Category Archives: Italian History

#284 – Lorenzo Valla and the Donation of Constantine

The Donation of Constantine served to justify Papal temporal authority over Western Europe for centuries, until Lorenzo Valla proved that it was a fraud. No one likes a revisionist historian.

Tomb of Lorenzo Valla
Valla’s refutation of the Donation of Constantine

Blum, Paul Richard. Philosophers of the Renaissance
Blum, Paul Richard. Philosophy of Religion in the Renaissance. Ashgate Studies in the History of Philosophical Theology. Farnham, England ; Burlington, VT: Ashgate Pub. Ltd, 2010. CUA Press, 2010.
Celenza, Christopher S. The Lost Italian Renaissance: Humanists, Historians, and Latin’s Legacy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.
Valla, Lorenzo, and Renaissance Society of America. The Treatise of Lorenzo Valla on the Donation of Constantine. Renaissance Society of America Reprint Texts 1. Toronto: University of Toronto Press in association with the Renaissance Society of America, 1993.

Image: Fresco of Donation of Constantine

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podcasticon#284 – Lorenzo Valla and the Donation of Constantine”

#275 – The Papal Peace Note

Pope Benedict XV repeatedly called for an end to the violence of the First World War, but his cries just as repeatedly were rejected by the governments of belligerent countries that would be satisfied with nothing less than total victory. Yet, it was not only the governments of belligerent countries that thwarted Benedict’s mission – many Catholic bishops and cardinals also rejected the “Pope’s peace”.

Benedict XV’s Papal Peace Note
Benedict XV’s Peace Offering Calendar

Griffin, Mike. “Snubbed: Pope Benedict XV and Cardinal James Gibbons”. Sign of Peace Journal.
Peters, Walter H. The Life of Benedict XV. Milwaukee: Bruce Pub. Co, 1959.
Pollard, John F. The Unknown Pope: Benedict XV (1912-1922) and the Pursuit of Peace. London: Geoffrey Chapman, 2000.

“The Peaceful Pope” – cover of Simplicissimus 1915.

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Website of the Third Order Franciscans

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podcasticon#275 – The Papal Peace Note

#256 – The Wild West in the Vatican

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West was popular throughout the United States and even Europe. Yet, while many amazing displays could be found at Buffalo Bill Cody’s shows, perhaps the most amazing display took place when he visited Pope Leo XIII.

Buffalo Bill in Rome
Medal Buffalo Bill received from Pope Leo XIII

Delaney, Michelle Anne. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West warriors: a photographic history by Gertrude Käsebier. 2007.
Moses, L. G. Wild West Shows and the images of American Indians, 1883-1933. 1999.
Warren, Louis S. Buffalo Bill’s America: William Cody and the Wild West Show. 2005.

Photo of “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” in front of the Vatican.

CNMC – Catholic New Media Celebration

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podcasticon#256 – The Wild West in the Vatican

#250 – Papal Zouaves, Part II

The increasing threat to the Papal States by the Kingdom of Italy will lead to new calls for Catholics to come to the aid of Pius IX. Catholic in Canada respond eagerly. Catholics in the United States are much more hesitant.

Canadian and American Zouaves in the Papal Army, 1868-1870 by Howard R. Marraro, PhD
Last Crusade by Dr. John C. Rao
The Pope’s Legion: The Multinational Fighting Force that Defended the Vatican by Charles A. Coulombe

Image of Canadian Zouaves leaving for the Papal States.

Portiuncula Indulgence – August 2nd!
CNMC – Catholic New Media Celebration
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podcasticon#250 – Papal Zouaves, Part II

#249 – Papal Zouaves, Part I

In 1860, faced with threats of Italian nationalism, the Pope appealed for help. Thousands of Catholics traveled to Rome to protect Pius IX and to give their lives for their faith.

The Vatican Rifles

The Pope’s Legion: The Multinational Fighting Force that Defended the Vatican by Charles A. Coulombe

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podcasticon#249 – Papal Zouaves, Part I

Today in Catholic History – Edward Gibbon and the Franciscans

On 15 October 1764, Edward Gibbon received his inspiration to write his famous The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire which is seen as the beginning of modern historical writing on the Roman Empire and a tremendous influence on later historical writing.

Gibbon wrote in his Autobiography that it was as he heard Franciscan Friars singing Vespers in the Church of Santa Maria Aracoeli in Rome, which had been built on a site where there had previously been a Temple of Juno, where his desire to write about Rome began. Gibbon believed that he was on the former site of a Temple of Jupiter, but was mistaken. Gibbon’s first inspiration was to write about the city of Rome and only later concerned himself with the entire empire.

