History: Rome’s Darkest Hour

No photo description available.

Rome’s Darkest Hour

On May 6, 1527, Pope Clement VII ran for his life. Spirited through a secret passage in the wall of St. Peter’s Basilica, he fled for 800 meters down the Passetto di Borgo, a narrow, arched corridor that runs within the Vatican City’s exterior wall. Behind him, an invading army committed the harshest atrocities upon the Eternal City in its existence.

Four years earlier, following the death of Pope Adrian VI, Cardinal Giulio d’Giuliano de Medici became Pope Clement VII, inheriting a tenuous political position. War raged between King Francis I of France and Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire, and Clement was not only chronically ill, but, despite being naturally intelligent and harboring the greatest of intentions, he possesses neither the experience nor the ruthlessness necessary to navigate the dangerous waters of medieval wartime politics. The new Pope allied with Catholic France first, but when Francis I was captured in 1525, he changed allegiance and sided with Charles. Continue reading

King Alfred the Great: Smiting the Pagans at the Battle of Edington

Image may contain: 1 person

King Alfred the Great: Smiting the Pagans at the Battle of Edington

After being driven into the swamps by King Guthrun, Saxon King Alfred the Great led his Saxons to victory at the Battle of Edington in May 877.
by William E. Welsh

The winter of 876-877 was a dreadful one for the West Saxons. The Viking Great Army, which was reinforced annually in the summer or fall, ravaged nearly all of England. Danish King Guthrun marching from Mercia launched a surprise attack against Alfred of Wessex in Wiltshire on Christmas Day 876 in an attempt to wipe out the last independent English kingdom.

Striving Long and Bravely
Alfred and his troops were forced to flee. They took refuge in the Somerset Levels, a marsh with large portions covered during high tide. They improved an ancient fort on Athelney Island dating back to the Iron Age that consisted of a semi-circular stockade fronted by a ditch. Alfred called up as many of the West Saxon men as he could during the following months.

In late spring Alfred was ready to strike. In early May he marched his Saxon army to Eddington in Wiltshire where it met the Vikings in a desperate battle. Little is known, but a taste of the mayhem and gore comes across the centuries to us from the ecclesiastical chronicler of the “Medieval Life of King Alfred the Great,” who wrote, “Fighting ferociously, forming a dense shield-wall against the whole army of the Pagans, and striving long and bravely…at last he [Alfred] gained the victory. He overthrew the Pagans with great slaughter, and smiting the fugitives, he pursued them as far as the fortress [of Chippenham].”

This time it was the Vikings turn to flee for their lives. The Saxons besieged the Vikings in Chippenham, and eventually the Norsemen surrendered. They agreed to be baptized and to swear a binding oath to Alfred embodied in the Treaty of Wedmore. It was one of the miracles of King Alfred’s vaunted reign.


Saint Stanislaus

Image may contain: one or more people

Saint Stanislaus

Bishop of Cracow, Martyr

Saint Stanislaus was born in answer to prayer, when his parents were advanced in age. Out of gratitude they educated him for the Church. When his parents died, he sold their vast properties and gave the price to the poor. He was ordained, and being a holy priest, soon afterwards became a Canon of the Cracow cathedral.

It was necessary to have recourse to the Pope to have him accept the see of Cracow when it became vacant. But the bishop of Cracow’s virtues increased with his dignity and obligations; Saint Stanislaus donned a hair shirt, which he wore until he died. He had a list drawn up of every poor person of the city, and gave orders to his servants never to refuse anything to anyone.

Boleslaus II was at that time King of Poland; he was a prince of good disposition, but spoilt by a long series of victories and successes. After many acts of lust and cruelty, he outraged the whole kingdom by carrying off the wife of one of his nobles. Against this public scandal the chaste and gentle bishop alone raised his voice. Having commended the matter to God, he went to the palace and openly rebuked the king for his crime against God and his subjects, and threatened to excommunicate him if he persisted in his sin. Boleslaus, with the intention of irrevocably ruining the bishop’s good reputation, suborned the nephews of a man named Paul who had recently died, to swear that their uncle had never been paid for land which the bishop had bought for the Church. Saint Stanislaus stood fearlessly before the king’s tribunal, though all his frightened witnesses forsook him, and guaranteed to bring the dead man to witness in his favor within three days.

On the third day, after many prayers and tears, he raised the dead man to life and led him in his grave-clothes before the king, where Paul testified that the bishop had reimbursed him fully for the terrain he had sold. He was then taken back to the grave, where he lay down and again relapsed into his former state, before a large number of witnesses.

Boleslaus for a while made a show of a better life. Soon, however, he returned to the most scandalous excesses, and the bishop, finding all remonstrance useless, pronounced the sentence of excommunication. In defiance of the censure, on May 8, 1079, the king went to a chapel where Saint Stanislaus was saying Mass and commanded three groups of soldiers in succession to slay him at the altar. Each in turn came out, saying he had been alarmed by a light from heaven. At this the king himself rushed in and slew with his own hand the Saint at the altar during the Holy Sacrifice.

The Pope placed the kingdom of Poland under interdict, excommunicated the king and declared his royalty null and void. Boleslaus repented, took refuge in another country for a time, then set out dressed as a pilgrim for Rome. On the way he knocked on a monastery door to ask for an alms, then decided to enter there anonymously, and was received. He spent seven years there as a Benedictine lay brother, rendering every humble service to the monks, patiently bearing rude treatment. Only on his deathbed did he identify himself, taking out his royal ring which he had concealed until then. He had spent hours praying before a statue of Our Lady in the chapel, by which we may conclude that the Mother of God had obtained for him the grace of conversion and a happy death. His body remains in the church of the same monastery of Ossiach.

Saint Stanislaus was canonized by Pope Innocent IV in 1253.

Reflection. The safest correction of vice is the Christian’s blameless life. Yet there are times when silence would make us answerable for the sins of others. At such times let us, in the name of God, rebuke the offender without fear.

Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 5; Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).