Rorate Caeli

A Christmas Special on Traditional Catholic History in Italy
- by Roberto de Mattei

Let us remember those who, around the world and against all odds and a mostly hostile hierarchy, worked to preserve the Traditional Mass and Rites of the Latin Church. Let us cherish their memory, let us pray for their souls.

Once again, a blessed Christmas to you and yours!


An Anti-Modern Triptych: Elvina Pallavicini, Fr. Francesco Putti, Giovanni Volpe

by Roberto de Mattei
Il Foglio
December 18, 2014

In our lives we have all known personalities, who, even if not enjoying the limelight, can with full rights be part of history, at least minor history. 2014 is the anniversary of the death of three such personalities. 10 years ago Princess Elvina Pallavcini passed away and thirty years before her, Don Francesco Putti and the engineer, Giovanni Volpe. Their lives were connected and as I was a friend to each of them, I would like now to honor their memories together

Princess Elvina Pallavicini
with Italian President
Carlo Azeglio Ciampi 
(from the Quirinal Palace archives)
Elvina Pallavicini was born in 1914 in Genoa. Her father was Giacomo dei Marchesi Medici of Vascello, and her mother was Olga Leumann, whose family were philanthropist entrepreneurs of Helvetic origins. Her father was the grandson of Colonel Giacomo Medici, who, during the Roman Republic of 1849, encouraged the last defense of the “Garibaldini” barricaded in the Giraud Villa of Vascello, on the Gianicolo (today the headquarters of the Grand Orient in Italy). Having embraced the cause of the monarchy, he became Prefect of Palermo, a Deputy and a Senator and acquired the title of Marquis of Vascello for his patriotic merits.

In 1939, Elvina married Guillaume de Pierre de Bernis, Marquis de Courtavel, who had been adopted by her uncle, Giulio Cesare Pallavicini, Prince of Gallicano, assuming his name and title and obtaining Italian citizenship. With the breakout of the war, second-lieutenant Gugielmo Pallavicini enrolled in the Italian Royal Airforce as a pilot, but on the 1st of August 1940, the Savoia Marchetti which he was flying in one of his first missions against the English fleet in the Mediterranean, was hit by an enemy aircraft and sank into the waters off the Balearic Isles. Elvina, pregnant with her daughter whom she would name Maria Camilla, became a widow at the age of twenty-five. She became the owner of the Palazzo Rospigliosi Pallavicini, on the Quirinal hills, which many consider the most beautiful private palace in Europe.

Her [art] collection which Federico Zeri gathered together in an impressive catalogue, includes canvases by Botticelli, Guido Reni, Rubens and Carracci. After the German occupation of Rome, the young Elivina Pallavicini made her palace the centre of monarchic resistance, under the leadership of General Giuseppe Lanza Cordero of Montezemolo, Commander of the Clandestine Military Front, later killed in the Fosse Ardeatine (the Ardeatine Caves). Her courage, induced [even] to the point of recklessness, earned her a Bronze Medal. From this aspect, Elivina Pallavicini, can be compared to her friend Edgardo Sogno, another monarchist, who challenged Nazism with a courage rarely shown by the Communist partisans. She certainly was not a “dark” princess for her political choices nor the liberal tradition of her family.

While she was still young, Elivina Pallavicini was struck by a grave form of sclerosis which led to the progressive paralysis of her legs and then her arms, confining her to a wheelchair – but she never complained. She was not crushed by the disease, but on the contrary it highlighted her fighting spirit . During the Seventies, a time when the upper-classes were taking their capital and their families abroad, thinking the advent of Communism in Italy inevitable, Elvina opposed it with the same determination she had battled Nazism. She actively collaborated in the foundation of the first Private Television in Rome, Tele Roma Europa, set up from an anti-communist perspective by Gaetano Rebecchini, as well as making her palace a bastion against historical compromise. I remember holding a conference precisely on this theme at Palazzo Pallavicini – one of my first conferences – on the eve of the 1976 elections when the Italian Communist Party obtained the best results of its history, just a few percentage points behind the DC.

