28 July 2016

Avignon and Desenzano

The only occasion when I have been to a SSPX Mass, when I was still an Anglican priest, was when the family sent Pam and me to Avignon for a week to celebrate our 40th Wedding Anniversary (our 50th comes next year si fata mihi parcent superstiti). I went to Sunday Mass in the exquisite rococo chapel of the Black Penitents.

The Black Penitents, don't you feel, sound rather like something sinister in a Gothick novel by Mrs Radcliff. They were in fact a pious confraternity whose charity embraced those imprisoned nearby, and those sentenced to death. They had the privilege of being able to reprieve each year one of those sentenced for a capital offence.

A couple of weeks ago, exploring Lake Garda by the ferries from my comfortable and hospitable base in the Locanda agli Angeli at Gardone Riviera, I found myself in Desenzano, once the capital of the canton embracing the Southern part of the Lake. Having 'done' the very rewarding  duomo (which, in this part of Italy, means a large church, not necesarily with a cathedra ... another old Italian term going back to the first millennium is pieve, meaning a church with a Baptistry), I climbed the hill to have a closer look at the Castle occupying the high ground. A few feet away from it, was a church built as a Chapel of S John Baptist decollati for the the Confraternity of that name. Their charism appears to have been much the same as that of the Black Penitents of Avignon.

Dr C*tt*n will know whether such pious institutions existed in Catholic England. I don't.

(Incidentally, down in the piazza of Desenzano is a Memorial to those who died in the First World War. What struck me was its fierce reference to the salveggia rabbia of the Germans and Austrians. I could detect no evidence that this might have been covered up or tampered with during the years of Italy's Second World War alliance with Hitler. Thought-provoking, yes?)


Alan said...

Italian war memorials, Father, are a matter of some controversy. There is, in fact, a book about them in English: John Foot: Italy's Divided Memory (Palgrave). With regard to the First World War, the nature of war memorials was hotly and sometimes violently contested between socialists and communists (who loathed memorials of the "our glorious dead" type, and fascists.

Bear in mind, too, that Italy's borders have expanded (and then contracted from the Istrian peninsula). Desenzano bus number 1 goes to San Martino della Battaglia, though a car is advisable for proceeding beyond the village to the memorial tower and ossuary commemorating the battle we usually call "Solferino". A few miles north of your haunt in Gardone, the border with the Austro-Hungarian Empire cut across the lake. The "white war" was fought with great ferocity in the mountains of the Adamello massif.

Trento ("Trent" of the council) is particularly interesting. A plaque on a building in the cathedral square commemorates the birthplace of local hero Cesare Battisti. His grandiose tomb is visible across the Adige from the east end of the cathedral. Another plaque on the wall of the castle commemorates Battisti's death by hanging in 1916. Neither bothers to mention that the Austro-Hungarian equivalent of Pierrepoint, Lang, was loudly cheered on by the local populace, mostly loyal subjects of His Imperial and Royal Majesty, the Emperor of Austria and Apostolic King of Hungary. On the wall of the town hall are two war memorials. One, dating from the 1920s, commemorates those who died for Italy, with Battisti and his companion Fabio Filzi at the top of the list. The other, much simpler, memorial was erected in 2008 to the memmory of the thousand sons of Trento who died in the "Imperio Regio Esercito Austro-Ungarico" that they might not be forgotten. Incidentally, the person emerging with most credit from the appalling story of the executions (especially Lang's botched job on Battisti) is the Austrian military chaplain who attended the condemned men.

Also of note in the town is a mosaic in the style loved by totalitarian regimes, defaced in two respects. Mussolini's name has been chipped away, and an object carried by the blond lady in the picture removed from her arms. It could have been a baby or a machine gun, but was in fact a lictorial fasces.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Thank you! What an amazingly interesting comment!!!

Mary Kay said...

My less interesting comment is that I so wish I had been there! Italy was a great treat for me last year and I had planned to do it again but a car accident and concussion have left me a bit 'under the weather'. Perhaps next year, if travel does not become too frightful. Thank you for the memory of that enchanting place!
Mary K J