Sunday, 16 November 2008

Chapter Twenty One

The Papal Nuncio was sat in a small boat crossing the Venetian lagoon. A bitterly cold wind was blowing in from the Adriatic whipping the surface of the water into choppy waves, crested with whit caps. He felt sick, both from the action of the waves and from the task he had to perform. He touched the leather document wallet on his lap, and then crossed himself instinctively.

Ahead of the boat he could see the imposing structure of the Doge's palace defiantly rising up out of the waves. Unlike most military or defensive structures the palace was constructed with numerous arched loggias layered at the base, supporting heavy walls above. This symbolised the unique relationship that the Doge had with the most serene republic of Venice and its people. Unlike Kings, Princes and Popes who ruled by divine fiat from within solid castles and palaces, the palazzo of the Doge was open to all. an expression of the Republic's special relationship with its citizens: one of trust and absolute fidelity. Venetians considered their government as legitimate not by imposition or divine right, like in other Italian medieval cities, but as an expression of the Venetians' will.

This will was in direct opposition to the will of Rome.

In April of 1605 Pope Leo had been elected to the Papal throne, but had almost immediately fallen ill and died within a month, earning him the unfortunate nickname of 'Papa Lampo' - the lightning Pope. In a fevered atmosphere of factionalism and division a new conclave had been called. Much to his surprise, Cardinal Camillo Borghese had emerged as a compromise candidate between the warring factions of Caesar Baronius and Robert Bellarmine. He saw his election as a sign that he had been directly chosen by God to stamp his will on the Church and oversee a re-establishment of the temporal power of the Papacy. To symbolise this determination he chose the name of Pope Paul the Fifth, after the apostle Saint Paul, the man who had moulded the fledgling church with his iron discipline after his conversion of the road to Damascus when the scales fell from his eyes and his blindness became an icy vision of purity.

Pope Paul V had established his rule by demanding that France accept the authority of the Council of Trent and that Spain should exempt the Jesuit brotherhood from all forms of taxation. He then turned his attention to the one remaining thorn in the flesh of his church - the city of Venice.

Relations between Venice and the Holy Roman Church had always been fraught with conflict. In the early days of the republic it had been decided that the city needed a patron saint of suitable seniority and gravitas, so a group of merchants and adventurers had set out to reclaim the bones of Saint Mark the Apostle from under the nose of the Caliph of Alexandria, spiriting the relic away in the dead of night in a chest filled to the top with pickled pork and ham to discourage the staunch Muslim guards at the port from investigating it too closely. Instead of returning the bones to their rightful resting place in the Vatican, they had been interred in the cathedral that became known as Saint Mark's basilica. The city had also adopted the winged lion of Saint Mark as a symbol of the Republic.

Venice routinely ignored Papal edicts and laws, and in 1603 the Republic renewed its previous laws, forbidding the erection of more churches, monasteries, or pious foundations in the city, without licence. The reasons given were that such buildings already occupied half the
area of Venice, and were sufficient for all religious needs, while the foundation of new establishments would tend to starve the older ones, towards whose maintenance the funds
of the pious had better be directed. In 1605, the year of Borghese's election, the Senate by a large majority -- 120 against 27 -- had forbidden the donation, in perpetuity, of property belonging to lay people, thereby depriving the Church, as a corporation, from inheriting under the wills of pious donors - a common method for the church to increase its worldly assets.

A more serious matter still had arisen. Two clerics - Canon Saraceni of Vicenza and Abbé Brandolin of Nervesa had been accused of the most grave of crimes - theft, rape and murder. The Council of Ten - the most secretive and powerful judicial body in Venice - had found them guilty and had sentenced them to be held in the infamous 'Piombi' - the lead roofed cells at the top of the palace that were intolerably hot during the summer and freezing cold in the winter.

The Pope had issued an ultimatum for the immediate release of the two prisoners which the Council had simply ignored. He had given them a deadline of twenty four days in which to respond, and that time was now at an end.

The Nuncio disembarked from his boat at a small jetty near the edge of the Piazzo di San Marco. He was met a retinue of guards who escorted him through a door next to the Lagoon, and into an enormous courtyard, and the Arco Foscari. He couldn't help but be impressed by the magnificent facades of the sides of the courtyard - a mix of classicism and gothic styles. Dominating the courtyard was an enormous staircase, the Scala dei Giganti, overlooked by huge statues of Neptune and Mars, leading the first-floor loggia.

The guards led him through the doge’s private rooms to the Anticollegio, where the doge and council would meet foreign dignitaries. The Anticollegio was graced by four magnificent paintings by Tintoretto - Vulcan’s Forge, Mercury and the Graces, Bacchus and Ariadne and Minerva and Mars, and Veronese’s Rape of Europa. The nuncio had little time to appreciate the art on display before a functionary came to greet him.

The nuncio cleared his throat and announced the purpose of his visit.

"I am here to deliver two messages directly from his holiness, Pope Paul. These messages are to be delivered directly into the hands of the Doge himself"

The functionary spread his hands in a gesture of humble apology.

"I regret that that will not be possible at this time, Monsignor"

"My orders from his holiness were quite specific."

"Nevertheless, it is not possible. Perhaps you are unaware that the Doge has passed on to his eternal rest this very day and even now his succession is being decided. I will take the messages and pass them on"

The nuncio was lost for words. He had not expected news of this nature, and he handed over the documents without saying anything further. He turned on his heels and left the palace. He knew the contents of the documents and their implications all too well, and he had no wish to remain in the city any longer than necessary.

In fact the documents contained an encyclical from the Pope which was nothing less than an interdict and excommunication of the entire republic of Venice, its citizens and any and all sovereign territories.

It was, in effect, a formal declaration of war between the Papal States and La Serenissima.

No comments: