30 November 2022

30 November

Beniamino Gigli - opera singer

Tenor’s beautiful voice can still be appreciated today

One of the greatest tenors of the 20th century, Beniamino Gigli, died on this day in Rome in 1957.  Gigli is remembered for the beauty of his voice, which was powerful as well as mellow and smooth. He made many recordings, which have since been converted to CD and can still be enjoyed by opera lovers today. He also made some film appearances.  Gigli was born in Recanati near Ancona in the Marche in 1890. He sang in the choir at Recanati Cathedral as a boy and then went on to study music in Rome.  He won his first singing competition in Parma in 1914 and made his operatic debut in Rovigo in the same year, playing the role of Enzo in Amilcare Ponchielli’s opera, La Gioconda.  Gigli made his debut on the stage of La Scala in Milan in 1918 singing Faust in Boito’s Mefistofele. The orchestra was conducted by Arturo Toscanini. His first appearance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York came two years later.  He became particularly associated with the roles of Rodolfo in Puccini’s La bohème and the title role in Giordano’s Andrea Chenier. His first appearance in London at Covent Garden was in Andrea Chenier in 1930.  Read more…

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Andrea Doria – admiral

Military commander with outstanding tactical talent

Andrea Doria, the most important naval leader of his time, was born on this day in 1466 in Oneglia in Liguria.  Because of his successes on both land and sea he was able to free Genoa from domination by foreign powers and reorganise its government to be more stable and effective.  Doria was part of an ancient aristocratic family but he was orphaned while still young and grew up to become a condottiero, or soldier of fortune.  He served Pope Innocent VIII, King Ferdinand I and his son Alfonso II of Naples, and other Italian princes.  Between 1503 and 1506 he helped his uncle, Domenico, crush the Corsican revolt against the rule of Genoa.  Attracted to the sea, Doria fitted out eight galleys and patrolled the Mediterranean, fighting the Ottoman Turks and Barbary pirates, adding to his wealth and reputation along the way.  He then entered the service of Francis I of France who was fighting the Emperor Charles V in Italy and helped him capture Genoa.  But after becoming disillusioned with French policies in Genoa, Doria transferred his support to Charles V and helped him drive the French out of Genoa.  Charles made him grand admiral of the imperial fleet and gave him the title of Prince of Melfi.  Read more…

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Simonetta Stefanelli – actress

Godfather star went on to design bags and shoes

Simonetta Stefanelli, the actress and fashion designer, was born on this day in 1954 in Rome.  Stefanelli is perhaps best-known for her performance as Apollonia Vitelli-Corleone in the 1972 film The Godfather by Francis Ford Coppola.  She also made several films with her former husband, the actor and director Michele Placido.  The couple had three children together, Michelangelo, Brenno and Violante Placido, who is also an actress.  They divorced in 1994 and Stefanelli and her three children went to live in London for a short time.  Before appearing in The Godfather, Stefanelli had small roles in films guided by some of the top Italian directors, such as Gian Luigi Polidoro, Giulio Petroni, Marco Vicario and Dino Risi.  In 1972 she appeared in a German film for television. Then came her role in The Godfather alongside Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan and Diane Keaton.  Her character is the first wife of Pacino's character, Michael Corleone, a local girl Michael marries while in hiding in Sicily, but is then murdered in a bomb attack of which her husband was the intended victim. After her movie career, Stefanelli settled in Rome, where she opened a fashion store, Simo Bloom.  Read more…

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Ippolito Nievo - writer and patriot

Risorgimento novel now seen as an overlooked classic

The writer Ippolito Nievo, whose posthumously published Confessions of an Italian is now considered the most important novel about the Risorgimento in Italian literature, was born on this day in 1831 in Padua.  Nievo, who was a passionate supporter of the move to unify Italy in the 19th century, drew inspiration from his participation in Giuseppe Garibaldi’s Spedizione dei Mille - the Expedition of the Thousand - which sought to achieve that goal.  He died for the cause at the age of just 29, perishing in a shipwreck while transporting important documents from Palermo to Naples.  His legacy was preserved in his most famous novel, in which the central character and narrator shares Nievo’s passions. Nievo completed the work in 1858 but it was not until 1867, six years after his death, that it found a publisher.  Nievo was born into comfortable circumstances.  His father was a prominent lawyer and magistrate in Padua and his mother the daughter of a Friulian countess.  Their home in Padua was the Palazzo Mocenigo Querini, a 16th century house overlooking Via Sant’Eufemia, close to the city centre.   Read more…

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Veronica Gambara – writer and stateswoman

Politically astute poet wrote an ode to Emperor Charles V

Veronica Gambara, a lyric poet who ruled the state of Correggio for 32 years, was born on this day in 1485 in Pralboino in the province of Brescia.  Under her rule, the court of Correggio became an important literary salon visited by many writers and artists.  Gambara signed a treaty with the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, which guaranteed Correggio would not be besieged and in her political poems she expressed Italy as an entity centuries before unification.  Gambara came from an accomplished family, one of the seven children of Count Gianfrancesco da Gambara and Alda Pio da Carpi.  The humanist poets Ginevre and Isotta Noarola were her great aunts and Emilia Pia, the principal female interlocutor of Baldassare Castiglione’s Il cortegiano, was her aunt.  Gambara studied Latin, Greek, philosophy and theology and by the age of 17 had begun corresponding with the poet, Pietro Bembo, who later became her mentor when she sent him her poetry to read.  When Gambara was 24 she married her cousin, Giberto, Count of Correggio, a widower aged 50, and they had two sons, Ippolito and Girolamo.   Read more…


