Sunday, 19 November 2017

‘Guard the people of Zimbabwe
from harm. Let justice
and compassion prevail’

With Bishop Chad Gandiya of Harare during his visit to Dublin in 2011

Patrick Comerford

Watching President Robert Mugabe’s speech live within the past hour, it seems incredible that he has refused to resign. It is possible that he tried to pull the wool over the eyes of the military leaders who sat beside them, and read his own speech.

It is difficult to understand that a military coup could fail so visibly, with everyone watches, and I wonder how he is going to facedown tomorrow’s move for an impeachment.

Perhaps the generals could not force him to resign, but they have no given him plenty of ground for his impeachment tomorrow.

Many years ago, I was frustrated and angry when I was invited to a lecture in UCD and dinner with President Mugabe. I had campaigned and protested for years on his behalf, joining marches and pickets demanding democracy and freedom in Zimbabwe.

That evening in the Belfield campus of University College Dublin, Mugabe was brusque, arrogant and rude. It was a personal source of curiosity that while the Irish Independent could invite me, as then Foreign Desk Editor of The Irish Times to dinner with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Nelson Mandela, my own newspaper was inviting me to meet Robert Mugabe, who had betrayed so much that I had campaigned for.

Over the past week, Anglican leaders in Zimbabwe have reported that the Church and the country are safe following the military takeover that appears to have taken place on Tuesday night.

The Right Revd Chad Gandiya, Bishop Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, described what was then though to be the ousting of President Mugabe by the army as ‘one of the most peaceful takeovers anywhere in the world’ and added that ‘people are going about their daily work and chores as if nothing had happened.’

However, Bishop Chad is also urging Christians everywhere to pray for Zimbabwe ‘during these uncertain times.’

The Most Revd Albert Chama, Archbishop of Central Africa, also called for prayer, commenting that ‘this sad situation needs more than a political solution.’

I am a trustee of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), and have served on its council and committees. USPG is a long-standing partner of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe, with a relationship that dates back to 1891.

I have known Bishop Chad since he was the USPG Regional Desk Officer for Africa, working from London. He bravely returned to Zimbabwe after his election as Bishop of Harare, despite Mugabe’s efforts to divide the church and his threats of violence.

Later, Bishop Chad gracefully accepted my invitation to preach in the chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute in 2011, to deliver a guest lecture, and to visit Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

USPG has prepared the following prayer:

God of peace,
we add our prayers to those of the Church in Zimbabwe.
Into their political upheaval, we ask that peace, love and unity will prevail.
Give wisdom to those in authority.
Guard the people of Zimbabwe from harm.
Let justice and compassion prevail.
And bless your Church as is offers care and preaches hope, tolerance and forgiveness.
In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.


These are the statements in full issued by Bishop Chad and Archbishop Chama:

The full statement from the Right Revd Dr Chad N Gandiya, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Harare (16.11.2017):

Beloved in Christ, Warm and cordial greetings from your brothers and sisters in the Anglican Diocese of Harare, Zimbabwe.

Political developments of Tuesday night in Zimbabwe have necessitated the writing of this letter to all our friends so that you are informed and know what to pray for as you think and pray for us.

We woke up on Wednesday morning to constant announcement on Zimbabwe TV by one of the army generals that the army had been forced into action to remove ‘criminals’ around the president and that the president and his family were safe, and that their security was guaranteed. He went on to say that they were targeting criminals around the president whose actions were causing social and economic suffering in the country. He also said that the situation would return to normalcy as soon as they had accomplished their mission. Obviously, this was a big shock to most Zimbabweans even though most people believed something was bound to happen sooner rather than later.

The army was in control of the airwaves in the country and had stationed tanks strategically around the city. They asked the nation to remain calm, limit their travels to when it was necessary, such as when going to work. It is true that in last few months we have seen purges in the ruling party, shortages of cash in the banks, and unprecedented [price] increases in basic food commodities among other things.

The situation in the country remains calm but tense and people are going about their daily work and chores as if nothing had happened. We had a clergy workshop in Harare without any disturbances. The diocesan office is open and functioning well. However, we have decided to cancel a big diocesan annual Thanksgiving service that we hold every year to mark our return from exile because we don’t want to take any chances, especially as we would be expecting thousands of our members to travel various distances to attend the important service.

The events in the country are still unfolding. We thank God that so far there is no violence on the streets, the atmosphere remains calm and everything has been done peacefully. I think that this is one of the most peaceful takeovers anywhere in the world!

We are therefore calling on you our friends to join us in praying for Zimbabwe and her people during these uncertain times. Please pray for the following:

Peaceful resolution of the current situation.

As the Army has appealed to the Church, pray for peace, love, unity and development.

Safety of all people in Zimbabwe.

That those arrested be treated humanely and that justice is seen to be done.

That the Church continues to offer pastoral care and preach a message of hope, tolerance, forgiveness and nation building as well as giving wise guidance to all people.

That respect for human rights is valued.

The prayer for Africa is very apt in our situation and so pray:

God bless Zimbabwe.

Guide her leaders.

Guard her people.

And give her peace. Amen!

The full statement from the Most Revd Albert Chama, Archbishop and Primate of the Church of the Province of Central Africa (15.11.2017):

As Primate of the Province of Central Africa and chair of Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa, I write to express our concerns as a Church over the recent political situation in Zimbabwe. We have received messages and calls from the Primates of the Anglican Church worldwide and also from Lambeth Palace assuring us of their prayers.

We are also aware of initiatives by SADC the political blog in the region. However, this sad situation needs more than a political solution. It needs all people of faith to pray, all citizens to engage and ensure a peaceful transition in Zimbabwe.

This call is based on our vision of Christ the prince of peace and the incarnate God who in dwelling with us affirmed the dignity of each one of us and our environment. We want to assure all our parishioners and all Zimbabweans of our prayers and support and hope for calm and stability at this time.

‘To each according to his ability’:
using our talents for the kingdom

‘To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability’ (Matthew 25: 15) … old coins in a table top in the bar at the Hedgehog in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford,

Sunday 17 November 2017,

The Second Sunday before Advent (Proper 28)


11.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist, Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin, Tarbert, Co Kerry.

Readings: Judges 4: 1-7; Psalm 123; I Thessalonians 5: 1-11; Matthew 25: 14-30.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

In our Gospel reading this morning, Christ continues to tell parables about the kingdom of heaven. In the previous parables, we have been told to be prepared for the Second Coming at all times.

The parable this morning is set in the realm of finance. Before leaving on a journey, a master entrusts his servants (that word deacon again) with his money, each according to his ability.

At the time, a talent (τάλαντον, tálanton) was a lot of money – enough to make any one of those slaves a millionaire, and enough to make them fret and worry about the enormity with which he had been entrusted.

One source says a talent was equivalent to more than 15 years’ wages for a labourer. Another suggests a talent was worth the equivalent of 7,300 denarii. With one denarius equal to a day’s pay, a talent would work out at more than 26 years’ wages. So, a talent was extremely valuable, and the slave who was given five talents was given 85 to 130 years’ wages, vastly more than he could ever imagine earning in lifetime.

Earlier in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, we have come across another parable of talents, when a servant who is forgiven a debt of 10,000 talents refuses to forgive another servant who owes him only one hundred denarii (Matthew 18: 21-35, 17 September 2017).

This morning, two servants invest the money they have been entrusted with and earn more, but the third simply buries it.

