Saturday, November 25, 2006

Caption Competition

There are a few suggestions for a suitable caption for this image doing the rounds.

Mine is:

'Rowan, I thought we were both against same-sex civil unions!'

Any more suggestions?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Cardinal Numbers

As any number of religious blogs will tell you, today William Cardinal Baum ceases to be a voting member of the College of Cardinals. What makes this event notable is that Baum was the last remaining voting member of the College to be appointed by Pope Paul VI (1963-1978). The only other Pauline appointee who remains under the age of 80 is the present Pontiff, Benedict XVI. As of today, of the 114 Cardinal Electors, 102 were appointed by Pope John Paul II (1978-2005) and 12 were appointed by Pope Benedict XVI (2005-).

Baum was elevated to the College of Cardinals in May 1976. That means he was a voting member of the College for about 30.5 years. That got me thinking about whether this makes him one of the longest serving twentieth century cardinals (in terms of being able to vote in a papal election).

Of course things were complicated a little by Pope Paul's November 1970 Motu Proprio, Ingravescentum aetatem. This stated that as of 1 January 1971 Cardinals who had reached the age of 80 would no longer be able to participate in conclaves.

So then, is Baum the longest-eligible papal voter of the last 100+ years? Actually, no; there are a number of other cardinals who were eligible to vote for longer than Baum's 30.5 years. These include Cardinal Landázuri Ricketts of Lima (31 years), Cardinal Léger of Montréal (31 years), Cardinal Rugambwa of Dar-es-Salaam (32 years), Cardinal Siri of Genoa (33 years), Cardinal Tisserant, a curial official (33 years) and Cardinal Liénart of Lille (40.5 years).

However the winner by a nose is Cardinal Manuel Gonçalves Cerejeira, Patriarch of Lisbon. Elevated to the College of Cardinals at the age of 41 by Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) in 1929 (incidentally during the same Consistory that saw the elevation of a certain Eugenio Pacelli), Cerejeira was only relieved of his right to vote in a papal election by the implementation of Ingravescentum aetatem in January 1971, just over 41 years later. Cardinal Cerejeira died in August 1977 at the age of 88.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

San Pietro in Vaticano

Today, 18 November, is the feast day of the dedication of two of Rome's great basilicas, San Pietro in Vaticano and San Paolo fuori le Mura.

The current St Peter's is, of course, the second great church on that site. The original Constantinian basilica was dedicated by Pope Sylvester I on 18 November 326. This building survived until the papacy of Julius II who laid the foundation stone of a new basilica in 1506. Julius (he of the Sistine Chapel ceiling) envisaged a great church at the centre of which would stand his tomb. In the event the parts of his tomb that were completed (including Michelangelo's Moses) were located in the chuch of San Pietro in Vincoli (Julius' titular when he was plain old Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere) although Julius himself is buried, somewhat ironically, in an almost unmarked grave in St Peter's (the location of the tomb is currently marked by a simple plaque in the floor of St Peter's in front of the monument to Pope Clement X).

The building of the great basilica took well over a century, being dedicated - again on 18 November - in 1626 by Pope Urban VIII. It was under Urban's patronage that Gian Lorenzo Bernini completed some of his greatest masterpieces including the baldacchino which towers over the papal altar in St Peter's. Much of the bronze that makes up this creation is rumoured to have come from the Pantheon. This resulted in the emergence of the famous quote "Quod non fecerunt Barbari, fecerunt Barberini" ("What the barbarians didn't do, the barberini (Urban's family name)did").

The current St Paul's Basilica is of relatively recent origin despite its ancient basilical appearance. The original church was burnt down in 1823. With worldwide donations it was rebuilt on the same foundations and dedicated by Pope Pius IX in 1854.

Monday, November 13, 2006


Hooray, I've finally had a comment - more than one indeed. I thought that I was wasting my time in writing this blog. Of course I'm under no illusions that anyone should read it, but it's nice to see someone is - at least occasionally.

Who's the reader? None other than the great Joee Blogs

More soon!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Vote Facts!

Fr Guy Selvester makes an excellent point in his latest posting on his erudite blog, Shouts in the Piazza.

In the context of the US mid-term elections, Fr Selvester is ruminating about the importance of each and every vote; he suggests - correctly - that “decisions are made by people who show up.”

To support the argument that he is making, Fr Selvester states that “President Hayes was elected by one vote” and adds that “In a most dramatic example, Hitler took democratic control of the Nazi Party in just one vote.”

While supporting the veracity of the points he makes, I’m not too sure that the two examples Fr Selvester uses are the most appropriate ones that he could have chosen.

