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Il Potere e la Grazia: I Santi Patroni d’Europa

Power and Grace: Patron Saints of Europe

Leonardo's John the Baptist

The Palazzo Venezia has had an art exhibit running this month displaying various art forms depicting various saints of Europe, including on loan from the Louvre Leonardo da Vinci’s John the Baptist. A small group of us from the Lay Centre decided to go on the penultimate night of the exhibit, which was free and open until midnight.

The display was organized into rooms depicting the progression of sainthood around the needs of the times and the kind of saints honored, starting with biblical figures, then martyrs, monastics, confessors, theologian-bishops, founders of orders, the ‘military saints’ (George, Michael, etc), royalty, and those martyred in the struggles of church (grace) and state (power), such as Jean d’Arc or Thomas More.

The art chosen focused on those who were patron saints of the nations of Europe, and from a variety of media: icons, stained glass, sculpture, carving, oil on canvas, illuminated manuscripts, even old black and white films.

Madonna with Catherine of Siena, Rose of Lima, and Agnes of Montepulciano (Giambattista Tiepolo)

Did you know that Europe, as a continent, has six patron saints? Three male and three female, three from the first millennium and three from the second: Benedict of Norcia, Cyril and Methodius of Thessalonica, Birgitta of Sweden, Caterina of Siena, and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). Each nation then has its own patron saint(s) – some with as many as 10!

Dimitrios and I finished some time before the others, so we had a chance to discuss the exhibit, the nature of Greece’s concerns with the name chosen by the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and apophatic gelato – which prompted a debate about the distinction between that and kataphatic gelato, scholastic gelato, and postmodern gelato. Needless to say we took a detour to La Palma when Kassim, Greg and Karina joined us!  

As it turns out, we were not the only ones who waited till the last weekend to go: Pope Sneaks Out of Vatican to Visit Exhibit



  1. Dennis says:

    Hi. We are finishing up a slide show of our month-long Oct. 2010 visit to Italy.
    Can you explain the “j” at the end of the Pamphilj name? On the internet, I see most references to the family as “Pamphili” with the “i” at the end rather than the “j.”

    As a retired English literature professor, I’m guessing it is similar to the “v” –> “u” change, or the Shakespearean “f” –> “s” (though both were used in Shakespeare).

    Any help here? Thanks!

    • A.J. Boyd says:

      I think it is similar to the f as a final s, the j as an i with flourish, from early16th century. The J does not properly exist in italian as separate from the I, except in borrowed words from English or other languages.

      Although i thought someone had also suggested it used to take the place of a double ii – as with Pompeii/Pompey – but this is all picked up from Italian friends, not linguists per se. Hope it helps!

  2. Dennis says:

    Signor Boyd,

    Hi. Thanks for your reply.

    Further research on the internet supports your answer.. Linguistically, the “j” was sometimes used to indicate the long “i” sound at the end. I interpret that to mean that the family wanted its last name to be pronounced pam-FEEL-eye rather than pam-FEEL-ee. At least that was the best I could make of it!

    Again, thanks for responding. Hope I’ve helped you a little, as well.


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