It is indeed a pleasure to announce the good news that he has graciously accepted my invitation. Moving forward, Roberto de Mattei’s “Letter from Rome” will be a regular feature here in The Remnant, and I’d like to warmly welcome him, formally introduce him to our readers, and ask God to bless our alliance with many years of fruitful collaboration in the service of His Church. Welcome aboard, Roberto de Mattei! MJM
AMONG THE ANCIENT Roman palaces, the Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne is one of the the most impressive and evocative. The “Colonne” or columns are part of the portico which faces the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, at the point at which the “Papal Way” which runs from the Quirinale to the Vatican curves toward Piazza San Pantaleo before resuming its straight route. The six pairs of travertine columns delimit the Odeon, or music hall, of Emperor Domitian, on which the palace was built by Baldassarre Peruzzi between 1532 and 1536, after the destruction of the domus antiqua in the Sack of Rome in 1527.
In that terrible event, the Massimo family was struck particularly hard. The palace was set on fire, the rich collection of antiquities was dispersed, the daughters of Prince Domenico were violated and his son Giuliano died fighting against the Landsknechte, the German mercenary soldiers who sacked the city. During those tragic days the religious symbols of the city of Rome and its most sacred memories were defiled. Pope Clement VII commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel as if to immortalize the drama, which everyone considered as a chastisement from Heaven against the corruption of society and the men of the Church.
After its reconstruction, the Massimo family lived in this house, a Roman family whose documented origins go back to the Middle Ages, but which tradition traces back to the Roman consul Fabius Maximus, known as “The Time Buyer” for the strategy with which he opposed Hannibal in the Italian wars.
In 1797, when Napoloeon Bonaparte asked the Marquis Camillo Massimo, ambassador of Pope Pius VI at the Peace Treaty of Tolentino, if this ancestry was true, the Marquis replied, “I don’t know, but it is a story that has been handed down in the family for at least 1200 years.” The motto of the dynasty is Cunctando restituiti, “Buying Time Restoring [Liberty to the Roman Republic].” In the atrium, the family crest is supported by a boy who is choking two snakes – an allusion to Hercules, the legendary father of Fabius Maximus. The palace was built during the Renaissance, but the atmosphere that one breathes when crossing the courtyards and climbing the staircases rich with bas-relief sculptures and ancient statues is that of the Counter-Reformation, due to a certain austerity which distinguishes it from other Roman palaces.
The entrance hall is one of the few in which 18th-century taste has not entered to modify its severity and the “Chapel of the Miracle” on the second floor infuses a sacred spirit into the house. In the last two centuries the Casa Massimo was related to the royal houses of Savoy and the Bourbons. Before Pope Paul VI abolished the papal court, the family held the position of “General Superintendent of the Papal Post Office.” It was Pope Gregory XVI who nominated Prince Camillo Massimo as “Postmaster General” with the duty of preparing Papal journeys, arranging the itinerary, the change of horses, the lodgings during the trip and extraordinary couriers. Although it was not a hereditary office, the post remained in the family into the 20th century.
Each year on March 16, the miracle of Saint Philip Neri (1515-1595) is commemorated in this palace, who in 1583 restored to life the young Paolo Massimo, son of Prince Fabrizio (1556-1633). If the Massimo family is a Roman family par excellence, Saint Philip Neri is equally Roman, although he was born in Florence. He carried out his apostolate in the heart of Rome at the churches of San Girolamo della Carità, San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, and Santa Maria in Vallicella, the home of the Congregation of the Oratory which he founded.
The conversion of the Florentine noble Giovanni Battista Salviati, husband of Porzia Massimo, had contributed to Philip Neri receiving widespread support from the Roman aristocracy. After the death of her husband, Porzia founded the Dominican monastery of SS. Domenico e Sisto in Rome, while Prince Fabrizio and his wife Lavinia de’Rustici belonged to the close circle of disciples of the Roman saint whom they often welcomed at their palace and in their fief at Arsoli.