Elvina Pallavicini wasn’t afraid of anything and showed it when she hosted Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre in her palace on the 6th June 1977 - an action which cost her incomprehension and enmities. Monsignor Lefebvre had been suspended a divinis in 1976 by Paul VI and had become the symbol of traditionalist resistance to the post-concilar deviations. To invite him to Rome, in such a prestigious setting as the Pallavicini Palace on the hills of the Quirinale, had the savor of challenging Pope Montini and was interpreted so by the international press, which flocked en masse to the event. The princess suffered enormous pressure to make her cancel the conference. The Marquis Falcone Lucifero, head of the Royal House, made an appeal to her monarchic sympathies, on behalf of Umberto II. Monsignor Andrea Cordero of Montezemolo, pleaded with her to postpone it by reminding her of her father. Prince Aspreno Colonna, taking on the role of spokesman for the Roman patriciate, disassociated himself from the initiative on the front page of the daily newspaper “Il Tempo”, directed at that time by Gianni Letta, while the Grand Master of the Order of Malta, Fra’ Angelo de Mojana, forbade all knights to be present at the event.

And finally, on the 5th of June, the eve of the conference, Cardinal Vicar, Ugo Poletti in a press release, on behalf of the diocese of Rome, censured violently Monsignor Lefebvre and his “aberrant followers” for “the affront made personally to the Pope”. All of it in vain. Elvina Pallavicini did not budge an inch. “In my home – she replied – I think I can receive whoever I wish to receive.” The conference was held in an incredibly packed hall. Monsignor Lefebvre did not give the inflammatory speech that the media had expected, but explained calmly the reasons for his dissent with Rome. “How is it possible by continuing to do what I have done for 50 years of my life - receiving congratulations and the encouragement of Popes, and in particular Pope Pius XII who honoured me with his friendship - that today I find I am considered practically an enemy of the Church?”

From then on Elvina Pallavicini’s name became famous worldwide. The conference aroused sudden curiosity and attention about the existence of a patriciate and a Roman nobility still active and pugnacious, of which Princess Pallavicini was the expression. Her palace became the courageous and anti-conformist platform where personalities of culture, politics and art had their say over the years. In 1993, the princess hosted a convention on Nobilty and similar traditional elites, which “La Repubblica” presented as the general States of the Italian aristocracy. The following years, Elvina Pallavicini with the Marquis Luigi Coda Nunziante led the association Noblesse et Tradition, which gathered together groups of aristocrats from all over the world, defenders of traditional values in the quagmire of contemporary relativism. I appreciated most of all in her, the sense she had of her own social mission, her simple yet unshakable faith and her categorical spirit which led her to reject any form of compromise.

Lover of art she enlarged the extraordinary collection in her palace, taking on a role in Rome at the end of the 20th century similar to the one Princess Isabel Colonna had had in the Thirties. In the front row at her conferences numerous cardinals were always present, whom she welcomed with the light of torches, as befitting princes of the Church. In 1994, Silvio Berlusconi presented the newly-born movement Forza Italia in the Throne Hall of Pallavicini Palace. Elvina Pallavicini supported it, but before she died, did not hide her disillusionment about the coalition of the right and its return to government.

In the last years of her life, her movements became increasingly more difficult, but she continued to receive sumptuously in her palace, aided by her loyal friend Elika del Drago and the impeccable majordomos who followed one after the other in her service. She spent the summer at Cortina d’Ampezzo, where she died on the 29th August 2004, amid the mountains she loved so much.

At her office in Via della Consulta, Elvina Pallavicini gave hospitality for many years to another remarkable personality, who alongside her, deserves to be remembered: Don Francesco Maria Putti.
Don Francesco Putti

Those who knew Don Putti could not forget him. Born in 1909, in Sarzana, of a wealthy, profoundly Christian family, he was just under a year old when he contracted polio, resulting in grave consequences for his entire life. He was a particularly good-looking young man and the disease, as in the case of Elvina Pallavicini, contributed to his understanding of the primacy of spiritual goods in the life of man. After attaining a high school diploma in accountancy, he alternated work and apostolate, until he met Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, who directed him spiritually and encouraged him to become a priest. After many mishaps, finally at the age of 47, on the 29th June 1956, Francesco Putti was ordained a priest and celebrated his first Mass in San Giovanni Rotondo, at the altar Padre Pio celebrated daily.

