Monday, January 31, 2011

The Plug-Uglies take their show on the road

Philadelphia was not the only city to see anti-Catholicism and anti-immigrant prejudice break out into nativist violence. In 1854 runners for a Baltimore Hook and Ladder company formed an associate called the Plug-Uglies that were associated with the Know-Nothing movement. Know-Nothings, like Today’s Tea Partiers, were not so much a nationally organized party as much as a movement consisting of a network of local associations, clubs, and societies. Like the Tea Party they had a common agenda on which they were united—in this case Anti-Catholicism and Anti-Immigrant—and points on which they could not reach consensus, most importantly, slavery. The Plug Uglies were one local group in Baltimore associated with this agenda; another was a gang called the Rip-Raps.
Despite its Catholic roots, Maryland was a stronghold of the Know-Nothings. They were the only State in the 1856 presidential election to go for the Know-Nothing ticked of Millard Fillmore and Andrew Jackson Donelson. But that was not the first election that the Plug Uglies disrupted. Baltimore had election riots in both 1855 and 1856 as Know-Nothings tried to control the polls in the municipal electins and insure that only nativist candidates received votes and the Plug Uglies played a prominent role in both disturbances. Then in June 1857, a Know-Nothing contingent comprised of Plug Uglies and Rip-Raps from Baltimore and the Shiffler Fire Company from Philadelphia descended on the National Capital in Washington to disrupt municipal elections there. President Buchanan called out the Marines who fired on the crowd. While the Plug Uglies and other out-of-town Know-Nothings were at the heart of the riot the majority of rioters were DC Residents. Nine of the ten civilians killed in the skirmish were White Washington nativists.
Know-Nothings also organized an attempt to disrupt elections in New Orleans in 1858. Historically there was a strong Catholic Presence in New Orleans—it had always been a French Catholic city—and while the riots there were anti-immigrant, the Know-Nothing success was more limited and they seemed not to have the ability to recruit as wide a selection of the population for their mob, Nevertheless, the Know-Nothing candidate was elected. Catholics may not have appreciated the Know-Nothing anti-Catholicisnm, but these old time French families may not have liked the immigrants any more than their Protestant counterparts up north.
Bishop John Hughes of New York took a very pro-active response the nativist threat. A native of what is today Northern Ireland, Hughes was never one to mince words, back down from a fight, or resort to diplomacy when he could hammer a point (or an opponent) ino the ground. After the Philadelphia riots in which two churches, a convent, a school and hundreds of Catholic homes were burned, it was rumored that the ringleaders of the Philadelphia riot were coming to New York to incite anti-Catholic riots there. Hughes called out Catholic volunteers to protect Church property and informed the Mayor that if there was any anti-Catholic rioting in New York the city would “become a second Moscow.” This was a reference to the residents of Moscow burning their own city to prevent Napoleon taking it in 1812. (Remember Tchaikovsky’s famous overture?) The threat was taken seriously—as it was meant to be--and the city government made sure there was no trouble in New York. It will be fun to do some blogs on Hughes but I think tomorrow we will go back to the conclusion of the the story about the burning of the Charlestown Convent. Then i want to go back to the saga of the American nuns (You know, the ones whom the Vatica is hell-bent on "investigating") for a day or two—and then something on Rome. When we come back to this topic, we will deal with the Know-Nothings and the “Pope’s Stone.” No—it wasn’t a kidney stone or a gall stone—but it was just as painful and far more embarrassing.
The image today is John Hughes, 1797-1864, fourth bishop and later first Archbishop of New York.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

More on the "City of Brotherly Love" and its hatred for Catholics

Yesterday we talked about the Philadelphia riots in May 1844. Churches and a convent , were burned, a school was destroyed, hundreds of Irish Catholics lost their homes to the mob and scores of people were left dead or injured. A grand jury blamed the riots on the Catholics. Bishop Fenwick, who had done everything possible to quell his flock and keep them calm under attack from the nativists who claimed that Catholics were trying to get the bible out of the public schools, changed his strategy. No longer confident that Catholics could expect protection in a Protestant dominated society he began to creat a Catholic Ghetto, a society within the larger society with its own schools and organizaitons where Catholics would not be exposed to the prejudices of the Know-Nothings and their nativist friends. But the trouble was not over. On July 3—just short of two months after the first riots, Father John Patrick Dunn of Saint Philip Neri parish in the Southwark District was warned that an Independence Day parade scheduled for the next day and led by the Know-Nothings, might attack his church. The parish applied to the Governor for the formation of a volunteer force, armed from the local arsenal to defend the church. The request was granted. The Pennsylvania militia was also put on alert and weapons were handed out--twenty-five rifles--to those appointed to guard the church building.
In the event, the parade went on without incident but the next day a nativist mob of several thousand, hearing there were weapons at the church, gathered outside the building. The mob demanded that the weapons be removed. Despite the legitimacy of the weapons having been authorized by the governor, the sheriff complied. However after the sheriff left, a speaker whipped the crowd into a frenzy demanding that representatives of the mob be authorized to search the church for yet more weapons. You would think the sheriff would have found them all but when an alderman, the sheriff (who had returned) and seventeen of the mob entered the Church they an incredible amount of armaments—fifty-three muskets, ten pistols, a keg of gunpowder and ammunition—being guarded by ten armed men. This was far in excess what the governor had authorized. Had the Catholics been storing weapons on their own in anticipation of a papal invasion? It sounds silly to us, but not the Know-Nothing mobs whose newspapers and preachers had been admonishing to protect the American Republic "from the bloody hand of the pope." At nightfall, after the crowd had returned to their homes, the little arsenal was removed
The tension escalated with incredible stupidity being shown by those very officials the governor had charged with guarding the church. In addition to the militia, the sheriff had gathered a posse of 150 men. They seemed to go out of their way to incite the mob. They brought cannon to defend the church and then actually fired on the crowd when the crowd began to pelt them with stones. Most of the soldiers sent to protect the buildings left during the night of July 6th but the crowd returned, led by the alderman and the sheriff—who apparently couldn’t decide whose side he was on. The few remaining soldiers abandoned guarding the church, the mob turned two of the cannon on the building, weakening the walls. The mob broke into the church trashing the interior. That evening the soldiers returned with more cannon which they turned on the mob. The mob having seized the cannon earlier brought, turned them on the soldiers. Fighting raged through the night but by July 8th the soldiers had captured all the cannon and the crowd dispersed. Approximately 20 people had died and 50 were injured. The Grand Jury blamed the Catholics for the incident,.
Philadelphia became a strong-hold of the Know-Nothing party. Their candidate won the mayoralty in 1854 with the promise to fire all non-American born city employees. The Catholic immigrant population, feeling that they could not count on the city government for justice, withdrew into their own enclave, building Catholic schools to avoid the public ones and forming various Catholic organizations—including Militia—to protect themselves and avoid contact with the Protestant population. This strategy of withdrawing into closed Catholic Ghettoes would become increasingly popular for most working-class Catholics in the ninetenth and well into the twentieth centuries.
The Philadelphia riots were far more serious than the Charlestown Convent burning—not only in scope but in breadth—in as that Charlestown people of what might be called “the better sort” that is educated and middle class were appalled at the violence while in Philadelphia, although the mayor and the governor played their roles well, the mob was by no means limited to the poor and working classes. Even more disconcerting is that while Boston had a long history of “anti-popery,” Philadelphia had always been, even in colonial days, a city of great tolerance where the Catholics had existed in peace with their neighbors. These riots marked a clear change in the place Catholics held in American society. But Philadelphia was not the only place where Know-Nothingism raised its ugly—plug ugly—face. But more about that tomorrow. Also, i found that I had written a bit more on the Charlestown Convent burning and forgot to publish it--so more of that in a day or two as well.
Today's image is "Citizen Know-Nothing"--a nineteenth century nativist engraving depicting the ideal "American Man" --white, of Anglo-Saxon background, and Protestant.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