On January 1, 1583, their 14-year-old son Paolo came down with a fever, which lasted for 65 days and brought him close to death. Philip, who visited Paolo every day, told the family to call him when Paolo’s final moments drew near. He was about to celebrate Mass at San Girolamo della Carità, when the messenger from Casa Massimo arrived and announced the imminent death of the youth. Meanwhile, Paolo, after receiving Extreme Unction from the parish priest of the nearby church of San Pantaleo, breathed his last.
Philip arrived half an hour after he had died. Prince Fabrizio told him from the staircase that it was all over. The saint, making his way through the weeping relatives, approached the lifeless body of the young man, pressed it to himself, prayed intensely for seven or eight minutes with the palpitations of the heart and the trembling of the body which was typical of him, and then sprinkled the body with holy water. Then he blew on the boy’s face and called out in a loud voice: “Paolo! Paolo!” The youth reopened his eyes and said, “Father, I forgot to mention one sin, I would like to go to confession.”
The saint, asking those present to leave, gave the youth a crucifix to hold, listened to his confession, and absolved him. Then, when everyone had returned to the room, he asked the youth whether he preferred to die so as to go to heaven. Paolo nodded. Philip asked him a second time, and Paolo responded “Yes, gladly, especially so I can see my mother and sister in Paradise.”
Saint Philip replied as he blessed him, “Go, so that you may be blessed, and pray to God for me.” And according to the witnesses, Paolo “immediately returned to death again” with a peaceful face (Giacomo Bacci, Vita di San Filippo Neri, Tip. B. Olivieri, Roma 1831, pp. 100-101).
The resurrection was apparent to all who witnessed it, and in his treatise on the canonization and beatification of the Servants of God, Pope Benedict XIV refers to this episode when he speaks of the miracles of the resurrection of the body, in order to explain that it is also possible to die a short time after having obtained the grace of resurrection (De servorum Dei beatificatione et beatorum canonisatione, Liber IV, pars I, cap. XXI, n. 30).
In September 1595, when he was well over 80 years old, Prince Fabrizio Massimo had the joy of testifying at the canonization process of Philip Neri, who died on May 26 of that year. In 1602 the remains of the founder of the Oratory were placed in an urn at Santa Maria in Vallicella, with the face covered by a silver mask. Philip Neri was canonized on March 12, 1622, by Pope Gregory XV, together with Teresa of Avila and Ignatius of Loyola.
On March 16, 1839, Pope Gregory XVI visited the chapel in the Casa Massimo and raised it to the rank of a church. Pope Pius IX declared it the “chiesa domestica”, and, while he was staying at the Casa Massimo on March 16, 1847, he granted it the right to have the celebration of Mass each year on the anniversary of the miracle.
Since then, every March 16 the people of Rome are able to visit the Casa Massimo. The six columns of the portico are decorated with red damasks and whoever wants to may enter the magnificent halls, decorated with the frescoes by Daniele da Volterra on the life of Quinto Fabio Massimo, the frieze of the Aeneid by Perin del Vaga and one of the “Foundation of Rome” by Giulio Romano.
Holy Masses are celebrated throughout the day, almost all according to the Ancient Roman Rite, in the noble chapel. Inside the high altar of the “domestic church” two important relics of Saint Philip are preserved: his eyeglasses and his rosary.
His Eminence Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke is one of the regular guests of the Massimo nobility. The wife of Carlo Massimo, Princess Elisa, a Spanish aristocrat belonging to the Osorio family of Moscoso, is especially devoted to the Tradition of the Church. Her father is the Duke of Montemar, Pedro Osorio de Moscos, the nephew of three martyrs for the faith of the Spanish Civil War, the brothers Gerardo, Francisco Javier, and Ramon. These men were respectively 33, 31, and 26 years old when they were killed on November 28, 1936, by the communist militia of the Frente Popular in Paracuellos del Jarama. The victims of what is considered the worst carnage of the Spanish Civil War belonged mostly to the Catholic ruling class, such as the Spanish playwright Pedro Munoz Seca, who said, “They accuse me of being a monarchist because I carried the mantle of the Virgin of Pilar to Rome on behalf of Alfonso XIII. With this mantle I also go to die.”