Rutherford B Hayes did indeed win the 1876 Presidential Election by one vote; however it was one Electoral College vote and not one popularly cast ballot, which is a very different thing. Indeed to further undermine Fr Selvester’s argument I might add that Hayes’ Democratic opponent, Samuel J Tilden, received about 250,000 more popularly cast votes than Hayes. As a result Hayes became known as “Rutherfraud”!

So, a quarter of a million more people showed up for Tilden than for Hayes, but their votes didn’t count.

On 26 July 1921 Hitler was appointed Chairman of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. This appointment was not the result of a democratic vote, or indeed any vote. Instead it was a panicked reaction of the Party’s existing leadership to Hitler’s petulant resignation from the Party over its refusal to listen to his opposition to a planned merger with the DSP. Fearing that the Party would collapse without the influence of its most gifted member, the leadership capitulated and gave in to his demand to be appointed Chairman with dictatorial powers.

I’m not too sure if there were very many votes within the Nazi Party that could be described, even loosely, as “democratic”.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Three terms, or more?

On 5 November 1940 Franklin Delano Roosevelt was re-elected President of the United States. Nothing remarkable there you might say; there were many Presidents who were re-elected before FDR and there have been quite a few since. What made this event remarkable was that Roosevelt was the first man elected to the Presidency for a third term.

There was, at that stage, no Constitutional barrier to anyone serving a third term as President. There was, however, an unwritten convention that as George Washington had served only two terms, so too should his successors. Roosevelt's success in 1940 and his further re-election in 1944 turned this convention on its head.

However it has not happened since. The members of the post-war US Congress seemed concerned that there now existed the possibility of a President being re-elected continually and thus becoming what might be described as a benevolent dictator. To prevent this an amendment to the Constitution was proposed and by 1951 the requisite number of states had ratified what became the Twenty-Second Amendment. This stated that "No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Papal Tombs

Earlier on this evening Pope Benedict XVI descended to the Grottoes beneath St Peter's Basilica to pray for those interred there and elsewhere in the Basilica, most of whom preceeded him as Pope.

However not all of those buried in the Basilica were the successors of St Peter. The great church also holds the tombs of a diverse range of people including members of Europe's royalty. Chief amongst these are two Queens - Charlotte of Cyprus and Christina of Sweden - the Emperor Otto II and a number of the descendants the last Stuart King of Great Britain, James II, who was deposed in 1688.

Of course most of those interred in St Peter's are clergymen. Notable amongst those who were not popes is Cardinal Raphael Merry del Val, who served as Secretary of State to Pope St Pius X. The Cardinal requested that he be buried close to his master and for some years his request was fulfilled until Pius' remains were relocated to the Presentation Chapel in the main basilica at the time of his canonisation in 1954.

Interesting also is the tomb of Monsignor Ludwig Kaas who served as a member of the Reichstag during the period of the Weimar Republic and who, as President of the Catholic Centre Party (Zentrum), was instrumental in supporting the passage of the March 1933 Enabling Act which gave the German Government (now headed by Adolf Hitler) the power to pass laws without the need for majority support in the Reichstag for four years.

Yet most visitors are drawn to the papal tombs. The basilica contains the tombs of all of the popes of what might be described as the modern period (1800-) except those of Pius IX, who is buried (properly, exposed in a glass altar) in the Basilica of St Lawrence outside the Walls and Leo XIII, who is buried in the Patriarchal Lateran Basilica which is the Cathedral Church of the Bishop of Rome. Of most interest nowadays seem to be the tombs of John Paul II and John XXIII. John Paul II's resting place is in the same location as John XXIII's originally, except that the former is buried in the earth while the latter's remains were housed within a sarcophagus. A few months after his beatification in 2000, John XXIII's remains were rehoused in a new glass-fronted sarcophagus under the Altar of St Jerome in the main Basilica.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Michaelangelo's Masterpiece (One of them anyway!)

On this day in 1512 the Roman public got its first glance at the completed ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The Chapel itself is named after Pope Sixtus IV (Pope 1471-1484) and is best known, apart from its paintings, as the setting for recent papal elections (all those since the election of Pope Leo XIII in 1878).

Initially the vault was painted blue and decorated with golden stars. The walls received much better treatment, being covered in works by such luminaries as Perugino, Botticelli and Ghirlandaio. Then, in 1508, Pope Julius II - a nephew of the aforementioned Pope Sixtus IV (and buried with him in St Peter's Basilica)- commissioned Michelangelo Buonarroti to paint the ceiling. The task took four years and at its completion the ceiling was populated by over 300 figures illustrating such seminal events as the Creation, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and the Great Flood.

It's almost impossible to get to see the Sistine Chapel without a heaving mass pressing around you and without the distraction of attendants constantly clapping for silence. Received wisdom states that the best way to get a bit of peace and quiet is to be at the start of the queue for the Vatican Museums and, once inside, to ignore everything else and head straight for the Chapel!