18 November 2015

St Peter’s Basilica Rome

Artists helped design magnificent church

The stunning Renaissance Basilica of St Peter in Rome was completed and consecrated on this day in 1626.

The Basilica of St Peter was consecrated on 18 November 1626
The Basilica of St Peter in Rome
Photo by Jean-Paul Grandmont/CC-BY SA
Believed to be the largest church in the world, Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano was built to replace the original fourth century Basilica that had been constructed on what was believed to be the burial site of St Peter.

Bramante, Michelangelo and Bernini were among the many artistic geniuses who contributed to the design of the church, which is considered to be a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture.

Located within Vatican City, the Basilica is approached along Via della Conciliazione and through the vast space of St Peter’s Square.

The magnificent central dome of the Basilica dominates the skyline of Rome and the balcony above the entrance, where the Pope makes appearances, is instantly recognisable because of the many times it has been shown on television.

It is believed that St Peter, one of the disciples of Jesus, was executed in Rome on 13 October, 64 AD during the reign of the Emperor Nero. He was buried close to the place of his martyrdom.

The old St Peter’s Basilica was constructed over the burial site 300 years later.
Archaeological research under the present day Basilica was carried out during the last century and Pope Pius XII announced the discovery of St Peter’s tomb in 1950.

Travel tip:

St Peter’s Square, Piazza San Pietro, was designed by Bernini to provide a large space where the faithful, from all over the world, could gather together. It is filled to capacity by pilgrims and visitors on Easter Sunday, Christmas Day and other important religious occasions when the Pope appears to address the crowd. These events are televised and watched by viewers all over the world.
La Pietà is a highlight of any visit to St Peter's Basilica in Rome
Michelangelo's sculpture La Pietà
Photo by Stanislav Traykov/CC BY 2.5

Travel tip:

Inside the Basilica, look out for Michelangelo’s beautiful Pietà, a marble sculpture of the Virgin Mary with the dead body of Jesus lying across her knees.  It is now kept behind bulletproof glass following its restoration after an attack badly damaged it. Michelangelo carved this sculpture from a single piece of Carrara marble in 1499 when he was only 24 and it is the only work he ever signed.

17 November 2015

Umberto I assassination bid

First attempt to kill the king is foiled

Umberto I was unpopular over how he dealt with civil unrest
Umberto I was unpopular over how
he dealt with civil unrest
An unsuccessful attempt was made on the life of King Umberto I of Italy on this day in 1878 in Naples.

Umberto was making a tour of the kingdom accompanied by his wife, Queen Margherita, and the Prime Minister, Benedetto Cairoli.

While saluting the crowds in Naples from his carriage, Umberto was attacked by a young man, Giovanni Passannante, who was employed as a cook at the time, but was later described as an anarchist. Passanante jumped on the carriage and attempted to stab the King. Umberto warded off the blow with his sabre but the Prime Minister, who came to his aid, was wounded in the thigh.

This was the first of three attempts on the life of Umberto I, who despite being nicknamed il Buono (the good), lost popularity with his subjects as his reign progressed.

An attempt was made on the life of King Umberto I of Italy on a Naples street in 1878.
A street in the centre of Naples
He had won the respect of people because of the way he conducted himself during his military career and as a result of his marriage to Margherita of Savoy and the subsequent birth of their son, who was to become King Victor Emmanuel III.

But Umberto became increasingly unpopular because of his imperialist policies and his harsh ways of dealing with civil unrest.

Queen Margherita was loved in Naples, where she visited schools and hospitals and organised collections of toys and clothes for the children of poor families. She was seen to hold the hands of cholera victims without wearing gloves and to join the ordinary women in their processions to the Duomo.

As a result, Pizza Margherita, with its tomato, basil and mozzarella topping representing the colours of the Italian flag, was created in Naples and named after her.

However, her popularity didn’t help Umberto, who in 1897 was attacked again, this time by an unemployed ironworker who tried, but failed, to stab him in Rome.

But in July 1900 the anarchists were finally successful. Umberto was shot and killed in Monza by Gaetano Bresci, who later claimed he wanted to avenge those killed in a recent massacre in Milan, when military force had been used against ordinary people protesting about rising bread prices.

The Duomo in Naples
The Duomo in Naples
Travel tip:

Visit the Duomo in Naples, in Via Duomo, off Via Tribunali in the heart of the city. The cathedral was built over the ruins of two earlier Christian churches for Charles I of Anjou at the end of the 13th century. It is open 8.30 to 1.30 and 2.30 to 8 pm Monday to Saturday and 8.30 to 1.30 and 4.30 to 7.30 pm on Sundays.

Travel Tip:

Monza, the third largest city in Lombardia, is a few miles north of Milan . You can see the spot where King Umberto I was assassinated in Via Matteo da Campione. It is now marked by an Expiatory Chapel, built on the orders of Umberto’s son and successor, King Victor Emanuel III. The monument was designed by architect Giuseppe Sacconi.


