Nelson: Priests, Popes, and Plate

The English hero [Lord Nelson] was thoroughly devoted to the established church of his nation and was a Protestant by both inclination and practice. … He appreciated the Neapolitans’ Catholicism and certainly never let religious differences interfere with his zealous diplomatic efforts to keep Naples on Britain’s side in the war. He was always respectful to Catholic dignitaries and went to great lengths to ensure that they knew he would defend their Church and its role in Catholic nations. He also demonstrated tolerance in a number of small-scale ways. For instance, he willingly acceded to a request from the queen of Naples for the discharge of one of Capt. Thomas Masterman Hardy’s marines, who was a Catholic priest by training, so that he could serve in her kingdom. And when in 1804 he gave gifts to the Catholic residents of the Maddalena Islands to repay their hospitality, he chose church plate (a silver crucifix and candlesticks) for the local parish, a gesture that prompted the startled parish priest to cut short a trip elsewhere so that he could thank Nelson personally. The priest even promised, in a gushy letter, ever after to offer daily vows for Nelson’s long life, prosperity, and glory.

Nelson also bemoaned that the frail and unwell Pope Pius VI, whom he had often hoped would join the war against atheistic France, had been deported to Valence (where he later died). It “makes my heart bleed,” Nelson lamented. When the new pope, Pius VII, returned to Rome in 1800, Nelson wrote him a congratulatory letter. He explained that he himself played a part in making the Catholic Italian states safe for the pope’s return. “Holy Father,” he added, “I presume to offer my most sincere congratulations on this occasion; and with most fervent wishes and prayers that your residence may be blessed with health, and every comfort this world can afford.” This was no mere polite letter to a distinguished personage to praise him for good fortune. The letter had a curious religious purpose; the admiral felt compelled to tell the pope that in 1798 a priest had predicted Nelson would, by providing naval assistance, play a key role in Rome’s recapture from the French. This had “turned out so exactly,” Nelson said, that he felt the pope should know about the “extraordinary” consonance between the prediction and the outcome.

That return to Rome was the one that inspired the Feast and Month of the Precious Blood, as was discussed in a previous post.

Hayward was also caught up in a lengthy debate about his Master’s thesis and holocaust denial. See his old web site here.

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