"Nescis ... illitteratus nescis ..."
I had never seen our late Holy Father Pope Benedict XIV so agitated, or heard him so cross. I looked around. There were twenty-seven Japanese tourists, gazing with incomprehension at a gigantic canvas of the Temptation of Hercules. Fortunately, they appeared to have heard nothing. The Italian couple embracing on the other side of Pope Clement XII were as self-absorbed (BAD!!!) as before. I looked back. The papal brow was once again serene. The papal lips moved.
"Do you not know that red is the colour most proper to Our Office? What do you think is the real colour of the camauro on my head, the mozzetta round my shoulders, the embroidered stole I am wearing? That is why St Benedict XVI wore them ... and the red slippers ... to demonstrate the continuity of the papal office. Ever since the Donation of Constantine ... "
"But I thought the colour for popes was white ..."
"Cogitasti, cogitasti ... Red ... the colour of imperium, of martyrium, red was the colour for Roman Pontiffs. The red mantellus was put on him immediately after his election; true, it was put on over the white alba Romana ... or rochet, as you might call it ... and people remarked upon the contrast of the white and red. And gradually what my predecessors wore under the rochet tended also to be white. And so the white became more noticeable, most especially during what you people call the Counter-Reformation or the Renaissance. But the white was always really the informality of the undergarment. Red is the papal colour."
"So ... when Pope Francis the First ..."
"Not 'the First'; the world will never have another Pope Francis."
"So when Pope Francis upon his election refused these garments of red and appeared purely in a white cassock, this was because ..."
"Exactly! It takes a long time for the soldo to drop in your mind! He was symbolising his determination to be the most truly and extremely Renaissance, the most magnificently Absolutist a Prince that had ever graced the Throne of St Peter. Did you not know that new Bergoglio is but old Borgia writ large?"
"Da veniam, Sancte Pater, da veniam ... but consider his humility in taking the name Francis".
"De humilitate loqueris! Quanta haec et qualis humilitas!! Throughout the entire second millennium we popes were content to take names already graced by a previous pontiff, so as to demonstrate our humility and our instinct for the continuity of our office. Adopting a name unknown before in the sedes Petri denotes an immense sense of personal grandeur, transcending that of even the princeliest Renaissance popes. Their self-assertion, lofty as it was, never went beyond using names for the second time which had been used but once before ... Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, an admirer of Vergil, called himself Pius II to draw upon himself the greatness of Pius Aeneas, the Founder of Rome, and died organising a Crusade ... and Giuliano della Rovere, another military gentleman who, incidentally, laid the first stone of S Peter's, called himself Julius II quasi natus esset de gente Iulia, de grege Caesarum!! Quibus maiorem iste se Franciscus iactat! Humilitatem dicis! 'Qualis unicus ego', ait, 'talem numquam vidistis!' But, fili dilecte, mi fili, I think your own Carnivale, as we Pontiffs put it, is about to be over ...".
He was right. The Attendant was returning, accompanied by the Museum's resident psychiatrist (this is, after all, a University City) with some large gentlemen carrying a straight-jacket. I was hustled away. It was some little time before I regained my freedom.
I am indebted to Ovid for his Fasti and his Metamorphoses; to Callimachus of Cyrene for his Aitia; to Professor William Tighe for generously making available to me The Pope's Body by Agostino Paravicini-Bagliani; and to the late Fr Michael Melrose, sometime Vicar of S Giles', Reading, whose books and walking sticks support me daily and whose name so often occurs in my Memento etiam.