16 November 2015

San Giuseppe Moscati - doctor

Remembering the kindness of a brilliant young doctor

Doctor and scientist Giuseppe Moscati was beatified by Pope Paul VI on this day in 1975.

Doctor and scientist beatified by Pope Paul VI
Giuseppe was renowned for his kindness and generosity to his patients and even before his death people talked of ‘miracle’ cures being achieved by him. 

He was canonised by Pope John Paul II in 1987 and his feast day is 16 November.

The saint was born into a big family in Benevento in 1880. His father, a lawyer and magistrate, was active in the church and Giuseppe inherited his piety.

The family later moved to Naples and Giuseppe enrolled in the medical school of the University of Naples in 1897.

On graduating he went to work in a hospital but continued with his brilliant scientific research and attended Mass frequently.

When Vesuvius erupted in 1906 he helped evacuate all the elderly and paralysed patients before the roof collapsed on the hospital under the weight of the ash.

He worked tirelessly to research ways to eradicate cholera in Naples and personally cared for many of the soldiers wounded in the First World War.

He was compassionate to the poor and often gave them money as well as free medical treatment and a prescription.

Giuseppe died suddenly in 1927 at the age of 46 having been on duty at the hospital only that morning.

After his death, a young man dying from leukaemia was suddenly and inexplicably cured, after his mother dreamed of a doctor in a white coat. She was able to identify the doctor as Blessed Giuseppe after her priest showed her a photograph of him. The young man who was cured was able to attend the canonisation ceremony of Giuseppe Moscati by the Pope.

The Santuario del Carmine overlooks Sorrento's Piazza Tasso
The Santuario del Carmine
overlooks Piazza Tasso

Travel Tip:

In ancient times, Benevento was one of the most important cities in southern Italy and there are many Roman remains there, including a triumphal arch erected in honour of Trajan and an ampitheatre. In the cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta there is a marble statue of Saint Giuseppe Moscati in the chapel of the Holy Sacrament.

Travel Tip:

Overlooking Sorrento’s main square, Piazza Tasso, the yellow-painted, 16th century Sanctuary of the Madonna del Carmine has a shrine to Giuseppe Moscati in a little side chapel where people can pray to the sainted doctor for comfort and relief.


15 November 2015

Annunzio Mantovani - conductor

Orchestra leader brought light relief during World War Two

Mantovani moved to England as a child and made his career there
Mantovani moved to England as
a child and made his career there
Conductor and composer Annunzio Paolo Mantovani - best known simply as Mantovani - was born on this day in Venice in 1905.

The music produced by his orchestras, which became known as ‘the Mantovani sound', brought pleasure to millions and his recordings were best sellers in Britain and the US before the Beatles came on the scene.

Mantovani’s father, Benedetto Paolo Mantovani, who was known as ‘Bismarck’, was a violinist and leader of the orchestra of Teatro alla Scala opera house in Milan, at the time Arturo Toscanini was conductor.

The Mantovani family moved to England in 1912 after Bismarck was appointed conductor of the orchestra at Covent Garden.

Young Annunzio Mantovani studied the violin and piano in London before joining a touring orchestra. He quickly became a violin soloist and then a conductor.

Mantovani's popularity was based on light orchestral 'easy listening' music
Mantovani's popularity was based on light
orchestral 'easy listening' music
He went on to form his own orchestra, which toured the country, made radio broadcasts and recorded albums for Columbia and Decca.

His music was popular with the troops, who danced to it with their sweethearts when they came home on leave during the Second World War. It became known as ‘light orchestral’ or ‘easy listening’ music.

After the war, Mantovani concentrated on recording and developed his trademark ‘cascading strings’, or ‘tumbling strings’ effect with arranger Ronald Binge. The sound was used for the first time on the 1951 single, Charmaine, which sold more than one million copies.

Mantovani's father was orchestra leader at Teatro alla Scala under Arturo Toscanini.

More than 40 of his albums had also registered in the US pop charts before his recording career came to an end in 1972.

Annunzio Mantovani died in 1980 in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, aged 74.

Mantovani's father played in the orchestra at La Scala under conductor Arturo Toscanini
Mantovani's father played in the orchestra at La Scala
under conductor Arturo Toscanini
Travel tip:

Visitors can have a look inside Teatro alla Scala in Milan, where Mantovani’s father played in the orchestra, by touring the theatre’s museum. Costumes and memorabilia from the history of the theatre are kept on display there. The museum entrance is in Largo Ghiringhelli, just off Piazza Scala. It is open every day except the Italian Bank Holidays and certain days in December. Opening hours are from 9.00 to 12.30 and 1.30 to 5.30 pm.

The Palazzo della Ragione in the centre of Mantua
The Palazzo della Ragione in the centre of Mantua
Travel tip:

The surname Mantovani originates from the Italian name given to people from Mantova in northern Italy. Mantova (in English, Mantua) is an atmospheric old city, to the southeast of Milan, in Lombardia. It is well known for its renaissance Palazzo Ducale, the seat of the Gonzaga family, which has a famous room, Camera degli Sposi, decorated with frescoes by Andrea Mantegna.