Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Letter from Rome, #4: A Divorce, and a Memory

insidethevatican - Jun 23, 2009

The Vatican archives today presented a facsimile copy of a 500-year-old Appeal of the British Lords to Rome on behalf of Henry VIIIth in his effort to divorce Catherine of Aragorn. And an elderly monsignor remembers Pius XII. Plus, more on the upcoming encyclical...

By Robert Moynihan, reporting from Rome

A cool, sunny day in Rome -- and now a cool evening. Hardly like the searing heat of many of the Junes I have known here for the past 25 years...

Centuries ago, history unfolded at a slower pace. Today, news flashes around the world almost instantaneously. But 500 years ago, King Henry VIII took six years from the moment he decided to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragorn, until the moment he actually divorced her and married the fiery Anne Boleyn -- whose execution he ordered a few years later.

This morning, in the Palazzo della Cancelleria, a beautiful palace about a mile from the Vatican which is nevertheless a part of the Vatican's territory in the heart of Rome, a panel of distinguished scholars presented a facsimile edition of one of the most important documents in the history of Great Britain (photo).

In early 1530, 479 years ago, 83 British nobles (about 70% of the House of Lords of that time), including numerous abbots and bishops who were all Roman Catholics and still, like King Henry himself, fully united with Rome, wrote to Pope Clement VII pleading with him to grant Henry's request for a marriage annulment. The document was sealed by each man, and sent to Rome (it took three months to arrive).

And when he received the document, Pope Clement was not moved. He refused to grant the annulment.

Unwilling to accept the decision, Henry VIII — who had been a very strong Catholic, writing a theological treatise in defense of the seven Church sacraments against the Lutherans — decided that he would proclaim himself the head of the Christian Church in England, and Anglicanism began.

In a sense, this document is a the precise mid-point of the 6-year process that led to the schism that divided London from Rome, and so changed world history.

Now, 200 copies of this historic letter with all its seals have been reproduced in exquisite detail by the Vatican in a limited facsimile edition.

The cost: 50,000 euros (£43,000) each.

Each facsimile of the Causa Anglica ("The Anglican Case") as the three-foot-long document is known, took two months to produce. The Vatican hopes that the facsimiles will be bought by museums and national libraries around the world.

The project was timed to coincide with Wednesday's 500th anniversary of Henry's coronation in Westminster Abbey in 1509.

The copies were produced by Scrinium, a specialist publisher linked to the Holy See but based in Venice. Venetian glass workers were employed to reproduce the wax seals in minute detail.


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