In the Spanish Civil War the anarchist-communist Revolution showed its bloody face, which it had already shown in Russia and Mexico.
Over the years, the masks worn by the Revolution change, but the anti-Christian essence of the revolutionary process does not change. Its goal is the destruction of the Church and Christian civilization. It is good to recall this during a time when a new persecution of Catholics seems to be knocking at the door. Casa Massimo has also undergone difficult trials over the course of history. The Jacobin invasion of 1799, when in Papal Rome the Cross was replaced with “trees of liberty,” was just as disastrous for the Massimo family as the Sack of Rome in 1527: all of the family property was confiscated, its members were sent into exile, the palace was sacked. But Saint Philip Neri had predicted to Prince Fabrizio that his family line would not be extinguished nor would it lack bread.
Philip Neri had power from God to bring the dead to life, but also to bring death to the living.
One day, after he had visited and comforted a noblewoman of Rome who was gravely ill, he left her to return to his house at Santa Maria in Vallicella. But after he had walked part of the way back, he stopped and said to his companions, “I feel obligated to return to that lady on the point of death.” He found her in the same condition as before, but the doctors thought that she would be able to hold out until the next day.
Philip placed his hands on her head and blew on her face once or twice. He prayed zealously, then he fixed his gaze on her and said in a loud voice, so that several people heard it, “I command you, O Soul, I order you, on behalf of God, come out of this body.” At that moment she died. Philip then said to those present that if the woman had remained in agony for too long, she would have run the risk of giving into temptations, and for this reason he had prayed to God that he would hasten her death (Giacomo Bacci, Vita di San Filippo Neri, cit, p. 101).
These episodes remind us of the reality of miracles, extraordinary interventions of God which St. Thomas defines as follows: “A miracle is that which is done by God outside the order of all created nature” (Summa Teologica, I, q. 110, a. 4). The characteristic of miracles is to overcome the forces of nature, without contradicting it, thus demonstrating the absolute dominion of God over the things of the world created by Him.
Everything is possible for God, except for what is absurd and sinful. Among all miracles, the most extraordinary are those of resurrection from the dead, and naturally the miracle par excellence is the miracle of the resurrection of Christ, the greatest expression of His power.
On March 16 the Casa Massimo thus becomes a place of the symbolic profession of the Catholic faith.
God is always the author of miracles, even when he uses human beings as instrumental causes. Many saints, from Saint Francis to Saint Dominic, from Saint Anthony to Saint Francesco di Paola, received from God the power to raise the dead.
In 1524 in Barcelona, Saint Ignatius raised from the dead a man who had been hanged and heard his confession, and then allowed to die once again (Father Albert J. Hebert, SM. True Stories of 400 Resurrection Miracles. Saints Who Raised the Dead, Tan Books, 2004).
Today we are living in a world immersed in secularism that is impermeable to the supernatural. The progressive nouvelle théologie contributed to this secularism, with its lack of any distinction between the natural and supernatural order. As a consequence, faith in miracles has been lost, and what is accepted is only what reason can explain. A typical expression of this mentality is the denial of the miraculous translation of the Holy House of Loreto. The very religious who take care of the Holy House and who ought to spread devotion to the miracle deny it, replacing the story of the transfer of the house by the hands of angels to one accomplished by men, something much more difficult to believe.
Our society, from the spiritual point of view, is not in agony but is already dead, and only an extraordinary intervention of grace would be able to restore it to life, permitting it to repent and thus be saved.
To believe in the possibility of miracles is a necessary condition to hope for salvation. There are days and places, like March 16 each year at Palazzo Massimo, in which those who preserve the faith in an era of rampant apostasy pray, asking that God once again, by means of his saints, may manifest his power and his mercy.
On March 16 the Casa Massimo thus becomes a place of the symbolic profession of the Catholic faith.
Translated by Giuseppe Pellegrino