When the master returns, he praises the investors. He says they will be made responsible for many things, and will enter into the joy of your master.

But the third slave, admitting that he was afraid of his master’s wrath, simply returns the original sum. The master chastises him for his wickedness and laziness. He loses not only what he has been given but is also condemned to outer darkness.

That darkness into which he is condemned has a dread that is also echoed in Saint Paul’s warning this morning, ‘For those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night’ (I Thessalonians 5: 7).

‘For those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night’ … I Thessalonians 5: 7 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The catchphrase ‘Loadsamoney’ and the character to go with it were part of the sketches created by the English comedian Harry Enfield on Channel 4 in the 1980s.

Loadsamoney was an obnoxious, Cockney plasterer who constantly boasted about how much money he had to throw away. The character took on a life of his own and adapted the song ‘Money, Money,’ from the musical Cabaret, for a hit single in 1988 and a sell-out live tour.

That year, the Labour leader, Neil Kinnock used the catchphrase to criticise the policies of the Conservative government of the day and journalists began to refer to the ‘loadsamoney mentality’ and the ‘loadsamoney economy.’

On the other hand, we all know people who are reluctant to flash their cash and would prefer to stash their cash. We have all heard of people who kept their savings in a mattress, thinking it was safer there than in the bank.

They may never have realised how right they might have been in the past decade. But leaving your money under the mattress is not going to put it to work. And, these days, putting your money on deposit in the bank may cost you money rather than earning it. With low deposit rates and taxation at source, you may end up collecting less than you had when you first opened that savings account.

But piling my money up has its risks too. At a time of rapid inflation in war-time Greece and Germany, people who saved their money as banknotes found it quickly depreciated in value. I have enough 5 million Drachmai notes in a tiny stash to make two sons multi-millionaires. Sad to say, those notes date from the 1940s, and the only value they have is curiosity value.

Saving them in the bank, or piling them up under the mattress would have earned nothing for their original owners.

What would have happened to the two investors in our Gospel reading this morning if they took risks with those vast sums of money only for their master to discover that they had they lost everything?

There was an old maxim that you ‘must speculate to accumulate.’ But every investor knows there are risks, and the greater the risk the higher the interest rates that are promised.

What if they had overstepped their master’s expectations in the risks they had taken?

What if this bondholder had been burned because of the folly of two of his risk-takers, and only one had been a careful steward?

After all, a rabbinical maxim commends burying money to protect it.

If this parable is about the kingdom of heaven, if the master stands for God and the servants for different kinds of people, what lessons does it teach us?

Does God reward us for our works but behave like a stern judge when we keep faith without taking risks?

Will we be judged by our work?

Will failure to use what God gives us result in punishment and our separation from God?

Of course, we cannot imagine that the two slaves who traded with their talents and produced a profit were engaged in reckless trading and speculation, still less in reckless gambling.

What was the third slave doing with his time after he buried his talent?

Was he doing any other work on behalf of the master?

Is he chided for his refusal to invest or speculate, or is he chided for his refusal to work, his laziness?

In his refusal or indolence, did he show disdain for his master?

What talents and gifts has God entrusted you with?

Are you using or investing them to your fullest ability?

Are they yours?

Or are they God’s?

Is my relationship with God one of trust and gratitude?

Or do I fear God to the point of thinking of God as the source of injustice?

‘Loadsamoney’ was a catchphrase of comedian Harry Enfield … but is a load of money worth stashing away? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

An alternative reading of this parable might question the behaviour of the master, as we have done with the passage a few weeks ago (15 October 2017) about the invitation to the wedding banquet (Matthew 22: 1-14).

In an alternative reading, we could see here an absentee landlord who does no work himself, but lives off the labour of his slaves, even at the expense of other more honest people. He would be seen to those who hear Christ telling this parable for the first time as greedy and grasping rather than smart or virtuous.

The master tells the slave he treats most harshly that the punishment is specifically for refusing to break the commandment against usury (Matthew 25: 27), a practice consistently condemned in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

When Christ says ‘to all who have, more will be given, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away’ (verse 29), is he, instead of teaching a lesson, expressing in an exasperated way the old maxim that ‘the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer’?

Is the behaviour of the master in the parable something that God would commend, let alone imitate?

Is this the kind of behaviour that Christ expects of God’s people?

Could the servant who is thrown out, like the poor guest at the wedding banquet who is shamed and victimised before who is thrown out into utter darkness, bound hand and foot, represent the Suffering Servant?

Could the lesson be not to use and misuse what is not ours for selfish gain as we exploit others?

Could it be that this parable is still less about justifying those who make unimaginable wealth out of the labour of others?

Is it less about talents and money and more about those who are exploited in the world by others and who are left destitute?

Reading the parable this way would leave us wanting to be less like the master who is a symbol of all who are successful and ‘make it’ in the world, who have ‘loadsamoney’ and leave us more interested in the values of God’s kingdom, praying that it will come and that God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

If so, then what sorts of risks should we take for the sake of the Kingdom?

Or do we keep on devoting our lives to the values of the kingdoms of this world?

We shall explore more of this next Sunday [26 November 2017], when we reflect on the meaning of the Kingship of Christ, and then through the four Sundays in Advent in the month of December as we prepare for the coming of Christ, not just as the Christ Child at Christmas, but the coming of Christ again and his kingdom.

And so may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Some old coins from classical Greece … what was the value of a talent? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Collect:

Heavenly Father,
whose blessed Son was revealed to destroy the works of the devil
and to make us the children of God and heirs of eternal life:
Grant that we, having this hope,
may purify ourselves even as he is pure;
that when he shall appear in power and great glory,
we may be made like him
in his eternal and glorious kingdom;
where he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer:

Gracious Lord,
in this holy sacrament you give substance to our hope.
Bring us at the last to that pure life for which we long,
through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Ratkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for Sunday 19 November 2017

‘Throw him into the outer
darkness, where there will be
weeping and gnashing of teeth’

‘Loadsamoney’ was a catchphrase of comedian Harry Enfield … but is a load of money worth stashing away? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford,

Sunday 17 November 2017,

The Second Sunday before Advent (Proper 28)


9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick.

Readings: Judges 4: 1-7; Psalm 123; I Thessalonians 5: 1-11; Matthew 25: 14-30.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

In our Gospel reading this morning, Christ continues to tell parables about the kingdom of heaven. In the previous parables, we have been told to be prepared for the Second Coming at all times.

The parable this morning is set in the realm of finance. Before leaving on a journey, a master entrusts his servants (that word deacon again) with his money, each according to his ability.

At the time, a talent (τάλαντον, tálanton) was a lot of money – enough to make any one of those slaves a millionaire, and enough to make them fret and worry about the enormity with which he had been entrusted.

One source says a talent was equivalent to more than 15 years’ wages for a labourer. Another suggests a talent was worth the equivalent of 7,300 denarii. With one denarius equal to a day’s pay, a talent would work out at more than 26 years’ wages. So, a talent was extremely valuable, and the slave who was given five talents was given 85 to 130 years’ wages, vastly more than he could ever imagine earning in lifetime.

Earlier in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, we have come across another parable of talents, when a servant who is forgiven a debt of 10,000 talents refuses to forgive another servant who owes him only one hundred denarii (Matthew 18: 21-35, 17 September 2017).

This morning, two servants invest the money they have been entrusted with and earn more, but the third simply buries it.

