Monday, 25 February 2008

Exotic Basilicas and Exotic Popes

I was asked after what I wrote yesterday why I should be interested in Blessed Pius IX. I suppose there are many reasons - his witness, his sufferings, his important work for the First Vatican Council, not to mention his unique sense of humour. Two other important reasons spring to mind. Firstly, he was the Pope who established the North American College here in Rome at what is now known as the Casa Santa Maria - where I am presently living: something for which I am very grateful! Secondly, he restored the hierarchy to England and Wales in 1850: part of this restoration included the establishment of my own Diocese of Northampton. The move created great excitement and there was a strong desire for the "conversion of England" - something we still await but also still long for. There was a fair amount of interaction bewteen Rome and the fledgling Dioceses. One of the fruits of this was apparently that Provost Husenbeth of Northampton managed to secure two peculiar priviledges for the Chapter of Canons in Northampton: firstly, each Canon could wear a ring; secondly, the mozetta worn by the Canons would be the same as the Pope's. These concessions were ratified by Pope Benedict XV. The decisions of the two Popes are referenced in our Diocesan Archive. Another eventual fruit of this interaction came during the papacy of Leo XIII when one of the thousand detailed copies of the ikon of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour (Help) was given to the church of Our Lady at Great Billing - and that church was recently made the Diocesan shrine by our present (and twelfth) Bishop of Northampton, the Right Reverend Peter Doyle. The depiction of Pius IX is to be found hanging in the refectory here at the Casa: you can spot the mozetta...

Today was mostly a sunny day and certainly a productive one: a full morning in the library, some more time there this afternoon and evening, and Latin with Fr Foster. At the moment St Hilary's commentary on one of the psalms is taking the form of a deep meditation of Christ's prayer during His Passion - very appropriate for Lent.

This morning the station Mass was held at the Basilica of San Marco, dedicated to the Evangelist, and rebuilt a number of times over the centuries. It still houses a beautiful mosaic in the apse, put together during the reign of Pope Gregory IV (827-844): he can be seen in the mosaic with a square blue nimbus behind his head - a sign that he was alive at the time this was done. The other figures are St Mark the Evangelist, St Felicissimus, Christ, Pope St Mark (who built the first basilica here and to whom it was eventually dedicated in addition to the Evangelist), St Agapitus and St Agnes. Below the figures Christ is depicted as the Lamb of God around whom gather the 12 sheep representing the apostles. Pope St Mark built the basilica over an older oratory - but he had little time to enjoy the fruits of his labour. Consecrated on 18th January 336, he died on 7th October the same year, of natural causes, and he now lies in the Basilica of which he is co-patron.

The Basilica is an exotic mix of styles, with fine 18th century baroque, a 9th century apse and crypt, a 15th century coffered ceiling. Mercifully, the view of the apse mosaic is not blocked by a baldachino as is the case with the church of Santa Prassede. San Marco serves as the national church of the Venetians; one of its titulars was the Patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Albino Luciani: he eventually became Pope John Paul I in 1978 and, like Pope St Mark, had a very short reign of only 33 days, dying too of natural causes.

No comments: