THE" INCLUSION of St Elizabeth and St John the Baptist in representations of the Holy Family are, I think, comparatively unusual. Pictures by the fifteenth-century Paduan artist Andrea Mantegna, moreover, are so rare outside museums that the discovery by experts from Sotheby's of an unpublished painting in a Marseilles private collection has generated considerable excitement.
The painting in question, namely The Holy Family with St Elizabeth and St John the Baptist, was sold last week in Monte Carlo. Its small size indicates that it was commissioned by a rich patron for a private chapel, one of a handful of such pictures produced by Mantegna toward the end of his illustrious career as court painter to the Gonzaga family in Mantua.
The shallow picture space and tight grouping of the Holy Family around the Christ child create an image that is both intense and intimate.
As a focus for private devotion, how one would love to possess such a masterpiece. In reading about the sale I learned that Mantegna's Holy Family is one of the earliest known examples of the practice of painting on canvas, which historians recognise as a key characteristic of Renaissance art.
Bar, bench and beyond
IT WAS sad to read of the death at 78 of the third Lord Russell of Killowen, better known to his many friends and admirers, of bar, bench and beyond, as Charles Russell.
He was an immensely painstaking judge who rose to the top ranks of his profession without, despite his sometimes biting wit, making enmities on the way.
Like both his father and grandfather he assumed, on his appointment as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, the title of Lord Russell of Killowen. As far as I know there is no other case of members of three successive generations of the same family all becoming life peers with the same title. The Russells, headed by Charles in his own generation, were great supporters of Beaumont School and were bitterly disappointed when the school had to close and be merged with Stonyhurst.
Charles Russell spoke little about religion but thought about it a lot. In his years of retirement he was a voracious reader, but said to me, on the last occasion I saw him, that, luckily or otherwise, he had come to acquire the gift of "total nonrecall".
He was a very great man, seemingly awesome but deeply human.
Everyone and no-one
WHEN visiting the local printing works last weekend in my native Chipping Campden I noticed a small placard on the wall recounting the following "Story of Four People": "This is the story of four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realised that Everybody wouldn't do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when actually Nobody accused Anybody."
YOU MAY well have read elsewhere that the remains of a monastery belonging to "England's only indigenous order" have been uncovered at York. A church, cloister, residential buildings and cemetery have been discovered underneath a modern glass factory.
It is surprising to think that England has no other indigenous order than that to which this monastery once belonged, namely the Gilbertines. Its found& was a marvellous man from Lincolnshire known as Gilbert of Sempringham whose father presented him with the combined parsonages of Sempringham and Terrington. But he gave practically all his wealth away.
He did not want to found an order of his own but agreed to serve as adviser to a group of young women who lived as recluses in his parish. He soon had so many followers, both laymen and laywomen, that he went off to Citeaux to offer what had become a foundation to the Cistercians.
They were unable, however, to absorb it, so he founded his own, peculiarly English, order after all. The monastery recently discovered was for men only, but most of St Gilbert's houses were for mixed communities.
At the age of 90 poor old Gilbert was arrested and imprisoned on the charge that he had assisted the exiled Thomas of Canterbury. He refused to deny the charge although he was innocent. He lived for another 16 years and was canonised in 1202. It is nice to be reminded of him by this fascinating archaeological find.
I WROTE recently about a special day to be held at Quenby Hall in Leicestershire and now hear that the day in question was a great success. It was in fact "a day to remember" according to Mgr Peter O'Dowc1, the Vicar General of the Nottingham diocese.
The house belongs to Mr and Mrs Gerard de Lisle and has venerable Catholic connotations. It must have been visited on occasion by that interesting collateral ancestor of the Princess of Wales, Fr George Spencer (second son of the second Earl Spencer) who became a Catholic and did much of his highly effective apostolic work in the Leicestershire area.
On the day of celebration Mass was said by Mgr O'Dowd who spoke of it as an "historic occasion" by emphasising the continuity in faith from Garendon Hall to Grace Dieu Manor and now to Quenby Hall.
Stars and stripes
TODAY OF course is American Independence Day and I spoke recently about those early American Catholics who pioneered religious toleration in the New World.
When John Carroll returned from his consecration in England as the first Catholic bishop of the United States, he clearly saw the guidance of God's hand in the trying days of the War of Independence. "Since the American Revolution," he said, "I have always thought that Providence was reserving an even more extraordinary revolution in the order of grace."
So greatly did Catholicism thrive in later years that it inevitably made enemies, nowhere more so than with the dreaded Klu Klux Klan. This sinister organisation, founded in 1867, faded out for some years but staged an ugly restoration in the 1920s.
Catholicism ranked first among its hatreds and in North Manchester, Indiana, an overwrought Klan speaker warned the populace that the Pope "may even be on the northbound train tomorrow! He may! He may! Be warned! Prepared! America is for Americans!"
The next morning more than a thousand citizens met the train. A ladies' corset salesman, the only passenger who got off, had a hard time convincing the hostile crowd that he was not the Pope in disguise.
By 1930, however, the Klan was virtually dead and when the real Pope came a few years ago we all know what happened.
Road to Rome
AT A recent ecumenical gathering the question was raised as to the evidence, if any, that St Peter actually went to Rome.
St Irenaeus (c. 125-203) is the first of the scholars to establish the tradition of the Petrine episcopal ministry in Rome, but the new Catholic Encyclopaedia, I can't help feeling, is insufficiently emphatic on the point. "All that can be said with certainty," it says, "is that he (Peter) went to Roms and was martyred there".
Surely Peter' wrote the first of his Epistles from Rome?
Admittedly it talks of being written from "Babylon" but was not this the code word for Rome? (This letter was written in the year 63.) One can have no doubt in one's bones that Peter indeed was the first Bishop of Rome and the most recent archaeological discoveries all tend to support the theory.
Even before lrenaeus, moreover, St Ignatius of Antioch in 110 states in his letter to the Romans that he cannot command his foes to martyr him as Peter and Paul did "in Rome". Even earlier (Pope) Clement I in his letter to the Christians of Corinth (AD 96) admonishes them that they should not fight but should look to the example of Peter and Paul "in Rome".
Clement in fact must have spoken from personal knowledge. He spoke of the martyrdom of Peter and Paul as being of "our generation". He himself was Bishop of Rome from the year 88 to 96.
St Peter, however, like the present Pope, was a great traveller. He was frequently absent from Rome, either back at Jerusalem or in such places as Antioch, Asia Minor, Macedonia and Corinth.
Eusebius follows the ancient tradition that Peter's Roman pontificate, as we would now call it, lasted for 25 years.
Serious doubts about Peter's residence in Rome are comparatively modern, being part of a post-Reformation campaign to impugn papal claims in a more general sense.
Finally, as Fr Martindale used to say, "Wouldn't it spoil all the fun if we knew such things beyond all shadow of doubt? Where then would be the place for faith?"
It is admittedly difficult to prove conclusively that Peter resided in Rome, but seemingly impossible to prove that he did not.
As it was, discussion at the meeting in question, soon veered away from Peter to the topic of married and women priests. Unfortunately no one remembered to point out that St Peter was married himself.