When the master returns, he praises the investors. He says they will be made responsible for many things, and will enter into the joy of your master.

But the third slave, admitting that he was afraid of his master’s wrath, simply returns the original sum. The master chastises him for his wickedness and laziness. He loses not only what he has been given but is also condemned to outer darkness.

That darkness into which he is condemned has a dread that is also echoed in Saint Paul’s warning this morning, ‘For those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night’ (I Thessalonians 5: 7).

‘For those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night’ … I Thessalonians 5: 7 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The catchphrase ‘Loadsamoney’ and the character to go with it were part of the sketches created by the English comedian Harry Enfield on Channel 4 in the 1980s.

Loadsamoney was an obnoxious, Cockney plasterer who constantly boasted about how much money he had to throw away. The character took on a life of his own and adapted the song ‘Money, Money,’ from the musical Cabaret, for a hit single in 1988 and a sell-out live tour.

That year, the Labour leader, Neil Kinnock used the catchphrase to criticise the policies of the Conservative government of the day and journalists began to refer to the ‘loadsamoney mentality’ and the ‘loadsamoney economy.’

On the other hand, we all know people who are reluctant to flash their cash and would prefer to stash their cash. We have all heard of people who kept their savings in a mattress, thinking it was safer there than in the bank.

They may never have realised how right they might have been in the past decade. But leaving your money under the mattress is not going to put it to work. And, these days, putting your money on deposit in the bank may cost you money rather than earning it. With low deposit rates and taxation at source, you may end up collecting less than you had when you first opened that savings account.

But piling my money up has its risks too. At a time of rapid inflation in war-time Greece and Germany, people who saved their money as banknotes found it quickly depreciated in value. I have enough 5 million Drachmai notes in a tiny stash to make two sons multi-millionaires. Sad to say, those notes date from the 1940s, and the only value they have is curiosity value.

Saving them in the bank, or piling them up under the mattress would have earned nothing for their original owners.

Is this morning’s parable less about talents and money and more about those who are exploited in the world by others and who are left destitute? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

What would have happened to the two investors in our Gospel reading this morning if they took risks with those vast sums of money only for their master to discover that they had they lost everything?

There was an old maxim that you ‘must speculate to accumulate.’ But every investor knows there are risks, and the greater the risk the higher the interest rates that are promised.

What if they had overstepped their master’s expectations in the risks they had taken?

What if this bondholder had been burned because of the folly of two of his risk-takers, and only one had been a careful steward?

After all, a rabbinical maxim commends burying money to protect it.

If this parable is about the kingdom of heaven, if the master stands for God and the servants for different kinds of people, what lessons does it teach us?

Does God reward us for our works but behave like a stern judge when we keep faith without taking risks?

Will we be judged by our work?

Will failure to use what God gives us result in punishment and our separation from God?

Of course, we cannot imagine that the two slaves who traded with their talents and produced a profit were engaged in reckless trading and speculation, still less in reckless gambling.

What was the third slave doing with his time after he buried his talent?

Was he doing any other work on behalf of the master?

Is he chided for his refusal to invest or speculate, or is he chided for his refusal to work, his laziness?

In his refusal or indolence, did he show disdain for his master?

What talents and gifts has God entrusted you with?

Are you using or investing them to your fullest ability?

Are they yours?

Or are they God’s?

Is my relationship with God one of trust and gratitude?

Or do I fear God to the point of thinking of God as the source of injustice?

‘To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability’ (Matthew 25: 15) … old coins in a table top in the bar at the Hedgehog in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

An alternative reading of this parable might question the behaviour of the master, as we have done with the passage a few weeks ago (15 October 2017) about the invitation to the wedding banquet (Matthew 22: 1-14).

In an alternative reading, we could see here an absentee landlord who does no work himself, but lives off the labour of his slaves, even at the expense of other more honest people. He would be seen to those who hear Christ telling this parable for the first time as greedy and grasping rather than smart or virtuous.

The master tells the slave he treats most harshly that the punishment is specifically for refusing to break the commandment against usury (Matthew 25: 27), a practice consistently condemned in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

When Christ says ‘to all who have, more will be given, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away’ (verse 29), is he, instead of teaching a lesson, expressing in an exasperated way the old maxim that ‘the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer’?

Is the behaviour of the master in the parable something that God would commend, let alone imitate?

Is this the kind of behaviour that Christ expects of God’s people?

Could the servant who is thrown out, like the poor guest at the wedding banquet who is shamed and victimised before who is thrown out into utter darkness, bound hand and foot, represent the Suffering Servant?

Could the lesson be not to use and misuse what is not ours for selfish gain as we exploit others?

Could it be that this parable is still less about justifying those who make unimaginable wealth out of the labour of others?

Is it less about talents and money and more about those who are exploited in the world by others and who are left destitute?

Reading the parable this way would leave us wanting to be less like the master who is a symbol of all who are successful and ‘make it’ in the world, who have ‘loadsamoney’ and leave us more interested in the values of God’s kingdom, praying that it will come and that God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

If so, then what sorts of risks should we take for the sake of the Kingdom?

Or do we keep on devoting our lives to the values of the kingdoms of this world?

We shall explore more of this next Sunday [26 November 2017], when we reflect on the meaning of the Kingship of Christ, and then through the four Sundays in Advent in the month of December as we prepare for the coming of Christ, not just as the Christ Child at Christmas, but the coming of Christ again and his kingdom.

And so may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Some old coins from classical Greece … what was the value of a talent? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Collect:

Heavenly Father,
whose blessed Son was revealed to destroy the works of the devil
and to make us the children of God and heirs of eternal life:
Grant that we, having this hope,
may purify ourselves even as he is pure;
that when he shall appear in power and great glory,
we may be made like him
in his eternal and glorious kingdom;
where he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Ratkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for Sunday 19 November 2017

Saturday, 18 November 2017

A lecture in Dublin next week
on Sir Edward Law in Athens

The street in Athens named after Sit Edward Law (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The ‘Church of Ireland Notes’ in ‘The Irish Times’ today includes the following paragraph:

On Wednesday … Canon Patrick Comerford is the guest lecturer of the Irish Hellenic Society in the United Arts Club, Upper Fitzwilliam Street, Dublin, at 7.30pm, when he will discuss Sir Edward Law (1846–1908): the Irish Philhellene who rescued the Greek economy in the 1890s. Law is buried in Athens and is commemorated in both a street name in the Greek capital and in a memorial plaque in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

The memorial plaque in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, commemorating Sir Edward Law (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A visa stamp in San Marino
costs the same as the
bus fare from Rimini in Italy

San Marino … another stamp on my passport this year (Photograph; Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

It is always interesting when a one-country holiday becomes a two-country holiday.

When two of us were in Rome earlier this year, we also crossed in and out of the Vatican City, which is recognised internationally as a sovereign independent state, despite in its size and population.

San Marino, officially the Republic of San Marino (Repubblica di San Marino), also known as the Most Serene Republic of San Marino (Serenissima Repubblica di San Marino), is a microstate that is an enclave, and it too is totally surrounded by Italy.

We caught an early morning train from Bologna to Rimini on Friday [17 November 2017], and by mid-morning we were on top of Monte Titano in San Marino.

The other microstates in Europe – Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco and the Vatican – are monarchies of one sort or another, and are dependent on their nearest, biggest and most powerful neighbours for their survival. Like them, San Marino is not a member of the European Union. On the other hand, San Marino, claims to be the oldest surviving sovereign state in Europe and the oldest constitutional republic in the world.

