ROME 22/10 – Day 21: Sirah, Sirloin and Sirleto

Sunrise: 7:27.  Sunset 18:22.  Ave Maria 18:30.

It is the (new calendar) Feast of St. Gaspar del Bufalo, a great saint who fostered devotion to the Most Precious Blood of Jesus.  An exorcist friend of mine describes how imploring a spiritual covering of the Precious Blood is effective against the Enemy.  Try to get your mind around the fact that the least drop of Christ’s Most Precious Blood is of greater value than all of material creation.   Now try to get your mind around how the Precious Blood of Our Lord is treated in some parishes.

White to move and win material.

Recently my feet hied me to San Lorenzo in Panisperna precisely to find a specific funerary monument. Arriving at said basilica, at an entirely proper hour, I found it to be dratted closed. Muttering, I continued over hill and no dale at all to find Santa Pudenziana similarly closed. The mumbling greatly increased.

I went to Santa Prassede and Santa Maria Maggiore. After which visits my feet wanted to go home and so we, together, sought out the Via Panisperna again. That a curious street has had the same name and course since the time of Augustus Caesar. Panis = bread and Perna = ham. Bread and Ham Street. And there is a connection with physics!

To my surprise, the church was open and NOT at an hour one expects churches to be open, dead in the middle of the customary siesta period that my feet longed for.

In the church there was a Mass, I assume for some specific group, with the usual hideous music, involving – I am not making this up – a red plastic ukulele, and a know-it-all modernist Scripture-deletant of a priest who wouldn’t shut up. Not to disturb too much, and to rest the barking dogs, I took a seat.

When we learned from him that Jesus never spoke about the End Times, I got up from the chair I’d occupied and went about my errand in regard to the this following funerary monument.

I introduce you to His Eminence Guglielmo Sirleto (1514-1585).  His monument has seen better times.

Here’s the inscription.  Someone could do us all a favor and transcribe it. Right click for a large version.

Who was this guy, and why did my feet take me to him?   After all, there are oodles of churches in Rome and they are all lined and floored with lots of tombs and funerary monuments.  When you walk the churches of Rome you are literally also walking on and by dead people.  Do the math, oodles x lots = zillions.  Many of them are of bishops and cardinals, so zillions  /  lots = scads.  What’s one out of scads of prelatial monuments, anyway?  What’s so special about this one?

As a young Calabrian Sirleto came to Rome, exquisitely prepared in classical languages (he talked in his sleep in Greek and Latin), philosophy and theology.  St. Philip Neri sold his books and gave the money to Sirleto for his upkeep.  Think about that.  That in itself makes you wonder what Pippo Bbono saw in him.

Sirleto got to know Card. Cervini, the future Pope Marcellus II (of Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli fame) and was a kind of peritus to him during the Council of Trent, as he was later also to Card. Seripando, second legate of the Pope at Trent and later first president of the same.  Marcellus made him the head of the Apostolic Vatican Library where, among other things, he made an index of all the materials that would be used for a new edition of the Vulgate Bible.  After the pontificate of Paul IV, he was teaching Greek and Hebrew and would up with a student named Carlo Borromeo.  He remained a councilor to participants at the Council of Trent.   Borromeo eventually suggested to Pius IV that Sirleto be made cardinal, and so he became the Cardinal Deacon of S. Lorenzo in Panisperna, and the builder of the present church.

Being a peritus at a Council is an important position.   Think of the influence at Vatican II of Ratzinger, Congar, etc.  Sirleto was peritus to the guys who ran Trent.

Want more influence?

He was the head of the commissions to “reform” the following:

  • Missale Romanum
  • Breviarium Romanum 
  • Catechismus Romanus
  • Martyrologium Romanum
  • Vulgata
  • Corpus Iuris Canonici.

Imagine the impact.

When he died, St. Philip Neri was at his bedside and Pope Sixtus V buried him.

A fascinating guy.

What’s also fascinating is that when I start to drill into these tombs and monuments – figuratively, that is – I find that the bones have flesh – figuratively, that is.

