Thursday, January 08, 2015

The Betrothed and Pope Francis

Cardinal Federico Borromeo
Just finished reading The Betrothed which I read having devoured Austen Ivereigh's excellent The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope. Apparently The Betrothed is Francis' favourite novel and one can understand why.

There are two especially saintly priests, Fra Cristofero a Capuchin and Cardinal Federico Borromeo who was a real historical figure and apart from coming from a very wealthy family and having a cousin who was a saint resembles Francis in many ways. Although it's not stated in the book, Federico Borromeo was also a Jesuit.

The book frames the difficulties of a peasant couple (Renzo and Lucia) who are betrothed in getting married in a narrative of the very turbulent times of Milan around 1630 where there was war, famine, riots and the plague. A minor villain is thwarted by Fra Cristofero but then applies to the super-villain called The Unnamed (a  brilliant touch, which may have inspired JK Rowling).
The unnamed with Cardinal B

However The Unnamed, having kidnapped the heroine, is moved by her pleas to go to see Cardinal B and is converted. It looks as if all will be well but soldiers ravage the area and bring the Plague. There are harrowing scenes as this is described, and a denouement takes place in the Lazaretto ie the hospital outside Milan where all the sick have been made to congregate.

Pope Francis apparently believes that the Church needs to see itself as a Lazaretto ministering to the gravely ill, rather than some kind of club or censorious anti-modern movement.

I cannot resist concluding with a delightfully written extract about a busybody called Donna Prassede who takes Luicia under her wing.
Luckily for  [Lucia], she was not the only one to whom Donna Prassede had to do good... she also had five daughters, none of whom were at home, though they gave her more worry than if they had been. Three were nuns, and two married; hence Donna Prassede naturally found herself with three convents and two households to superintend - a vast and complicated undertaking, and all the more arduous as two husbands, backed by fathers, mothers and brothers, and three abbesses, flanked by other dignitaries and by numerous nuns, were not anxious to accept her superintendence" (Ch 27)
Buon per lei, ch' ella non era la sola a chi donna Prassede avesse a far del bene...aveva anche cinque figlie; nessuna in casa, ma che le davano assai piu de pensare, che se vi fossero state. Ther erano monache, due maritate; di che donna Prassede si trovava naturalmente aver tre monasteri e due case a cui soprintendere: impressa vasta e complicata; e tanto piu ardua, che due mariti, spalleggiati da padri, de madri, da fratelli, due badesse, dinacheggiate de altre dignita e da molte monache, non volevano acettare la sua soprintendenza.
An extreme version of Aunt Agatha!


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