adjacent to the church of St John the Evangelist in Brescia

It hung above the altar from 1554 until 1771 when the confraternity was suppressed

There the confraternity prayed and may have met in chapter. They were meant to relieve suffering and perform good works.

If one of them died, his body would rest there overnight before the funeral and perhaps his Requiem Mass would be conducted there. He, along with other deceased members of the Confraternity would be prayed for in the chapel

Again as one might expect the work is sombre, a work of contemplation and introversion 

But the inscription and reference to Phillipians  reminds us of the joy of faith arising from Christ’s unique role in the salvation of all who profess his lordship 

The work forces the viewer to contemplate death, grief and suffering.

Sadness is etched in the face of the mother, Mary

The pain of grief is seen in the face of Mary Magdalene who faces the viewer. She of course has to wait till Sunday when she meets who at first she thinks is the gardener

St John the Evangelist and Nicodemus do not seem to be as greatly affected. Perhaps they were realising what had been said before

We are reminded of course of John Chapter 3 when Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews came to Jesus at night to seek instruction

Christ said to Nicodemus:
"13 No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. 
14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 
15 so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” 
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. 
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 
18 Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God."

In Chapter IV of his Apostolic Letter Salvici doloris Blessed Pope John Paul II reflected on suffering, grief and death

"14. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life". 
These words, spoken by Christ in his conversation with Nicodemus, introduce us into the very heart of God's salvific work. They also express the very essence of Christian soteriology, that is, of the theology of salvation. 
Salvation means liberation from evil, and for this reason it is closely bound up with the problem of suffering. 
According to the words spoken to Nicodemus, God gives his Son to "the world" to free man from evil, which bears within itself the definitive and absolute perspective on suffering. At the same time, the very word "gives" ("gave") indicates that this liberation must be achieved by the only-begotten Son through his own suffering. 
And in this, love is manifested, the infinite love both of that only-begotten Son and of the Father who for this reason "gives" his Son. This is love for man, love for the "world": it is salvific love. ...
Man " perishes" when he loses "eternal life". 
The opposite of salvation is not, therefore, only temporal suffering, any kind of suffering, but the definitive suffering: the loss of eternal life, being rejected by God, damnation. The only-begotten Son was given to humanity primarily to protect man against this definitive evil and against definitive suffering. 
In his salvific mission, the Son must therefore strike evil right at its transcendental roots from which it develops in human history. These transcendental roots of evil are grounded in sin and death: for they are at the basis of the loss of eternal life. 
The mission of the only-begotten Son consists in conquering sin and death. He conquers sin by his obedience unto death, and he overcomes death by his Resurrection. ... 
It is the same when we deal with death. 
It is often awaited even as a liberation from the suffering of this life. At the same time, it is not possible to ignore the fact that it constitutes as it were a definitive summing-up of the destructive work both in the bodily organism and in the psyche. 
But death primarily involves the dissolution of the entire psychophysical personality of man. The soul survives and subsists separated from the body, while the body is subjected to gradual decomposition according to the words of the Lord God, pronounced after the sin committed by man at the beginning of his earthly history: "You are dust and to dust you shall return". 
Therefore, even if death is not a form of suffering in the temporal sense of the word, even if in a certain way it is beyond all forms of suffering, at the same time the evil which the human being experiences in death has a definitive and total character. By his salvific work, the only-begotten Son liberates man from sin and death. 
First of all he blots out from human history the dominion of sin, which took root under the influence of the evil Spirit, beginning with Original Sin, and then he gives man the possibility of living in Sanctifying Grace. 
In the wake of his victory over sin, he also takes away the dominion of death, by his Resurrection beginning the process of the future resurrection of the body. 
Both are essential conditions of "eternal life", that is of man's definitive happiness in union with God; this means, for the saved, that in the eschatological perspective suffering is totally blotted out. 
As a result of Christ's salvific work, man exists on earth with the hope of eternal life and holiness. And even though the victory over sin and death achieved by Christ in his Cross and Resurrection does not abolish temporal suffering from human life, nor free from suffering the whole historical dimension of human existence, it nevertheless throws a new light upon this dimension and upon every suffering: the light of salvation. 
This is the light of the Gospel, that is, of the Good News. 
At the heart of this light is the truth expounded in the conversation with Nicodemus: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son". 
This truth radically changes the picture of man's history and his earthly situation: in spite of the sin that took root in this history both as an original inheritance and as the "sin of the world" and as the sum of personal sins, God the Father has loved the only-begotten Son, that is, he loves him in a lasting way; and then in time, precisely through this all-surpassing love, he "gives" this Son, that he may strike at the very roots of human evil and thus draw close in a salvific way to the whole world of suffering in which man shares."

