BOOK: A Papal Chamberlain: The Personal Chronicle of Francis Augustus MacNutt

There is another book I have been pecking away at for some time now. I don’t know why I haven’t dispatched it yes, since it is utterly charming, beautiful penned, and fascinating in its details. I mean, of course:

A Papal Chamberlain: The Personal Chronicle of Francis Augustus MacNutt


The book was given to me by a friend.  He had originally found a copy in the used section in the basement of The Strand.   Having been thoroughly amused, he dug up some copies for friends in order to share the joy.  Because of his enthusiasm, the book might be a little hard to find right now.  Check your libraries, too.

Francis Augustus MacNutt, a convert to Holy Church, was an American who wound up as an important figure in the papal court of Leo XIII, Pius X and Benedict XV.  He knew, quite simply, everyone and he abounds with amazing anecdotes.   He wound up taking over and living in the Palazzo of the Pamphili on the Navona, now the Brazilian embassy.

The preface is by G. K. Chesterton, written just before his death.

Here is an example of what you get from the book.  I’ll leave aside where they found a skeleton walled up in a closet of their palazzo.

The true Roman says: “Nihil innovetur!”

In a time when frequent Communion was not the norm, MacNutt’s last words: “I want to receive Holy Communion once more.”


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    MacZelig !
    That is fascinating Father. THanks.

  2. Fr PJM says:

    “They said, the Vatican must be modernized, must march with the times, and similar nonsense… deplorable nonsense!”. “Nihil innovetur” indeed.

  3. jaykay says:

    Interesting to see that the page extract includes the state visit of King Edward VII to the Vatican: “The state visit of a foreign sovereign in the Vatican presents one of the finest spectacles imaginable”. The King would have appreciated that as he loved ceremony and was a stickler for proper protocol, once commenting on an aide who wore incorrect dress to a viewing in the Royal Academy: “I thought everyone must know that a short jacket is always worn with a silk hat at a private view in the morning”.

  4. OBLATEBEDE says:

    Ah, the basement of the Strand. So many great finds.

  5. CanukFrank says:

    I gave a loud chuckle at
    “….a small group of restless people about the Pope urging him to these novelties”. No doubt these “restless” individuals had “itchy ears”, too. Reminds me of Tommy Lascelles, the Queen’s advisor from ‘The Crown’ series.

  6. bigtex says:

    down with electricity!

  7. Suburbanbanshee says:

    The point isn’t so much that “new stuff is bad,” as “we shouldn’t use stuff in church without thinking about it.”

    I mean, “Hurray for Father Z” is an okay sentiment, but not in electric lights stretched around the dome of St. Peter’s! Even on the outside of St. Peter’s, it would look silly, like a billboard, and go against the intentions of the architect. On the inside, when people should be paying attention to God, it is silly and maybe blasphemous.

    If a church was meant to be lit by natural light or candlelight, you probably don’t want to put up strobes, or a neon billboard, or glaringly bright LEDs.

    Oh! And I saw a nice post about an Exultet roll from Monte Cassino, on the Medieval Manuscripts blog at the British Library. It has some very nice illustrations of the song; and it’s on gold leaf, so it would have looked all gleaming in the Easter candle’s light.

    The curious bit is that it does include a sort of early Christian/classical illustration of Tellus personified as a mother nursing wild and tame animals on the hills, illustrating “and let Earth rejoice”. This is paralleled by a beautiful picture of Mater Ecclesia being glad, illustrating the next verse of the Exultet.

    (Needless to say, both mothers have a very different feel, when compared to that Pachamama thing!)

  8. bigtex says:

    Have you ever been to San Marco in Venice? When the sun hits the gold leaf covered walls just right..BAMM! It’s a sight to behold.

  9. ThePapalCount says:

    This book is a very good read on many levels – the political, the religious and the spiritual. It covers the MacNutt story from the mid 1800s until his death in 1926. While he provides remarkable accounts and intrigues of people and events within the Vatican and the royal and noble families of his era, the account of his own life is in itself interesting. He married the grand-daughter of the Clement Moore who wrote “The Night Before Christmas”. He lived in Rome on the Piazza Navona in what is now the Brazilian embassy. He later purchased a small castle in northern Italy where he ended his days after suffering from cancer. He was a papal chamberlain to three popes and had been awarded two papal knighthoods. He was admired by some and despised by others.
    I was given a copy of this book a few years ago by a nun in Rome (they were thinning their library) and was later thrilled to see that inside it was inscribed to a visitor to Rome by Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty the famed World War II “Scarlet Pimpernel of The Vatican” portrayed in the movies by Gregory Peck in the “Scarlet and the Black”.
    The book is often available on Amazon or ebay. A good Catholic book. Give it a read.

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