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29 November 2022

29 November

NEWLuigi ‘Gigi’ Peronace - football agent

Calabrian facilitated string of transfers to Italy

The football agent Luigi ‘Gigi’ Peronace, who brokered the transfer deals that saw leading British stars from John Charles to Liam Brady play in Italy’s Serie A, was born in the Calabrian seaside town of Soverato on this day in 1925.  Agents are commonplace in football today but they were an almost unknown phenomenon when Peronace set up in business in the 1950s and he is widely accepted as the first of his kind, certainly in terms of building a ‘stable’ of clients.  The charismatic Peronace’s ability to charm all parties in transfer deals - buyer, seller and player - led to him becoming an influential figure in football in both Italy and the United Kingdom over a 25-year period.  Charles, the Welsh giant whose talents persuaded Juventus to almost double the British transfer fee record when they paid Leeds United £65,000 for his services in 1957, remains Peronace’s most famous deal, although he was instrumental in introducing other big-name British players to the Italian game, including the prolific Chelsea and England striker Jimmy Greaves and Scotland’s Denis Law.  Peronace’s first taste of football was as a player in the 1940s with the Calabrian team Reggina.  Read more…

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Agostino Chigi - banker and arts patron

Nobleman from Siena became one of Europe’s richest men

The banker Agostino Chigi, who was a major sponsor of artists during the Renaissance, was born on this day in 1466 in Siena.  At its height, Chigi’s banking house in Rome was the biggest financial institution in Europe, employing up to 20,000 people, with branches throughout Italy and abroad, as far apart as London and Cairo.  Chigi invested a good deal of his wealth in supporting the arts, notably providing financial backing to almost all the main figures of the early 16th century, including Perugino, Sebastiano del Piombo, Giovanni da Udine, Giulio Romano, Il Sodoma (Giovanni Bazzi) and Raphael.  Perugino painted The Chigi Altarpiece, dated at around 1506-1507, which hangs in the Chigi family chapel in the church of Sant'Agostino in Siena.  Chigi’s significant legacy to Rome was to have built a chapel in the church of Santa Maria della Pace, another - his mortuary chapel, the Chigi Chapel - in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, and the superb suburban villa in Trastevere, on the banks of the Tiber, which since 1579 has been known as the Villa Farnesina.  Agostino Chigi was the son of the prominent Sienese banker Mariano Chigi, from an ancient and illustrious Tuscan family.   Read more…

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Gaetano Donizetti - opera composer

Birthplace of musical genius has been declared a national monument

Gaetano Donizetti, a prolific composer of operas in the 19th century, was born on this day in 1797 in Bergamo in northern Italy.  Donizetti came into the world in the basement of a house in Borgo Canale just outside the walls of the Città Alta, Bergamo’s upper town. He was the fifth of six children born to a textile worker and his wife.  He once wrote about his birthplace: “…I was born underground in Borgo Canale. One descended the stairs to the basement, where no ray of sunlight had ever been seen. And like an owl I flew forth…”  Donizetti developed a love for music and, despite the poverty of his family, benefited from early tuition in Bergamo. He went on to become a brilliant composer of operas in the early part of the 19th century and is considered to have been a major influence on Verdi, Puccini and many other composers who came after him.  Experts consider some of his work, for example Lucia di Lammermoor and L’elisir d’amore, to be among the greatest lyrical operas of all time.  After a magnificent international career, Donizetti returned to Bergamo, where he died in 1843 in the Palazzo Scotti.  Read more…

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Restoration and conservation techniques set example to others

Andrea della Valle, remembered for amassing one of the earliest known collections of Roman antiquities, was born into a noble family on this day in 1463 in Rome.  He was the son of Filippo della Valle and Girolama Margani, and was the second of their four children.  After entering the Church, he was elected Bishop of Crotone in 1496. He was chosen to direct the Apostolic Chancery between 1503 and 1505 and served as Apostolic secretary during the reign of Pope Julius II.  Della Valle was transferred to the titular diocese of Miletus in 1508, but resigned from it to give way to his nephew, Quinzio Rustici, in 1523.  He was created cardinal priest in 1517 and participated in the papal conclaves of 1521 and 1523.  As archpriest of the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, Della Valle ceremonially opened and closed the holy door in the Jubilee year of 1525. The door is sealed by mortar and cement from the inside so it cannot normally be opened, but is ceremoniously opened during holy year to allow pilgrims to enter and gain plenary indulgences.  Della Valle had inherited some antiquities collected by his ancestors but was always eager to acquire more.  Read more…

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Agostino Richelmy – Cardinal

Former soldier sent priests to say mass for troops

Cardinal Agostino Richelmy, who fought for Garibaldi as a teenager, was born on this day in 1850 in Turin.  He joined the Garibaldi Volunteers during the war of 1866 and is said to have worn his red shirt under his cassock for years afterwards.  When Italy entered the First World War in 1915, Richelmy organised priests to serve as army chaplains in the mountains of Trentino, where they had to carve altars out of snow and say mass in temperatures below zero.  Richelmy was born into an ancient, noble family and his father, Prospero was a hydraulic engineer.  He was educated at the Liceo Classico Cavour and the Archiepiscopal Seminary in Turin and gained a doctorate in theology in 1876. He became a professor of moral and dogmatic theology and then a professor in the faculty of canon law.  Richelmy was elected Bishop of Ivrea in 1886 and named as the Archbishop of Turin in 1897.  He was created cardinal priest of Sant’Eusebio in Rome in 1899 and was then transferred to Santa Maria in Via in Rome in 1911.  Richelmy supported all the social directives of Pope Leo XIII, who worked to encourage understanding between the Church and the modern world during his papacy.  Read more…


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Luigi ‘Gigi’ Peronace - football agent

Calabrian facilitated string of transfers to Italy

Luigi 'Gigi' Peronace is seen by some as football's original players' agent
Luigi 'Gigi' Peronace is seen by some
as football's original players' agent
The football agent Luigi ‘Gigi’ Peronace, who brokered the transfer deals that saw leading British stars from John Charles to Liam Brady play in Italy’s Serie A, was born in the Calabrian seaside town of Soverato on this day in 1925.

Agents are commonplace in football today but they were an almost unknown phenomenon when Peronace set up in business in the 1950s and he is widely accepted as the first of his kind, certainly in terms of building a ‘stable’ of clients.

The charismatic Peronace’s ability to charm all parties in transfer deals - buyer, seller and player - led to him becoming an influential figure in football in both Italy and the United Kingdom over a 25-year period.