When the City of Brotherly Love didn't live up to its name part I

I mentioned yesterday that the Know-Nothing Party, known also as the Native American Party and the American Party, bore in several respects a great resemblance to today’s Tea Party. It appealed primarily to working class whites who felt that their livelihood was being threatened by the massive immigration of the time. Like today’s Tea Party it was, at least in its formative years, not a political party as such but a loose coalition of local groups who had reached a consensus on many, but not all, issues. It was unable, for example, to reach a consensus on slavery—a crucial question of the time. It did reach a consensus on immigrants and on Catholicism. It was opposed to rights for both.
The 1840’s and 1850’s were a tumultuous time for Catholics and Nativists alike. Philadelphia suffered particularly badly in the conflict that erupted over the petition of the Catholic Bishop, Francis Kenrick to the School Board that Catholic Children either be excused from the daily bible reading—where the King James Version was read—or permitted to read from the Douai version which was used by Catholics. He also insisted that Catholic children be excused from religious (Protestant) education in the public schools. The School board concurred but this decision started rumors that the bishop and his flock—at the instigation of the pope—were trying to ban the bible from public schools.
Philadelphia, much like Charlestown and Boston, was a field of conflict between its native born working class—mostly Protestant—and the large number of immigrant workers—mostly Irish and Catholic—who were willing to work more cheaply and thus threatening the livelihood of the native-born American workmen. As in Boston demagoguery played on the tension between immigrants and native-born Americans and anti-Catholicism regularly appeared in the pulpit and in print. This was the atmosphere that the Know-Nothings thrived in and in May 1844 the American Republican Party—a local group o f Know-Nothings—organized a rally in the heart of the Kensington District, a stronghold of Irish Catholics. It was obviously meant to be provocative and a good lesson is never provoke an Irishman. The Irish love a fight. Local residents attacked the speakers’ podium and the Know-Nothings fled. They returned two days later in greater numbers. This time the meeting turned violent with several of the Know-Nothing party killed. The mob then attacked a convent of the Sisters of Charity and several Catholic homes. The violence continued the next day and it was beyond the power of the local authorities to stop. The Know-Nothings rallied the nativist forces with the call to deliver America “from the bloody hand of the pope.” Buildings were burned, people were killed until the State militia came in and put the riot down. Bishop Kenrick issued a directive for Catholics to avoid confrontation and violence.
Nonetheless, the violence continued. The Know-Nothings returned the next day and burned down two Catholic Churches—one in the Kensington district and the other in Philadelphia itself, cheering as the steeple of the Philadelphia church tottered and fell. A school and more homes were destroyed, In the final analysis fourteen people were killed, fifty injured and, several hundred at lost their homes, moreover two churches, a convent, and a school were burned to the ground.
The Mayor ordered protection for Catholic churches and Bishop Kenrick closed the churches on the following Sunday to avoid any organized retribution as well as to prevent an attack on the Catholics while at mass. by the Know-Nothings. The Bishop told his flock that they should wait until the legal processes dealt with the rioters. In the end, however, a grand jury decided that the riots were due to “the efforts of a portion of the community (the Catholics) to exclude the Bible form the public schools” and the immigrants having disrupted legitimate public meetings.
More to come on the Philadelphia riots of 1844.
The image today is Old Saint Jospeh's--the oldest Catholic Church in Pennsylvania. Located in Philadelphia. The parish goes back to 1733!

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Know-Nothings and Anti-Catholicism

We mentioned in previous posts that the Whig party was the anti-immigrant/anti-Catholic party. The Whigs were the liberal party and the heirs of the Enlightenment democratic heritage that valued reason about Tradition—a position that would put them into opposition with Catholicism, especially the European variety of Catholicism that had been closely tied to monarchism and absolutism in opposition to democracy. The “old-school” American Catholics of the Archbishop John Carroll variety had long ago, at the time of the American Revolution, accommodated themselves quite comfortably to the democratic ideals of the new nation, but the “new school” Catholics emigrating from Europe and brining European ideas with them were more reserved not only about American political structures but about American society in general and the American Church in particular. We start to see here in the 1830’s a fork in the path of the American Church, a fork which will allow two Catholic Churches to develop side by side with each other, a Church which will usually be broad enough to accommodate both branches in its communion but at two periods—in the final decades of the nineteenth and early decades of the twentieth and again at the final decades of the twentieth and the opening decade of the twenty-first centuries will find that communion stretched close to its point of fracture. But that is the topic for a future series of blogs. We want to stay on the topic of anti-Catholicism.
The Whig distrust of Catholics and immigrants drove the waves of Catholic immigrants into the Democratic party. At the same time, the Whig inability to achieve its political goal of preserving the ascendency of WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) political and economic power led the decline of the party. As the Whigs lost power, it was natural for another party to rise in its place to preserve the same set of ideals in opposition to the Jacksonian Democrats. Two parties would fill that vacuum. The first would fail, the second would endure.
Eventually the Republican party would emerge to balance the Democrats, but the time was not yet ripe for the Republicans. As the Whigs faded, their banner was taken up by a short-lived political alliance (it becomes a party in the 1850's) called the “Know-Nothings,” Originally not a national party but a loose-knit alliance of various local groups, in many respects like today’s Tea Party, the Know-Nothings began in New York State in 1843 as the American Republican Party. Within two years it had spread to other states and became a national organization known as the Native American Party. Ten years later it changed its name to the American party. It was only when it took on this name that it evolved from what might be called a movement into a formal political party. Its genius and its success was in organizing on the local and grass-roots level. It tended to do well in local elections, and to some extent in state elections, but was never effective in electing a President—though it did try.
Before we go further, an incident in Europe fueled the anti-Catholicism in America. In 1848 there was a revolution against the Papal Government in Central Italy—the Papal States. American Catholics often forget that for centuries the Popes had not only been spiritual leaders but also ruled a nation in central Italy. Italy, as we know it, only became a nation in 1870 when the King of Savoy, his Prime Minister Cavour, and his great General, Garibaldi, overthrew a variety of Kings, princes, Grand Dukes, and Dukes, uniting their various independent principalities into a single nation. One of the Kings overthrown and deprived of his temporal crown was the Pope—but this is some 22 years later. In 1848 a group of Italian Nationalists, drove the Pope—the newly elected Pius IX—from Rome where he fled to Gaeta outside Naples and prepared for a possible flight from Italy. (The British—strange friends (Well, not so strange when you know your history)—had a warship waiting to take him to refuge/exile should he so need. He didn’t need, as it turned out.) With the help of French troops, the rebellion was squashed and the Pope was restored. Pius had been a political liberal to this point favoring Democratic reforms. When he saw what Democratic Reforms led to—well, he wasn’t to sure about Democracy any more. The Americans saw the crushing of the Roman Revolution of 1848 as a blow to Democratic government. It reinforced their stereotype of Catholicism as monarchist and absolutist. And it made the American Nativist Party very successful. Rumor flew that the Pope planned an invasion of America to destroy our freedom even as he had destroyed the liberties of the Roman people. Today it sounds pretty silly that a papal army with the intent to invade would attack America (remember the old Peter Sellers' movie, The Mouse That Roared?) but in the 19th century many believed it. As late as the election of John Kennedy in 1960 many were convinced that the Pope had designs on this country.
The Know-Nothing Party platform was
• Severe limits on immigration, especially from Catholic countries
• Balancing what immigration there was in favor of English, Welch, Scots, and Protestant Irish
• Restricting political office to native-born Americans
• Mandating a wait of 21 years before an immigrant could gain citizenship
• Restricting public school teachers to Protestants
• Mandating daily Bible readings in public schools
• Restricting the sale of liquor
The Know-Nothings—and by the way they were called that, because when questioned about their political organization they would answer, like Sergeant Shultz “I know nothing.” Of course they didn’t have Shultz’s accent; they didn’t like Germans, or Irish, or anybody except those of British extraction. There was a secrecy to their organization and how these various local groups coordinated their efforts which actually led to their being particularly effective. In the spring of 1854 they won elections in Boston, Salem and other New England towns. That autumn they swept the state elections. (Gone was the moderation of Mayor Lyman and Edward Cutter and the Charlestown Selectmen of 1834) In Philadelphia their candidate, Robert Conrad, promised to crack-down on crime, close Saloons on Sundays, and appoint only native-born Americans to city posts. In Washington DC the Know-Nothing candidates won in a landslide. They were unsuccessful in New York—with its large immigrant population—but won a credible 26% of the vote in a four-way election. They did manage to elect both the Mayor of San Francisco and the Governor of California.
The following year they carried Chicago and the Know-Nothing Mayor, Levi Boone, barred all immigrants from city jobs, The success of the Know- Nothings led them to coalesce into a national party in 1854 as the American Party. One of the voices raised against the Know-Nothings was Abraham Lincoln who said—and given the political atmpsphere in Illinois said courageously-- As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.
Lincoln was no particular friend of Catholicism—few politicians could afford to be at this period—but he was committed to democracy and the ideals of the Republic and he saw how the Know-Nothings threatened to undermine the basic values on which this nation was founded
I'm not sure where the image today comes from; i found it in my photo file but it is not one of my pictures. (I am pretty handy with Photoshop, but not that fancy)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Convent Burnings and Anti-Catholicism

