Friday, 11 January 2008

Happy New Year

Last year ended well: the studies are going fine and Fr Ladaria is pleased with the progress - but there is much more to do!

On Saturday 15th December a group of us when to the town of Anagni, City of Popes. Here four great Popes were born - Alexander III (the friend and staunch supporter of St Thomas of Canterbury), Innocent III, Gregory IX and Boniface VIII. It's one of my favourite places to visit. It's beautifully situated on a hilltop south of Rome, about an hour by train. From the train station (which is in the valley) a bus is taken that drops passengers near one of the gates of the city, that nearest the Cathedral. Fr Avram Brown, Fr Martin Edwards, Fr Larry Kozak, Fr Pat Beidelman were the victims on my tour, but proved to be willing ones.

It was a beautifully sunny day. After an initial coffee we popped in to the old studio, now place of exhibition, of the artist and sculptor Tommaso Gismondi. His work is extensive: he was a deeply religious man. As a seminarian I met him a few times at his studio and it was good this time to meet his daughter who is also a sculptor. She told us that her father only died a few years ago in his late nineties. If you want to find some examples of his work go to

After this we went to the Cathedral, dating from 12th to 13th centuries, and on whose side can be found the imposing effigy of Pope Boniface VIII:

The Cathedral had a marvellous bell tower towering in its front piazza, also restored recently

and on the front on the Cathedral are some very old carvings, two of which are shown below as they are my favourites and remind me of my companions that day:

The Cathedral itself not only has a fine altar with baldachino, cathedra and paschal candlestick all dating to the 12th century

it also has a fine crypt in which can be found some beautifully preserved frescoes from the period, detailing scenes from the Apocalypse, the Old Testament, and the lives of saints. An altar marks the site of the tomb of the martyr and bishop of Anagni St Magno. On the wall behind his altar there is cycle of paintings showing the martyrdom of St Magno in his Cathedral - or is it? If it is, the painters, I think, used the story of St Thomas Beckett's martyrdom as the matrix for telling St Magno's story. In the picture, the saint is killed by having the top of his skull sliced off by a sword - exactly what happened to St Thomas.

The fact that in the Cathedral museum is housed a very old reliquary of St Thomas

and his own mitre

backs up my theory, especially given the presence of Alexander III in the city: there was a strong devotion to Beckett at this time and his death made a lasting impression on the medieval imagination. It's a wonderful place to visit and we were blessed to have the opportunity to see it.

The Cathedral saw the canonisations of a number of important saints: Clare of Assisi, Bernard of Clairvaux and Edward the Confessor.

Later in the day, after a hefty but very cheap lunch, we went to the Papal Palace in Anagni, a short walk from the Cathedral. Here the famous Slap (Schiaffo) of Anagni took place when the soldiers of Philip the Fair of France (a ghastly little man) assaulted Pope Boniface VIII in 1303, a slap which had consequences for the Church for over a hundred years with the ensuing sojourn at Avignon. The people of Anagni drove the French out of time eventually and the tortured Pope was carried back to Rome only to die about a month later due to what had been inflicted upon him.

The last picture shows Fr Avram. He was so hungry he began eating the floor:

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