Charterhouse Chronicle Brian Brindley
'HE SEMINARIANS are particu
larly colourful," wrote
Georgina Masson in her Companion Guide to Rome (1965) — still. in my judgment the best guide to the monuments and treasures of the city, though its practical information about buses and restaurants and opening-times needs to be treated with caution; and though linguistic change has overtaken its assertion that the Via Vittorio Veneto "has now become the centre of the gay night life of the city".
The Germans and Hungarians wearing bright red soutanes (popularly known as gamberi crate or boiled lobsters: this conspicuous dress is said to have resulted from their uproarious behaviours in times past). The Spaniards have a black soutane with a blue belt and a blue-striped collar, the English and French plain black soutanes, the Scots a purple soutane (presumably taken from their native heather; no one has ever dared attribute this distinctive colour to any other cause) with a red belt, The Belgians wear black soutanes with red seams, the Poles black with a green belt. The Greeks and Ruthenians a blue soutane with a red belt. North Americans wear black with blue piping and South Americans have in addition a blue belt. Armenians wear black with a red belt and seminarists of the Propaganda Fide, black with red piping and a red belt. The best place to see the whole gamut of seminarist costume is in the Piazza della Pilotta when the Pontificia Universita Gregoriana closes about midday.
Sadly, in the fourth edition of 1980, she is obliged to prefix this helpful information with the following melancholy warning: "A HISTORICAL NOTE ON ECCLESIASTICAL DRESS WRITTEN IN ROME ONLY FIFTEEN YEARS AGO."
1 WAS THE CUSTOM in books about
Rome written a century ago, like F. Marion-Crawford's Ave, Roma Immortalis, to lament the passing of the beauty and picturesqueness of the Old Rome, when it was capital of the Papal States; and its destruction by Garibaldi and his battalions and by the royal house of Savoy, in turning it, after 1870, into the capital of the kingdom of Italy, How ironical it is that the damage which those fierce anticlericals could not inflict upon the customs and special character of the Eternal City should have been self-inflicted, in our own lifetime, since 1970, by "reformers" within the Catholic Church.
I doubt if the Church has gained very much from the disappearance of the distinctive dress of the seminarians, that used to make Rome such a colourful city, any more than the adoption of brown suede shoes, polonecked sweaters, and compulsory Christian name, has done anything to enhance the status of our own English priests.
In the old days you could identify the curial officials as they went about in their black soutanes with dabs of scarlet or purple: they imitated their (late) master, Pope Pius XII, in seeming to glide along on well-oiled invisible castors rather than walking on legs. The seminarians were not afraid to use. and to display, their legs, presenting a scene resembling the tumultuous entry of the choristers and servers towards act ot Tosca. the end of the first
IN THE DAILY TELEGRAPH last week there appeared a report that the English, Irish, and Scots seminarians would be unable to fulfil their wish of lining up inside the Vatican palace to applaud the Queen after her audience with the Holy Father. The reason for this disappointment was said to be that, while officials of the papal court insist that seminarians wear cassocks within the Apostolic Palace, the rectors of the seminaries forbid the young men in their care to wear them. One highlyplaced English priest in Rome said: "The rectors actively discourage English seminarians from going to the Vatican because it means that they will have to wear cassocks."
With all respect to the author of this report. I hope — indeed, I trust — that it is erroneous, based on some misunderstanding of the true position. If it be true, we have come to a pretty pass when young men who are sent to the centre of Catholic Christianity (presumably) to learn to be better Catholics. are forbidden by their teachers to observe the normal courtesies of wearing the attire asked for by the Pope for those who visit his official residence and home.
As I say, I hope it is not true. If it is true, then it is a remarkable instance of the anti-"black" discrimination referred to by John D'Arcy in his hard-hitting book review in this paper last week. The seminary rectors ought really to learn that nothing entrenches traditionalists in their ways more strongly than bullying by self-styled liberals during their training.
It was Jeremy Taylor, an Anglican divine, who wrote "Si fueris Romae, Romano viviot more" — when in Rome, do as the Romans do. He seems to have had in mind St Ambrose's rule of fasting on Saturdays when in Rome, but not in Saturdays in Milan. By a tragic irony, the seminarians of the Venerabiie, the Beda, and the Scots and Irish Colleges will (according to the report) foregather outside the Anglican Centre, in ordinary clothes, to wave the Queen past.