San Marino’s territory is about 61 sq km (24 sq miles), and it has a population of 33,562, the smallest population among all the members of the Council of Europe.

The economy of San Marino relies mainly on finance, industry, services and tourism. Yet this is one of the wealthiest countries in the world in terms of GDP (per capita), with a figure comparable to the most developed European regions.

San Marino has a highly stable economy, with one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe, no national debt and a budget surplus. It is said to be the only country with more vehicles than people.

The capital is the City of San Marino and the largest urban area is Serravalle.

San Marino takes its name from Marinus, a stonemason originating from the island of Rab, in modern-day Croatia, who founded an independent monastic community on Monte Titano in 301 AD. This is given as the official date of the founding of the Republic.

San Marino has limited public transport facilities. There is a regular bus service between Rimini and the city of San Marino that is popular with both tourists and workers commuting to San Marino from surrounding Italy. The bus stops at about 20 places in Rimini and inside San Marino on the journey between the train station in Rimini railway station and the bus station in San Marino.

A 1.5 km cable car also connects Borgo Maggiore at the bottom of Monte Titano and the City of San Marino at the top of the rocky mountain. The cable car was not running this this week, but the tourist office beside the terminal in San Marino was open, offering €5 tourist visas.

The visas cost as much as the bus journey from Rimini, but are not necessary. Should I have got my passport stamped?

I certainly did not need a visa. San Marino has an open border with Italy, there were no checkpoints the bus crossed the border, not just once but twice on each leg of the journey, and I had travelled along most of the roads through this tiny republic, and walked the streets of the old town before I reached the tourist office.

But did I want a visa?

I had brought my passport, but ought I pay for a visa I did not need?

There are very few countries I travel through these days that bother to stamp my passport, even when they demand to see it.

Switzerland is outside the EU, but has never stamped my passport. I had walked in and out of the Vatican City and through Saint Peter’s Square a few times this year … but no-one ever asked for my passport, let alone offer to stamp it.

Britain may soon leave the EU, so I may be confused about which queue to join at an airport; but they are hardly likely to reintroduce passport stamps. The only European country that bothers to stamp my passport these days is Turkey, and that is probably because it earns a hefty amount of foreign currency by charging tourists for visas.

The only other stamps on my present passport are from a visit to the US many years ago.

A heavily-stamped passport is a rarity for EU citizens these days, even those of us who think we are well-travelled.

Of course, it could be costly filling a passport too quickly. At one stage in the 1990s, while I was working as a journalist, I had to apply for – and pay for – a second passport.

Friday’s stamp in San Marino says goodbye to another visa page in my passport – five gone, 23 to go. Oh well, I’m sure this one is going to last until it’s due for renewal in 2019.

Afterwards, we had lunch at La Capanna restaurant, looking over the rocks of San Marino and across to the Adriatic coast of Italy. The view was worth it, whatever about the visa. We were back in Rimini by mid-afternoon, and in Bologna in time to go out for dinner.

Looking down on the world from the rocky heights of San Marino (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Friday, 17 November 2017

A street name is a monument to
a hero of Bologna’s resistance

Vicolo Tintinaga has been renamed Via Mario Finzi in honour of a Jewish hero of the resistance in Bologna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Bologna’s main synagogue was destroyed in 1943 during World War II. But the synagogue was rebuilt ten years later by Guido Muggia, the son of the original architect, and was dedicated in 1953.

For the first time, the façade – albeit on a side street – was visible to the public. For security reasons, the entrance to the synagogue is through the Community Centre at the back. But the façade of the synagogue can be seen on Via Mario Finzi.

The street is just three minutes’ walk west of Piazza Maggiore in the heart of the historic centre of Bologna. Originally named Vicolo Tintinaga, it was renamed Via Mario Finzi in honour of a hero of the resistance, Mario Finzi (1913-1945), who is named on the Holocaust memorial on the façade of the synagogue.

Mario Finzi was a Jewish magistrate and judge and a talented musician who was born in Bologna in 1913, the son of teachers.

Finzi was a talented musician and pianist, and was already a magistrate and a judge at the age of 24. He began his legal career in Milan in 1938, but he was soon hampered by the Fascist racist laws promulgated that year. He then moved to Paris, where he dedicated himself totally to a life as a musician, working as a pianist on a contract with French Radio.

When World War II broke out, Finzi was back in Italy renewing his French visa and found he could not return to Paris … nor could he resume work as a lawyer or a magistrate in his own home country.

He began teaching at the Jewish school in Bologna, and in 1940-1943 he was active in a Jewish organisation assisting Jewish refugees in Italy. Soon he was directly involved in helping hundreds of Jewish orphans from Germany and the Balkans to find shelter, and he was at Venice station to welcome the first train of young refugees from Croatia.

On several occasions, he cycled all the way from Bologna to Venice to visit the children, to play with them and to play the piano for them.

When Nazi Germany occupied Italy after 8 September 1943, Finzi continued in his underground activities helping persecuted Jews, helping to smuggle children into Switzerland, and procuring false Italian identity cards for Poles, Russians, Germans, Hungarians and others.

Finzi was arrested on 31 March 1944. He was on his way to a local hospital to pay for the stay of a sick Jewish boy. At first he was detailed in Bologna in the jail at San Giovanni al Monte and then in the Fossoli concentration camp, before he was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in May 1944.

According to Eliakim Cordoval, a Jew from Rhodes who helped him, Finzi died because of a grave intestinal infection on 22 February 1945, almost a month before the camp was liberated. Another version says Finzi threw himself on the high-tension wire surrounding the camp, leaving behind a message asking his parents for their forgiveness.

His name is kept alive in Bologna today on the pedestrianised street where Bologna’s main synagogue stands.

Mario Finzi’s name is on the Holocaust memorial on the façade of the synagogue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

How Bologna’s Jewish community
has rebuilt itself time and again

The synagogue on Via Mari Finzi … Bologna has an ancient Jewish community (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Two of us had lunch in the historic heart of old Bologna yesterday with Peter Bolot from New Zealand and his wife, the Israeli writer Shifra Horn, from Jerusalem. Later in the day, the Irish Jewish Museum was in contact with me, trying to source images from this blog. They were unusual coincidences on a day I was researching the story of Bologna’s ancient Jewish community.

Last week, archaeologists and the Jewish community here announced that the site of Bologna’s mediaeval Jewish cemetery has been rediscovered, four and a half centuries after its desecration and destruction following the Papal expulsion of Jews in 1569. In all, 408 graves have been found in the largest-known mediaeval Jewish cemetery in Italy.

Although the discoveries were made in 2012-2014, the discovery was only announced on Tuesday last week at a news conference by the Mayor of Bologna Mayor, Virginio Merola, Bologna’s Chief Rabbi, the president of Bologna’s Jewish community and other officials.

The cemetery was discovered during the excavation of a site earmarked for a new housing project. The newly-found graves include women, men and children. Some had been buried with ornaments made of gold, silver, bronze, hard stones and amber, the superintendent said.

The area, which is near Via Orfeo, was used as a Jewish cemetery from the 1390s, but it was destroyed in 1569 after Pope Pius V banished Jews from everywhere in the papal territories except Rome and Ancona.