In 1820 the Bishop of Boston, Jean-Louis Lefebvre de Cheverus invited the Ursuline nuns from Montreal to send a community of sisters to open a convent and school next to his Cathedral in Boston. The Ursulines had a fine reputation for the education of young women both in Europe and in French Canada. In fact this was there second school in the United States as they had operated an academy in New Orleans—originally French and only recently acquired for the United States—since 1727. The Boston convent and school moved to Ploughed Hill—now renamed Mount Benedict—seven years later. Most of the students came from upper class Protestant families who found the idea of sending their daughters to a “convent school” quite fashionable. (Georgetown Visitation similarly had a large population of upper class Yankee Protestant students at this same period.) All this was well and good during the lull in anti-Catholicism in the early years of the Republic but it would change as the embers of anti-Catholicism were fanned back into flame by the mass influx of Catholic immigrants in the 1830’s and 1840’s and by the anti-Catholic preaching of rabid demagogues in the pulpit, preachers like the Reverend Lyman Beecher, father of the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Beecher is probably best known for his abolitionism—his preaching and writing against slavery, but abolitionism is only a small part of a much larger picture. Abolitionism was certainly a noble cause but not all causes associated with American liberalism of the early nineteenth century were so idealistic. Yesterday we talked about the Whig party and the Whigs were the political expression of liberalism. The Whigs split, north and south, on the slavery issue but Whigism was primarily a Northern movement. The Whigs were anti-immigrant because they believed that the democratic ideals of the young nation could only be preserved by people of British ancestry since our Republic was founded to preserve the liberties granted to Englishmen going back to the time of Magna Carta. Representative Government came from the British Parliamentary heritage and while England itself still had a monarchy, its powers were severely limited by Parliament, particularly by the People’s House—the House of Commons. Whigs also saw and wished to maintain that Protestantism was rightfully seen, if somewhat unofficially, as the religion of this Republic. Catholicism was highly suspect. It owed allegiance to a foreign prince,—the Pope—who was an absolute monarch. Priests were agents of the Pope. These immigrants were coming—especially the Germans—from monarchial government. The Irish were worse. They were an inferior race, kept ignorant by their priests, and rebellious against their English masters. Nineteenth century “liberals” tended to be as prejudiced as any Grand Inquisitors of medieval Spain. The fact that most of the immigrants, and the Irish in particular, gravitated towards Jackson’s Democratic party only increased the Whig hatred of anything Immigrant, anything Irish, and anything Catholic. In addition to preachers like Beecher, and perhaps inspired by him, there was a rash of anti-Catholic literature with lurid stories about priests and nuns, vaults filled with the murdered babies of unholy liaisons, the dangers of a papal takeover of the American Republic, the suffering of Protestants in Catholic dominated lands, and other inflammatory prose.
A young Episcopalian student in the School, Rebecca Reed, converted to Catholicism and entered the Ursuline convent. It wasn’t a good fit and she was dismissed towards the end of her postulancy. Reed wrote a book Six Months in a Convent. The book was only published after the Charlestown riots, but drafts of the manuscript had circulated widely among Boston Protestants. The disgruntled would-be nun did not have a lot of good to say about her experience and her book was of a certain “escaped from the convent-genre” popular at the time for its sensationalism.
There was much social unrest in Boston and surrounding towns, especially among the laboring classes. The immigrants—in Boston mostly Irish—were cheap labor. Working class Protestants were finding it hard to compete for jobs. This added to the tension in the city.
On the evening of July 28th 1834, a distraught nun—Sr. Mary John (aka Elizabeth Harrison) knocked on the door of a Protestant Gentleman, Edward Cutter, in Charlestown and asked for help to reach an acquaintance in Cambridge. Mr. Cutter obliged. The next day Mr. Cutter went to the home of the acquaintance to inquire after the nun and was told that she had returned to the convent in the company (custody?) of her Mother Superior and the Bishop of Boston—now Benedict Joseph Fenwick. Rumors began to spread. Was Ms. Harrison being held against her will? Rebecca Reed’s monograph would certainly lead one to think this was a possibility. As the agitation spread, placards were posted around Boston declaring:
"To the Selectmen of Charlestown!! Gentlemen: It is currently reported that a mysterious affair has lately happened at the Nunnery in Charlestown, now it is your duty gentlemen to have this affair investigated immediately. If not the Truckmen of Boston will demolish the Nunnery Thursday night—August 14."
The nuns and the bishop did the utmost to head off trouble. Mr. Cutter and the Charlestown selectmen (town council members) were allowed to come to the convent and interview Sister Mary John, the sister whose flight to Mr. Cutter’s home had started the incident. The nun said that she was free to leave the convent at any time of her choice; she was not being held against her will. A few days later the selectmen were admitted to the convent and Sr. Mary John—not the superior, but again the nun whose notoriety had brought attention to the convent—gave them a thorough tour of the buildings. The Selectmen released a statement to be published in the press that Sr. Mary John was in good health, she was not being held against her will, and that the convent was in every respect a fit place for nuns and students.
That very same night, however, August 11, 1834, a mob of Protestants gathered outside the convent door, calling for the release of any being held there against their will. When a nun came to the window and asked them to disperse, declaring that the nuns and children had all retired for the night, the mob offered her “protection” if she wanted to flee. The Superior, Mother St. George, appeared and made what was probably the greatest mistake in the event, declaring “the Bishop has twenty-thousand of the most vile Irishmen at his command and you may read your riot act till your throats are sore, but you’ll not quell them.” This did not intimidate the mob in the slightest; it served only as a challenge. They dispersed only to come back about two hours later and about two thousand strong. The ringleaders set fire to barrels of pitch on the convent grounds. Fire companies came, but the firemen only joined the crowd. The mob, growing restless, broke into the convent through battered doors and shattered windows ransacking the place. The nuns and students fled to the gardens behind the school through back doors. The mob then torched the building. More to come

The image today is a sketch of the ruins of the Charlestown Convent

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The progress of Anti-Catholicism, an ongoing saga

Well, let’s come back to the story of anti-Catholicism in America. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, Catholicism did its best in the new American Republic to “fit in.” By tradition American Catholicism was rooted in the recusant Catholicism of the English and Anglo-Irish gentry who settled Maryland and there was very little foreign about it. The churches were plain—the Cathedral in Baltimore didn’t even have any statues. The clergy and religious dressed simply but without distinguishing features. (The Carmelite nuns who came to Southern Maryland from what is today Belgium traveled from Europe to their new Maryland home in lay clothes and under the titles Miss or Missus, depending on their age. Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne and the “Madames” of the Sacred Heart who accompanied her from France, also travelled in secular dress coming to make their foundation in America.) While mass remained in Latin—despite Bishop Carroll and other clergy talking of a vernacular liturgy—baptism, marriage, and funeral rites (other than the mass itself, of course) were translated (without permission of Rome) into the vernacular. There were no public processions in the streets or other displays more common to Continental Catholicism; discretion ruled the day and it seemed very natural to these Marylanders because it was their heritage from England and the Irish Pale.
The waves of immigrants that came in the 1830’s and 1840’s changed that. The Germans, and smaller numbers of French and Italians, brought the more vibrant Catholicism of their homelands. They were used to public processions, religious garb, more elaborate churches and worship, more emotional display of religion. The Germans and Italians were also particularly interested in preserving their language and culture and wanted alternatives to public education where they could educate their children in the language and customs of their homelands. The German and French immigrants were, by and large, more educated than the Italians and the Irish. The Irish (along with the Germans, the biggest group of immigrants) were—unlike the Germans and unlike earlier Irish immigrants—poorly educated, many practically illiterate. They came fleeing hunger during the Great Famine.
The established American citizenry—though descendents of immigrants themselves—looked down on these immigrants and had a grave distrust of how they would adapt themselves to life in the American Republic. They were, well so un-American. They didn’t speak English—except for the Irish who often spoke it poorly and many of whom were in fact native Irish speakers. Their religion was strange, exotic with Latin prayers and songs, and clergy in strange garb. Their priests seem to have too much influence over them—they weren’t independent minded as were Americans. (Get three Congregationalists together and you have four opinions.) And they weren’t republicans. (Not in our terms of Republicans/Democrats, but in believing in the political philosophy of republican government.) Indeed the French and the Germans in particular tended to monarchy as the preferred form of government. The French remembered the travesty of their Revolution which simply replaced one despot with another and did great harm to both the social order and the Church in the process. The Germans too were coming from the network of principalities, kingdoms and duchies that would be united into modern Germany in 1870 and were not used to democratic thought.
In addition to not being experienced in (or possibly convinced of) a republican form of government, the immigrants had little use for Protestantism. To the French and the Italians, Protestants were a pretty much unknown element. (There were some French Protestants but after the Wars of Religion in the 17th century they were a definite minority, most having fled to the Netherlands or England and from these refuges many going on to the English colonies in North America.) The Germans, coming from Catholic principalities along the Rhine or Bavaria understood Protestants to be the “enemy” from the Protestant German States, most notably Prussia and the northern German regions. As for the Irish—well to them “Protestants” were the bastards that had let them starve, taking what few crops survived the famine and shipping them off to England to sell there while forcing the impoverished tenant farmers off their lands and leaving them destitute. No, this was not a happy arrangement to have these “foreigners” sweep onto our shores.
The Irish in particular had great resentment. During the famine not only had their Protestant landlords let them starve but Presbyterian and Anglican “angels of mercy” had opened soup-kitchens to feed the starving and now dispossessed masses. All one had to do was renounce the Catholic faith, join the sponsoring Denomination, and dinner was free. Catholics who “took the soup” found themselves shunned by those who preferred hunger to religious blackmail. Their neighbors and relatives would drop the “O’” or the “Mc” in front of the apostate’s name as a sign of their contempt. So if your name is Connell, or Sweeney, or Loughlin—or some other name that might normally begin with an Irish prefix—one of your ancestors may well have “taken the soup.”
On the other hand, the contempt was not one–sided. The Irish immigrants found a particularly bitter resentment on the part of the old Yankees. The East-Coast American Establishment were strong Anglophiles for whom everything British was to be admired and copied. They shared the English bias against the Irish that was as racist as any prejudice against people of color. “No Irish,” and “Irish need not apply” signs appeared at factory gates and tenement doors.
As I had mentioned in an earlier blog, in the first years of the Republic, Catholics had tended to favor the Federalist cause rather than Jefferson’s Republicans (who are today’s Democrats, or at least the forebearers of the modern Democrat Party). But as the Federalist party faded from the scene, a new party rose up called the Whigs. The Whigs saw a huge threat in the presidency of Andrew Jackson. Jackson was a military man, a famous general, and he had no patience for the slow deliberations of politics. The presidency changed drastically under Jackson, growing stronger in power at the cost of Congress’ prerogatives, Jackson didn’t pull a coup-d’état or anything like that. It was all done through his allies in the Congress; and he was an immensely popular president who had the electorate behind him, especially the lower classes and the frontiersmen on the western edge of the young country.
Whigs were not only concerned about Jackson’s threat to the Republic, they were concerned about this wave of immigrants and how they would fit into the American Republic. The Whigs were not anti-immigrant per se; it was more what they were for rather than what they were against. The Whigs believed in a universal public school system. There was an advantage to this as until this point public schools were sporadically placed leaving many children, especially in the South and in rural areas without an opportunity for education. The problem is that the Whigs wanted there to be no more than one system of education which would teach English only and would stress Protestant religion with daily bible reading and other practices to which Catholics objected. (One reason they objected, of course, is that the Bible to be read was the King James "Protestant Bible.") The Catholics, though traditionally opponents of Jefferson’s Democratic Republicans, now felt them less a threat than the Whigs. As Catholics began to shift towards the Democratic-Republicans, the Whig’s fear of these immigrants with their foreign religion only increased.
The Whigs had moderate luck in obtaining elected office for their candidates. They lost presidential elections in 1836, 1844, 1852, 1856, and 1860—by which time they faded out of existence This means that in 1840 and 1848 their candidates were elected. A major reason for their lack of success was that the Catholic and immigrant population—a swelling percentage of the population as a whole, was joining what is now called the Democratic party. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
One of the first signs of anti-Catholicism was the Charlestown Convent Burning of 1834. We will do a blog on this event to give a fuller detail. Suffice it to say that the Ursuline nuns from French Canada had established a convent and school in the Boston suburb of Charlestown. The short version of the story is that one of the nuns had run away and sought refuge in the home of a friend. The next morning the local gentleman, a Mr. Cutter, who had taken her there inquired about her welfare, only to be told that she had returned to the convent in the company of her Mother Superior and the Bishop. This fueled rumors that women were being held against their will in the convent. An inquiry was held by the local selectmen who visited the convent and inspected it and assured the populace that the sisters were there voluntarily. However a large mob gathered outside the convent on the night of August 11, 1834 and set fire to barrels of tar on the grounds. The fire spread. The local fire brigade arrived on the scene but did not do anything to put the fire out. The placards and speeches provide a direct link between the mob and the rising Catholic population, mostly Irish laborers, in Boston. In the subsequent trial twelve of the thirteen ringleaders were acquitted, despite some of them admitting to the crime. The one found guilty was a sixteen-year old boy who was pardoned by the governor at the request of, among others, the Superior of the Ursulines and the Bishop. More on this in a future blog—and in our next blog on anti-Catholicism we look at the “Know-Nothing” party
today's image is a 19th century print of the Ursuline Convent in Charlestown MA, site of famous 1834 Convent Burning.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Glory that was Greece; the Grandeur that was Rome