Charles, the Welsh giant whose talents persuaded Juventus to almost double the British transfer fee record when they paid Leeds United £65,000 for his services in 1957, remains Peronace’s most famous deal, although he was instrumental in introducing other big-name British players to the Italian game, including the prolific Chelsea and England striker Jimmy Greaves and Scotland’s Denis Law.

Peronace’s first taste of football was as a player in the 1940s with the Calabrian team Reggina, for whom he kept goal despite being quite a small man. Evidence of his skills as a Mr Fixit were emerging even then, as a teenager, when he arranged football matches between English and Australian soldiers and local Calabrian teams.

After the end of the Second World War, Peronace moved to Turin to study engineering. Already with good English, he took a job with Juventus, who needed an interpreter to help their new Scottish coach, William Chalmers. When Chalmers was dismissed after one season, the Turin club hired an Englishman, Jesse Carver, to look after the team.

John Charles, who joined Juventus
from Leeds United in 1957
Carver likewise did not stay long, despite winning the Serie A title in his first season in charge. He soon returned to England to manage West Bromwich Albion. But he was back in Italy a year later and invited Peronace to work with him again at Lazio. It was Carver who first told Peronace about John Charles, a tall, powerfully built man who had been converted from a centre-half by Leeds United to one of the most prolific centre-forwards in England.

Intrigued, as soon as his time at Lazio had ended Peronace travelled to England to see Charles in person, contacted the Juventus president Umberto Agnelli and persuaded the Turin club that they should spend whatever it took to sign him.

It took Peronace two years to convince Leeds to sell and Charles to move, but in August 1957, the deal was done. It made headlines, of course, not just for the size of transfer fee but for what the player himself was offered. Juventus gave him an apartment for his family, a Fiat car and a £10,000 signing-on fee - this at a time when the signing-on fee for players moving between English clubs could be as little as £10.

The Charles deal was not Peronace’s first. While wooing Charles and Leeds, he had arranged for South African-born Eddie Firmani, who had Italian heritage, to join Sampdoria from Charlton Athletic. But it was the Charles transfer that gave him credibility.

The Welshman would go on to score 108 goals in 155 matches for Juventus, helping them win the scudetto - the colloquial name for the Serie A trophy - three times and the domestic cup competition, the Coppa Italia, twice.

Peronace helped Charles settle in Turin but in 1961 he returned to England, moved into a plush apartment in Knightsbridge and from there pulled off more headline-making deals. He helped Aston Villa’s Gerry Hitchens move to Inter-Milan, persuaded AC Milan to sign Jimmy Greaves, and Torino to take both Denis Law and the English-born, Scottish-raised striker Joe Baker.

Peronace's close friend, the  pipe-smoking Enzo Bearzot
Peronace's close friend, the 
pipe-smoking Enzo Bearzot
While Hitchins, like Charles, enjoyed significant success, the last-named trio failed to settle in Italy, although it was to the advantage of Peronace, who negotiated their transfers again, helping Greaves return to London with Tottenham, Law team up with Matt Busby at Manchester United and Baker make a fresh start with Arsenal.

Always immaculately dressed in the most expensive Italian clothes, Peronace’s natural charm enabled him to befriend the most powerful figures in both English and Italian football, which opened doors in both countries. This was especially useful to him after the abolition of English maximum wage lessened the attraction to players of moving abroad.

A close friend of Sir Denis Follows, the secretary of the English Football Association, he used his contacts to help establish the Anglo-Italian Cup competition.

In Italy, he became a close friend of Enzo Bearzot and worked with him for the Italian Football Federation at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.

Peronace would doubtless have been alongside Bearzot when Italy’s pipe-smoking coach guided the azzurri to their World Cup triumph in Spain 1982 had fate not tragically intervened 18 months earlier.

As the national team prepared to leave for a tournament in Montevideo, Uruguay in December 1980, Peronace was at a hotel in Rome when he suffered a fatal heart attack, dying in Bearzot’s arms at the age of just 55, leaving a wife and five children.  Liam Brady's move to Juventus from Arsenal earlier that year was the last high-profile deal in which he was involved.

The coast around Soverato is famed for an abundance of white, sandy beaches
The coast around Soverato is famed for an
abundance of white, sandy beaches
Travel tip:

Soverato, where Gigi Peronace was born, is situated on the Ionian coast of Calabria, about 37km (23 miles) south of the city of Catanzaro. If the map of Italy is seen as a leg, Soverato is at the point on the underside of the foot at the beginning of the big toe. With a population of fewer than 10,000 and an area of less than eight square kilometres, it is a small town yet thanks to its location on the Gulf of Squillace, notable for its white, sandy beaches, has become the wealthiest town per capita in Calabria with a bright modern promenade, apartment buildings and hotels and a botanical garden established on a reclaimed waste site in 1980. There is little of historical note save for a Pietà sculpted by Antonello Gagini from a block of Carrara marble in 1521, which was recovered from the nearby convent of Santa Maria della Pietà after an earthquake in 1783 and is now kept in the town’s church of Maria Santissima Addolorata. 

John Charles scoring a goal at a packed Stadio Comunale, which was Juventus's home ground
John Charles scoring a goal at a packed Stadio
Comunale, which was Juventus's home ground
Travel tip:

Juventus today play at the modern Allianz Stadium, their 41,500-capacity home in the Vallette borough of Turin, about 6km (3.7 miles) northwest from the city centre. When John Charles signed for them in 1957, Juventus shared the Stadio Comunale with city rivals Torino.  Situated around four kilometres south of the centre in the Santa Rita district, it was known as the Stadio Municipale Benito Mussolini after it was opened in 1933, being renamed Stadio Comunale after World War II, and further renamed the Stadio Olimpico after being chosen to host the opening and closing ceremonies at the Winter Olympics in 2006.  Torino left the stadium with Juventus in 1990 to play at the Stadio delle Alpi, forerunner of the Allianz, but returned to the Olimpico in 2006.

