From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Monday, December 3, 2012

Pope greets circus: Shades of Leo X

Sketch of Hanno (Public Domain)
When the circus comes to town, that town isn't usually Vatican City.

Nevertheless, the Associated Press recently reported that "a big top tent and carousel were mounted in St. Peter's Square…  and thousands of entertainers from a dozen
countries filled a Vatican audience hall for the papal performance."  In fact, this AP headline gleefully proclaimed:  Pope greets clowns, acrobats as circus comes to town.

Although this might seem unique, it is not the first time that a Pope has taken a special interest in such jolly proceedings.  Wikipedia reports that Pope Leo X (papal years 1513 – 1521) allegedly said to his brother Giuliano:  Since God has given us the Papacy, let us enjoy it.  Although this quote might not have come from an unbiased source, it nevertheless reflects Leo X's exuberant nature.  He was not only a lover and great patron of the arts, but also a friend of "whatever seemed to extend knowledge or to refine and embellish life."

Pope Leo X was known to travel around Rome "at the head of a lavish parade featuring panthers, jesters, and Hanno, a white elephant."  Hanno did not just happen to wander over from India, but was instead a gift to Leo X from King Manuel of Portugal.  This papal pet lived in "a specially constructed building between St. Peter's Basilica and the Apostolic Palace," and was "commemorated in poetry and art."

Pope Leo was not only right by Hanno's side when his beloved elephant died in 1516, but then also personally composed Hanno's epitaph.


Copyright December 3, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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