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Cornelis van Poelenburgh ca.1586-1667
Christ Carrying the Cross
early 1620s
Oil on copper
44.2 x 62.3 cm
The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Cornelis van Poelenburgh ca.1586-1667
The Crucifixion, with the Fall of the Rebel Angels
c 1627
Oil on oak panel
57.5 x 50.7 cm
English Heritage, The Wellington Collection, Apsley House, London

Poelenburgh was a Roman Catholic and (like many Italianate painters) a native of Utrecht, the most Catholic of Dutch cities. He was in Rome from 1617 until 1627. 

Poelenburgh enjoyed an international reputation during his lifetime: working for Cosimo II de’ Medici in Florence in 1620–21 and for Charles I in London off and on from 1637 to 1641. 

The rest of his career was spent in Utrecht, where he received important commissions from local aristocrats and from Prince Fredrick Henry of Orange.

The first work was  painted in Rome, and we see an Italianate landscape with soft light

Christ is leaving behind the city of Jerusalem to make his way to Golgotha

He is being pulled forward by a rope, like a beast of burden, like a lamb to the slaughter

We recall Isaiah 53:7:
 "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth" 
And we also recall Jeremiah 11:19 
"I had been like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter..."
In his Gospel, St Luke mentions that the two thieves were also in the group walking out to Golgotha. We see them too but they do not carry their crosses

Jerusalem in this case is represented by the Tomb of Cecilia Metella on the Appian Way built about 50 BC. We see it not as it would have been in Christ`s time but a ruin as in the seventeenth century

There is an irony. The Roman regime at the time of Christ  killed and tried to destroy Christ. They were Christ`s accusers. Their works are but ruins

It is an updating of the Procession to Golgotha

Veronica holds a cloth to wipe his face

Besides  his persecutors are his relatives and friends: the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, John the Evangelist, Simon of Cyrene, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea

The artist painted the figures first, then the landscape

It is useful to compare this work with two  similar works by Poelenburgh`s great hero, Raphael. One is now in the National Gallery in London. The Procession to Calvary is here (c. 1504)

Also see Raphael`s later work Caída en el camino del Calvario, or El Pasmo de Sicilia (c. 1515) in the Prado for which see here

The second work is an usual depiction of the Crucifixion

We see Jerusalem in outline in the distance

The action takes place well outside the city walls

The scene is dark and sombre, depressingly so. A complete contrast to the scene in the first work

Mary Magdalen embraces the Cross while John and Mary stand together on the right.

The Cross is not face on but on the diagonal, a rare feature but for a while in the seventeenth century it was quite popular

Men are drawing lots for the clothes and possessions of Christ

At the point of death we see on the right the Fall of the Rebel Angels, the Archangel St Michael, flogging a sinner beneath whom is a snake and skull and in pursuit of the fallen

The Archangel Michael and his angels are shown in the act of driving the rebel angels from Heaven.

In Hebrew, the name Michael means “Who can compare with God?”