The cemetery was handed over to the nuns of the nearby convent of Saint Peter the Martyr, who were told ‘to dig up and send, wherever they want, the bodies, bones and remains of the dead: to demolish, or convert to other forms, the graves built by the Jews, including those made for living people: to remove completely, or scrape off the inscriptions or epitaphs carved in the marble.’

The 408 graves uncovered recently were perfectly aligned in parallel rows in an east-west direction. No trace of tombstones been found, and 150 graves showed clear signs of deliberate desecration. However, four ornate Jewish gravestones beautiful sculpted Renaissance lettering and on display in Bologna’s Civic Mediaeval Museum are believed to have come from this cemetery.

Rabbi Alberto Sermoneta has said the recovered remains needed to be given a dignified burial.

The piazza in front of the Basilica of Saint Stephen … here Saint Ambrose of Milan records the first Jewish presence in Bologna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

The first Jewish presence in Bologna is recorded by Saint Ambrose of Milan, when he came to Bologna in the late fourth century to move the bodies of two Christian proto-martyrs, Saint Vitalis and Saint Agricola, to the Basilica of Saint Stephen. They were exhumed from the Jewish cemetery, or the so-called Campus Judeorum.

Later, local legends say, a hypothetical Jaqob Calderisi from Castel Tedaldo lived in in a house between what is now via Caldarese and via Castel Tialto. In the second half of the 1300s, a large number of Jewish immigrants arrived in Bologna, and by the end of the 14th century the city had bustling Jewish population.

As Bologna experienced growth and development, many of specialised Jewish craftsmen worked on important city monuments, including the Loggia dei Mercanti, the Basilica of Saint Petronius, and the churches of Saint Stephen, Saint Francis and Saint John, built in the Gothic style.

These Jews lived in peace in the city for two centuries. They settled mainly in the area located between the ancient Roman settlement, which goes from the Two Towers up to Piazza Malpighi, and the ancient Lombard camp which also starts at the Two Towers and runs in a semicircle towards the churches of Saint John on the Mount, Saint Stephen, Saint Vitalis and Saint Donatus.

The area was eventually renamed via de’ Giudei or Jews’ Street. The first immigrant, Gaio Finzi, Judeus de Roma, practiced as a strazzarolo” or a ‘rag-man.’ Many Jews in Bologna formed their own guild called Giudei, ‘The Jews’, but officially known as the Corporazione di Drappieri-Strazzaroli-Pegolotti-Vaganti e Giudei, the Guild of the Drapers, Ragmen, Upholsterers, Wanderers and Jews. Its headquarters were in the Palazzo degli Strazzaroli, known today as the Case Malaguti.

The guild contributed to the economic and cultural development of Bologna, guild members built three synagogues and laid out a cemetery, and eight more synagogues were built in the nearby villages.

Two of the city synagogues were in Via San Vitale and the third was on via Santo Stefano. One of the two in Via San Vitale was called La Grande or the Great Synagogue.

The Jewish community had a very close relationship with the University of Bologna. Jewish students received degrees in medicine and Jewish professors taught there. The university adopted texts written by Jews, including Maimonides, and Jewish scholars translated medical texts from Arabic into Hebrew and Latin, and from Latin into Hebrew and Arabic.

Bologna had respected Talmudic academies, important Torah teachers, and was the source of many printed Jewish religious books. The world’s first edition of the Book of Psalms printed in incunabulum, as well as ritual prayer book, and a collection of 16th century books are preserved in the library at the University of Bologna.

Jacov Mantino was called to teach medicine by Pope Clement VII, and another professor, who chose to remain anonymous because he was a Jew, was called to teach Hebrew literature. Famous rabbis, such as Obadia Sforno, Azarià de Rossi, and Samuele Archivolti settled in Bologna and contributed to developing local Jewish culture.

This ‘Golden Age’ came to an end at the Counter-Reformation, when the first Italian ‘Grand Inquisitor’ became Pope in 1555. The Jews were ordered to be locked up in what was called the Serraglio (‘Enclosure’) or Chiuso degli Ebrei (Pen for the Jews), later known as the ghetto.

It took about 11 years from the publication of the Papal bull for all the Jews of Bologna to move into the ‘Jewish cage.’ The creation of the ghetto met with resistance, and many other families were forced to relocate. Many Christians, for example, were reluctant to abandon their homes in the city, were forced to rent them to Jews.

Two large streets ran through the ghetto – Strada San Donato, today’s Via Zamboni, and Via Cavaliera, today’s Via Oberdan – and four large gates served as entrance and exit points. The entire perimeter of the ghetto has been the subject of recent conservation work.

Free movement to and from the ‘enclosure’ was forbidden in 1567, and by 1569 only one synagogue remained in Bologna’s ghetto, in Via dell’Inferno, at what is now No 16. That year, the Jews were expelled from the city.

When they were allowed back in again by Pope Sixtus V in 1586, they did not go back to the ghetto, and in 1597 Pope Clement VIII expelled them for good with the following decree: De Iudeis ex universo Statu Ecclesiastico expellendis, Roma, Avinione et Ancona exceptis (‘On the Jews, who must be expelled from the entire Papal State, with the exception of the cities of Rome, Avignon and Ancona’). The decree was nailed to the doors of the Basilicas of Saint Peter and of Saint John Lateran in Rome on 13 March 1593.

The synagogue on Via Mario Finzi, a pedestrianised street, is in the heart of Bologna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Jews returned to Bologna two centuries later, following the French Revolution. They stayed on after Napoleon’s defeat, when city fell under control of the Papal States.

In 1858, a housemaid working for a Jewish family claimed she had secretly baptized a six-year-old Jewish boy named Edgardo Mortara. The Inquisitor of the Holy Office then sent his armed guards to the family home to remove the child and give him a Catholic upbringing. The Mortara family incident moved the people of Bologna, and changed public opinion, significantly damaging the Pope’s power in Bologna.

With the Unification of Italy, Jews acquired full human rights, and migrated to Bologna from other parts of Italy. From 1830 to 1930, the city’s population rose from about 100,000 to about 400,000 and its Jewish population at the same time rose from about 100 to about 900. A new synagogue, built in 1874-1877 on a plan by Guido Lisi, was dedicated on the evening before vigil of Shavu’ot in 1877.

As the Jewish community continued to grow, the synagogue became too small and Attilio Muggia was commissioned to design a new synagogue. This building was designed in the Art-Nouveau style with a pavilion vaulted roof, and was dedicated in 1928.

The building stood on Vicolo Tintinaga, now known as Via Mario Finzi. It was destroyed 15 years later in an air raid on the city in 1943. After World War II, the synagogue was rebuilt by Guido Muggia and dedicated in 1953. For the first time, the façade – albeit on a side street – was visible to the public. But for security reasons, the entrance to the synagogue is through the Community Centre at the back.

The street is named after Mario Finzi (1913-1945), a Jewish magistrate and judge and a hero of the resistance in Bologna. But it is worth telling his story in another posting later today.

The synagogue on Via Mario Finzi was rebuilt in 1953, ten years after it was destroyed in World War II (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Thursday, 16 November 2017

A day visiting the
Byzantine treasures
and churches in Ravenna

Mosaics in the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Professor Judith Herrin of King’s College, London, is one of the greatest Byzantine scholars today. In one of her books, Byzantium: the Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire, she recalls how the mosaics in Ravenna were her ‘first and most exciting introduction to Byzantine art.’

