Showing posts with label Church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Church. Show all posts

7 March 2017

Saint Thomas Aquinas - philosopher

Theologian who synthesised Aristotle’s ideas with principles of Christianity

A portrait of Saint Thomas Aquinas by the Italian artist Carlo Crivelli
A portrait of Saint Thomas Aquinas
by the Italian artist Carlo Crivelli
Saint Thomas Aquinas, known in Italian as Tommaso d’Aquino, died on this day in 1274 at Fossanova near Terracina in Lazio.

A Dominican friar who became a respected theologian and philosopher, D’Aquino was canonised in 1323, less than 50 years after his death.

He was responsible for two masterpieces of theology, Summa theologiae and Summa contra gentiles. The first sought to explain the Christian faith to students setting out to study theology, the second to explain the Christian faith and defend it in the face of hostile attacks.

As a poet, D'Aquino wrote some of the most beautiful hymns in the church’s liturgy, which are still sung today.

D’Aquino is recognised by the Roman Catholic Church as its foremost philosopher and theologian and he had a considerable influence on the development of Western thought and ideas. His commentaries on Scripture and on Aristotle are an important part of his legacy and he is still regarded as the model teacher for those studying for the priesthood.

D’Aquino was born in Roccasecca in the province of Frosinone in about 1225 in the castle owned by his father, who was count of Aquino.

He was placed in the nearby monastery of Monte Cassino when he was a young boy as a prospective monk. But after nine years in the monastery he was forced to return to his parents when the Holy Roman Emperor expelled all the monks for being too obedient to the Pope.

Fra Angelico's depiction of  Thomas Aquinas with his Summa Theologiae in the Convent of San Marco in Florence
Fra Angelico's depiction of  Thomas Aquinas with his Summa
Theologiae in the Convent of San Marco in Florence
After D’Aquino was sent to the University of Naples, he encountered scientific and theological works translated from Greek and Arabic for the first time.

He joined the Dominicans, which was a new religious order actively involved in preaching and teaching. His superiors immediately sent him to Paris pursue his studies.

But on the way there he was abducted on his parents’ orders because they did not want him to continue with the Dominicans. After a year in captivity in the family castle, his parents reluctantly liberated him and he was able to continue on his journey.

He studied at the Convent of Saint-Jacques under Saint Albertus Magnus, a scholar with a wide range of intellectual interests.

D’Aquino’s writings have been interpreted as the integration into Christian thought of the recently-discovered Aristotelian philosophy, but they also presented the need for a cultural and spiritual renewal, not only in the lives of individual men, but throughout the church.

He took the degree of Master of Theology, received the licence to teach in 1256 and then started to teach theology in a Dominican school.

The historic Abbey of Monte Cassino, where D'Aquino was sent to study as a child and where he stayed before his death
The historic Abbey of Monte Cassino, where D'Aquino was
sent to study as a child and where he stayed before his death
D’Aquino returned to Italy after being appointed theological adviser to the Papal Curia, the body that administered the government of the church. He spent two years at Agnani in Lazio at the end of the reign of Pope Alexander IV and four years at Orvieto with Pope Urban IV. He spent two years teaching at the convent of Santa Sabina in Rome and then, at the request of Pope Clement IV, went to the Papal Curia in Viterbo.

On his return to Paris in 1268, D’Aquino became involved in doctrinal arguments. As an Aristotelian, he believed that truth becomes known through both natural revelation - through human nature and human reasoning - and supernatural revelation - the faith-based knowledge revealed through scripture.

Unlike some Christian philosophers, he saw these two elements as complementary rather than contradictory. He believed that the existence of God and his attributes could be deduced through reason, but that certain specifics - the Trinity and the Incarnation, for example - may be known only through special revelation.

When he returned to Italy in 1272, D’Aquino established a Dominican house of studies at the University of Naples and continued to defend his Aristotelian ideas against the criticisms of other scholars.

The main building at the University of Naples, where D'Aquino set up a Dominican house of studies
The main building at the University of Naples, where
D'Aquino set up a Dominican house of studies
He was personally summoned by Pope Gregory X to the second Council of Lyons in 1274 but became ill on the journey.

While riding a donkey along the Appian Way he is thought to have struck his head against the branch of a tree. He was taken to Monte Cassino to convalesce and after resting for a while, he set out on his journey again. However, he fell ill once more and stopped off at the Cistercian Abbey of Fossanova, where he died on March 7.

Three years after D'Aquino's death, the Bishops of Paris and Oxford condemned a series of his theses as heretical, in that they contradicted the orthodox theology which considered human reason inadequate to understand the will of God. As a result, he was excommunicated posthumously.