The two scenes, The Crucifixion and The Fall of the Rebel Angels, are in counterpoint

We see the Fall and Salvation and the Triumph of Good through Christ over Evil

The scene is apocalyptic. There is a sense of the Final Judgment

It is a message in tune with the Baroque Catholic Reform in which Poelenburgh was a participant

The work recalls to mind Revelation, Chapter 12 which speaks of the conquering of Satan, which means "the accuser":

"7 Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, 
8 but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 
9 The huge dragon, the ancient serpent,who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it. 
10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have salvation and power come,
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Anointed.
For the accuser  of our brothers is cast out,
who accuses them before our God day and night. 
11 They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
love for life did not deter them from death. 
12 Therefore, rejoice, you heavens,
and you who dwell in them.
But woe to you, earth and sea,
for the Devil has come down to you in great fury,
for he knows he has but a short time.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fractio Panis

Fractio Panis (The Breaking of Bread)
AD 100 - 150
The Greek Chapel (Capella Graeca), The Catacomb of Priscilla,  Via Salaria Nova, Rome
From Father Joseph Wilpert SJ, Die Malereien der Katakomben Roms (Tafeln) (1903) (plate xv, vol. I)

The fresco is the earliest depiction of the celebration of the Eucharist

It was only discovered by Fr Joseph Wilpert SJ, the noted archaeologist and religious art historian in 1893

The Eucharistic feast is depicted at the moment that the President or Bishop breaks the bread

There are seven persons at the table, six men and one woman

Except for the President, the others are reclining as the Romans did in classical times

Beside the bread there is a two handled cup

There are two large plates: one has bread (five loaves), the other fish (two)

On the ground there are seven baskets filled with bread

The depictions in art of the celebration of the Eucharist have varied in time dependent on the state of knowledge and theology at the time

In a six-part lecture series entitled Past Belief: Visions of Early Christianity in Renaissance and Reformation Europe at The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, Professor of History  Anthony Grafton of Princeton University focuses on the efforts of artists and scholars to recreate the early history of Christianity in a period of crisis in the church from the 15th to the 17th century. 

The first lecture (30th March 2014) How Jesus Celebrated Passover: The Jewish Origins of Christianity in podcast form is here

He explores how the pictorial form of the Last Supper, a central theme in art, was radically transformed after the beginning of the Reformation in 1517. 

He shows how writers with great archaeological and historical learning delved into Roman antiquities and Jewish texts from the time of the origins of Christianity in order to bring back the world in which the Last Supper actually took place.  

One of the works that the learned Professor cites and discusses is the Annales Ecclesiastici (full title Annales ecclesiastici a Christo nato ad annum 1198; "Ecclesiastical annals from Christ's nativity to 1198"), consisting of twelve folio volumes, a history of the first 12 centuries of the Christian Church, written by Caesar Cardinal Baronius (1538 – June 30, 1607)

It is the official answer to the anti-Catholic history, the Magdeburg Centuries.

It was a time of dispute about the nature of the sacrament of the Eucharist and whether it was a sacrament  at all

Interestingly it would appear that Baronius made a number of "discoveries" (or rather recovered what had already been known)

He consulted Jewish scholars, a very radical approach for those times

It was a time of great interest in the Classics (Greek and Latin) and the rediscovery of the Classics and of Roman customs and way of life

It was also the time of the rediscovery of the catacombs and the churches and tombs and works of early Christian art discovered therein

Baronius  showed that the roots of the Sacrament were in the Passover Seder from all of these sources and thus set off new ways of depicting Holy Thursday and the Last Supper and the sacrifice at the heart of the Catholic religion

It is noteworthy that his conclusions appear only to be vindicated by the discovery of this fresco more than four hundred years after his death

An extremely interesting lecture which is recommended for this time of Passiontide

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Maundy Thursday: The Washing of the Feet

Maestro de San Esteve de Andorra
The Washing of the Feet
1200 - 1215
Mural fresco
241.5 cm  x  202 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