Her mother had seen an exhibition on the Ravenna mosaics and was keen to see the originals, while she was learning Italian at school. They both agreed that Ravenna should be the focus of a summer holiday. They rented a Fiat Cinquecento in Milan, and off they headed to Ravenna to see the mosaic panels that commemorate Justinian and Theodora.

It was only later that Judith Herrin wondered why portraits of rulers of Byzantium who never went to Ravenna flanked the approach to the altar in the church of San Vitale. For her, that journey from Milan to Ravenna was the beginning of the path to becoming the acclaimed Byzantine scholar she is today.

Earlier this week [15 November 2017], two of us set off, not by car but by train, and not from Milan but from Bologna, to see Ravenna, those Byzantine mosaics and some of its eight Unesco World Heritage Sites.

Ravenna was the capital of the Western Roman Empire from 402 until that empire collapsed in 476. It then the capital of the Ostrogothic Kingdom until it was re-conquered in 540 by the Byzantine Empire. Later, the city was the centre of the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna until the invasion of the Lombards in 751, and it then became the seat of the Kingdom of the Lombards.

The Romans ignored Ravenna during their conquest of the Po Delta, and it was not until 89 BC that it was incorporated into the Roman political system. It was here, then, that Julius Caesar gathered his forces in 49 BC before crossing the Rubicon.

Inside the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Today the city is landlocked, but Ravenna was an important Adriatic seaport until the early Middle Ages, and greatly prospered under Roman rule. In the year 402, Emperor Honorius transferred the capital of the Western Roman Empire from Milan to Ravenna, which was easy to defend because it was surrounded by swamps and marshes yet had good connections by sea to the Eastern Roman Empire.

However, Alaric and the Visigoths bypassed Ravenna in 409 and went on to sack Rome in 410, taking Galla Placidia, the daughter of Emperor Theodosius I, as a hostage.

When Galla Placidia eventually returned to Ravenna with her son, Emperor Valentinian III, and with the support of her nephew Theodosius II, Ravenna enjoyed a period of peace.

In that time, Ravenna gained some of its most famous monuments, including the Baptistry, the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia – although she is not actually buried there – and the Church of Saint John the Evangelist.

After the collapse of Roman authority in the west, the Eastern Emperor Zeno sent the Theoderic the Great to retake the Italian peninsula. Theoderic took Ravenna in 493 and Ravenna became the capital of the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy.

The fifth century mosaic of the Baptism of Christ in the Neonian Baptistry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Theoderic also built splendid buildings in and around Ravenna, including his palace church, Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, an Arian cathedral, now Santo Spirito, a Baptistry, and his own Mausoleum outside the city walls.

Theoderic was an Arian, but he co-existed peacefully with the largely Orthodox people of Ravenna, and their bishops built more spending church buildings, including the Capella Arcivescovile. When a mob burned down the synagogues of Ravenna in 519, Theoderic ordered the city to rebuild them at its own expense.

Theoderic died in 526 and in 540 the Byzantine Empire recaptured Ravenna, which became the seat of Byzantine government in Italy. Ravenna’s bishops embarked on a new building programme that included the Basilica of San Vitale and the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe.

Under Byzantine rule, the Archbishop of Ravenna enjoyed autonomy from Rome, and held the second place in Italy after the Pope. But Byzantine rule came to an end in Ravenna in 751 when it was captured by the Lombards. Ravenna gradually came under the direct authority of the Popes. Pope Adrian I allowed Charlemagne to take away anything from Ravenna that he liked, and an unknown number of columns, mosaics, statues and other items were pillaged and taken to Aachen.

In the 14th century, Dante came to live in Ravenna in 1318, and the city is mentioned in Canto V in Dante’s Inferno. When Dante died in 1321, on his way back to Ravenna from a diplomatic mission in Venice, he was buried in Ravenna at the Church of San Pier Maggiore, now known as San Francesco.

Apart from another short occupation by Venice (1527-1529), Ravenna was part of the Papal States until 1796, when it was annexed by the French. It returned to the Papal States in 1814.

Lord Byron lived in Ravenna from 1819 to 1821, when he worked on Don Juan and wrote his Ravenna Diary.

Ravenna became part of the modern state of Italy in 1861. Surprisingly, the city suffered very little damage during World War II.

In all, eight early Christian monuments and buildings in Ravenna are listed by Unesco as World Heritage sites: the Orthodox Baptistry or called Baptistry of Neon; the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia; the Arian Baptistry; the Archiepiscopal Chapel; the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo; the Mausoleum of Theoderic; the Basilica of San Vitale; and the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe.

In just one day, I managed to visit many of these this week, as well as the church of Saint John the Evangelist, which was built in the fifth century by Galla Placidia and was restored after the World War II bombings; the tomb of Dante; and the Palace of Theoderic, which was, in fact the entrance to the former church of San Salvatore.

On each occasion, the visit was overpowering and left me in awe and wonder. But Ravenna is worth a fuller account at a later stage.

The visit of the Magi in the sixth century Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The joys and tears
evoked by travelling
by train in Bologna

Travelling through Bologna Centrale … clean, efficient and welcoming (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Bologna is one of the cleanest, most elegant and most efficient cities I have visited in Italy. The public transport is easy to understand and is cheap, compared with travel in either Ireland or Britain. The train fare from Bologna to Ravenna is only €7.35, still cheaper than the bus fare from Askeaton to Limerick or the train fare from Lichfield to Birmingham.

And on the return journey late yesterday [15 November 2017], there were profuse apologies at regular intervals that the train was running late, first by nine minutes, and then by 12 minutes.

So often, when I have experienced delays like this on public transport in Ireland or England, there is neither an explanation nor an apology.

Part of the reading I have taken with me this week is John Hooper’s new book The Italians (London: Penguin, 2016). He expresses surprise in the way Bologna’s public transport system is 20 years ahead of Rome, but goes on explain how this reflects the innate character of Bologna.

We moved through Bologna Centrale, on the northern edge of the city centre, with efficiency and with courtesy. Yet this is the fifth-busiest station in Italy.

A fissure remembers the bombing on 2 August 1980 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The new, three-level Bologna Centrale station was designed in July 2008 by an architectural consortium of Andrea Maffei, Arata Isozaki, Ove Arup and M + T & Partners. But the first Bologna Centrale station was built in 1859, and a second station was built 12 years later on the same site.

Until the 1940s, it was topped by a clock tower with marble pillars, but the tower was damaged by allied bombings in World War II and not rebuilt.

But the station was destroyed on 2 August 1980 at 10.25 a.m., when an improvised explosive device made with 20 kg of a TNT mixture exploded, killing 85 people and injuring more than 200 others.

At the time, the station was crammed full of people, and the blast was heard for miles. The roof of the waiting room collapsed onto passengers, which greatly increased the total number murdered. The youngest victim, Angela Fresu, was 3; the oldest, Antonio Montanari, was 86.

At first, the Italian Prime Minister, Francesco Cossiga, and his government said the explosion had been caused by the explosion of an old boiler located in the basement of the station. But the Italian government soon accused neo-fascist militant groups for the attack, although no group has ever accepted responsibility.

A monument near Piazza Maggiore to the victims of Fascist terrorism in Bologna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The attack was probably carried out by a small neo-fascist group, Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari (NAR). The Italian press agency Ansa received a telephone call from someone claiming to represent NAR and claiming responsibility. But the call later proved to be fake, and was made from the Florence office of SISMI, the Italian Military Secret Service. Later, Federigo Manucci Benincasa, the director of SISMI in Florence, was charged with the obstruction of justice.

