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Franciscans and united Italy

· From the demolition of the Aracoeli convent of 1873 to the statue in St. John Lateran square ·

“On October 20, 1873, the government took possession of the Convent and sent the Notary, Venuti, with two witnesses and the city assessor, Placido di Scofera, who immediately began to take inventory of the contents of the Convent and the sacristy, and spent nearly half a month writing it down.” So wrote the diarist of the Aracoeli, describing the operation of the Liquidating Council of the Ecclesiastical Axis which acted in accordance with law number 1402 of June 19, 1873, sanctioning the suppression of religious orders and the confiscation of their assets.

In April 1878, a bill was presented to the legislative assembly of the Italian Parliament for the creation of “a national monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, liberator of the country, founder of its unity,” in Rome. The project was approved on July 25, 1880. Prime Minister Depretis decreed that it would be placed at the Capitol Hill, (Campidoglio), despite the contrary opinion of the Archeological Commission which warned that the area was inappropriate for construction due to the presence of Roman ruins, as well as a tower dating to Paul III and the convent’s medieval courtyards which would be destroyed. The Minister General of the Order protested in vain to the Minister of Grace, Justice and Cult stating amongst other things that, “the Tower of Aracoeli, both for its historical memory and for its majestic mass and structure, should never have been designated for demolition in order to make space for a modern monument which certainly could find another place in Rome.”

The Mayor of Rome, Leopoldo Torlonia, echoed the Minister General’s sentiments, as did the municipal council, the archeologist, Rodolfo Lanciani, and last but not least, Deputy Ruggero Bonghi, an ardent scholar of the Franciscan order and author of a life of St. Francis. On May 10, 1883, Bonghi made a passionate plea in Parliament, “You will have heard, then, where the monument is to be erected and you will have learned how much will have to be demolished to make space for it…the Palazzo of Paul III Farnese: Paul III lived at a time in which we Italians did not know how to make a line that was not beautiful, just as today, unfortunately, our enemies could say that we don’t know how to make a line that is not ugly… the Library of Aracoeli will need to be moved. You will be doing the work of the Vandals, you will create a work that will bring you no credit; neither civilized Europe nor this city could ever be grateful to you for it.” Depretis responded: “What is gained by letting that ruin of the Aracoeli convent stand, where there is nothing that is artistic; no memory which deserves to be preserved? And as for the Tower of Paul III, it was nothing but an accessory of the Palazzo Venezia.”




St. Peter’s Square

Nov. 18, 2019