Yesterday I mentioned Pope Theodore II who was the son of the Patriarch of Constantinope, Photius, and said that there is a very interesting—and important—story in the background here as it explains, in part, the split between the Western (Catholic) Church and the Eastern (Orthodox) Church. Of course in antiquity the entire Church, East and West, was one, holy, catholic (note the small “c”), and apostolic. And the Western Church (at least those parts of it in communion with the See of Rome) and the Eastern Church (at least those parts of it in communion with the See of Constantinople) were “orthodox” (note the small “o”). By catholic we mean part of the universal communion of Churches; by orthodox we mean accepting the doctrinal formulations of the ancient ecumenical Councils, especially in regards to the doctrines of the Trinity and regarding the two natures in One Person of Christ.
For centuries there was great harmony between the Sees of Peter (Rome) and Andrew (Constantinople). The sense of the Imperium Romanum (Roman Empire) persisted long after the fall of the Emperor in the West, Romulus Agustulus in 476; the Emperor in Constantinople considered himself to be the Emperor of the whole Roman world, East and West, and the Bishop in Rome acknowledged this even as the Emperor acknowledged the Bishop of Rome to be the first (among equals) bishop of the Church. Popes in Rome were often from the Greek half of the world, and while the liturgies developed very differently in the East and in the West, there was some cross-fertilization of practice, particularly a Greek influence on the Western Liturgies. The Kyrie is one example of this Greek influence on the Roman Liturgy. The orientation of the celebrant of the liturgy is another.
As the centuries went on, however, the harmony between east and west began to show some signs of discordance. Particularly after the rise of Islam and the loss of a large portion of the Empire in Syria-Palestine and North Africa, the Emperor in Constantinople was preoccupied with defending the borders with Islam and could not offer the military protection to Rome that was needed. Saracen pirates captured Sicily and parts of Southern Italy and threatened Rome. (Somewhat later they would even raid Rome and sack the Basilica of St. Peter, prompting Pope Leo IV to build the “Leonine Wall”—we discussed that in an earliar post—but that was just a few decades later than the period we are talking about.) Meanwhile from the north a Germanic tribe, the Lombards, were pressing down on papal lands in central Italy. When the popes could not count on the Emperor in Constantinople for help, they turned to a powerful kingdom in the West—the Franks—for support. Pepin, and then later his son, Charlemagne checked the Lombards. In return for protection that Charlemagne offered, Leo III crowned Charlemagne emperor.
Historians argue whether Charlemagne wanted this title, or even knew about it before the pope brought out a crown and plucked it on his head December 25, 800. It was, one must admit, a pretty classy Christmas gift. Charlemagne always protested that it hadn’t been his idea. The Emperor in Constantinople certainly was not pleased. "Emperor? Excuse me, we have an emperor—right here in Constantinople. There is no room for two Emperors." But what was the fellow in Constantinople to do? He didn’t have the military power to go over to what is today France and Germany and teach this bearded upstart who couldn’t even write and wore a bearskin cape a lesson or two about emperors. He had to live with it—but he didn’t have to like it.
Nor did his subjects. They thought the people in the west were a joke. Rome was a has-been city. In the days when the empire was capitaled there, Rome had approximately two million residents; now it had about forty-thousand at best. And they lived in the bricked up ruins of old temples and amphitheaters, with cattle grazing in the forum. The neighborhood had certainly become run down. Constantinople, on the other hand, was a city of great wealth and culture. It had schools where philosophy and theology were taught. Its churches were magnificent. Its Patriarch presided at the Divine Liturgy in the gorgeous basilica of the Hagia Sophia surrounded by choirs and monks and bishops while in Rome the Pope had to step over cow dung on his way to the altar in the broken down ruins of Constantine’s basilicas. The west, they declared, had seen its day; its glory was finished. Leadership and power belonged in the city of Constantinople. Peter may be buried at Rome, but Andrew was Peter’s older brother and his Church was still something glorious.
The relationship of the Church to the Empire had developed differently in Constantinople than it had in Rome because of the presence of the Emperor in the one city and the relative independence of the Pope from civil authority in the other. Actually through most of this period the pope was both the civil and religious authority. When the power of the Byzantine Emperor declined in Rome in the sixth and seventh centuries it left a vacuum which the Bishop stepped in and filled. It wasn’t that the popes sought the responsibilities and privileges of civil government—it was just that there wasn’t anyone else on site who could provide for law and order, food distribution, military protection and other functions of government. So the Church stepped in and did it. By and large the papal administration wasn’t particularly good at this task—other than the distribution of grain and foodstuffs to the poor, or in times of famine to the general population—but it was the only leadership that took the initiative. Consequently the Bishop of Rome was used to being answerable only to God, while in Constantinople the Bishop was used to being required to give account to the Emperor. The Patriarch was little more than an officer of State, while the Pope was supreme authority. They each conceived their role very differently and this is where the conflict came in with Photius and the subsequent schism.
Pope Nicholas objected when the in 858 Emperor Michael III deposed the patriarch Ignatios and named a layman, Photius, to replace him. The problem was not that the new patriarch was a layman. True, Photius was not ordained but he was a theologian and had served the Church well in that capacity. His uncle had been patriarch at one time and his family was noted for service in the Church and their commitment to Orthodoxy. He was ordained through the various minor and major orders and then consecrated Bishop on Christmas day 858. Moreover in the Western Church laymen were occasionally elected bishops and even pope. (hmmm, that would be an interesting blog.) They were, of course, ordained to their new office once they had accepted. The problem for Nicholas was that a sitting bishop—indeed the patriarch—had been removed from office by Imperial authority. Ignatios had refused the Emperor's uncle (and power behind the throne), whom he suscpeted of adultery with his widowed daughter-in-law, entrance into the Church of the Hagia Sophia. For Nicholas the rights of the Church took precedence over the authority of the Emperor. The Church was supreme in power over government. The Emperor’s role was to protect the Church and to carry out the temporal directives of the Pope. For the Emperor, and Photius, the Emperor was the Vicar of Christ and therefore held authority over the Church as well as the secular domain. This would be a problem in the Western Church too in the eleventh century when various Emperors claimed jurisdiction over the Church. The Eastern Church—first under the Byzantine Emperors and later under the Russian Czars—always saw the Emperor as having authority over the Church and the Church serving under their protection and authority.
Nicholas excommunicated the Emperor and the Patriarch. The Patriarch returned the compliment and thus there was a break of communion—a schism—between the Eastern and Western Churches. The schism did not last. It ended with Ignatios was restored to his See in 867. Moreover Photius came to the Patriarchal throne legitimately after the death of Ignatios ten years later. But the precedent had been set and the wound never quite healed right. It would break open again in 1054 when the Patriarch Michael Cerularius and the Papal Legate, the Cardinal Humbert, exchanged mutual excommunications—but that is for later.
Notice that I wrote that there was a break of communion. It is historically inaccurate to say, as many Catholics do, that the Greek Orthodox Church broke off from the Roman Catholic Church or went into schism from the Catholic Church. (You could say schism with the Catholic Church, but not schism from the Catholic Church). It was an unhappy parting of brothers—of Peter and Andrew as it were—not a rebellion of a child from his father. The Churches had been in communion with one another, not the one subject to the authority of the other. The Bishop of Rome may have been “first” among the bishops of Christendom but he was not “over” them—that idea will develop a little later. In antiquity the bishops and Churches of Christendom were seen as equals with Rome being the first among the equals. Indeed it was the emerging sense of superiority of one over another, that led to the great schism of East and West. Popes and Patriarchs unfortunately had forgotten the words of Jesus to the disciples when they were arguing about which of them were first. There are times that Jesus must scratch his head and wonder if it had all been worthwhile.
The image today is the interior of a Greek Orthodox Church

