Tuesday 30 September 2014

GESUALDO CASTLE REDUX.  The rebirth of Carlo Gesualdo’s princely residence.

Last month I visited Gesualdo, the home of Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, famous for his musical genius, infamous for murdering his wife.

Igor Stravinski visited the site to do homage to the Renaissance composer.  I went to look at the castle, which is being renovated five hundred years after the composer's death.

My amiable host was Giuseppe Mastrominico, a Renaissance man himself, professor of law at the University of Naples, musicologist, choir director, organizer of concerts, and enthusiastic promoter of Gesualdo.
The castle was tenanted until 1980, when an earthquake made it uninhabitable and it was acquired by the town. The renovations have brought to light murals covered by stucco and high wooden ceilings concealed behind lower structures.

The splendid interior court is still masked by scaffolding, but by 2015 one wing will be ready for visitors.

If the initiatives of the town pay off, Gesualdo will become a centre of music, as it was under Prince Carlo.  A beginning has been made with the restoration of the Capella below the castle, which already serves as a concert hall.

But you are waiting to hear about Carlo’s murder? Was he punished? No, it was an honour killing. Carlo considered himself innocent in the eyes of the law, but not in the eyes of God. To atone for the murder, he founded a Capuchin monastery. The deed (framed, under glass) hangs behind the desk of Gesualdo’s mayor.

Carlo's signature, dated 1594

Thursday 25 September 2014


Franciso de Encinas' translation of the New Testament
When Francisco de Encinas came to Leuven in 1542, his friends were reluctant to receive him. He had studied in Wittenberg, the citadel of the devilish Luther, and smelled of sulphur. They were afraid of associating with him, and for good reason. There had been a raid on suspected Lutherans on the day of Enzinas’ arrival:

Twenty-eight citizens, who had no prior record whatsoever, had been arrested. An armed band stormed their houses at 10pm and rifled through everything in their homes in case they had suspect books. They pounded on the doors, and if the inhabitants were sleeping and did not immediately open up, they broke down the door and rushed right up to the beds of the sleepers. They seized them with unprecedented violence, and sometimes, depending on their command, arrested both husband and wife. The innocent children cried out as if they understood the miserable lot of their parents.

If the parents tried to comfort their children, they were beaten and gagged, so that the neighbours would not be alerted by their laments, realize the sad fate of their friends, and escape the danger threatening themselves.

The suspects were imprisoned and prevented from writing or reading anything or communicating with anyone.

And what crime did they commit? They  are guilty of heresy, they say.
If you dare to criticize even one of their superstitions or godless actions, they immediately cry out: You heretic!
(Source: Francisco Enzinas, Denkw├╝rdigkeiten, German trans. H. Boehmer)


Sunday 7 September 2014


Antonius Schorus (b. 1525 in Hoogstraten)  sympathized with the Protestant reformers. This did not go over well with the Catholic authorities. He narrowly escaped being arrested. In a letter to his friend Franciscus de Encinas he described his flight.

You may have heard about my exile or rather my escape from Babylonian captivity, he wrote.He was forced to flee to Strasbourg because he had professed the pure faith more freely than the tyrants could stand.

One night, during a heavy downpour an officer was sent by the Margrave. He left his fellow officers at the gate of the building so he could lure me outside more easily. I asked him what he wanted. He said the Margrave had told him to call me. I was quick on the uptake and asked him to wait a little so I could put on my coat which I had left behind in the bedroom, for I had already undressed to go to bed.  He gave me permission, and I escaped out the backdoor, since I had the opportunity.

The officer waited some time, then harangued Schorus’ wife, but to no avail.

The Margrave immediately sent seven guards to keep an eye on the house all night to prevent anyone from taking anything away…Afterwards they carefully inspected my books , but they found nothing.

They claimed however that my flight showed that I was conscious of having committed a crime and confiscated my household goods.

Schorus’ wife and child eventually joined him in Protestant Strasbourg.

(Source: Encinas, Epistolario, Span. Trans. I. Garcia Pinilla)

Thursday 4 September 2014


When Fynes Moryson arrived in Naples in 1594, it was the shape of the buildings that first attracted his attention: They are four stories high, but the tops lie almost flat, so as they walk upon them in the cool time of the night. The windows are all covered with paper or linen cloth; for glass windows are most rare in Italy, and as it were proper to Venice.

The streets were so narrow, they cannot use coaches. One fashion pleased me beyond measure, that at the end of many streets they have chairs, commonly called Seggioli di Napoli, which those that are weary do enter, and they being covered round about, and only having windows on the sides, he that is carried therein cannot be seen of any, and yet himself may see all that pass. Two porters carry these chairs by two long staves fastened thereunto, and lift them but little from the ground, and so for a moderate price carry the passenger to any part of the city.

Near the city, he visited the Cave of the Dog, so-called because dogs were used to test the poisonous air in the cave. They paid a woman for a dog fastened to a long staff, and so thrust him into the cave, holding him there, till he seemed dead, and being taken out, would not move for any blows we gave it. Then according to the fashion, we cast the dog into the lake, and when he was drawn out, he began by little and little to move, and at last being come to his senses, ran away as if he had been mad. A Frenchman was incautious enough to omit the dog test and ventured into the cave trying to fetch a stone and paid for his curiosity by unrecoverable death.

(From Fynes Moryson, An Itinerary; English modernized)

Monday 1 September 2014

AUSTRIA TOO CAUTIOUS TO RISK WAR?This man didn’t see WWI coming.

From John Corson’s travelogue, 1848:

The Austrian government was intrusive.  
  • My baggage was searched for seditious publications.
  • To obtain a permit to remain in Vienna, I had to give the names of the friends to whom I had letters of introduction, the business that brought e to Vienna, the time I wished to remain, and the studies and pursuits I intended to follow.
  • They also required me to fully declare his intentions, much as a father does when speaking to  the suitor of his daughter.
  • Friends warned me that the police kept an eye on visitors, and if you talk politics freely in the cafes, you will probably hear of them, and if you are refractory and very meddlesome, you may be sent to the frontier under an escort.
Corson fully expected to find a land of despotism and darkness.
  • It came as a surprise to find that the common people are the most carefully educated of any country in Europe, except Prussia. Books and instruction are free. No person can marry or set up in business without a written certificate that they have attended school.
  • At the same time, education serves as a means of indoctrination. The government makes sure that its favourite religion (Catholicism) and passive loyalty are carefully taught.
Austria strenuously opposed all liberal tendencies, Corson found.
  • Doubtless her leading motive is fear. ..She is much weakened by being divided into several distinct nations differing in language and religion, some of whom are discontented. Parts of Galicia were in a state of dangerous anarchy. Hungary demanded more reforms. Bohemia was asking for an extension of its liberties. Austrian Italy is seeking for a constitution.
  • But Corson was convinced that such unrest would not lead to war. Austria is probably too cautious and temporizing to risk an aggressive war.
But revolts broke out in the very year Corson published his travelogue. And two generations later…WWI.
(From Dr. John W. Corson, Loiterings in Europe, 1848)