One of the main arguments of Gibbon in his magisterial work was that Christian hostility to the Roman Empire was one of the main reasons for the empire’s eventual collapse. Many historians today, however, reject this argument and instead point to economic and military reasons for the end of the Roman Empire in the West.

Today in Catholic History – The Obelisk before St. Peter’s is blessed

On 28 September 1586, the obelisk known as “The Witness” was blessed in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The obelisk, originally taken from Rome and erected at the Circus of Nero in 37 AD, was the second largest standing obelisk at 130 ft including the base and the cross and weighing 330 tons. Pope Sixtus V wanted the obelisk moved and so arranged a competition among three hundred architects, engineers and others. Domenico Fontana won the competition and spent seven months gathering supplies and building a ramp and on April 30, the project of transporting the obelisk began with 907 men, 70 winches and 145 horses. However, as the obelisk was being raised disaster almost struck when the ropes holding the obelisk started smoking from the friction. A voice cried out “Acqua alle funi!” or “Water the ropes!. Fontana followed the advice and the daylong process of raising the obelisk and lowering onto the platform for moving was completed successfully.

The man who cried out was a sailor from Bordighera and in gratitude Pope Sixtus granted Bordighera the perpetual privilege of providing the palms to St Peter’s for Palm Sunday.

Due to the summer heat of Rome, the obelisk remained on its side and on the morning of September 10th the obelisk was raised in St. Peter’s square. Domenico Fontana was made Cavalier della Guglia – or Knight of the Obelisk. On the 28th the scaffolding of the obelisk was removed and Pope Sixtus blessed the obelisk.

It is said that Fontana had horses prepared for a quick escape should the transport have failed.

Today in Catholic History – The Siege of Rome

On 19 September 1870, the armies of the Kingdom of Italy laid siege to Rome in their desire to incorporate the city into a unified Italian state. On the 20th of September, the Italian armies will capture the city ending more than one thousand years of temporal rule by the papacy. Popes Pius IX through Pius XI will refuse to recognize the loss of Rome and call themselves the “Prisoner of the Vatican”.

With the defeat of Napoleon III at the Battle of Sedan, the French Government was no longer willing or able to prevent the desires of many Roman citizens as well as the Italian Government itself that Rome become part of the Kingdom of Italy. An attempt by King Victor Emmanuel III to get Pope Pius IX to acquiesce to Italian troops marching into Rome under the guise of protecting the Pope was rejected. The Italian government hoped that a peaceful surrender could be negotiated and as the Italian army approached Rome, Pius IX recognized that he could not defend the city but would put up a token resistance.

On 19th of September, the Italian army reached the Aurelian Walls of Rome. On 20th, Italian troops will enter Rome and after a brief struggle during which 68 soldiers were killed, Italy captured the city. On the 21st, the Italian forces will capture the Leonine City, including the Vatican. The Italian government had attempted to offer a deal to Pius IX to offer the Leonine City in return for his recognition of the loss of Rome but Pius IX refused.

For the next 59 years, the popes refused to give any sign that they recognized the authority of the Italian government. They would not appear in Saint Peter’s Square or leave the Vatican. Only when Pope Pius XII agreed to the Lateran Treaty in 1929 establishing an independent Vatican City did this situation change.

Today in Catholic History – The Founding of San Marino

On 3 September 301, Saint Marinus established the country of San Marino – the fifth smallest state in the world.

Saint Marinus, at this time known as Marinus the Dalmatian, had fled to Mount Titano to escape the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian. Mount Titano is the highest mountain in San Marino and there, on land given to him by the Riminese noblewoman Felicissima, Marinus established a small Christian monastery. Felicissima urged the followers of Marinus to remain always in unity. After Saint Marino’s death, the community which grew out of the monastery became known as the Land of San Marino and today as the Republic of San Marino.

Today is a national holiday for San Marino, you too can celebrate with a Bustrengo.

Today in Catholic History – Cesare Borgia resigns from the cardinalate

On 17 August 1498, Cesare Borgia became the first man to ever resign from the cardinalate.

Cesare’s father, Pope Alexander VI, had placed many of his children into church offices. Cesare was made bishop of Pamplona when he was 15 and raised to the cardinalate at 18. However, Cesare himself did not desire a church career and when his brother Giovanni mysteriously died, some blamed Cesare for the death, Cesare saw the opportunity to inherit his brother’s position as captain general of the armies of the papacy. Cesare was 23 when he resigned the cardinalate.

With the approval of Pope Alexander VI, Cesare resigned from the cardinalate to pursue a secular and a military career. As long as Alexander VI was pope, Cesare’s position was secure, but with Alexander’s death and the rise of anti-Borgia popes such as Pius III and Julius II – Cesare found himself imprisoned and then exiled.


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