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Ghoulish Tale of Popes and Pimps

We will come back to the history of anti-Catholicism in America in a few days but I am anxious to return to the topic of the Pornocracy of the late ninth and tenth centuries—the moral low point of the papacy when two women, Marozia and her mother, Theodora, controlled the papacy, being each the mistress of a pope, and Theodora being the grandmother of, and Marozia the mother of a pope. But it is not the sex scandal I want to talk about today but rather I want to backpedal a bit to a particularly ghoulish episode that predates the rise of Marozia but is still part of the story, a part of the story that is a Halloween sort of tale. Just to alert you to what this will build to, this period provides the backdrop to the Pope Joan story (was there really a lady pope???) as well as the origins of the Holy Roman Empire. And there is some remote—quite remote—background to the issue of Church and State. Stay tuned, but meanwhile…

As I had mentioned in that earlier blog on the pornocracy (January 11, 2011), in the ninth and tenth centuries there was struggle among several Roman factions to gain control of the papacy, not for spiritual reasons—nobody at this point was much interested in spiritual things—but because the papacy controlled vast estates in central Italy and even as far away as Sicily, and whoever controlled the papacy had huge economic and political power not only in Rome but various parts of Italy. Popes were elected at this point by an assembly of bishops and clergy who then would present their candidate to the Roman People for their approval. The approval of the people was essential and were a candidate not to receive it, the clergy would have to choose another candidate whom they would approve. The problem was complex. The clergy could be bought or, failing that, intimidated. The people—well they often degenerated into mob rule, following the lead of whoever controlled the mob. The Dukes of Spoleto often had the upper hand in papal elections, but there was at times some opposition that managed to get another candidate elected. In 891 a distinctly unworthy candidate, Formosus (the name is Latin for “handsome”) was elected pope. He double-crossed the Spoleto faction and supported Arnulf of Carinthia for political power and influence in Italy. he died shortly after he had crowned Arnulf. Arnulf himself died shortly afterwards and before he could crush the House of Spoleto. His successor, Boniface VI, was even more unlucky, reigning only fifteen days. The Spoleto faction then managed to get their candidate, Stephen VI, elected to succeed Boniface. The year was still 896—how time flies when there is intrigue.
Now the challenge was how to make sure that the supporters of Formosus did not engineer a return to power of the anti-Spoleto faction. What the Spoleto partisans needed to do was to get everyone of Formosus’ party out of power. To that end Stephen VI convoked a synod to “try” Formosus for various irregularities including alleged simony. They exhumed the body of Formosus, dead these several months, dressed it in papal robes and seated it on the papal throne with a deacon standing alongside to answer for the now cadaverous pope. The trial was a foregone conclusion, of course. Formosus was posthumously deposed, the fingers with which he gave his blessing were cut off, his body was stripped naked and thrown in the Tiber. Moreover all the acts of his papacy were annulled—including the ordinations he had performed. This meant, of course, that the various priests and deacons and minor clerics who had served in his administration and still held their positions—and the priests and deacons with the right to vote in papal electios—were all degraded from sacred office and their positions in the papal administration. The anti-Spoleto party had been disemboweled. Once Stephen had done the work he patrons wanted him to do and eliminated the opposition, the Spoleto faction had no need of him and arranged for his murder.
Before we go on, it might be worth our while to look at the matter of annulling ordinations or declaring orders invalid. There is a long history of this in the Church going back to the various schisms and heresies of the fourth and fifth centuries when various parties would declare the sacramental system of their opposition “invalid.” There were at the time no criteria for this procedure and it seems to have been more of a polemical tool of one faction to weaken the authority of another. In later times it might have been connected with simony (the buying or selling of ecclesiastical offices), the alleged simony invalidating the ordination because of various canons that declared simoniacs ineligible for office. It was sometimes alleged that heretical opinions of the ordinand, the ordaining prelate, or the community for which the candidate was being ordained, invalidated the Orders, but then the issue is is "what is heresy?" Certainly denial of the Trinity, or of the two natures in the one Person of Christ qualify as heresy, but is all theological difference a matter of heresy? How far does one have to depart from “orthodoxy” to be a heretic? What doctrines are open for difference of opinion, which are not? If this were simply a matter of theology, perhaps the knot could be undone, but history makes it a very complex issue as there has not been consistent practice on this issue over the centuries. To the historian it seems that validity of Orders is usually a question of polemics that disguises its malicious intent as substantive doctrinal points. Perhaps this topic is worth looking at in more detail in the future as the practice of declaring invalid the orders of one faction by another became a very serious issue at the Reformation and indeed remains a serious issue and block to Ecumenism.
In any case, Stephen’s successor, Romanus, was deposed by one or another Roman faction (read: mob) after only three months. His successor, Theodore II—the son of the once-schismatic Patriarch of Constantinople, Photius(and we have a story there) reigned only 20 days, but in those 20 days managed to annul the Cadaver Synod and restore Formosus to the list of popes, reburying his body and re-instating his clergy. His successor, John IX, reigned two years and confirmed Theodore’s restoration of Formosus. Benedict IV reigned three years, 900-903. His successor, Leo V was deposed and murdered by anti-pope Christopher who, in turn, was turn murdered by his successor, Sergius III. Sergius was the gentleman friend of Marozia—and thus we are into the pornacracy. Sergius, by the way, annulled the decisions of Theodore II and John IX and reinstated the decisions of the Cadaver Synod. He was, of course, tied into the Spoleto faction; his mistress, Marozia, was the fifteen-year-old daughter of the leader of the Spoleto party, Theophylact, Count of Tusculum. Sergius was the first pope, if not to wear the triregnum, the papal tiara (which at this point had only a single crown) to be depicted wearing it.
Here we see popes being deposed, exhumed, annulled, murdered, pimped, and almost any combination of the above. As one can image the papacy had no moral credibility at this period and it was a low point not only of papal morals but of papal authority. The papacy has had its ups and its downs; it did not always have the moral authority or actual power it has exercised in the twentieth century under men like Benedict XV, Pius XI or Pius XII. Bishops beyond the reach of papal authority—and that was most bishops in Europe of what was developing into both Eastern and Western Churches—governed their own dioceses without any reference to the papacy except—perhaps—the occasional prayer in the liturgical litanies where his name might be mentioned. There would be other episodes where papal power waned—the fourteenth century, for example—but it never waned as greatly as this period of the ninth and tenth centuries. There would be episodes as lurid—or even worse (just wait until we talk about the Banquet of the Chestnuts and the Borgias)—but not as prolonged and not as fundamentally corrupt. There is more than one lesson here and some of them are very profound, but let’s just take this one from the Cadaver Synod: the Office is only as respectable (I won’t say “holy”) as the man who holds it, and the Church is (historically) only as holy as its members.
the image today is the Jean-Paul Laurens depiction of the Cadaver Synod.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Anti-Catholicism and American nativism

The favorable situation of Catholics in America began to change after the election of Andrew Jackson in 1828. Jackson represented “the new American.” The last president born in what had been the English colonies, Jackson was in many ways the first president with a true American identity. Jackson had been orphaned during the Revolution. Jackson's brother Hugh died of heat exhaustion fighting the British at the battle of Stono Ferry. The British army was savage in his native Carolina and captured Andrew and his surviving brother,Robert. A British officer struck Jackson, then a boy of fourteen, with his sword for refusing to polish his boots. Jackson bore the scars the rest of his life. Robert died of smallpox contracted while in captivity. His mother died shortly after nursing American soldier victims of cholrea. This left Jackson with a pathological hatred of the English. (Jackson's father had died before Jackson was born.) Given his background in rural poverty and lack of formal education, Jackson was without the intellectual and strong cultural ties to European society that his predecessors had. He was a self-made man who can hardly have been called scrupulous and his ethical/moral code was that of the American frontier. A brilliant general he had fought Native Americans, Spaniards, and most importantly at the Battle of New Orleans, the British.
Jackson made his fortune not in the tidal lands of the east, but in the Appalachian mountains of Tennessee. Though his background was Scotch Presbyterian, he was not a man of either notable piety or Christian morals, but he lived in the heartland of the Second Great Revival—the evangelical fervor that swept the frontier of the American Republic in the early decades of the nineteenth century.
When Jackson came to the presidency, one of the first things he did --new brooms always sweep clean—was to replace the long-standing civil servants of the federal administration with political appointees of his own choice, men who had supported his rise to power. We take this change –of-administration-change of-personnel for granted, but it was new with Jackson. “To the Victors belong the spoils,” he declared, giving the practice of political patronage the name “The Spoils System.” The men he brought in with him were, for the most part, men like himself from the Frontier and they were, of course, Protestants—chiefly Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians—most often with strong ties to the Second Great Revival. These were people who, for the most part, were suspicious of Catholics who with their rites and rituals all in an ancient and largely unintelligible language were definitely not Evangelicals and whom Evangelicals generally did not even consider to be Christians. This made a huge difference in the City of Washington. For several decades now the local population—heavily Catholic—had served the Federal Government and provided the leadership for the City. Catholic institutions—Georgetown College, Visitation Convent School, Gonzaga College—were part of the warp and woof of Washington life. Under the Jackson presidency Washington Catholics lost their ascendency and Catholic institutions too lost the prominence and influence they once had. That was fairly mild though compared to an overt prejudice developing across the Republic towards Catholics. Jackson was the typikon of the New American—American born and American bred with no ties to Europe. After Jefferson with his French cuisine and viniculture and elegant manners and the Madisons with Dolly’s taste for Parisian fashion and furniture, and the Anglophilia of the Adamses, Father and Son—here was the new American who wanted to be only that—American.