Also on this day:

1463: The birth of antiquities collector Cardinal Andrea della Valle

1466: The birth of banker Agostino Chigi

1797: The birth of opera composer Gaetano Donizetti

1850: The birth of soldier and cardinal Agostino Richelmy


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28 November 2022

28 November

Alberto Moravia - journalist and writer

Italian novelist recognised as major 20th century literary figure

The novelist Alberto Moravia was born Alberto Pincherle on this day in 1907 in Rome.  He adopted Moravia, the maiden name of his paternal grandmother, as a pen name and became a prolific writer of short stories and novels. Much of his work has been made into films.  Before the Second World War, he had difficulties with the Fascist regime, which banned the publication of one of his novels. But his anti-Fascist novel Il conformista later became the basis for the film The Conformist directed by Bernardo Bertolucci.  In 1941 he married the novelist Elsa Morante and they went to live first on Capri, and then in the Ciociaria area of Lazio before returning to Rome after it was liberated in 1944.  Moravia was once quoted as comparing a childhood illness, which confined him to bed for a long period, with Fascism. He said they had both made him suffer and do things he otherwise would not have done.  He died in Rome in 1990 and is remembered today as an important literary figure of the 20th century.  Read more…

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Fabio Grosso - World Cup hero

Unspectacular career illuminated by unforgettable goal

Fabio Grosso,the unlikely hero of Italy's victory in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, was born on this day in 1977 in Rome.  Selected for Marcello Lippi's squad for the Finals as cover for first-choice left-back Gianluca Zambrotta, Grosso eventually secured a place in Lippi's team and went on to score one of the most important goals in Italy's World Cup history as they beat the hosts, Germany, to reach the final.  He then secured his place in azzurri folklore by scoring the winning penalty in the final against France as Italy lifted the trophy for the fourth time, equalling Brazil's record.  Yet Grosso arrived at the finals as a player who, if not an unknown, seldom attracted attention and had enjoyed a career that was respectable but certainly not eye-catching.  Five years before 2006,  he was playing in Serie C for Chieti, in the town in Abruzzo where he grew up, and only two and a half years before the tournament he left Serie A side Perugia to play for Palermo in Serie B.  Nonetheless, Palermo did win promotion to Serie A soon after Grosso arrived and at the same time he quietly established himself as Lippi's first choice at left back in the 2006 World Cup qualifying competition.  Read more…

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Laura Antonelli - actress

Pin-up star of 1970s sex-comedies

The actress Laura Antonelli, whose career was at its peak while Italian cinema audiences were indulging a taste for sex-comedies during the 1970s, was born on this day in 1941 in Pula, a port city now part of Croatia but then known as Pola, capital of the Italian territory of Istria.  A curvaceous brunette who posed for both the Italian and French editions of Playboy magazine in the early 1980s, Antonelli was mostly remembered for appearing scantily clad opposite male stars such as Marcello Mastroianni and Michele Placido, yet she was a talented actress, winning a Nastro d’Argento - awarded by Italian film journalists - as best actress in Salvatore Samperi’s 1974 comedy-drama Malizia (Malice).  She also worked on several occasions for Luchino Visconti, one of Italy’s greatest directors. Indeed, she starred in 1976 as the wife of a 19th century Roman aristocrat in Visconti’s last film, L’Innocente (The Innocent), based on the novel The Intruder by Gabriele d'Annunzio.  However, the success of her career was largely built on roles in films such as Devil in the Flesh (1969), The Divine Nymph (1975) and Tigers in Lipstick (1979), the content of which outraged Italy’s fledgling feminist movement and shocked the Catholic Church.  Read more…

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Mario Nascimbene - film music composer

First Italian to score for Hollywood

The composer Mario Nascimbene, most famous for creating the music for more than 150 films, was born on this day in 1913 in Milan.  Nascimbene’s legacy in the history of Italian cinema is inevitably overshadowed by the work of Ennio Morricone and the late Nino Rota, two composers universally acknowledged as giants of Italian film music.  Yet the trailblazer for the great Italian composers of movie soundtracks was arguably Nascimbene, whose engagement to score Joseph L Mankiewicz’s 1954 drama The Barefoot Contessa won him the distinction of becoming the first Italian to write the music for a Hollywood production.  It was such an unexpected commission that Nascimbene confessed in an interview in 1986 that when he was first contacted about the film by Mankiewicz’s secretary he shouted down the phone and hung up, suspecting a hoax perpetrated by a friend who only a few months earlier had caught him out in a similar wind-up over the score for the William Wyler movie Roman Holiday.  Only after a third call from the secretary did he reluctantly agree to meet the director and when his doorbell rang he was convinced his friend would be on the other side.  Read more…

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Alessandro Altobelli - World Cup Winner

Scored Italy’s third goal in 1982 Final

Alessandro Altobelli, one of only four players to score in a World Cup final after starting on the substitutes’ bench, was born on this day in 1955 in Sonnino, a small medieval town in mountainous southern Lazio.  At the age of 26, Altobelli was part of Enzo Bearzot’s squad for the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain, in which Italy triumphed for the first time since their two tournament victories under Vittorio Pozzo in the 1930s.  A striker with Internazionale of Milan, Altobelli did not start a single game in the 1982 finals and had played only a few minutes during Italy’s progress to the knock-out stages.  But he was called on after just seven minutes of the Final against West Germany, replacing Francesco Graziani, stricken with a shoulder injury, and his patience waiting for his chance was rewarded when he finished an Italian counter-attack with their third goal in the second half, giving the azzurri a 3-0 lead that the Germans could not overcome.  Italy’s tournament hero, Paolo Rossi, had scored their opening goal before Marco Tardelli fired home their second, which he celebrated wildly in what became the enduring image of the tournament. Read more…

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Caterina Scarpellini – astronomer and meteorologist

