4 Nov: The Death Mask of St. Charles Borromeo

A few years ago a priest friend of mine in an area of Switzerland which was of the Ambrosian Rite of Milan, sent me a video of a rare death mask of St. Charles Borromeo. He died after visiting that area and had actually left his biretta behind, which my friend’s church preserved.

The deathmask of St. Charles Borromeo.

Truly one of the great noses of all time.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Adaquano says:

    That is nose is truly magnificent. In all seriousness though, a great saint for our current times.

  2. DonL says:

    His nose is minuscule in comparison to his soul. What an inspirational man. I keep looking and praying for his modern day counterpart to rescue God’s Holy Church.

  3. Charlie says:

    And what about those big,bulging eyes! Excited at his first view of eternal glory?

  4. Andrew says:

    Habuit nasum valde catholicum.

  5. Ferde Rombola says:

    “A great nose indicates a great man.”

    St.Charles is one of my favorite saints. To the comment of DonL I say ‘amen.’

  6. Charles E Flynn says:

    What Some Synod Fathers Could Learn from St. Charles Borromeo, by Donald S. Prudlo, for Crisis Magazine.

  7. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:


    Is that a truly universal nose?

    As one who comes from a family of oversized probosci, I appreciate other objects of even larger caliber.

  8. Andrew says:

    Chris Garton-Zavesky:

    “Nasus” in a broader sense means the ability to make distinctions and hence the ability to sniff out or to discern truth from falsehood. And in that sense he had a very “catholic” nose.

  9. thomas tucker says:

    If you like that nose, wait until you see the death mask of St. James Durante!

  10. Erik Bootsma says:

    My patron of architecture. The only saint to write a book on church architecture. While a fair amount is a bit out of date, much of his “Instructiones Fabricae Et Supelletilis Ecclesiasticae” is entirely of use today, especially for Usus Antiquior parishes.

    I’ve got a translation I’ve laid out with handy Latin original in paired columns.


  11. JARay says:

    I wonder just how many Seminaries are dedicated to St. Charles Borromeo.
    My local one certainly is.

  12. don Jeffry says:

    The biretta of St. Charles Borromeo. He became very ill and left Ascona, Switzerland 4 days before he died. This biretta was left behind and is now a treasure of the town of Ascona.


  13. snoozie says:

    OK….from front on….he looks a little like you Father.

    Or vice-versa. :)

  14. Grumpy Beggar says:

    I’m trying my best to avoid contributing anything which might be considered ad noseum .


    “Carlo” ‘s father allowed him to receive the tonsure at the age of twelve – perhaps in this case, an early indicator of things to come.

    By the time St. Charles had become Bishop of Milan , he faced a general clergy and laity which had fallen into a very poor state of disrepair – and of disarray.

    It is at this point of his life where I believe some biographers misapply the word rigourism in attempting to describe how St. Charles Borromeo went about remedying the situation. According to this Loyola Press account , the situation rated in the vicinity of deplorable :

    When Borromeo arrived in Milan, he faced a daunting task. Milan was the largest archdiocese in Italy at the time, with more than 3,000 clergy and 800 thousand people. Both its clergy and laity had drifted from church teaching. The selling of indulgences and ecclesiastical positions was prevalent; monasteries were “full of disorder”; many religious were “lazy, ignorant, and debauched,” and some did not even understand how to properly administer the sacraments. The city had seen no resident bishop for 80 years. Borromeo immediately called a synod of his bishops to inform them of the new decrees. Setting an example of personal frugality and order, Borromeo reduced his household staff, forbade his retainers to accept any presents, and sold some of his property to help feed the poor. He began preaching in churches and monasteries, combining “exhortation with intimidation.” He also addressed the backsliding of laypeople, curtailing Sunday entertainments and requiring that all teachers profess the faith. Always interested in religious education, Borromeo established the Confraternities of Christian Doctrine to teach religion to children, and the organization grew to include 740 schools, three thousand catechists, and forty thousand students in Sunday schools.”

    Father John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary says, of rigorism:
    The moral theory that when there is a conflict of two opinions, one favoring the law and the other favoring liberty, the law must always be kept even if the opinion favoring liberty is more probable. Absolute rigorism, or tutiorism, taught by the Jansenists, was condemned by Pope Alexander VIII in 1690 (Denzinger 2303).

    If we now temper that definition with the same dictionary’s definition of liberalism:

    LIBERALISM. Until the eighteenth century the term generally meant whatever was worthy of a free man, e.g., as applied to the liberal arts or a liberal education. This meaning is still current, but at least since the French Revolution liberalism has become more or less identified with a philosophy that stresses human freedom to the neglect and even denial of the rights of God in religion, the rights of society in civil law, and the rights of the Church in her relations to the State. It was in this sense that liberalism was condemned by Pope Pius IX in 1864 in the Syllabus of Errors (Denzinger, 2977-80).

    While we may notice some strains of rigor in the measures St. Charles Borromeo undertook to repair the dire situation , this Saint was by no means a rigorist. The way he fed the poor – selling what he had, and then borrowing money to feed them , and how he cared for the sick personally during the plague, paint a much more complete picture of him. He was a man filled with moral courage, love of God and love of fellow man, and a love of the Truth – . . . for him, it was about all of us getting to Heaven.

    If the Church were ever to nominate any candidates to be held up to as Patron Saint of Tough Love , we can be sure that St. Charles Borromeo would not only be one of the frontrunners, but that he might actually win that particular race; if not handily , then at least (dare I say) by a nose.

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