Up to this point Catholicism in the new nation had been culturally adapted to American society in the old Recusant tradition, but now waves of new immigrants were coming from Europe—from Ireland, France, and the various German principalities mostly, but also a small number of Italians.
There was a marked shift in the type of Irishman coming to America. Especially after the famine that struck Ireland with failure of the potato crop in 1845-1846, the Irish immigrants were not the Anglo-Irish gentry or Dublin Middle Class of previous migrations, but the poor dirt farmers fleeing starvation. Poor, uneducated, rough-mannered, given to drinking and brawling, many of these immigrants had little knowledge of proper English, Irish being their native tongue. Protestantism represented to them the English landlords whose tenants they had been and who were letting them starve while shipping their crops to England to feed the people there and they were not inclined to positive relations with American Protestants. Their Catholicism was a peasant faith, almost superstitious which made the Protestants, in turn, think of them as a semi-heathen people.
For their part, the Germans, French, and Italians were people fleeing the wave of revolutions that swept Europe in 1848. The Italians, like the Irish, were often relatively poor famers and of course, unlike the Irish, they were totally unfamiliar with the English language. Their faith was a colorful Mediterranean faith with a rich piety that was extremely foreign to the old WASP establishment. They knew little of the Bible—so important to the old Protestant Tradition—but much of Mary and Saints, so much of dubious credibility that they too appeared to the American eye more superstitious than Christian.
The French and Germans appeared somewhat better educated and more cultured, but they also brought with them a Catholicism as yet unknown in the American Republic. They expected to have their traditional devotions with processions—most notably the Corpus Christi Procession—in the streets. Statues and candles abounded in their churches. The Rosary was an ubiquitous public devotion—among the Italians and Irish as well—but its Marian connection scandalized their Protestant neighbors. German Catholics—like their Lutheran neighbors at home—had their Bibles and were great hymn singers but they also brought with them a distrust of Protestants with whom back in Germany there had often been conflict.
The Americans were also not sure what kind of citizens these foreigners would make. The Italians, French, and Germans had all come fleeing the revolutions sweeping Europe—including a revolution against the temporal authority of the Pope that had cause Pius IX to flee Rome. Catholics tended to be monarchists and were opposed to the Republican uprisings. Arriving in this country they not only want to practice their religion as it was practiced in their various homelands, but to maintain their native language. They rejected American public schools and organized parochial schools—sometimes against the will of the Bishop—where children would receive the education they would get in the “old country.” Isolating themselves into national enclaves slowed down their Americanization. The Germans in particular resisted being anything other than Germans. One immigrant priest wrote: “A German is a German, and although he has shaken off the dust of his fatherland everywhere a true German longs for a greater Germany. I am one of those who want to remain a German.” This pitted the immigrant population against the American establishment. It even divided the Catholics in the United States as the old Maryland/Kentucky Catholic families were almost as taken aback by European Catholicism and the attitudes of the immigrant Catholics as were their Protestant neighbours. In fact, in this conflict between American Catholicism and Immigrant Catholicism we can see the roots of much of the division in the Church today. More to come.
The image today are Irish refugees from the Potato famine of 1845-49.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A lull in Anti-Catholic America

Continuing with the theme of a history of Anti-Catholicism in America, Catholics in the newly independent nation fared quite well. While society in general and political power in particular remained in the hands of the old English-now-American gentry who were, with the exception of the Marylanders, all but universally Protestants of the Congregationalist or Unitarian types in New England or Episcopalians (New York, Virginia and the Southern States), Catholics had at least been given the freedom to build churches and openly practice their faith. Catholic communities sprang up in Boston, New York, and Charleston. Philadelphia had a Catholic community even before the Revolution and indeed the Continental Congress had, on at least one occasion, repaired to Old St. Joseph’s Church for public prayer. Catholicism was long accustomed to being publically acknowledged in Maryland. Moreover many Marylanders were among the most avid settlers pouring through the Cumberland Gap into the Ohio Valley settlements in what is now Kentucky. Indeed within eighteen years of John Carroll’s being named first Archbishop of Baltimore, his See would be named an archdiocese with four suffragens—Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Bardstown Kentucky. A few years later dioceses were created in Charleston, Richmond, and Cincinnati.
John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop, was well known to the leading figures in American politics. He was a Carroll, of the Maryland Carrols. His cousin Charles had signed the Declaration of Independence. Another member of the family was Daniel Carroll who served in Congress. Several Carrolls, including the Bishop’s Mother, Elizabeth Carroll, and the aforementioned Daniel Carroll, were among the landowners whose estates were purchased for the establishment of the new national Capital, Washington City, on the banks of the Potomac. Daniel Carroll was the owner of Jenkin’s Hill—the site that was picked for the new national Capitol and is now called Capitol Hil. John Carroll had served on a diplomatic mission to Canada with Benjamin Franklin and Franklin was among those who urged the Pope, Pius VI, to confirm Carroll’s election as first bishop in the nascent nation.
That is not to say, however, that Franklin or others—despite their regard for Carroll personally—held Catholicism in high esteem. Many of these founders including George Washington (though not Franklin) were free-masons and free-masonry was ardently opposed to traditional Christianity which they saw as intellectually incompatible with their enlightenment consecration to rationalism. Washington was a nominal Episcopalian—indeed a vestryman in his parish—but he attended church primarily to please his wife, and his participation in Christian worship was limited to attendance at Morning Prayer. Martha would stay for Holy Communion, but the General would leave church before the Communion Service began. From various comments he made, verbally or in writing, it is clear that Washington was not committed to the doctrine of Christ’s divinity and he saw religion’s main purpose as encouraging moral behavior among the less educated populace. This view was shared by Thomas Jefferson who himself might best be described as an Agnostic and who, while baptized an Anglican in infancy and buried according to the Anglican (or technically, Episcopalian) rites, saw Jesus as a great moral teacher and nothing else. Indeed, Jefferson went through his bible and sliced out all the miracle stories (including the Virgin Birth and Resurrection) and claims to Christ's divinity, leaving only the parables and moral teachings of Jesus. Jefferson did make several contributions towards the building of Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian churches because he saw them a offering good moral training to the yeoman farmers of Virginia whose political cause he championed. There is no record of him ever making a contribution towards the building of a Catholic church. (Washington, on the other hand, did make a contribution towards the building of Old Saint Mary’s in Alexandria, mostly because his much favored equerry, a Colonel John Fitzgerald, was among the sponsoring parishioners.) Jefferson and Franklin had served as envoys to the French Court and saw the unattractive side of European Catholicism with the great prelates of France living in lordly splendor at the expense of the underclasses and exerting great (and usually self-interested) influence over the King and his decisions. It did not leave them as admirers of Catholicism.
In the new republic Catholics tended to be Federalists—the party opposed to Jefferson and his “Republicans.” (This will get confusing, but the “Republican Party" of Jefferson is not related to today’s Republicans—indeed, to the contrary, they are the first generation of the modern Democrat party.)
Catholics in the new republic tended to be conservative and in favor of a strong central government. They were, for the most part, Maryland slave-holding gentry farmers. Also, after 1789 Jefferson and his followers were enamored—blindly so—of the French Revolution. The Revolution’s anti-Church fervor was very off-putting to Catholics who, though they might want to see a more democratic France did not think it worth the bloodshed of its king, so many priests and religious, and its many devout laity. Men like Jefferson, Franklin, and Washington were Gentlemen, however, and it was required of gentlemen to show tolerance if not respect; while there may not have been an enthusiasm for the Catholic Church there was no hint that Catholics should not take a full role in American public life.
Catholics for their part were making a contribution to the new republic. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s Sisterhood, the Sisters of Charity, was growing and its women undertook ministries both of education and nursing—needed services in the new nation that had not yet developed much of an infrastructure for these services to be provided at public expense. Only a few years after Elizabeth Seton’s Sisterhood, Catherine Spalding, a nineteen-year-old woman from an old Maryland family—and a family that would prove very prominent in the history of Catholic America—established the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in 1812. A laywomen, Teresa Lalor, opened a girl’s school on the campus of Georgetown College in 1799. The school drew young women from the best families—Catholic and Protestant—of the national capital. It was a tradition in the school's first two decades that the President of the United States attended the commencement and gave the girls their diplomas. Lalor and her companions had developed into a community of Visitation nuns by 1816. Ursuline nuns had come from Quebec and opened a convent and school in Charlestown, outside Boston. Like the Visitation in Georgetown, it drew young women from the best families and more Protestants than Catholics. This was an age of peace for the Church—but a peace that was not to last. Catholics had successfully integrated themselves into American society. They proved their loyalty to the Republic and their usefulness to the larger society. Their bishops and clergy showed themselves interested not in political clout but in building a Church that was anxious to show its gratitude for its freedom under the laws of the Republic by being the best and most loyal of citizens and making its contribution to a nation that was neither Catholic or Protestant, but granted freedom to all.
The image today is the Cathedral of Saint Joseph, Bardstown

Friday, January 21, 2011

A fundamental American Prejudice: the roots of American Anti-Catholicism

Let’s look at the subject of anti-Catholicism in the United States today, following up on yesterday’s blog on President John Kennedy and his address as a candidate for office to the Houston Ministerium.

