Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Of maps and tiaras

I've already talked about Pope Saint Gregory the Great's Reliquary as well as a couple of chalices that made an impression on me, but I want to point out two more items I found interesting at the "Saint Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of the Popes" exhibition I visited last week:

"Terra Australis Quinta Pars Orbis" dates from 1676, and is the oldest known map of Australia. Pretty cool, huh? Not something you'd expect from the Vatican archives. It was drawn by Vittorio Ricci, a Dominican missionary who was conducted a number of missions into China. He never actually visited Austraila, apparently, but based the map on accounts he took from captive natives (ie slaves) and Dutch traders/explorers/slavers while based in Manila, in the Phillipines. Ricci's goal was to convince Rome that Manila was the best location from which to launch a mission to the unexplored southern continent.

And, lest I fall short of the bejewelled quotient required of all writings regarding Vatican treasures, I offer the famous tiara of Pope Pius VII:

A gift from Napoleon Bonaparte to Pope Pius VII in 1805, the irony is that the tiara was made of treasure looted from the Vatican eight years before when French troops invaded the Papal States. Ostensibly, the gift was a gesture of atonement from Napoleon for the plunder nearly a decade earlier, but the base was so small Pius VII could not wear it--an intentional slight by Napoleon. Most of the original jewels adorning the tiara were replaced with cut glass during the 19th century, but the huge milled emerald supporting the diamond-studded cross at the top--the Emerald of Gregory XIII--remains (and had actually been mounted on several different tiaras used by Pius VII's predecessors). Also stripped from the tiara were three engraved bas-reliefs that depicted scenes of Napoleon's coronation as Emperor of France, re-legalization of public worship in France and the signing of a treaty between the Vatican and France. I think it's safe to say that even without the original jewels and engravings, this is still and overwhelmingly opulent piece. Even if nobody ever got to wear it.

Now Playing: Pandora Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto radio


  1. Who would have thought that the Pope knew how to make a football way back then!

  2. That would be Australian Rules, no?