Female ‘assistant’ remembered for her important discoveries

The astronomer Caterina Scarpellini, who discovered a comet in 1854 and was later awarded a medal by the Italian government for her contribution to the understanding of astronomy and other areas of science, died on this day in 1873 in Rome.  Caterina had moved from her native Foligno in Umbria to Rome at the age of 18 to work as an assistant to her uncle, Abbe Feliciano Scarpellini, who was the director of the Roman Campidoglio Observatory. He had been appointed in 1816 by Pope Pius VI to a new chair of sacred physics in the Roman College of the Campidoglio, marking a turning point in the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church to science.  From 1847 onwards, Caterina edited Corrispondenza Scientifica in Rome, a bulletin publishing scientific discoveries. She carried out her observations six times a day and reported on her findings.  She married Erasmo Fabri, who was also an assistant at the observatory, and together they established a meteorological station in Rome in 1856.  Caterina published reports of her astronomical observations and meteorological measurements in Italian, French and Belgian journals and also wrote about electrical, magnetic and geological phenomena.  Read more…


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27 November 2022

27 November

Roberto Mancini - footballer and manager

Skilful player now highly successful coach

Roberto Mancini, a former Italy player and the current manager of the Italian national team, was born on this day in Iesi in Marche in 1964.  Roberto Mancini enjoyed huge success with Internazionale in Italy and Manchester City in England.  Mancini, an elegant and creative forward, was capped 36 times by Italy between 1984 and 1994.  After a highly successful playing career, in which he was part of title-winning teams at Sampdoria and Lazio, he enjoyed immediate success as a manager, winning the Coppa Italia in his first season as Fiorentina boss in 2000. He repeated the feat in his second season at his next club, Lazio.  Mancini then made his mark emphatically at Internazionale, guiding the Milan club to a club record three consecutive Serie A titles, as well as winning the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa (a pre-season match between the Serie A champions and the Coppa Italia winners) twice. This made him the club's most successful manager for 30 years.  While at Inter, he also set a Serie A record by winning 17 consecutive matches.  He was out of football for a year after being dismissed by Inter in 2008, despite his domestic success.  Read more…

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Jacopo Sansovino – architect

Death of the designer praised by Palladio

Jacopo d’Antonio Sansovino, the sculptor and architect renowned for his works around Piazza San Marco, died on this day in 1570 in Venice.  He designed the Libreria Sansoviniana - also known as the Biblioteca Marciana - in the Piazzetta, which was later praised by the architect Andrea Palladio as ‘the finest building erected since antiquity’.  Sansovino had been born Jacopo Tatti in 1486 in Florence and was apprenticed to the sculptor Andrea Sansovino, whose surname he subsequently adopted.  He was commissioned to make a marble sculpture of St James for the Duomo and a Bacchus, which is now in the Bargello in Florence.  However, his designs for sculptures to adorn the façade of the Church of San Lorenzo were rejected by Michelangelo, who was in charge of the scheme.  In 1529 Sansovino became chief architect to the Procurators of San Marco, making him one of the most influential artists in Venice.  His first Venetian building was the Palazzo Corner della Ca’ Grande, a huge classical palace for one of the richest families in Venice.  Sansovino designed the Loggetta and its sculptures adjoining the Campanile and statues for the Basilica of San Marco. He also helped rebuild many of the churches and palaces in Venice.  Read more…

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Senesino - operatic castrato

Sienese singer who worked with composer Handel

The acclaimed contralto castrato singer Senesino, who enjoyed a long professional relationship with the composer George Frederick Handel, died on this day in 1758 in Siena.  During the 18th century, when opera’s popularity was at its height, the castrati singers - male singers castrated as boys to preserve their prepubescent vocal range - were the highest paid members of the cast and the likes of Carlo Broschi, who sang under the stage name Farinelli, Giovanni Carestini (“Cusanino”), Gaetano Majorano ("Caffarelli") and Gaspare Pacchierotti were the genre’s first superstars.  Senesino could be added to that list.  When he made his first appearance for Handel in his three-act opera Radamisto in 1720 his salary was reported as between 2000 and 3000 guineas, which today would be worth around £250,000 to £365,000 (€280,000-€400,000).  Born Francesco Bernardi in 1686, Senesino took his name from his home town, Siena. His father was a barber in the Tuscan city.  He joined the choir of Siena’s Duomo - the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta - in 1695 and was castrated at the comparatively late age of 13.  Read more…

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Horace - Roman poet

Writer who ‘seized the day’ and left his vivid account of it

Quintus Horatius Flaccus, better known as Horace, died on this day in 8 BC in Rome.  He had become a leading poet during the reign of the Emperor Augustus and acquired a farm near Rome which he made famous through his poetry.  His Odes and his more informal Satires and verse Epistles vividly portrayed contemporary Roman society, with the background themes of love, friendship and philosophy.  Horace’s career coincided with Rome’s momentous change from a republic to an empire and he became a spokesman for the new regime.  He is said to have revealed far more about himself and his way of life in his writings than any other poet in antiquity. His most famous two words are ‘carpe diem’ – taken from his first book of Odes – which are usually translated as ‘seize the day’.  Horace was born in 65 BC in Venusia in southern Italy, a town that lay on a trade route between Apulia and Basilicata. Horace’s father had been a slave but had managed to gain his freedom and improve his social position.  He spent money on his son’s education and eventually took him to Rome to find him the best school.  At the age of 19 Horace went to Athens to enrol in the Academy founded by Plato.  Read more…

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Gianni Vernetti – politician and writer

Ecologist who now provides support for emerging economies

Former centre-left politician Gianni Vernetti was born on this day in 1960 in Turin, the capital city of the Piedmont region of Italy.  While serving in the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian parliament he promoted initiatives on renewable energies and, after he was elected to the Senate, he served as Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in Romano Prodi’s government between 2006 and 2008.  Vernetti is married to the television journalist Laura De Donato and they have four children.  In 1985, Vernetti graduated in architecture from the University of Turin and in 1989 obtained a PhD in urban ecology at the University of Milan. For 10 years, between 1985 and 1995, he worked as an architect and urban planner.  As the child of politically active parents - his father, a philosophy professor and ex-partisan and his mother, an architect, were both former members of the Italian Communist Party - it was always likely he would enter politics himself.   Vernetti was a student protester in the late 1970s and founder-member of the anti-nuclear committee of the town of Trino Vercellese in Piedmont, later becoming a founder-member of the Federation of Italian Greens.  Read more…