The roots of Anti-Catholicism in the American nation go back to the English Reformation and the pathological phobia that the Puritan wing of the Anglican Church had towards anything “Catholic.” The Anglican Church in the late sixteenth and until the mid-seventeenth century was an uneasy union of several disparate groups ranging from the conservative “high church” party with its Book of Common Prayer, much simplified and orderly rituals, and strong patristic theology to the radical Calvinist wing that wanted a complete break with England’s Catholic past. This later “low Church” wing included many similar but independent groups including the “Pilgrims” who settled Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts in 1620. The wider movement are often referred to as “Puritans” as they wished to “purify” the Church of England of any and every remnants of its Catholic past ranging from bishops to wedding rings. Through much of the period from 1558 when Elizabeth I ascended the throne until the restoration of the monarchy after the English Civil War in 1660, the radicals dominated the political scene in England and Catholics kept a low profile.
This ties in a bit to the blog I did on Mary Ward several days ago, but a particular type of Catholicism developed in England due to the dominance of the Puritan party and subsequent persecution of Catholicism—a persecution which waxed and waned over the years but which, even in its less virulent periods, required Catholics to be make themselves all but invisible. Formal religious life disappeared in England—it was impossible for monastic institutions to flourish under the restrictions on Catholicism. Mass was conducted—usually with some secrecy—in the homes of wealthy and even noble Catholic families. (The Dukes of Norfolk, the premier peers of the Realm, were one of the great families who had remained “in the old religion.”) The various European embassies in London had Catholic Chapels, and during the reigns of James I and Charles I, their queens-consort (Anne of Denmark and Henrietta Marie of France respectively) were Catholic and had their chapels and chaplains, but attending Catholic services in these London chapels was a bit dangerous for those who felt a (often prudent) need to conceal their Catholic identity. Consequent to these restrictions on public worship, many aspects of traditional piety—public processions, feast days, Sunday Vespers, Benediction—all but disappeared.
Catholics coming to the New World found that the colonies offered them no better a situation. Catholicism was outlawed in all of the colonies save Pennsylvania. Massachusetts, Virginia, and New York had particularly vitriolic laws proscribing the Catholic religion. Rhode Island proclaimed freedom of conscience for its residents but it is unclear if this extended to Catholics. Given that no Catholic community developed in colonial Rhode Island it seems that Catholics were unwilling to test the waters and see if the freedom of conscience applied to them. (A synagogue opened in Rhode Island,, the first in the colonies, only thirteen years before Independence.)
It was against this background that George Calvert, First Baron Baltimore, (an Irish title although the Calverts were Yorkshire folk) appealed to his friend King Charles I for a proprietary colony (a colony which belonged to him personally and in which he was supreme authority under the King—no accountability to Parliament (dominated by Puritan Church of England folk)—and was granted the land north of the Potomac River to the 40th parallel. Calvert was a Catholic and the arrangement permitted him to allow for Catholics to have freedom to practice their religion, creating the only place in the North American colonies outside Pennsylvania where Catholicsm could be legally maintained.
There will have to be several posts about Maryland in the near future, but for the present suffice it to say that the Maryland Catholics were a wholly respectable lot. They tended to be English and Anglo-Irish Gentry who farmed large estates with labor supplied by African slaves. Like their counterparts in England and the Irish Pale, their Catholicism was somewhat private and discreet. Likewise, the German Catholics who settled in Pennsylvania tended to be rural farmers and unlike the German immigrants of the 19th century they adapted themselves rather quickly to American ways. The only priests available to them were Maryland Jesuits who came up into southern Pennsylvania and whose Catholicism was, again, discreet.
Catholicism tended to be practiced in the home, not in the public streets. Processions were not indulged in. The clergy wore no distinct dress, save for their clothing being of dark colors and devoid of superfluous ornamentation. There were no convents or monasteries. Mass was held in chapels or churches built in an American colonial style and free of much ornamentation except for an occasional oil painting, imported from Europe, behind the altar. Devotional life, consisting of private prayers, was a family activity. Bishop Richard Challoner’s (Challoner was one of the English Vicars Apostolic) book A Manual of Prayers, (published 1758) was a very popular source of devotion.
This discreet Catholicism helped Catholics “fit in.” Protestantism of a variety of stripes, while having a cultural dominance, was also a religion practiced within the walls of the Meeting House and the family home, though for different reasons. The unanimous support of the American Catholics for Independence in and after 1776 won them points among the citizenry of the new Republic and most of the anti-poprery legislation was gone by the end of the Revolution. Still the young Church proceeded carefully. They were hesitant about asking Rome for a hierarchy until the Protestant Episcopal Church had established a bishop in New York and in Virginia and Maryland Episcopalians were in the process of electing bishops. Bishops were seen as “European” and monarchical, but when there was no outcry over Episcopalian bishops, the American Catholics felt it safe to proceed and elected John Carroll, a member of a family that had been prominent in the Independence movement and who himself had served with Benjamin Franklin on an unsuccessful mission to Canada to ask the Canadians—Catholic and until recently French—to join with the thirteen southern colonies in breaking with Britain. Carroll, when a bishop, encouraged a convert from the Episcopal Church, the widowed Elizabeth Ann Seton, to establish an American community of the Daughters of Charity, French sisterhood. The American sisters dressed not in a traditional European style habit but in ordinary widow’s garb and became immensely well thought of by the Protestant population for the work they did among the poor and for the education of children. Carroll’s cathedral was in the American style, constructed by the same architect who had built the President’s mansion. To the American taste it had few ornaments—a successor had to purchase from Europe statues of the Blessed Virgin and Our Savior. Carroll, a humble man and devoted to republican principles, avoided the pomp of European bishops. His priests adapted many of the rites of the Church, especially the baptismal, marriage, and funeral rites, to the American situation, even celebrating them in English instead of Latin. Indeed Carroll and his priests discussed the desirability of the Mass itself being put into English, though the idea never advanced to the point of a proposal to Rome. The area around the national capital was strong Catholic territory with the old Catholic families like the Matthews, the Mudds, the Carrolls and others supplying many of the Civil Servants for the new city. All in all Catholics, a small proportion of the population, had won a place for their Church in America.
The Catholic population began to shift with a flood of immigration in the 1840’s. The middle-class educated Catholic, the German Farmer, and the Maryland Gentry were being replaced by a flood of poor and most often illiterate Irish. Germans and French and a trickle of Italians trying to escape the European turmoil of 1848 and its wave of revolutions comprised waves of non-English speaking immigrants who had strange customs and whose loyalty to the new Republic was uncertain. The tolerance for Catholicism faced its first serious challenge since the penal laws in the colonies. This will be continued in future postings.
Today's image is a portrait of Charles Carroll of Maryland, the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Why John Kennedy could not be elected president today

Today is the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of John F. Kennedy the first, and to date the only, Catholic to serve as President of the United States. It might be worthwhile considering Kennedy’s words in a famous speech given to 300 Protestant ministers in Dallas Texas on September 12, 1960—less than two months before his election. This speech was a milepost in the Kennedy rise to the presidency; he most likely would not have been elected without it. He himself knew its importance—he diverted his campaign tour from the West Coast to go Houston only to give this speech. In 1928 the only previous Catholic Candidate for the presidency had been defeated because of his religious affiliation. It is hard for us today to understand the strong bias against Catholics in American public life, but throughout the 19th and well into the 20th century many Americans were convinced that a Catholic politician would be no more than the advance guard for a papal takeover of the United States. Catholics were suspected of divided loyalties, or even worse, of owing their chief loyalty to their foreign based and foreigner-controlled Church. We can look at this more closely in some future postings. Today let’s look at Kennedy’s words:
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
Kennedy’s words sufficed the lay aside the fear of the political ambitions of the Catholic Church of enough Americans that he was able to squeak by in the November elections. Interestingly from a historical perspective no Catholic voice raised any objections to his speech. But today, how would Catholics—including some of our bishops—react to the idea “no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act”? And what about a minor change in the subsequent sentence to say “and no Catholic preacher would tell his parishioners for whom to vote?” Something has changed in America. Something has changed in American Catholicism. And it probably isn’t a change for the better.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Let's hear it for the Ladies II

