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
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
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.
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
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.
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.