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26 November 2022

26 November

NEW - Giorgio Cini - heroic entrepreneur

Name lives on in cultural life of Venice

Giorgio Cini, the man whose name was given to a major cultural institution on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice was born on this day in 1918 in Rome.  The eldest child of Vittorio Cini, who in the early 20th century was one of Italy’s wealthiest industrialists, and the celebrated silent movie actress Lyda Borelli, Giorgio took on an entrepreneurial role in his father’s businesses, which encompassed a broad range of interests, in the financial and insurance sector, steel and electrical, maritime and tourism. Vittorio was born in Ferrara, owned a castle in Monselice near Padua, but adopted Venice as his home and devoted much of his energy to enhancing the wealth of the city. A key figure in the development of the port of Marghera, he was a close friend and business partner of Giuseppe Volpi, the businessman and politician who founded the Venice Film Festival.  Giorgio’s life was tragically cut short when he was killed in a plane crash in 1949 at the age of just 30, shortly after taking off from the small airport of Saint-Cassien near Cannes, where he had been with his fiancee, the American-born actress Merle Oberon.  Read more…

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Amelita Galli-Curci - soprano

Singer’s beautiful voice lives on thanks to early recordings

Amelita Galli-Curci, one of the most popular Italian opera singers and recording artists of the early 20th century, died on this day in 1963.  Galli-Curci was a ‘coloratura’ soprano and her voice has been described as ‘florid, vibrant, agile and able to perform trills.’  Although she was largely self-taught her voice was much admired and it has been claimed she was encouraged to become an opera singer by composer Pietro Mascagni, who was a family friend.  She was born Amelita Galli in Milan in 1881 and studied the piano at the Milan Conservatory, which is in the centre of the city close to the Duomo. She made her stage debut as a soprano at Trani in 1906, singing Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto. She was widely acclaimed and her career took off from there.  In 1908 she married an Italian nobleman, the Marchese Luigi Curci and she subsequently attached his surname to hers. She remained known as Amelita Galli-Curci even after they divorced.  She sang in just two performances of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lamermoor with Enrico Caruso in Buenos Aires in 1915 but they went on to make wonderful recordings together.  Read more…

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Charles Forte - businessman and hotelier

Multi-billion pound empire started with a single café

Businessman Charles Forte - later Sir Charles and then Baron Forte of Ripley - was born Carmine Forte in the hamlet of Mortale in the Frosinone province of southern Lazio on this day in 1908.  Forte was most famous for his hotels empire, which once numbered more than 800 properties ranging from Travelodge motels to the high-end luxury of the Grosvenor House in London and the George V in Paris.  Starting with a single milk bar in London, opened in 1935, he grew a business that became so vast that, when it changed hands 61 years later, it was valued at £3.9 billion.  Charles Forte was brought up largely in Scotland, where his family emigrated in 1911 after his father, Rocco, decided to follow the lead of his brother by abandoning farming in his impoverished homeland to try his luck in the catering business abroad.   Rocco ran a café and ice cream parlour in Alloa, a town in central Scotland about an hour's drive north-east of Glasgow and a similar distance to the north-west of Edinburgh.  Charles went to school in Alloa and nearby Dumfries before completing his education at the Mamiani High School in Rome.  Read more…

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Letizia Moratti – politician and businesswoman

First woman to be Mayor of Milan and head of RAI

Letizia Moratti, one of Europe’s best-known businesswomen and a successful politician, was born on this day in 1949 in Milan.  Married to the oil magnate Gianmarco Moratti, she was chair of the state television network RAI between 1994 and 1996, a minister in former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s second and third administrations, and Mayor of Milan between 2006 and 2011.  Born Letizia Maria Brichetto Arnaboldi, her antecedents are the Brichetto family from Genoa, who founded the first insurance brokerage company in Italy, and the noble Arnaboldi family from Milan.  Her grandmother, Mimona Brichetto Arnaboldi, was a society hostess in the 1930s and an outspoken opponent of Fascism.  Letizia attended a private school in Milan and had classical dance classes at the Carla Strauss Academy in the Brera district.  She attended the University of Milan and graduated in political science.  At around the same time, she met Gianmarco Moratti, an oil contractor whose brother, Massimo, a petrochemicals tycoon, is the former chairman of Internazionale.  With funding from the Moratti family, Letizia launched her first business at the age of 25.  Read more…

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Enrico Bombieri – Mathematician

Brilliant professor who won top award in his field at just 34

The mathematician Enrico Bombieri, one of the world’s leading authorities on number theory and analysis, which has practical application in the world of encryption and data transmission, was born on this day in 1940 in Milan.  Bombieri, who is also an accomplished painter, won the Fields Medal, an international award for outstanding discoveries in mathematics regarded in the field of mathematical sciences as equivalent to a Nobel Prize, when he was a 34-year-old professor at the University of Pisa in 1974.  As well as analytic number theory, he has become renowned for his expertise in other areas of highly advanced mathematics including algebraic geometry, univalent functions, theory of several complex variables, partial differential equations of minimal surfaces, and the theory of finite groups.  Mathematics textbooks now refer to several discoveries named after him in his own right or with fellow researchers, including the Bombieri-Lang conjecture, the Bombieri norm and the Bombieri–Vinogradov theorem.  He has been described as a "problem-oriented" scholar - one who tries to solve deep problems rather than to build theories.  Read more…


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Giorgio Cini - heroic entrepreneur

Name lives on in cultural life of Venice

Giorgio Cini was born into a wealthy family
Giorgio Cini was born into
a wealthy family
Giorgio Cini, the man whose name was given to a major cultural institution on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice was born on this day in 1918 in Rome.