In the days that followed, Piazza Maggiore in the city centre hosted large-scale demonstrations. The funerals took place in the Basilica of San Petronio on 6 August. President Sandro Pertini said in tears: ‘I have no words, we are facing the most criminal enterprise that has ever taken place in Italy.’

The Bologna massacre is the fourth deadliest terrestrial terrorist attack in Western Europe – after the Nice attack in 2016, the Paris attacks in 2015, and the Madrid train bombings in 2004.

The area in the station where the bomb exploded has been rebuilt. But the original floor tile pierced by the explosion has been left in place and a deep crack, closed by a glass panel, has been made in the reconstructed main wall. In a second memorial, the station clock that stopped at 10.25 a.m., has been repaired but permanently set at the time of the explosion.

The clock has stopped at 10.25 a.m. in Bologna Centrale (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

How San Petronio in Bologna became
the world’s tenth largest church

The Basilica of San Petronio dominates the the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I am staying just two or three minutes’ walk from the Piazza Maggiore in the heart of Bologna, where the Basilica of San Petronio dominates the square and is the most imposing and most important church in this city.

This is the tenth-largest church in the world and the largest church built of bricks. It is 132 metres long and 66 metres wide; inside, the vault reaches a height of 45 metres, outside the building is 51 metres high at its façade.

The church is named in honour of Bologna’s patron saint, San Petronio, who was the eighth Bishop of Bologna from 431 to 450. But Building the basilica was a communal project for the people of Bologna, and not of the bishops or the church, and it became a symbol of communal power in Bologna.

Following a council decree issued in 1388, the town council commissioned Antonio di Vincenzo to build a Gothic cathedral, and the foundation stone was laid on 7 June 1390.

From the beginning, the church was planned on monumental scale. To make way for the project, the Curia of Sancti Ambrosini was demolished, along with many other fine buildings, including at least eight churches and towers.

When the architect died, his original drawings were lost and proved difficult to reconstruct his model, so that later plans changed his former proportions.

Building work continued for several centuries. After the first version of the façade was completed, work began on the first pair of side chapels in 1393, yet this series of side chapels was not completed until 1479.

Inside the Basilica of San Petronio, the tenth largest church in the world (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Arduino degli Arriguzzi proposed a revised plan for the church in 1514. This envisaged a church in the form of a Latin cross and that would be larger even than Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. However, local tradition says, this ambitious project was quashed by Pope Pius IV. Ever since, the facing of the main façade remains unfinished. Although many architects were commissioned to finish the façade, none succeeded in the task.

Inside, the basilica has 22 chapels, and the treasures include a Madonna with Saints by Lorenzo Costa the Younger, a Pietà by Amico Aspertini, the frescoed walls and stained-glass windows.

In 1530. Pope Clement VII crowned the Emperor Charles V in the Chapel of San Abbondio. Later that century, Pope Clement VIII said Mass in one of the side chapels, and then went out barefooted into the square to bless the people of Bologna.

Giovanni da Modena’s fresco of the Last Judgment was inspired by Dante’s descriptions (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The best-known and most splendid side chapel is the Chapel of the Magi, decorated with frescoes by Giovanni da Modena, showing the journey and return of the Magi, and the Last Judgment.

This chapel of the Magi once belonged to the Bolognini family. The triptych wooden altar with 27 figures was carved and painted by Jacopo di Paolo. The walls were decorated by Giovanni di Pietro Falloppi and Giovanni da Modena with a cycle depicting Episodes in the life of San Petronio (north side), the Journey and Return of the Three Magi (east side), and the Last Judgment, the Coronation of the Virgin Mary and Heaven and Hell, inspired by Dante’s descriptions and with a gigantic figure of Lucifer.

The 15th century crucifix hanging above the High Altar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The vaulting and central nave were decorated by Girolamo Rainaldi, who completed this work in 1646-1658. Above the high altar, the crucifix hanging from the ciborium dates from the 15th century. In the right nave, in the niche under the organ, is the Deposition of Christ, by Vincenzo Onorfi, with seven terracotta figures.

The church also has a marking in the form of a meridian line inlaid in the paving of the north aisle in 1655. It was calculated and designed by the astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, who was teaching astronomy at the University of Bologna.

A meridian line does not indicate the time, but instead the day of the year and meridian lines were also used to determine accurately the length of the solar year. At 66.8 metres, it is one of the largest astronomical instruments in the world.

Its length corresponds to the 600000th part of the earth meridian. In 1775, it was restored by the astronomer Eustachio Manfredi, who substituted an iron line with a brass one.

Later, Elisa Bonaparte, Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister, was buried here.

The church was not transferred from the city to the Diocese of Bologna until 1929, and the basilica was finally consecrated in 1954. In 2000, the relics of San Petronio were moved to the church the Church of Santo Stefano, where they had been held for centuries.

The altar in the Chapel of Saint Bridget (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

A warrior cardinal who gave his name
to a college and hotel in Bologna

Cardinal Gil Álvarez Carrillo de Albornoz … his red hat gives the Al Cappello Rosso Hotel in Bologna its name

Patrick Comerford

The red hat of a 14th century Spanish cardinal gave its name to the Al Cappello Rosso Hotel, where I am staying in Bologna this week. The hat in question belonged to Cardinal Gil Álvarez Carrillo de Albornoz (1310-1367), who is known in Italian as Cardinal Egidio Albornoz.

Cardinal Albornoz was born at Carrascosa del Campo in the early 14th century. He was the son of Gil Állvarez de Albornoz and of Doña Teresa de Luna. His father was a descendant of King Alfonso V of Leon, his mother belonged to the royal house of Aragon, while his uncle, Jimeno de Luna, was Archbishop of Toledo.

He was educated at Zaragoza, while his uncle was the Bishop of Zaragoza, and later he studied law in Toulouse.

The power and influence of his family secured him an early career in Church and State. While he was still in his 20s, he was appointed Archdeacon of Calatrava and to the King’s Council while young.

In 1338, when he was still only 28, he succeeded his uncle as Archbishop of Toledo through the patronage of King Alfonso XI of Castile. Two years later, at the battle of Rio Salado in 1340, he successfully fought against a Muslim invading force from Morocco, and at the capture of Algeciras in 1344 he commanded an armed force he had been raised in his diocese.

Meanwhile, as Archbishop of Toledo he convened two reform synods, one at Toledo in 1339, the other at Alcalá in 1347.

At the same time, he was advancing in his diplomatic career, and in 1343 he was sent to Pope Clement VI at Avignon in to negotiate a grant of a tax on the revenues of the Church for the Crusade. But Archbishop Albornoz left Spain when King Alfonso XI died in 1350, and never returned. It was said that he was fleeing King Pedro ‘the Cruel’ of Castile.

In the courtyard of the Church of San Clemente in Rome … Albornoz became the cardinal-priest of San Clemente in 1350 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

His military and diplomatic ability soon came to the attention of the Pope, who made him the cardinal-priest of San Clemente in Rome in December 1350, and he then resigned as Archbishop of Toledo.

Two years later, after the election of Pope Innocent VI in December 1352, he was appointed grand penitentiary and became known as the ‘Angel of Peace,’ a title loaded with irony, given his subsequent future military campaigns in the Papal States.

