Monday, February 11


I Wish My Title were Marquess of the Baldacchino, or, Empowering the Laity, Baroque-style

The old aristocrats of the Papal States, today called the Black Nobility (aristocraz├Ča nera) after going into mourning after the fall of Rome in 1870 to the Piedmontese monarchy, have effectively faded from Catholic consciousness, along with the Papacy's role as a fons honorum of noble titles. The Pope doesn't hand out titles any longer--though there's a dorm at Notre Dame named after a papal count--but the wonderfully eccentric collection of hereditary offices abolished largely by Paul VI still has a few remnants extant today. For one thing, I discovered that the titles are themselves still extant, and apparently still used, even if the offices themselves no longer exist; furthermore, the office as well as the title of Prince Assistant to the Papal Throne is still around. His duty is, as far as I know, no longer liturgical (he used to sit next to the senior Cardinal-deacon), but he does help out when a Head of State visits.

A listing of the Great Officers of the Papal Court, with the current incumbents of each title:

Hereditary Prince Assistants to the Papal Throne: Prince Don Alessandro Torlonia, Prince of Fucino etc - present holder; Prince Don Marcantonio Colonna, Prince and Duke of Paliano, Duke of Mariano etc - alternate.

Marshal of the Holy Roman Church and Sacred Conclave: Prince Don Sigismondo Chigi-Albani della Rovere, Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, Prince of Farnese, Campagnano, and Soriano, Duke of Ariccia and Formello, etc.

[Why this very useful post was abolished, I have no idea: what progressive could object to having a non-cleric involved in the mechanics of electing the Pope?]

Grand Master of the Sacred Apostolic Hospice: Prince Alessandro Ruspoli, Prince of Cerveteri.

[Actually, this title is a bit out of date: the supremely wacky Prince Ruspoli, who I once heard speak at the strangest political rally I have ever attended, died in 2005 and was replaced by Prince Francesco Ruspoli, Tenth Prince of Cerveteri].

Hereditary Foriere Maggiore - Quartermaster General: Marquess Giulio Sacchetti, Marques of Castel Romano, who is now the highest ranking laymen in the Vatican service as "Delegate of the State of the City of the Vatican."

[Our century certainly has no lack of snappy new titles to replace the old ones.]

Hereditary Cavallerizzo Maggiore - superintendant of the stables of the Palaces: Marquess Dr. Gregorio Serlupi Crescenzi - a Roman psychologist.

[Insert Bob Newhart reference here.]

Hereditary Superintendant of the Posts: Prince Don Filippo Massimo, Prince and Lord of Arsoli, Duke of Anticoli Corrado.

[On second thought, perhaps the abolition of this post is understandable, the Italian postal system being what it is. Vatican Mail is now routed through Switzerland.]

And, among the Papal Guards:

Hereditary Standard Bearer of the Holy Roman Church, with the rank of Lieutenant-General: Marquess Patrizio Patrizi Naro Montoro, Marquess of the Baldacchino [!!!].

[1. This has always been my dream-job, with Swordbearer to the Cardinal-Archbishop of Westminster being my second choice, and Colonel of the Papal Zouaves after that. 2. I will be happy all afternoon now, thinking that somewhere in the world is a man whose ancient hereditary title commemorates an enormous bronze piece of furniture shaped like a mosquito net canopy.]

Now this is the sort of lay empowerment I can support.

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