7 January 2024

7 January

Pope Gregory XIII

Pontiff used his power to change the date overnight

Pope Gregory XIII was born Ugo Boncompagni on this day in 1502 in Bologna.  Gregory XIII is chiefly remembered for introducing the Gregorian calendar, which is still the internationally accepted calendar today.  As Ugo Boncompagni, he studied law in Bologna and graduated in 1530. He later taught jurisprudence and among his students were the Cardinals Alessandro Farnese and Carlo Borromeo.  Before he took holy orders, Ugo had an affair with Maddalena Fulchini, who gave birth to his illegitimate son, Giacomo Boncompagni.  Pope Paul III summoned Ugo to Rome in 1538 to work for him in a judicial capacity. He went on to work for Pope Paul IV and Pope Pius IV. Ugo was made Cardinal Priest of San Sisto Vecchio and sent to the Council of Trent by Pius IV.  He was also sent to be legate to Phillip II of Spain and formed a close relationship with the Spanish King.  In 1572, after the death of Pope Pius V, the 70-year-old Cardinal Boncompagni was chosen to be the next pope and assumed the name of Gregory XIII, in homage to Pope Gregory I, who is remembered as a great church reformer.   Read more…


Vincent Gardenia - TV and film actor

US sitcom star with Neapolitan roots

The actor Vincent Gardenia, one of the most recognisable faces on American television in the 1960s and 1970s and twice nominated for an Oscar for his film roles, was born on this day in 1920 in what is now Ercolano, a town that forms part of the Naples metropolitan area.  Gardenia starred as the father of Cher's character in the film Moonstruck, was the detective Frank Ochoa alongside Charles Bronson in Death Wish and was Mr Mushnik in the musical film adaptation of Little Shop of Horrors.  On television, he portrayed J Edgar Hoover in the mini-series Kennedy,  starring Martin Sheen as the murdered former president, but was perhaps best known as Archie Bunker's neighbour Frank Lorenzo in the '70s comedy hit All in the Family, which was the American version of the iconic British comedy Till Death Us Do Part.  Born Vincenzo Scognamiglio, he spent only the first two years of his life in Italy before his family took the decision to emigrate to the United States, settling in New York in the borough of Brooklyn.  His father, Gennaro, had worked as an actor and theatre manager in Naples and soon after arriving in New York established an Italian-language acting troupe.  Read more…


ll tricolore

Flag represented people’s hopes for a united Italy

The Italian flag, with its panels of green, white and red, was first hoisted on this day in 1797 in Reggio Emilia.  Long before Italy became a united country, an early form of the tricolore was being flown in a part of the country then known as the Cispadane Republic, where it had been agreed to make universal “the standard or flag of three colours, green, white and red”.  The Cispadane Republic (Repubblica Cispadana) was founded with the protection of the French Army in 1796 in what is now Emilia-Romagna. The republic organised a congress on 7 January in Reggio Emilia and adopted the first ever tricolore as its flag.  But it was many years and many battles later before the flag as we know it now was formally adopted by the Italian republic in 1948.  It is thought the Cispadane republic chose panels of red and white because they were the colours of the flag of Milan and green because it was the colour of the uniform of the Milan civic guard.  Some believe the green panel (on the hoist side of the flag as it is used now) represents Italy’s plains and hills, the white panel the snow-capped alps and the red panel the blood spilt in Italy’s fight for independence from foreign domination.  Read more…


Ruggiero Giovannelli – composer

Church musician wrote popular madrigals and songs

Ruggiero Giovannelli, a religious composer who also wrote a surprising number of light-hearted madrigals, died on this day in 1625 in Rome.  He may have been a pupil of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, the most famous of the Roman School composers of the 16th century. Even though there is no documentary evidence to support this, there are stylistic similarities in their music.  On Palestrina’s death in 1594, Giovannelli was chosen to replace him as maestro di cappella at the Julian Chapel in St Peter’s Basilica.  Giovannelli was born in Velletri near Rome and not much is known about his life until 1583 when he became maestro di cappella at the church of San Luigi dei Francesi near the Piazza Navona in Rome. He moved on to become maestro di cappella at the Collegio Germanico, a pontifical college in Rome, in 1591.  His most important appointment was when he was chosen to replace Palestrina at St Peter’s in 1594, a position he held until 1599 when he became a singer at the Sistine Chapel, a position he held until he became maestro di cappella there in 1614.  Giovannelli composed church music in the style of Palestrina.  Read more…


Pope Innocent X

Political pontiff dominated by sister-in-law

A politically charged and controversial period in papal history ended on this day in 1655 with the death in Rome of Pope Innocent X.  Described by some historians as a scheming and bitter pontiff, Innocent X’s tenure was notable for his malicious attack on a rival family, his destruction of the ancient city of Castro, a squabble with France that almost ended in war, his interference in the English Civil War and his refusal to recognise the independence of Portugal.  It was also overshadowed by rumours of an immoral relationship with his sister-in-law, Olimpia Maidalchini, the widow of his late brother. Historians generally agree that these were unfounded, yet Innocent X was dominated by her to the extent that she became the most powerful figure in his court, her influence so strong that ambassadors, cardinals and bishops knew that the pope would defer to her before making any decision and consequently would address any issues directly to her.  Born in Rome in 1574 and baptised as Giovanni Battista Pamphili, he came from a wealthy and well-established family who originally came from Gubbio in Umbria.  Read more…


Book of the Day:  Vicars of Christ: A History of the Popes, by Charles A Coulombe

The Pope of Rome is the best known and most influential moral and religious leader in the world. Every government in the world has to deal with him; love him or hate him, there is no denying his importance. It has been this way since Emperor Constantine legalised Christianity in the 4th century.  In all that time, there have been wonder-working saints, lecherous murderers, and many, many mediocrities on the Papal throne - every kind of human being imaginable. Historically, the lives of Popes have been anything but dull and uneventful. Formosus was so hated by his successor, the corrupt Stephen VI, that his rotting corpse was disinterred and subjected to a court trial. St Leo the Great frightened Attila the Hun into sparing Rome, while St Gregory the Great banished the plague from the Eternal City by holding a procession. St Leo III crowned Charlemagne Emperor by surprise on Christmas Day, but John XII (himself the son of a Pope) was killed by his mistress's lover, and died in her arms. John Paul II raised the popularity of the Papacy to incredible heights, played a huge role in bringing down Communism - and exorcised the Devil from a girl during a public audience.  Most books about the Popes have either tried to whitewash every sin any Pope has committed, or else have made them all out to be all out to be anti-Christs. The truth is that there have been obviously good and obviously evil Popes, controversial Popes and forgotten Popes. In Vicars of Christ, they all have their day in court. Each Pope is profiled, and their rich history, with all its pageantry, intrigue, holiness, and crime, is unveiled.

Charles A Coulombe is one of North America’s most respected and sought-after commentators on culture, religion, history, and politics. A specialist in the history and government of the Catholic Church, he has appeared on lecture circuits throughout North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. 

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