However, he reputation was rebuilt over time and he was canonised a saint in 1323 by Pope John XXII, officially named Doctor of the Church in 1567 and proclaimed the Protagonist of Orthodoxy at the end of the 19th century. Many schools and colleges throughout the world have been named after him.

His remains were at first placed in the Church of the Jacobins in Toulouse but were later moved to the Basilique de Saint-Sernin in Toulouse. In 1974 his remains were returned to the Church of the Jacobins where they have stayed ever since.

An aerial view of Roccasecca, the town of D'Aquino's  birth in the Frosinone province in Lazio
An aerial view of Roccasecca, the town of D'Aquino's
birth in the Frosinone province in Lazio
Travel tip:

Roccasecca, D’Aquino’s birthplace, is a town in the province of Frosinone in the Lazio region of central Italy. It is within an area known as Ciociaria by Italians, a name derived from the word ciocie, the footwear worn by the inhabitants in years gone by. Ciociaria hosts food fairs, events and music festivals as well as celebrating traditional feasts, when the local people wear the regional costume and the typical footwear, ciocie.

Hotels in Roccasecca by

Travel tip:

The Abbey of Fossanova, where D’Aquino died, is a Cistercian monastery near the railway station of Priverno, about 100 kilometres south-east of Rome. The Abbey dates from around 1135 and is one of the finest example or early Gothic architecture in Italy. Priverno’s patron saint is Saint Thomas Aquinas.

More reading:

Monte Cassino Abbey destroyed by Allies in the Second World War

How bravery of Clare of Assissi was recognised after her death

When the funeral of a nurse brought the city of Rome to a standstill

Also on this day:

1785: The birth of the novelist Alessandro Manzoni

7 October 2016

Saint Giustina of Padua

Murdered by Romans in last major purge of Christians

A portrait of Santa Giustina by Italian  artist Bartolomeo Montagna
A portrait of Santa Giustina by Italian
artist Bartolomeo Montagna
On the Italian catholic calendar, today is the feast day of Santa Giustina of Padua, celebrating the memory of a young woman executed on this day in 304 in the city of Padua.

Little is known about the life of Giustina apart from her faith. Born into a noble family in Padua, she took a vow of chastity and devoted her life to God and teaching the values of Christianity.

She died as a victim of the purge of Christians undertaken by the Roman Emperor Diocletian.

Persecution of Christians by the Romans was nothing new. Christians were regarded with suspicion and seen as subversive at times. When misfortune struck the Roman Empire they were often blamed. Feeding Christians to lions was once seen as entertainment.

Even as Christianity grew and attitudes softened, there were still emperors from time to time who decided to take a hard line.  One was Diocletian, who had come to power in 284.

Following an edict that rescinded all legal rights for Christians and compelled Christians to sacrifice to Roman gods or face imprisonment or execution, Diocletian launched what became known as the Diocletian Persecution.

A detail from Paolo Veronese's altarpiece in the Basilica di Santa Giustina in Padua
A detail from Paolo Veronese's altarpiece in the
Basilica di Santa Giustina in Padua
He concentrated first on purging the Roman military of Christians and then broadened the persecution to the population in general.

When Diocletian's officers confronted Giustina in Padua, they ordered her to go to the Roman temple to Minerva to worship the Roman goddess, offer her virginity as sacrifice and renounce Christianity.

Because she refused to comply with the edict and denounced the Roman gods, Giustina was condemned to death.  The execution is said to have taken place at a part of Padua called Pontecorvo, where she was stabbed through the heart with a sword.

The Diocletian Persecution was the last major purge of Christians before the Edict of Milan in 313 gave the religion legal status within the Roman Empire for the first time.

Giustina's body was buried in a cemetery near the Zairo Roman theatre and now lies beneath the altar table in the vast Basilica di Santa Giustina, with its eight domes, which was built in the 16th century on the site of the cemetery.

The impressive Basilica di Santa Giustina in Padua
The impressive Basilica di Santa Giustina in Padua
The Basilica is the ninth largest Christian church in the world and houses the relics of many revered saints, including those of St Luke the Evangelist, who is credited with writing the Gospel According to St Luke.

Giustina is a patron saint of Padua and of many other Italian municipalities, where celebrations take place on October 7 each year.

She is a co-patron saint of Venice, where she became extremely popular for a number of years following the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, a naval battle between a coalition of Catholic maritime states marshalled by Pope Pius V and the Turkish fleet which took place on her feast day, and which was decisive in halting the expansion of the Ottoman Empire on the European side of the Mediterranean.