Meanwhile, check this out.  Hilarious and sad at the same time.  HERE

To satisfy the food pic seekers, last night I made a wine reduction… to put on…

Sirloin (Italian: contrafiletto) rubbed with salt, pepper and thyme, done in a pan with clarified butter.   In what was left I fried a couple slices of tomato that needed eating.  I like my fries done.   Steak: rare (except for the outside which was duly Maillard-ed).

The wine was a lovely Syrah from the region.

This morning, however, I was after some clams and found this wonderful chorus.  I can hear them singing Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli.

The Missa Papae Marcelli has a fascinating history.  It was used for the coronation Mass of Popes until Paul VI.  Palestrina composed it for Marcellus I who reigned for three weeks.  This was a time when at the end of the Council of Trent there was discussion of sacred music, especially music that was too secular sounding.  There was even talk of suppressing polyphony, which – as parody Masses – often borrowed melodies from secular, sometimes even rather lascivious songs. However, many of the Roman participants in the Council – including St Charles Borromeo – had heard the Missa Papae Marcelli and they resisted the impulse to ban polyphony.

And at my usual stand where I’ve bought veg for 30 years, today puntarelle!   I’ll feast on these with a sauce made of anchovy, garlic, oil and white wine vinegar.  Puntarelle are chicory leaves that have been stripped and then put into ice cold water so that they get all curly and crunchy.  The L.O.L at the stand was making them, with expert but truly red, rough raw and hard as nails hands, bless her.  She’s very sweet.  She isn’t there every day anymore, but I always stop and greet the family.

And to put an exclamation point on this post, here’s Palestrina’s Papae Marcelli. Try not to choke up.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Not says:

    Cardinal Sirleto was a gift from God. His works for Holy Mother Church that you have shown us is more than anyone has accomplished in my lifetime. We need a movement of “Back to the Future”. pun intended. Let’s go back to embrace what we have lost.

  2. Simon_GNR says:

    Steak & chips (British usage)/French fries (American usage) – one of my favourite meals, but I’d have the steak medium – just a bit pink in the middle, with English mustard and horseradish sauce.

  3. The Masked Chicken says:

    One of my disciplines is musicology and the story of Palestrina rescuing polyphony is a legend. There is no documentary evidence that Trent wished to remove polyphony. They did want it to conform better to propriety and, if I recall correctly, held up Palestrina as an example of good music.

    This article goes into the origins of the legend in more detail:

    “ The Saviour Legend

    The crises regarding polyphony and intelligibility of the text and the threat that polyphony was to be removed completely, which was assumed to be coming from the Council, has a very dramatic legend of resolution. The legend goes that Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (ca. 1525/26–1594), a church musician and choirmaster in Rome, wrote a mass for the Council delegates in order to demonstrate that a polyphonic composition could set the text in such a way that the words could be clearly understood and that was still pleasing to the ear. Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli(Mass for Pope Marcellus) was performed before the Council and received such a welcoming reception among the delegates that they completely changed their minds and allowed polyphony to stay in use in the musical liturgy. Therefore Palestrina came to be named the “savior of church polyphony.” This legend, though unfounded, has long been a mainstay of histories of music. The saviour-myth was first spread by an account by Aggazzari and Banchieri in 1609 who said that Pope Marcellus was trying to replace all polyphony with plainsong. Palestrina’s “Missa Papae Marcelli” was, though, in 1564, after the 22nd session, performed for the Pope while reforms were being considered for the Sistine Choir.”

    The Chicken

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  4. When the debates at Trent over sacred music are mentioned, I always advertise the opera Palestrina (1917), by Hans Pfitzner. With Borromeo and Palestrina as protagonists, how could it not be a great pleasure? And it serves as a good reminder that not everything at Trent went… harmoniously. Poor Pfitzner himself indulged in Bad Thought and lived an unhappy life, as I recall.

  5. acardnal says:

    Can you suggest any biographies of Guglielmo Sirleto ? He sounds fascinating!

  6. acardnal says:

    Sorry, but what does “L.O.L at the stand” mean?

    [Little Old Lady (with no disrespect at all). And I am unaware of a biography of Sirleto. This has some bibliography. Not much in English, I think.]

  7. TonyO says:

    After which visits my feet wanted to go home and so we, together, sought out the Via Panisperna again.

