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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


Buongiorno, Princepessa…


Caravaggio's Rest During the Flight to Egypt

Caravaggio's Rest During the Flight to Egypt

The Galleria Doria Pamphilj is housed in one of the palaces of the Doria Pamphilj family, and just a couple short blocks from the Pantheon, on the Via del Corso in the heart of Rome. Not to be confused with their other Palazzo Pamphilj, which takes up half of the western end of the Piazza Navona, and is now the Brazilian Embassy. Nor the giant Villa Doria Pamphilj not far to the south of the Vatican, in Trastevere, which is second only to the Villa Borghese in size.  of course, all this gives you a sense of the scope of wealth and power wielded by this Roman aristocratic family in the last millennium and more. The beauty of the art inside is an even grander testament to a family that has included popes and princes of Rome, and which, according to Roman legend, is descended from the poet Virgil, no less.

And what better way to tour such a place than with Princepessa Gesine and her husband Don Massimiliano?

Diego Vasquez' Innocent X

Diego Vasquez' Innocent X

Don Massimiliano, who is a Deacon in one of Rome’s suburbicarian Sees, led the tour of the estate, pointing out several of the more well known artists and pieces. There is, for example, Caravaggio’s last work with any kind of landscape, Rest During the Flight to Egypt, or the famous Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez (upon seeing it, the pope is said to have exclaimed, “It’s too real!”). You can see some of the pieces at the website.

We went through the family chapel, complete with an extensive reliquary and a semi-secret passage to a private observation booth in the adjacent Church where the noble family could observe the elevation of the host without mingling with the masses. Pun intended.

After the tour, the princepessa and her husband provided welcome hospitality in the family room – complete with antique furniture, marble fireplace, and genuine oil-on-canvass portraits of Donna Gesine’s family going back three generations! We have invited them to the Lay Centre to return the favor, and though we have some decent art – including an original sketch of the Council Fathers at Vatican II – ours is a humble abode by comparison!

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