He could not be assigned to a parish on account of his infirmity, but for almost 15 years he exercised the ministry of confession, in Avellino, Salerno and Naples. During the years after Vatican II, Don Putti gauged the gravity of the crisis in the Church and became convinced of the need to offer an instrument of information to his confrere priests and the faithful, which would help them to defend the Catholic faith. From 1975 to his death on the 21st December 1984, his life was identified with the fortnightly “SiSi NoNo” founded by him, a bulletin of a few pages which sowed the seeds of panic in Curial environments (where it was distributed extensively) for its attacks aimed at those responsible for the progressivist advance.

In “SiSi NoNo” the articles were never signed. Rumour had it, and was only partly true, that among the collaborators were illustrious prelates and theologians of traditional orientation. It was of little importance if it had been an illustrious Catholic philosopher or his brilliant assistant: what mattered were the clear affirmations wherein the perennial Magisterium of the Church was proposed again, and the equally clear negations wherein the neo-modernist theories circulating in the seminaries and Catholic Universities, were rejected. In the first number of “SiSi NoNo” on the 6th of January 1975, the Roman priest wrote: “The thankless task which our publication takes upon itself is to go against the mainstream and to help in going against the mainstream, not for the pleasure of it, but in order to follow the good, today more than ever there is a need to go against the mainstream. Our publication will spread clear ideas saying “yes” inasmuch as they conform to the Catholic Faith transmitted by the Apostles (of which the teaching Church, that is the Pope and the bishops subject to him, are the depositaries) and saying “no” without half measures inasmuch as they claim to supplant it.”

Nowadays we are hard in human relations and flexible in principles, with devastating consequences to society. The Roman priest on the contrary, was as strict from the pulpit and the columns of his newspaper as much as he was meek and affectionate in private conversations and in the confessional. Only those close to him knew what generosity he lavished for the salvation of a soul. And yet Don Putti was feared and became even more so in 1981, when he took legal proceedings against the then director of the Osservatore Romano, Valerio Volpini, and won the case. The Court in fact, condemned the daily newspaper of the Holy See for “written aggression, unmotivated and spiteful, exercised simply to hurt the reputation” of the magazine “SiSi NoNo”.

The birth of “SiSi NoNo” occurred at the end of 1975, when a distinguished Roman Bible scholar, Monsignor Francesco Spadafora, accompanied Don Putti to Via Michele Mercati in Rome, the headquarters of the publishing house Volpe, directed by the engineer, Giovanni Volpe, with whom he collaborated. I was present at the meeting when Monsignor Spadafora heartily recommended the publication of the new anti-modernist periodical. Dr. Volpe directed Don Putti to his typographer Franco Pedanesi, who published “SiSi NoNo” until the Disciples of the Cenacle, the group of loyal nuns who collaborated with Don Putti, provided themselves with their own typography.

The third remarkable personality that I want to recall is precisely Giovanni Volpe, whose figure is engraved in my memory with similar qualities to Elvina Pallavicini’s and Francesco Putti’s.

Born in 1906, Giovanni Volpe was the son of the famous Italian historian and academic, Gioacchino Volpe. He graduated in engineering and created a construction enterprise which made a name for itself in several countries in the world. He became rich and, like Princess Pallavicini, had the spirit of a benefactor. In 1964, he established the homonymous publishing house, to which he placed side by side two magazines, “La Torre” and “Intervento”, and then afterwards the Gioacchino Volpe Foundation, in memory of his father.

Over the years, the publishing house’s catalogue was enriched by a formidable range of authors, conservatives, Catholics and nationalists. Allow me to recall the translation, in Italian, of fundamental works for Catholic culture such as: Luce del Medioevo (Medieval Light) by Régine Pernoud, L’eresia del XX secolo (The Heresy of the 20th Century) by Jean Madiran, La sovversione nella liturgia (The Subversion in the Liturgy) by Louis Salleron, La grande eresia e L’intelligenza in pericolo di morte (The Great Heresy and Intelligence in Danger of Death ) by Marcel de Corte, and many others.