In 1353, Innocent VI sent Albornoz from Avignon as his legate to Italy, with the mission to restore papal authority in the states of the Church. He arrived in Italy with a small mercenary army, and immediately received support from Archbishop Giovanni Visconti of Milan, along with the Archbishops of Pisa, Florence and Siena. At the Battle of Viterbo on 10 March 1354, he defeated Giovanni di Vico, who had usurped much of the Papal territories in the Latium and Umbria.

Albornoz then moved on to the Marche and Romagna, forcing more cities, including Ravenna and Ancona, to surrender to his military might and forcing once-powerful families to submit to the Pope. At the end of 1356, Albornoz was appointed Bishop of Sabina.

Before being recalled to Avignon in 1357, Albornoz issued the Constitutiones Sanctæ Matris Ecclesiæ, generally known as the ‘Egidian Constitutions.’ They regulated all matters in the Papal States and remained in force until 1816.

On his return to Avignon, Albornoz was feted as Pater Ecclesiæ, but he soon returned to his campaigns in Italy. In this second campaign, he missed only Bologna to complete his rebuilding of the Papal States. When Bologna was attacked by Bernabò Visconti of Milan, the city’s ruler, Giovanni d’Olleggio, decided to surrender Bologna to Albornoz.

The red hat of Cardinal Gil Álvarez Carrillo de Albornoz gives the Al Cappello Rosso Hotel in Bologna its name (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

When Pope Innocent VI died in 1362, it is said, Albornoz turned down an offer of being elected to the papacy, and Urban V was elected instead. Once again, Albornoz returned to his military campaign against Visconti.

When all attacks failed, Pope Urban proclaimed a crusade against Visconti, but the eventual treaty was highly favourable to Visconti.

The military career of Albornoz ushered in a decade of warfare and atrocity that culminated in the massacre of Cesena. The town was faithful to the Papal cause but the entire population was executed by the Papal forces while paving the way of Urban V to Rome in 1367.

However, despite all his military campaigns, Albornoz achieved little to secure the submission of Italy to the Papacy. Instead, he was responsible for spreading bloodshed and strife throughout Italy. Yet, as a mark of gratitude, the pope appointed him the Papal Legate at Bologna in 1367.

Albornoz died at Viterbo 650 years ago, on 23 August 1367, and was buried in the Church of Saint Francis in Assisi. Four years later, his body was taken back to Toledo, where King Henry of Castile had him buried with full royal honours.

In his will, Albornoz also provided for the foundation of the College of Saint Clement in Bologna (Collegium Albornotianum) for 24 students from Castille, Aragon and Portugal, with two chaplains.

Today, the Collegio di Spagna (Royal Spanish College or Royal College of Spain in Bologna, officially Real Colegio Mayor de San Clemente de los Españoles) is a college for Spanish students at the University of Bologna. Arguably, it is the oldest institution carrying the name Spanish outside of Spain, predating the union of the crowns that led to the formation of the Kingdom of Spain.

The red hat of Cardinal Albornoz at night at the Al Cappello Rosso Hotel in Bologna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Staying in the centre of
Bologna for a few days

The Piazza Maggiore in Bologna ... I am staying in Bologna for a few days this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I am staying in Bologna for a few days this week, celebrating some important family milestones. I arrived here in the early afternoon on a Ryanair flight from Dublin, and I am staying until Saturday morning at the Al Cappello Rosso Hotel.

I have been in Italy about ten or a dozen times in the past, and this is my second time this year, having spent a week in Rome in January.

The Al Cappello Rosso Hotel was built in 1375, making it one of the oldest hotels in Bologna. I am in the cultural and historical heart of in Bologna, just 50 metres from the Piazza Maggiore, and with wonderful views of the old city. After arriving this afternoon, I went for a stroll in the Piazza Maggiore and through the colonnaded arcades, had lunch in Bella Vita on Via Clavature, viewed the Two Towers and and the Palazzo Re Enzo, and visited the Basilica dei Bartolomeo e Gaetano the Basilica of San Petronio,

The hotel is in the central but secluded Via Fusari and boasts an interesting history. The first documents trace this hotel back to 1375, and it welcomed the first ‘foreigners’ passing through the city in the 14th century.

When the tavern was being built, the small houses in Via de’ Fusari were pulled down.

It is said that when building work began on Bologna’s famous Basilica of Saint Petronio in the 14th century, Cardinal Albornoz assigned the hotel the unusual sign of a cardinal’s hat – cappello means ‘hat.’ The sign was meant to mark the lodging reserved for the architects and artists building the basilica.

The church was left uncompleted in the 15th century in order not to exceed the size of Saint Peter’s in Rome. According to tradition, Pope Pius IV halted the majestic project. However, it is still the tenth largest church in the world, he largest church built of bricks.

Later, the tavern was owned by the Cardinal Nicolò Albergati (1373-1443), Bishop of Bologna from 1417, to ensure his protection to the Jews passing through Bologna. They were allowed to stay in the town for only three days at a time and only at the Capel Rosso, as at the time it stood outside the city walls, then in the Piazza Maggiore.

Until the mid-15th century, the so-called Ufficio delle Bollette, an office charged with keeping an eye on foreigners, innkeepers and prostitutes, was just a few steps from the hotel.

The Al Cappello Rosso Hotel was built in 1375 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

In 1464, the hotel was bought by Andrea Barbozza, a professor of law at the University of Bologna. An aristocrat from Palermo, he moved to Bologna and established a family dynasty that attained senatorial rank. He bought the hotel for 1,706 picchioni or pegioni, large silver coins minted by the Dukes of Milan.

In the deed by notary Giacomo Mangini, the building is described as a house occupied by the tavern ‘of the hat’ and three shops. Two of these shops were destroyed by a fire in 1497 that also damaged the adjoining apothecary’s shop or spezieria del Dottore. Better known as spezieria del Mondino, it was one of the first opened in Bologna and belonged to the family of the renowned doctor, Mondino de’ Liuzzi, one of the fathers of anatomy.

In 1467, Andrea Barbazza let the hotel to an innkeeper name Bertuccini at an annual rent of 110 Bolognese lire.

In the proclamations on taverns in the 16th and 17th centuries, Jews passing through Bologna were ordered to stay only at the Capel Rosso, and for no longer than three days.

In the 17th century, the Capel Rosso was described as the inn where one could get the best sleep in Bologna.

GM Mitelli, an historian from Bologna, mentions the Capel Rosso in 1752, describing it as a tavern that offers its customers ‘delicious roast partridges, well larded and served with toasts.’ The hotel is one of only two taverns and inns named by Mitelli in 1752 that still survive.

The hotel underwent a major extension in 1770 when its manager Zecchi joined it to a house at the back.

In the second half of the 19th century, the hotel was run by Alfonso Cappelli, and he and his son completely renovated the place.

Advertising in the late 19th and early 20th century boasts this ‘ancient and renowned hotel-restaurant Cappello’ offers guests ‘elegant rooms from 1.50 lire, with electric light, telephone, radiators, toilets and showers’ – all modern comforts at the time. The hotel also had a banqueting hall, home cooking, wines from Romagna, Tuscany and Piedmont, and ‘the real lambrusco from Sorbara,’ all at ‘moderate prices.’

The hotel was most recently renovated in 2001. It seems to be an ideal place to begin exploring the monuments, markets, shops, mediaeval streets and hidden corners of Bologna on foot.

The Al Cappello Rosso Hotel is an ideal place to start exploring Bologna on foot (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)