Reproofs have been issued (even reproffs, as I first typed, perhaps what happens when you become a professor again) about my recent slackness on here so here you find me on a slightly overcast Roman afternoon typing away. Go on, pretend you've been missing me. My visitor has gone back to the UK so I am free to witter aimlessly and at length on here once again. I have had a rather wonderful lunch (linguine with mussels cooked in a tomato, garlic and parsely sauce, followed by orata - I think that's bream - gently poached with lemon and olive oil, with a green salad, followed by fruit, coffee etc, courtesy of my Sard housemate) and so am pleasantly full.
The eternal conundrum of the eternal city has reared its tiresome head once again, vis do I want to carry on living here or do I want to return to the UK and have a proper career. An ideal looking job has come up, one which looks challenging and full of new stuff, in a respected and interesting institution, not far from where my house is, and where a very good friend of mine also happens to have a personal job. Doubtless you wil get to hear me moan on about this more in the days to come, so apologies in advance.
Meanwhile today's post is about.... Pope Gregory XIII.
Gregory XIII, named Ugo Boncompagni (or Buoncompagni) in civil life, was the poster boy of Counter-Reformation during his pontificate, 1572-1585. He was born in Bologna, and had a rather dissolute youth, fathering a child and lecturing (us young academics, always up to no good) at the University of Bologna where he taught luminaries such as the English Cardianal Reginald Pole, the future military leader Alessandro Farnese and Cardinal Borromeo who was later beatified. After taking orders his rise up the ecclesiastical ranks was rapid; he was a leading member of the Council of Trent, which debated and enacted major reforms of the Catholic Church in reponse to the attacks of Protestantism, and was handed to several prestigious foreign appointments, culminating in his election in 1572 under Spanish sponsorship. Initially as worldly in orders as he had been before, by the time of his elevation to the Papacy he had undergone a personal reformation and became noted for his personal austerity.
He was not a man of reason: few energetic counter-reformation ecclesiastics were. But he was practical, understanding the need to reform abuses and to build on the Trentine ideas. He considered education and higher learning to be key instruments in the battle against Protestantism, and founded or reformed many of Rome's colleges, including what is now known as the Gregorian University. His faith led him to extreme positions on the question of heresy, and he supported plots against Elizabeth I and went so far as to hold a thanksgiving mass after the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 1572, an act which can only be considered to be spectacularly bad taste. He is perhaps most famous for his reform of the calendar, which he carried out in tandem with some of the leading astronomers and mathematicians of the day, to produce the Gregorian calendar (er... obviously) which we still use.
All very well but I can hear you wondering why I'm telling you this. Here's why:
This is the splendid marble floor medallion in front of Gregory XIII's impressive tomb just before the right hand transept in St Peter's Basilica. The inlay depicts his crest under the crossed keys of St Peter and the triple crown, symbol of his Papal authority, and around the outside the legend bears the date and his names both Papal and civil.
The crest, which features a gold dragon on a red background as can be seen below in a simpler design, is that of the Boncompagni, an ancient aristocratic family with origins in Umbria and the Marches.
Now I have an enormous and perhaps childish love of dragons (a small green velour dragon called Ludlow is my close and almost constant companion) and whilst the crest itself is ace the floor medallion is just wonderful. The oddly truncated dragon is both slender and aggressive (rampant, I daresay, in heraldic terminology) and is furthermore strangely reminiscent of a sea-horse. It's rare that something in St Peter's attracts me so strongly (leaving aside the obvious things like Michaelangelo's Pietà and the Bernini Baldacchino) since I am at heart a Renaissance girl not a Baroque one, and so I here present it for (hopefully) your delight and edification.