Travel tip:

The Basilica di Santa Giustina in Padua is at the south-east corner of the square called Prato della Valle, where it is joined by Via Avazzano and Via Ferrari. At the back of the Presbytery, a magnificent altarpiece painted by Paolo Veronese in 1575 depicts the moment of her death. Next door to the basilica there is a Benedictine monastery with frescoed cloisters and a famous library that can be visited by arrangement. Admission to the basilica is free. It is open daily from 7.30am until noon and from 3pm until 6.30pm (7.30pm on Sundays).

Statues and a canal line Padua's Prato della Valle, site of a former Roman theatre
Statues and a canal line Padua's Prato della Valle, site
of a former Roman theatre
Travel tip:

The elliptical Prato della Valle, one of Padua's principal squares, is built on the site of the Zairo theatre on land which fell into disuse and became flooded following the fall of the Roman Empire.  The land was drained in the 18th century and a canal crossed by four bridges was created around an island planted with trees and lawns, which was later lined by statues of 78 eminent citizens of Padua. Nearby is a restaurant, the Ristorante Zairo, which contains statues and wall decorations that recall the chariot races and other activities that would have taken place in the theatre. Diners can also see a 17th century fresco that came to light when renovations uncovered part of the structure of a former church.

More reading:


4 October 2016

Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi

Lamps light up Assisi in memory of saint

St Francis by Cimabue
St Francis by
The city of Assisi in Umbria is today celebrating the Feast Day - la festa - of their famous Saint, Francis - Francesco -  who is one of the most venerated religious figures in history.

It is the most important festival in the Franciscan calendar as it commemorates Saint Francis’s transition from this life to the afterlife.

For two days Assisi is illuminated by lamps burning consecrated oil. Special services are held in the Basilica Papale di San Francesco and the Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli.

The feast day is also celebrated in other churches all over the world and children are encouraged to bring their pets to be blessed in memory of Saint Francis’s love for animals.

Saint Francis was born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone in about 1181 in Assisi but he was informally known as Francesco by his family.

A theory is that his father, Pietro di Bernardone, a prosperous silk merchant, decided to call his new son Francesco - the Frenchman - because he had been on business in France at the time of the birth.  His wife, Pica de Bourlemont, was a noblewoman from Provence, although it was she who chose the name Giovanni.

The house in Assisi where St Francis grew up
The house in Assisi where St Francis grew up
Francesco lived the typical life of a wealthy young man, first as a rebellious teenager with a love for partying, later as adventurer, dreaming of becoming a knight and going to war.

The opportunity to do so came in 1202, when a war broke out between Assisi and Perugia. Francesco signed up for the cavalry but after witnessing the horrors of the battlefield was captured and imprisoned, held captive for almost a year until his father agreed to pay a ransom.

It was during this time that he appeared to undergo a spiritual conversion, returning to Assisi as a different man. He became a friar, founding the men’s Order of Friars Minor and the women’s Order of Saint Clare.

He had once joined the poor people begging at St Peter’s in Rome, an experience that made him vow to live in poverty.

He also dedicated himself to restoring ruined churches in the countryside around Assisi, among them the Porziuncola, the small church where the Franciscan movement was started.

This panorama of Assisi shows how the Basilica di San Francesco is built on two levels
This panorama of Assisi shows how the Basilica di San
Francesco is built on two levels
After hearing Francesco preach, Clare, a young noblewoman from Assisi, was deeply moved and wanted to join his order. Francesco received her at the Porziuncola and established the Order of Poor Ladies, later called Poor Clares.

In 1224, while fasting in preparation for Michaelmas on a mountain known as La Verna in Tuscany, he is said to have received the stigmata after seeing an apparition of angels. He is the first person on record to have been seen to bear marks matching the wounds of Christ.

Suffering from the effects of the stigmata and other health problems for which he sought treatment to no avail, Francesco returned to Assisi.  He died in a hut he had made for himself near the Porziuncola during the evening of October 3, 1226.

He was canonised by Pope Gregory IX in 1228 and, along with Saint Catherine of Siena, was designated a patron saint of Italy.

The Basilica as seen from Piazza Inferiore
The Basilica as seen from Piazza Inferiore
Travel tip:

The Papal Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi - Basilica di San Francesco d'Assisi - the mother church of the Franciscan Order, is in Piazza Inferiore di San Francesco in Assisi. Built into the side of a hill, it consists of two churches, a lower Basilica and an upper Basilica, and a crypt that contains the remains of St Francis. The Basilica is one of the most important places of Christian pilgrimage in Italy and has been designated a Unesco World Heritage site since 2000.

