Friday, 13 November 2009

Another visit to Anagni

I have become a kind of tour guide for Anagni for some of the American cousins. A couple of weeks ago I went there with Fr Tim Laboe and Fr Gerry Battersby. We were able to celebrate Mass in the Caetani Chapel of the Cathedral and then went to see the frescoes in the crypt. Once again I was struck by the similarity between the depiction of the death of local bishop-martyr St Magnus and the real events surrounding the martyrdom of St Thomas of Canterbury (Beckett). I have always believed that the artists who painted the frescoes in the early 1200s were using Beckett's grisly death as a template for telling the story of St Magnus.

I asked the lady in charge of admissions if we could at least see the mitre of St Thomas in the Cathedral museum and the reliquary there as well. It musn't have been her best day as she was not so keen to accomodate us - admittedly because the museum had just been renovated and was not yet open to the general public. However, defeat was far from my mind and I spied a young Italian priest in the Cathedral: so I went and introduced myself and the two others to him, laid it on thick about being English and mentioned the mitre in the museum. I find that there are times when if you just hit that right note of positive supplication Italians become incredibly generous. The honey worked and he said he would admit us to the museum.
Then I spied another Italian priest, a little older, who was passing through. I decided that I would apply the same tactics (The Honeypot Ruse) and it turned out that he was a local historian and professor. He led us into the museum with the other priest and we talked a long time. I was of course most chuffed that he confirmed what I had always thought about the frescoes in the crypt (pride and vanity!). However, my next plan was that we should gain admittance into the Beckett Oratory, closed to the general public and situated just off the main frescoed crypt. The Honeypot Ruse was once more successful and we were able to get in. What is remarkable is that the depiction of Becktt in there, though much damaged, dates from ten to twenty years after his death - a near contemporary depiction.
So it was a good day, including lunch at a cheap but good trattoria, and a visit to the Papal Palace there - which involved a re-enactment of the famous slap of Anagni against Boniface VIII in the room where the event took place.

Of course I was forced to play the role of Boniface VIII - not, I am sure, because everyone wants to hit me. It's worth noting that as Cardinal Boniface VIII held a benefice in the area which is currently in my diocese - at Towcester (for non-English types, it is pronounced Toaster). He was also the Pope who declared the first Holy Year in 1300 and below you can see the frescoe of his proclamation of the Jubilee Year which can be still seen in St John Lateran's Basilica in Rome and is attributed to Giotto:

After being struck and probably tortured in Anagni in 1303, Boniface was taken back to Rome, a broken man and he died on 11th October, just over a month after the outrages he endured in his home city of Anagni. A beautiful tomb was built for him at St Peter's Basilica, designed by the great artist Arnolfo di Cambio, whose design inspired the baldachino over the high altar at St John Lateran's. Much of the tomb had to be dismantled at the reconstruction of St Peter's in the 16th to 17th centuries. What remains is still elegant and can be seen in the crypt of St Peter's:

If you want to see Fr Tim's video of our day trip to Anagni, then go to his blog, the link to which you will find over there ------>

1 comment:

Innocent said...

It's not that everyone wants to hit you - just that you have delusions of grandeur!!!!
Nice post.