The eldest child of Vittorio Cini, who in the early 20th century was one of Italy’s wealthiest industrialists, and the celebrated silent movie actress Lyda Borelli, Giorgio took on an entrepreneurial role in his father’s businesses, which encompassed a broad range of interests, in the financial and insurance sector, steel and electrical, maritime and tourism.

Vittorio was born in Ferrara, owned a castle in Monselice near Padua, but adopted Venice as his home and devoted much of his energy to enhancing the wealth of the city. A key figure in the development of the port of Marghera, he was a close friend and business partner of Giuseppe Volpi, the businessman and politician who founded the Venice Film Festival.

Giorgio’s life was tragically cut short when he was killed in a plane crash in 1949 at the age of just 30, shortly after taking off from the small airport of Saint-Cassien near Cannes, where he had been with his fiancee, the American-born actress Merle Oberon. He had just been handed the controls by the pilot of the twin-engined aircraft when it came down.

Vittorio was plunged into grief at the sudden loss of his son, not least because he owed his life to Giorgio’s heroism during World War Two.

A politician as well as a businessman, Vittorio joined Mussolini’s Fascist party in the 1930s. He was appointed minister of communications in February 1943 but resigned after six months, one of several members of Mussolini’s cabinet who had implored the dictator to find a way to withdraw from a war that was having disastrous consequences for Italy.

Vittorio Cini was one of Italy's richest men in the early part of the 20th century
Vittorio Cini was one of Italy's richest men
in the early part of the 20th century
After Mussolini was toppled and Italy signed an alliance with the Allies, Vittorio was identified as one of those who had turned against Mussolini, arrested by the Gestapo and taken to the Dachau concentration camp, near Munich.

With his father’s fate unknown, Giorgio took it upon himself to try to help him escape. Armed with a substantial sum of money from the sale of his mother’s jewellery, he managed to make his way successfully to Dachau, despite the dangers of undertaking such a journey. His father had been moved to a hospital wing, where Giorgio bribed the staff to release his father.

The two then travelled the 200km (124 miles) or so to the safety of neutral Switzerland, where they remained until it was safe to return to Italy. While in exile, Vittorio provided substantial financial support to the Italian Resistance movement in their operations against the Nazis and the Fascist stronghold in the north of Italy.

With Giorgio’s death, Vittorio decided to devote himself to philanthropy in the name of his son. 

The Cini family also gave Venice the former Palazzo Foscari
The Cini family also gave Venice
the former Palazzo Foscari 
Granted a concession by the Italian state to develop the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, which apart from Andrea Palladio’s famous basilica of the same name was home to a convent destroyed by Napoleon and military facilities once used by the Austrian and Italian armies, in 1951 he announced the launch of the Giorgio Cini Foundation. 

He restored the convent and repurposed it as a centre for Venetian culture. It now houses a library containing around 15,000 historical volumes, as well as an archive of manuscripts and documents about history, music, theatre and art. It also serves as a venue for exhibitions, concerts and meetings.

As well as the Foundation, the Cini family have also given Venice the Palazzo Foscari on the Grand Canal, which was Vittorio’s Venice home until his death in 1977.

The palace - now the Palazzo Cini - was donated to the Foundation in 1984 by Vittorio’s daughter, Yana, to house her father’s personal collection of Tuscan paintings and decorative arts, and to offer a space for exhibitions in conjunction with the Venice Biennale. 

Both Vittorio and Giorgio are buried with other family members in the family tomb within the monumental cemetery of the Certosa di Ferrara.

The Castello Monselice was painstakingly restored by Vittorio Cini in the 1930s
The Castello Monselice was painstakingly
restored by Vittorio Cini in the 1930s
Travel tip:

The Castello Monselice, at the town of Monselice, about 25km (15 miles) south of Padua, expanded over several hundred years. The oldest part is the Casa Romantica, built in the 11th century, to which was added the Castelletto in the 12th century. During the 13th century, the Torre Ezzelino was erected and in the 15th century, after it had been acquired by the Marcello family of Venice, the Ca’ Marcello was built as a connecting building to link the defensive tower with the main building. An elegant library and a Venetian courtyard were added in subsequent centuries but the complex suffered during the First World War, when it was used by the Royal Italian Army and left in a poor state. Vittorio Cini inherited it from his family in 1935 and set about its restoration, a seven-year project in which he took care with the use of furnishings and decoration to be faithful to period detail. Still named the Castello Cini, but now owned by the Veneto region, it now offers visitors a number of guided tours each day.

The white marble facade of the church of San Giorgio Maggiore is a familiar sight in Venice
The white marble facade of the church of San
Giorgio Maggiore is a familiar sight in Venice
Travel tip:

Andrea Palladio’s church of San Giorgio Maggiore is a 16th-century Benedictine church built between 1566 and 1610. Constructed in classical Renaissance style, the basilica’s brilliant white marble facade is visible directly across the Venetian lagoon from the Piazzetta di San Marco and its presence draws the eye from every part of the Riva degli Schiavoni. When Palladio arrived in Venice in 1560, the site was occupied by a Benedictine church and monastery that had been rebuilt following an earthquake in the 13th century. The architect, whose work in Venice also includes the Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore on the Giudecca island, died in 1580 and so did not live to see San Giorgio Maggiore completed, although his successors in the project kept faithfully to his designs.


