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Diary: Jonathan Boardman

03 October 2014


Recognition, at last

CLERGY of the Church of England have conducted worship in territories now included within the boundaries of the Italian Republic for more than 400 years. James I and VI's ambassador to the Most Serene Republic of Venice, Sir Henry Wotton (he, the aphoristic "honest gentleman sent abroad to lie for his country"), was accompanied by a chaplain who was given permission to hold services at least semi-publicly. An early 17th-century Italian translation of the 1559 Book of Common Prayer was one of the fruits of the said priest's labours.

Other chaplaincies sprouted vigorously in places of British peninsular resort at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. It was only on 17 July this year, however, that the President of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano, signed a decree recognising the Church of England as a religious denomination. Why was that?

Mainly because we never got round to asking for it. Perhaps, in our typically English manifestation, we thought "asking" beneath our dignity. Also, religious pluralism took off in Italy only after 1848 and its impulse towards constitutional governments. The Waldensian Church, Milton's eponymous "slaughtered Saints", was given freedom of worship by the kingdom of Sardinia as part of its modernising project preparatory to Italy's unification.

And remember that the first King of a united Italy, Victor Emmanuel II, of the House of Savoy, died excommunicate. To adapt another king's bon mot, Rome was worth (not going to) a mass. Non-RC Italian church-building illustrates other important Risorgimento connections: the Anglican Christ Church, Naples, was raised on a plot given to the English community by Giuseppe Garibaldi during his brief political seizure of the capital of the soon-to-be defunct Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1860; while his military chaplain, himself an ex-RC priest, founded the Ponte Sant'Angelo Methodist church in Rome.

There was a continuing high level of official patronage: Prime Minister Sidney Sonino was baptised in the Anglican Church in Livorno; and Victor Emmanuel III, accompanied by Benito Mussolini, attended a memorial service in All Saints', Rome, for George V, in 1936, as did President Giuseppe Saragat, for Winston Churchill, in 1964. But, despite this, the C of E's buildings in Italy remained conventicles, and her congregations assemblies of private interest.

At last we are "Church" in the eyes of the law, after a string of intricate legal processes and a good deal of patience. Somehow, though, I guess All Saints', in Via del Babuino, Roma, will always be the Baboon Street Chapel. I am too honest a gentleman to think otherwise.

Paul's good deal

THE leg-work for this recognition has been done by the treasurer of Holy Cross Anglican Church, Palermo, Paolo Coniglio. This sharp-suited and quick-witted businessman identified and wooed an ecclesiastical lawyer of prodigious reputation to act pro bono for us, thus avoiding fees quoted in the region of €100,000 per annum for the entire period of the legal process - getting on for a cool million. Obviously, this would have put the project well beyond our reach.

Born in Kenya of mixed (Italo-British) parentage, Paolo has a twin, Pietro, which makes them - if we get into the game of translating names "Joe Green"-style - Paul and Peter Rabbit. I have seen no particular appetite for the consumption of cabbages around the brothers, even though pasta with verza, first steamed and then briefly pan-fried with a little bacon, is a well known Palermitan primo piatto.

Paolo revealed some of his culinary prejudices, however, when we were choosing from a selection of canapés to be served at a London celebratory event for the recognition which the Dean of Westminster is graciously permitting us to host in the Abbey precincts. Tiger prawns on pesto, yes; mini-shepherd's pies with cheesy mash, no. L'Associazione Chiesa d'Inghilterra is clearly staking its claim to be properly Italian.

Gentle brayers

THE annual synod for the archdeaconry of Italy and Malta was recently held in Palermo. We lodged in a vast Franciscan convent (now given over to commercial hospitality) that overlooks the city from the heights of Baida. The whole city is hemmed in by mountains.

The great curve of the bay - the "Allharbour" as its Greco-Roman name, Panormous, implies - was, to our sight, punctured by industrial cranes, and the conca d'oro valley, the golden shell, once filled with the citron groves immortalised by Goethe, is now possessed by ugly suburbs.

There was just a little space of green left below the terrace of the cliffs on which the convent was built, and there a herd of donkeys ran up and down all day, and brayed, it seemed, all night. I had never seen asses together with the foals of asses before, and found their antics amid the stress of delivering the synod programme strangely soothing.

One of our members, the president of an Italian charity dedicated to the welfare of animals, thought he might be able to direct a donation for the benefit of these our gentle beastly neighbours. I do hope so; that really would be a British sensibility reaching parts undreamt of. 

Scandal averted

IT WAS the cabinet of the Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, which sat on the consideration of our bid for recognition, and then referred it to the President for signing and sealing.

I half-wish it had been Silvio Berlusconi in charge. Dare I suggest that it might have marked us out as a Church with an interest in young people? But it was not to be. 

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


Mon 16 May @ 05:45
Quotes of the week https://t.co/HA4fHYbXe5

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