    What, both feet were in agreement? No kicking the other guy when he is down? Seems a level of harmony to be grateful for.

    Do the math, oodles x lots = zillions. Many of them are of bishops and cardinals, so zillions / lots = scads.

    Since Masked Chicken’s OTHER discipline is math, I am shocked that he let this one go. As I recall my multiplication tables, oodles x lots = gillions. I think. Or is that kagillions? Wait…bazillions?

    In other multiplication math, a few x miracle / 5,000 = 12 baskets.

  8. David says:

    Dear Fr. Z – since your feet took you to Via Panisperna today (maybe yesterday for you by the time you read this), you might thank them, and your palate might thank them, if they take you back :) At the intersection of Panisperna and Via Boschetto, specifically at 48 Via Panisperna, there is a fabulous Roman neighborhood restaurant called Le Tavernelle. My best friend discovered it several years ago when she lived on Panisperna in the next block while working for FAO. The food is wonderful, very Roman, and not expensive as these things go in Rome, and owner Franco and his wife Serena (I believe he works lunch and she works dinner) are lovely people. If you mention that you heard of Le Tavernelle through Gabriela Gold, the best friend of one of your readers, they’d be delighted. I heartily recommend Tavernelle. All the best, David

  9. Kentucky Gent says:

    1.Ng5 threatens checkmate in one, on h7. Black cannot stop this without giving up his Bishop with 1…Bxg2+

  10. monstrance says:

    The Belgians call fries “fritters”. Dip in mayo not ketchup.
    Great looking dish.

  11. TheCavalierHatherly says:

    Cardinal Sirleto halso has a wonderful memento left of him by one of his contemporaries, Giovanmatteo Tuscano:

    Magno est hebreo, graeco, latinoque disertum
    Eloquio triplici promere sensa sono
    Majus at est usus quod triplex illa profanos
    Respuit, et soli lingua dicata deo est.

    While Sirleto did an enormous amount of work, he apparently never really cared to publish. His scholarship is a sort of “hidden act of charity.” I did manage in my meanderings to come across this translation of a Greek hymn by St. Sophronius (d. 638) which he did:

    Inclytus nuncius Dei
    Tum virginem est allocutus
    Maria purissima ave
    Tecum sit ipse Deus

    Sermonem angeli puella
    Puris praecordiis excipiens
    Cogitabat optima quale
    Eloqium esset Deum tuentis

    Mariam rursus minister
    Dulcibus sermonibus est affatus
    Maria timorem pelle
    Nam in Deo gratiam invenisti

    The meter is “anacreontic.” There must be elisions to make up the 8 syllable count per line. I would know what to elide, I suppose if I wasn’t born in thd dark ages. Alas.

    Antonio Maria Graziani, writing a century later, the life of Sirleto’s contemporary and good friend Giovanni Francesco Commendone, reports this (I think this is actually Commendone, not Graziani speaking, but the Italian text it’s embedded in has me slightly bewildered):

    “Familiariter usus est, Guglielmo Sirleto, qui ei postea collega, in cardinalatu fuit, viro cum innocentia sua, tum memoria tanta, ut cum omnes omnium artium libros, omnia scripta Greacorum et Latinorum vetera recentiaque incredibili labore perlegisset, eorum non singulas modo sententias, sed verba quoque memoriter recenseret, cum bibliothecae instar de abstrutissimis rebus consuleretur; quod, nisi congestis in unius notitiam tot rerum doctrinis ingenium impar fuisset, memorabiliorem virum aetas nostrum non tulisset.”

    [Great stuff. Thanks. Sirleto was an amazing fellow.]

  12. Suburbanbanshee says:

    For once in our sad age, somebody prominent was keeping a reputable secret.

    “When you go to a banquet, sit in the lowest place.”

  13. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Of course, he could also have been messing with the reporter.

    It’s terrible to be someone with a dry sense of humor, if people don’t get the joke.

    I mean, the Almanach de Gotha is a thing, and you could just look up an old copy from before Hitler. So did the reporter look one up?

  14. jdt2 says:

    Kt to F6?

  15. Neal says:

    1. Ng5 h6
    2. Bh7+ Kh8
    3. Nf7+ forks the king and queen

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