Travel tip:

The Basilica of St Clare - Basilica di Santa Chiara - is in Piazza Santa Chiara in Assisi. It was built in the 13th century in Gothic style to contain the remains of St Clare. These were transferred to a shrine in the basilica in the 19th century. The church is open daily from 06.30 to 12.00 and from 14.00 to 19.00. Outside the church there is a terrace with lovely views of the surrounding Umbrian countryside.

(Photo of Assisi skyline by Roberto Ferrari CC BY-SA 2.0)
(Photo of St Francis's house by Tetrakys CC BY-SA 3.0)


2 October 2016

Saint Charles Borromeo

Great reformer earned appreciation after his death

This painting of Charles Borromeo is in the St. Hermes Church in Ronse, Belgium
This painting of Charles Borromeo is in the St.
Hermes Church in Ronse, Belgium
Charles (Carlo) Borromeo, a leading Catholic figure who led the movement to combat the spread of Protestantism, was born on this day in Milan in 1538. 

Part of the noble Borromeo family, he became a Cardinal and brought in many reforms to benefit the Church, which made him unpopular at the time.

But he was held in high regard after his death and was quickly made a saint by Pope Paul V.

Borromeo was born at the Castle of Arona on Lake Maggiore, near Milan. His father was Count of Arona and his mother was part of the Medici family.

He was educated in civil and canon law at the University of Pavia.

When his uncle, Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Medici became Pope Pius IV in 1559, Borromeo was brought to Rome and given a post in the Vatican.

The following year the Pope made him a Cardinal and asked him to supervise the Franciscans, Carmelites and Knights of Malta and organise the last session of the Council of Trent, which was being held in Trento to reform the Church and counter the spread of Protestantism.  The Council issued a long list of decrees covering disputed aspects of the Catholic religion as well as denouncing what it considered to be heresies committed in the name of Protestantism.

When Borromeo’s older brother died, the family wanted him to leave the Church and marry and have children to continue the family name, but he would not give up his calling.

However, the death of his brother and also his contact with the Jesuits encouraged him to lead a stricter, more Christian life.

Borromeo was made a bishop in the Sistine Chapel in 1563 and became Archbishop of Milan in 1565.

The colossal statue of Charles Borromeo in his home town of Arona on Lake Maggiore
The colossal statue of Charles Borromeo
in his home town of Arona on Lake Maggiore
Before he left Rome, where he had personally overseen church reforms, a nobleman remarked that the city was ‘no longer a place to enjoy oneself or make a fortune’.

Borromeo also reformed Milan after he arrived, simplifying church interiors, clearing away ornaments and banners and separating the sexes during worship.

He believed that many abuses in the church were caused by the ignorance of the clergymen and he established seminaries for the education of candidates for holy orders.

His reforms met with some opposition and a shot was once fired at him when he was in his own chapel. His survival was later considered to be miraculous.

When famine and plague struck Milan, Borromeo used all his own money and then got himself into debt in order to feed the hungry.

He faced increasing opposition while trying to implement the reforms to the Church dictated by the Council of Trent, but in 1584 he became ill with fever and died soon afterwards at the age of just 46.

Even a biographer who admired him described him as an ‘austere, humourless and uncompromising personality.’

But after Borromeo’s death his popularity increased and he was canonised in 1610 and eventually became venerated as a Saint of Learning and the Arts all over the world.

His nephew, Federico Borromeo, furthered his uncle’s support for learning by founding the Ambrosian Library in Milan.

Many churches, colleges, seminaries and even cities throughout the world have been named after Charles Borromeo.  The city of Saint Charles in Louisiana, for example, is named after him, as is the Brazilian city of São Carlos.

Travel tip:

Arona, where Charles Borromeo was born, is a town on Lake Maggiore in the province of Novara. One of its main sights is the Sancarlone, a giant statue of Saint Charles Borromeo made from bronze. It is second in size only to the Statue of Liberty and is believed to have been looked at by the architects of the Statue of Liberty when they were producing their own design.

The Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan
The Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan
Travel tip:

The Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Piazza Pio XI in Milan was established in 1618 to house paintings, drawing and statues donated to the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, a library founded in the same building by Cardinal Federico Borromeo a few years before. In addition to works of art, the museum keeps curiosities such as the gloves Napoleon wore at Waterloo and a lock of Lucrezia Borgia’s hair, in front of which famous poets such as Lord Byron and Gabriele D’Annunzio spent a lot of time drawing inspiration. Visit for more information.