One of the first religious women to successfully avoid the canon law requiring vowed women to be enclosed (cloistered) was Mary Ward (1585-1645). Mary was raised in a devout Recusant family in Ripon and at the age of fourteen went to live in the home of a wealthy gentleman, Sir Ralph Babthorpe, and his family. This was a common practice at the time when a young woman or man of the gentry learned the responsibilities of their class in a socially prominent household. It was often where marriage connections were made and there was a strong network of Recusant (Catholic) families that helped Catholics marry within the faith. Yorkshire, particularly rural Yorkshire, being far from Protestant London, had a relatively strong Catholic community among its populace. Mary, however, did not find herself interested in a husband but felt drawn to the religious life, and for that she had to leave England as the open practicing of the Catholic faith was prohibited by law and thus there were no monasteries or convents. She crossed the channel in 1606 to the Spanish Netherlands to become a lay sister in the Poor Clares at St.Omer. The following year, using her dowry, she established a Poor Clare monastery at Gravelines in what is today the very northern edge of France. The monastic live was particularly severe. The nuns wore habits made of rough wool, were meatless except at Christmastime, slept on straw mattresses and practiced other disciplines common to the reformed orders of the time. None of that unsettled Mary, but the enclosure did. She felt very drawn to the religious life, but recognized the need for an apostolic community based on the spirituality and mission of the Society of Jesus. She left the monastery she had founded and gathered a group of like-minded women around her and formed the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary Ward recognized that one of the primary needs in early modern Europe, and the Church in early modern Europe, was the education of women. English Recusant experience showed her that the survival of Catholicism depended on women knowing their faith. In England, among the Catholics of means, the husband and father of the family often had to “conform” to the Church of England to avoid the legal and monetary disabilities imposed on Catholics by the royal government, leaving the practice and handing-on of the faith to the wife and mother. This made it imperative that Catholic women be educated in a Catholic environment, something quite impossible to do publically in England. What was needed was a religious community of women, independent and self-governing like male religious orders, without religious habits or other public marks of identity, who were themselves educated and independent-minded ladies. Their religious practices had to be discreet and simple, forgoing the elaborate choir ceremonial typical to enclosed orders of both men and women. The Ignatian influence on her own spiritual development—and so much recusant spirituality was formed by the Jesuits—stressed the interior life and mental prayer. But this created a very different model of religious life—like the Jesuits, totally non-monastic.
There were no formal ties between Mary’s group and the Jesuits—the Jesuits have always, following Ignatius’ explicit mandate—rejected a female branch of their congregation. Nevertheless, there were strong spiritual bonds. That was often to the detriment of the Sisters however as many in the Church resented the Jesuits for their non-iconic ways and were even more alarmed when women showed such independence. Bishops were often particularly put out as they expected religious, especially women religious, to be dependent on their authority and under their control. Consequently Mary Ward and her Institute attracted quite a bit of negative attention.
The new Institute worked not only covertly in England, but spread from Flanders into the Austrian Empire and Italy and Catholic regions of Germany. Its educational work among women won it many admirers from the upper classes and the nobility—and even the Holy Roman Emperor. In addition several popes expressed their admiration. Nevertheless, the Institute was suppressed by a commission of Cardinals in 1630 when asked by the Pope to evaluate the new community. Curiously enough, and somewhat inexplicably to moderns with a canonical mindset, the Pope (Urban VIII), an admirer of Mary Ward and her work, invited her to Rome where she and a community of her sisters lived and worked under his protection. In 1639 the pope wrote a letter of introduction for Mary Ward to England’s Catholic Queen Consort, Henrietta Marie, wife of Charles I. In 1642, just as the English Civil War was beginning, Mary returned to England and established a community at Heworth in Yorkshire. She died three years later and was buried in the Anglican churchyard at Osbaldwick, Yorkshire.
The Institute survived—initially and for a long time without canonical approval. In 1703 Pope Clement XI approved their Rule of Life and the Institute itself was given papal approbation in 1877 by Pope Pius IX. It leaves us with this question—why do we think that “nuns,” or actually apostolic communities of women—have to wear habits, live in convents, spend long periods of time at formal prayers in their chapels? No one is saying that monastic life—for women or for men—is not a valid form of religious life, but is it the only form? Perhaps the real issue, now as in Mary Ward’s day, is how much can women religious (or lay, for that matter) be trusted to make decisions for themselves? On the othe hand, Pope Benedict did name her Venerable. Prophets are not recognized in their own day.
The image today is a painting of the seventeenth-century religous founder, Venerable Mary Ward.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Who's buried in Peter's Tomb?

There are a variety of strings I am anxious to pick up—especially the one on the American Nuns’ investigation—which isn’t about the American nuns at all but about the religious sisters in the States. But give me a day or two and I will come back to that. Right now, I am going to do a little more on the Vatican, specifically the Vatican Basilica.
Everybody knows that St. Peter was buried in Peter’s tomb, but he wasn’t—at least not for long. Granted, when the tomb—or more properly, grave—was excavated in the 1940’s, skeletal remains had been found in it, but it turns out they were an odd assortment of various bones from several individuals, including an older woman and a young man, as well as several animals. Obviously they were not Peter’s bones. Hmmm. What is that all about?
Of course the first problem is there is no definite evidence that Peter had ever been to Rome, alive or dead. There is an ancient tradition (note the small “t”) to that effect, but no contemporary text relates the information. (The Acts of the Apostles tells us that Paul was at Rome, though it doesn’t mention his death there.) There were counter-claims about Peter. A first-century ossuary (a box used to hold the bones of a person who had died, had been entombed, and then when the only the bones were left, whose bones had been put in this “ossuary” so that the tomb could be used again) that had the name “Simon bar Jonah” engraved on it had been found in the 1950’s in the Kidron valley, the great burial field between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives to the east. On the other hand the name Simon bar Jonah would be no more rare in first century Palestine than say “Mike Johnson” might be in twenty-first century ‘merica today. The tradition of Peter dying at Rome—going back to the end of the first century, and the lack of any significant counter-claims, gives plausible weight to the argument that Peter went to Rome and was put to death there under the emperor Nero circa the year 64.
As for the bones in the grave not matching Peter’s age or sex, it turns out, the archeologists excavating the site had overlooked a second set of bones. These bones were not in the grave but had been concealed in a niche in the buttressing wall that supported the monument of “trophy” that had been built over Peter’s grave in the mid second century. This monument is called the “trophy of Gaius” because a Roman presbyter named Gaius left a description of this monument in the final decade of the second century. The bones in this niche had originally been thought to be insignificant as they were not where Peter’s bones were supposed to be—in the grave beneath the monument. The curious thing about this second set of bones is that they are all from one person, they are from a man between sixty and seventy years of age (Peter’s probable age if he died in 64 AD), and they had been disinterred from a previous grave and located in this niche after the flesh had decayed. Moreover, the soil samples clinging to these bones matched the soil in the grave beneath the monument—in other words, the soil of Peter’s grave. Hmmm. So these bones had once been buried in Peter’s grave.
But wait—there is more. Bits of purple thread and golden thread indicated that the bones, at the time of their being immured in the niche, had been wrapped in a very precious fabric, indeed (because of the purple) a fabric which would have been reserved to the use of the Imperial family, or at least the very highest of the Emperor’s household. The story grows more curious.
If you have ever been to the Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican, you have seen in the “confessio”—the open well immediately in front of the papal altar that leads down to the crypt—the “niche of the pallia.” The pallia are woolen scarves that the pope gives to newly named residential archbishops each year as a sign of their communion with him in the unity of the universal Church. This niche holds a silver coffer (they say it is silver but they had better get some polish and a little elbow grease, it looks to me like bronze) in which the pallia are stored until the day they are bestowed on the prelates—the feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul, June 29—each year. The niche is decorated with an ancient mosaic of Christ. The only problem is that the niche is slightly off center. One would expect it to be directly under the center of the altar which itself stands directly over the presumed site of the tomb of the apostle? Why is the niche off center? Again, hmmm.
The niche is not new. It is original to the basilica which Constantine constructed in 325. It is also directly over—not Peter’s grave, but the recess in that buttressing wall which held the bones of the sixty-something year old man that had been wrapped in the imperial cloth after they had been taken from Peter’s grave. In other words, the architects of the basilica seem to have known the true location of the bones presumed to be Peter’s when Constantine built his basilica. So what is the story?
The most probable story is this. Peter was martyred in the circus of Nero, a large amphitheater built by Caligula and Nero across the Tiber from Rome. The tradition is that he was crucified upside down—probably one of dozens or even hundreds crucified that night for a variety of reason ranging from being persecuted Christians to rebellious slaves to common criminals. There are stories that they were not only crucified but covered in pitch and set alight as sort of living (or actually dying) torches to illumine the stadium. It is possible; I don’t think there is historical data one way or the other. After the crowds emptied out of the spectacle, disciples probably came and claimed the body or perhaps just rushed off with it in the confusion. (There are some indications of the body just being carried off—namely the absences of any bones from the feet—the Christians having just quickly cut the body down and abducted it.) Peter's body was then taken to a necropolis (a pagan cemetery) across the via Cornelia from the amphitheater and buried in a simple earthen grave less than 500 feet from where he died. Once the body was buried it was left undisturbed in its grave, but the grave itself underwent a series of improvements to protect it against erosion. Then almost a century after Peter’s martyrdom, the Christian community in Rome built a monument over the grave. It was a simple monument—a brick wall faced in red plaster with a white marble pillared canopy over it, the canopy itself surmounted by a marble framed recess. The pillared canopy is about four feet tall, too high to have been meant as an “altar” as some suppose. This monument is the “trophy” mentioned by Gaius. In 258, during the persecution of Valerian, the bones were exhumed and brought for safe-keeping to the catacomb of Saint Sebastian on the Via Appia. Meanwhile “decoy” bones were placed in the traditional grave to mislead any who wished to violate the grave. At a later date, the authentic bones were returned but placed in a concealed aedicule (recess) in the wall supporting the monument so they could be venerated in the traditional spot but not exposed to being stolen or desecrated. When Constantine was building his basilica in 325, he had the bones wrapped in precious cloth, and returned to their aedicule. In building the basilica he constructed a window-like opening over the aedicule through which pilgrims could lower bits of cloth or other souvenirs to touch the tomb (the aedicule which held the bones) and then take home again as relics of their visit. This opening is what became the niche of the pallia and explains why it is off center.
More on the building of the basilicas in a future posting.

There is a variety of images today. The first is a sketch of the "Trophy of Gaius" that was constructed over Peter's grave c. 160 AD. The second is a map of the relationship between the circus of Nero (see third image), the ancient necropolis in which Peter was buried (depicted in blue) and the Constantinian basilica--depicted in yellow--built over the necropolis in 325.