Also on this day:

1908: The birth of businessman Charles Forte

1940: The birth of mathematician Enrico Bombieri

1949: The birth of politician and businesswoman Letizia Moratti

1963: The death of popular soprano Amelita Galli-Curci


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25 November 2022

25 November

Amalfi destroyed by tsunami

Quake beneath Tyrrhenian Sea sparked killer wave

The former maritime republic of Amalfi, which once had a population of 70,000 people, was effectively wiped out when a massive earthquake that occurred under the Tyrrhenian Sea on this day in 1343 sparked a devastating tsunami along the coast of southern Italy.  The tremor itself caused deaths but not on the scale of the tsunami that followed, as a stretch of coastline from north of Naples to south of the Cilento National Park bore the brunt of a huge killer wave.  The towns of Bussanto and Blanda, near the present-day resorts of Sapri and Maratea, were among communities that disappeared completely, while Amalfi and Minori on what we know now as the Amalfi Coast were decimated.  Amalfi’s harbour and all the boats in it were destroyed, while the lower town fell into the sea. Where there had once been a thriving city, only a village remained, the population of which has never grown much beyond about 6,000 people. Its days as a significant maritime power were over.  Salerno and Naples suffered considerable damage, although the death toll was never recorded, it can be assumed it ran into tens of thousands.  Read more…

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Giorgio Faletti – writer and entertainer

Comedian who became best-selling novelist

Giorgio Faletti, who became a best-selling thriller writer, was born on this day in 1950 in Asti in Piedmont.  He was a successful actor, comedian, and singer-songwriter before he turned his hand to writing fiction. His first thriller, I Kill (Io uccido), sold more than four million copies.  Faletti’s books have now been published in 25 languages throughout Europe, South America, China, Japan, Russia and the US.  Faletti graduated from law school but then began a career as a comedian at the Milanese Club ‘Derby’.  In 1983 he made his debut on local television before appearing alongside the popular hostess and former actress, Raffaella Carrà, on RAI’s daytime game show, Pronto, Raffaella? He was cast as a comedian in the popular variety show, Drive In, which was followed by other television successes.  He wrote the soundtrack for a TV series in which he was one of the main actors and then released an album of his songs.  In 1992 he took part in the Sanremo Music Festival with Orietta Berti with the song Rumba di tango.  In 1994, performing his own song, Signor tenente, he came second at Sanremo.  Read more…

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Stefano Boeri - architect

Milan urban planner famous for Vertical Forest

The architect Stefano Boeri, a specialist in environmentally sustainable developments and best known for his Bosco Verticale - Vertical Forest - project in Milan, was born on this day in 1956 in Milan.  The Bosco Verticale consists of two residential tower blocks in the Isola neighbourhood in the north of the city, just beyond the Porta Garibaldi railway station.  The two towers, one of 111m (364 ft), the other of 76m (249 ft), incorporate 8,900 sqm (96,000 sq ft) of terraces that are home to approximately 800 trees, 5,000 shrubs and 11,000 perennial plants.  The vegetation - the equivalent of what might be found in three hectares of woodland but with a footprint of just 3,000 sqm - mitigates against urban pollution, absorbing dust and carbon dioxide while producing oxygen. The trees also provide natural climate control for the inhabitants, shading the interior from sun in the summer and blocking cold winds in the winter.  Boeri incorporated other features to make the building self-sufficient, generating energy from solar panels and using filtered waste water to irrigate the plants.  Construction of the towers began in late 2009 and the project was completed in 2014.  Read more…

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Rosanna Schiaffino – actress

Dramatic life of Italian screen goddess

Film star Rosanna Schiaffino, who for more than 20 years, between the 1950s and the 1970s, starred opposite the most famous actors of the period, was born on this day in 1939 in Genoa in Liguria.  Schiaffino worked for some of Italian cinema’s greatest directors, but in the 1980s turned her back on the cinema world to marry the playboy and steel industry heir, Giorgio Falck, entering a relationship that descended into acrimony after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Born into a wealthy family, Schiaffino was encouraged in her acting ambitions by her mother, who paid for her to go to a drama school.  She entered beauty contests and won the title of Miss Liguria when she was just 14.  She also took some modelling jobs and her photograph appeared in many magazines. She was spotted by the film producer Franco Cristaldi, who paired her with Marcello Mastroianni in Un ettaro di cielo (Piece of the Sky) in 1959.  Schiaffino made her name in her second film for Cristaldi, La Sfida (The Challenge), directed by Francesco Rosi, in which she gave a powerful, but sensitive performance as a Neapolitan girl, inspired by the real life character of Pupetta Maresca, a former beauty queen who became a famous Camorra figure.  Read more…

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Bruno Tonioli - dance show judge

Dancer and choreographer who starred in Strictly Come Dancing

Dancer, choreographer and television dance show judge Bruno Tonioli was born on this day in 1955 in Ferrara in north-east Italy.  Tonioli was one of the judging panel of Strictly Come Dancing on British TV and on its US equivalent Dancing With the Stars, which required him to divide his time between London and New York when seasons overlap.  He began his show business career in the 1980s as a member of the Paris-based dance company La Grande Eugène before moving into the music industry as a choreographer.  Among the artists he has worked with are Tina Turner, Sting, Elton John, the Rolling Stones, Freddie Mercury, Sinitta, Boy George, Dead or Alive, and Duran Duran.  Tonioli has also worked on numerous films and television shows including Little Voice, The Gathering Storm, Dancin' thru the Dark and Enigma.  He also has a number of acting credits, including the role of Peppino, manservant to Michael Gambon's Oscar Wilde in the BBC production Oscar.  Tonioli appeared as himself in the movie version of the BBC comedy Absolutely Fabulous.  Renowned for his flamboyantly wild gestures and amusingly extravagant comments, Tonioli became a member of the Strictly Come Dancing team on the show's launch in 2004.  Read more…

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Pope John XXIII

Farmer’s son went on to become ‘the Good Pope’

Pope John XXIII was born on this day in 1881 at Sotto il Monte near Bergamo.  He was originally named Angelo Roncalli and was part of a large farming family but he went on to become a much loved Pope and respected world leader.  Angelo was tutored by a local priest before entering the Seminary in Bergamo at the age of 12. He went on to study theology in Rome and rose to become Cardinal Patriarch of Venice before being elected Pope in 1958.  His religious studies had been interrupted by a spell in the Italian army, but he was ordained in 1904. He served as secretary to the Bishop of Bergamo for nine years before becoming an army chaplain in World War One.  After the war he worked in Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece on behalf of the church helping to locate and repatriate prisoners of war.  In 1944 he was appointed nuncio to Paris to help with the post war effort in France. He became a Cardinal in 1953 and expected to spend his last years serving the church in Venice.  But when he was elected Pope by his fellow cardinals in the conclave of 20 October 1958, it was a turning point in the church’s history.  Read more…


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