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Diary

by
19 October 2011

by Jonathan Boardman

A new Mag. and Nunc

I NEVER visit my mother in Carlisle without praying in the city’s cathedral. The opportunity to light an Anglican candle is gladly back, even here, at the boundary of the Roman Empire, with “the Wall” only a comparative stone’s throw away.

To contemplate the starry firma­ment of the choir ceiling (an early forerunner of the original decora­tion of the Sistine Chapel, before Michelangelo got his brush to it?), and the incomparable glory of the decorated east window is really to spoil oneself, aesthetically — and also, I would claim, spiritually.

As with so many cathedrals without the privilege of a dedicated choir school, here the tradition of “men and boys” choral evensong has been ornamented and amplified with the arrival of a girls’ choir, and also with a youth choir drawn from singers who have graduated from the two “white voice” sections. This means that there are very few “dumb days” during term time.

I caught the traditional line-up of boys and lay clerks on my last visit, at the end of September, and marvelled at what such small forces could achieve — three men a side, and with a total of only seven choristers and a probationer. What a difference a really competent head chorister with a truly beautiful voice makes.

The intricacies of Kenneth Leigh­ton’s responses, a new to me but highly worthwhile Mag. and Nunc by Harold East, and a punchy antiphon-like anthem were handled with delicacy, and, what’s more, a sense of prayerfulness — Psalm 22, ex­emplary in diction, dynamics, and colouring. There were seven adult worshippers (including the Dean and Canons), and two teenage, in addition to those in the choir. Disappointing for a service held at 5.30 on a beautiful early au­tumn afternoon? I would say not; rather, worship worthy to be offered. And then, after all, there was the whole host of heaven very much in evidence above us.

Farewell to Lucia

CARLISLE came visiting pastorally recently when I was asked by the few remaining Italian friends of Lucia Praz to perform “a kind of funeral” for her at the Prima Porta cemetery just out­side Rome.

She was the only child of the celebrated Italian literary critic and aesthete Mario Praz (1896-1982) and his English wife, Vivyan Leonora Eyles. Lucia had reflected the inter­nationalism and Bloomsbury-in­spired bohemianism of her up­bring­ing by marrying an Iranian Muslim and living variously in Tehran, Germany, Italy, and several places in Britain, most recently with her daughter in Carlisle.

She had moved back to Italy only in late 2010, when diagnosed with cancer. Her father’s former home (and its distinguished collection) had become a museum just north of Piazza Navona, in 1992; so she settled in Ostia — Rome-on-Sea — for treatment and convalescence.

On arrival at All Saints’ in 1999, among the first things I had come across during an investigation of the rather erratic filing system was a package of letters directed to Professor Praz from a number of well-known authors, notably T. S. Eliot (typed, with autograph, on The Criterion’s letterhead), and Iris Murdoch (handwritten, on surprisingly scrappy writing-paper).

Glorious as it was to own and handle such documents, the Chap­laincy Council soon commissioned Sotheby’s Rome branch to sell them for us. A short accompanying note recorded that Lucia had given the papers to the church during a fund-raising drive in the late 1980s. This, up to the point of her death, was my only contact with her.

It was to be “a kind of funeral” because the Prima Porta, in common with all Italian cemeteries, has no crematorium chapel, and so, with no chance of a church ceremony be­cause of a shocking shortage of funds for one from such a prominent back­ground and previous generosity, the prayers would have to be con­ducted between the hearse and the door of the crematorium’s storage space.

But then there intervened the so-called Praz effect, as it was termed by the director of the eponymous museo.

Curse, or coincidence?

ROMAN social tradition has it that Professor Praz portava iella, that is, he was an acknowledged conduit of bad luck. So current was this opinion in the Rome of la dolce vita that Maria Callas, the opera diva, at­tributed her vocal collapse during performances of Bellini’s Norma to the presence of the Professor in the Teatro dell’Opera’s audience. (The fact that she was in bad vocal health and near physical and emotional breakdown at the time had nothing to do with it, of course.)

When I arrived at my car to drive to the cemetery — passing a strikingly well-dressed gypsy woman who begs outside of one of the poshest bars in town, and to whom I sometimes give the price of a coffee, sometimes not, and this time the latter — I found that it had been vandalised.

All the windows had been broken, and two of the tyres slashed. Praz effect, or gypsy curse? Take your pick — nothing to do with the fact that it was parked in a particularly with­drawn place, and that petty crime in Rome is increasing as the economic crisis rolls on.

Because I was to leave for three days to go the archdeaconry synod that afternoon, my presence at the Not Really a Funeral had to be given up, in order simply to sort things out. Subsequently, we held a month’s-mind requiem at All Saints’ which passed off without incident, and, in its simple and solemn way, was a touching occasion.

The church has not yet burned down. But, in saying that, I am of course portando iella — risking bad luck; so excuse me as I faccio le corna — make the sign of the horns.

The Ven. Jonathan Boardman is the Archdeacon of Italy and Malta, and Chaplain of All Saints’, Rome.

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