This work originally was from the central apse of the Church of Sant` Esteve in Andorra la Vella, which lies between France and Spain

Christ is beckoning to Peter to allow him to wash his feet at the Last Supper

Four apostles look on

Another apostle is holding a towel to dry the feet

The setting is of course The Upper Room and we see an arch with curtains

The cycle of the Passion of which this formed part began with the illustration of The Washing of the Feet

This looks like Romanesque but one can see an attempt to show emotion in the features of the participants in the scene. One sees the influence of Byzantine art

The episode is narrated in John 13: 1 - 20

Modern society does not really appreciate the significance of the ceremony

At best it is seen as a public and partly theatrical and quaint act of humility and self abasement

The act of washing another’s feet was one that could not be required of the lowliest Jewish slave. It is an allusion to the humiliating death of the crucifixion.

The word translated as "laid aside [his garments]" is tithemin, a word which is used repeatedly in St. John's Gospel with one particular meaning: to lay down one's life

Jesus requires that Peter undergo this ritual for two reasons. First, unless he accepts this, "You will have no part in me." Second, when completed, Peter will be "wholly clean." 

It was an ordnance of God himself

For a full discussion please see Jerome H. Neyrey, S.J. "The Foot Washing in John 13:6-11; Transformation Ritual or Ceremony?" 

Unlike the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John has no account of the Last Supper meal just the foot washing ceremony and Jesus’ farewell discourse. 

But such was the importance of the practice that The Rule of St Benedict  provided that that it should be performed every Saturday for all the community by him who exercised the office of cook for the week. 

It also provided  that the abbot and the brethren were to wash the feet of those who were received as guests.

It can also be seen by the fact that in 694 the Seventeenth Synod of Toledo commanded all bishops and priests in a position of superiority under pain of excommunication to wash the feet of those subject to them. 

Here are some other depictions of the same scene from John`s Gospel

f  5r Christ washing Peter's feet
1200 - c 1220
Miniature in colours and gold on parchment 
Royal MS 1 D X, f 5r
The British Library, London

Duccio di Buoninsegna (c. 1255-1260 - c. 1318-1319)
Washing of the Feet
From Maestà (back, central panel: Scenes of Christ`s Passion
Tempera on wood
50 x 53 cm
Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lithographs of Victorian Catholic Churches in North America

Church of the Holy Trinity, Columbia, Pennsylvania.

Website is here

The church was founded by the then Bishop Saint John Neumann

St. Vincent de Paul's Church, Germantown, Pa.

The church was built 1849-1851 and enlarged 1857 and was part of a complex which included a seminary and chapel completed in 1879

The church was the first parish named after St. Vincent de Paul

Website is here 

Eglise du Precieux Sang, Woonsocket, Rhode Island (The Church of the Precious Blood of Woonsocket, RI)

Woonsocket, Rhode Island, was the fourth largest Franco-American town. Besides having a beautiful name, it also had one of the highest percentage of French Canadian population in all of New England (60%). There were five French-Canadian parishes in the city by the 1920’s.

The church was founded in 1828 and the building was constructed in 1873 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places

Contact details are here

The Church of the Most Holy Redeemer, now known as Santísimo Redentor, 161-165 East 3rd Street, the East Village, Manhattan

It was once the most important in Manhattan's  Kleindeutschland "Little Germany" 

The Wikipedia entry is here

The parish website is here

The Favey Library at Villanova University  has put on line a collection of Catholic church lithographs by the Philadelphia lithography firm of Packard and Butler (later Packard, Butler and Partridge), 

There are over 400 prints of interior or exterior views of Catholic churches throughout the United States and parts of Canada during the nineteenth century

The prints seem to have been produced for a variety of uses. There are a number of prints that were used as certificates commemorating First Holy Communion and Confirmation.

There are also a few portraits of priests:

Reverend B.F. McLoughlin, Pastor of St Mary`s Church, Cortland, New York