Giovanni Volpe was a tall, imposing, surly man. Marcello Veneziani, one of the young men who was closest to him, recalls that when he met him for the first time he had the impression of a renaissance gentlemen:”I was struck by the beauty of his old age, devoid of the crepuscular signs of advanced aging, his dignified, jovial, solemn walk, the pride of his white beard, which evoked his father, softened by an almost glowing face, open to smiling - his rich and vigorous way of speaking.” However, despite the satisfaction of his work, his family life was not easy and this was the origins of an austere sadness in his expression. He was not only a benefactor and a cultural organizer but also a great intellectual, keen on art and archeology: he had discussions with the authors of the books he published, corrected their drafts and attached a “Quartino del ‘Editore”, to “La Torre” directed by him, where he commented every month on politics and customs.

Giovanni Volpe was an all-round man of the right, monarchist, anticommunist and traditional Catholic. Many of the meetings of the association “Una Voce” for the defense of Latin and Gregorian Chant, then presided over by Carlo Belli, took place at the Volpe home. Volpe, himself, after the explosion of the “Lefebvre case”, was the author in 1976 of a work: La doverosa impossibile obbedienza (The Dutiful Impossible Obedience) in which he expressed these clear words: “There is no doubt that obedience to the Pope is one of the pillars on which the Church is founded, but it is presumed that above it there is Revelation and that the Pope, to whom we owe obedience, is, in his turn, obedient to it and to the centuries old Tradition of the Church, not immobile, but not even in evolution with the world, with its dogmas, rites and customs, if it is true that Stat Crux dum volvitur mundus” […] Obedience is owed to the Pope, but the Pope owes obedience to the Word and Apostolic Tradition. Obedience is owed to the Pope, but it is the duty of the Pope to give the character of possibility to this obedience.”

Every September in Romagna, the Volpe Foundation organized, seminars for the young, and every spring international meetings that united anti-progressivist scholars in Rome from all over the world. The themes discussed were “Authority and Liberty, The Historical Memory, The Future of the School, The Non-primacy of Economy, Tradition in Tomorrow’s Culture, with guest speakers such as Erik von Kuenhelt-Leddhin, Eugen Weber, Julien Freund, Augusto Del Noce, Marcel De Corte, Ettore Paratore, Massimo Pallottino and many others.

On the 15th of April 1986, after pronouncing the concluding words of the last meeting dedicated to the topic Yes, to peace, No to pacifism, Giovanni Volpe bowed his head and died - on his feet - as was becoming to a fighting-man such as he. The funeral was celebrated according to the Old Roman Rite by Don Emanuele du Chalard de Taveau, and the same would follow some months later for Don Putti, director of “SiSi NoNo”. The Volpe Foundation survived for some years thanks to Giovanni’s wife, Elza De Smaele, a lady of great class and intelligence. In May 1989 the Volpe Foundation held an important revisionist convention on the French Revolution, which was its swan song, specifically at the Pallavicini Palace. Augusto Del Noce presided over the meeting.

I believe that I can say that nobody contributed as much as Giovanni Volpe in fostering the culture of the Catholic, anti-Communist right during the second half of the 20th century. Yet, Volpe did not receive the laticlave of senator which he would have deserved and would not have disdained from the Italian Social Movement - the party of the right at that time.

Princess Pallavicini, Don Francesco Putti and Dr. Giovanni Volpe were considered difficult characters. I knew them as persons of upright character, which nowadays you don’t find anymore. Men and women who believed in the power of principles, and to defend them, did not draw back from the fight. Three figures, who beyond their human weaknesses, did not allow themselves to be sucked in by what appeared then to be the inexorable course of events.

Historical memory consists also in not forgetting those who have preceded us along the way. Only those who have made an idol out of history deserve to be engulfed in oblivion, forgetting the existence of men and women and principles that transcend it and guide it.

[A Rorate translation by contributor Francesca Romana.]