The graceful and even elegant beginning of the state visit has only been made trying by the incessant banter of commentators who think themselves obliged to fill in every second of air time with streams of talk, occasionally informative, but mostly banal. “When I met the Holy Father . . . etc,” “I wonder if they will serve the Pope haggis . . .” “The Queen certainly wears interesting hats . . .” So far this has blocked out the band and pipe music and the sounds of the crowds. Why won’t these “anchormen” occasionally identify who is what, and otherwise just quietly sink? Nothing can be less trivial if it is real trivia, and not an anchorman’s gratuitous notes left over from History 101. Here are some seriously trivial items that have escaped the attention of the media as they drone on.
One commentator incorrectly said that Elizabeth II is the first British monarch to have entered a Catholic Church since the Reformation (she visited Westminster Cathedral and not long after made the dying Cardinal Hume a Companion of Honour). The first was George V who, with Queen Mary, in 1920 attended a Requiem Mass in Farnborough Abbey at the funeral of the exiled Empress Eugenie where she is entombed with Napoleon III and their son, the Prince Imperial, who was killed by the Zulus while fighiting in the British army. The Moderator of the Kirk of Scotland objected: “Mindful of the claims of fallen greatness…” Nevertheless, it was unsuitable in the opinion of the Presbyterians for the King and Queen to attend.
The aforementioned Eugenie was, in full, María Eugenia Ignacia Augustina de Palafox-Portocarrero de Guzmán y Kirkpatrick, 16th Countess of Teba and 15th Marquise of Ardales. Coincidentally, in Teba, near Malaga, whose countess she was, the Scots were defeated by the Muslims, which halted their progress to Jerusalem where they were intending to bury the heart of Robert the Bruce, who was portrayed by an actor in today’s St. Ninian’s Day Parade welcoming the pope. King Robert, who had been excommunicated by both popes Clement V and John XXII had made the burial of his heart in the Holy Land part of his penance, entrusting it to Sir James Douglas who died in the battle at Teba on August 25, 1330. From Teba, the knight Keith of Glaston brought the heart back to Scotland where it is kept in Melrose Abbey. There is a popular movement to ask Pope Benedict XVI to have it buried in Jerusalem.
The same John XXII who excommunicated the Bruce, received favorably the Declaration of Arbaoth in 1320. Signed by 51 magnates and nobles, it has many expressions anticipatory of our 1776 Declaration of independence. Its reputed author, Abbot Bernard may thus be called the Thomas Jefferson of Scotland. Or, more fittingly, Thomas Jefferson was the Abbot Bernard of the United States. Arbroath had a happier connection with the papacy than did Magna Carta, which Pope Innocent III said called a “shameful and demeaning agreement forced upon the King by violence and fear.”
In 1988 I attended Cardinal Ratzinger’s famous lecture in Cambridge University. It impressed me so much that I kept the notes. In the talk he recalled how he dismayed the widow of the utopian Ernst Bloch by telling her of drugs and violence in the universities in the 1960′s. It contradicted what her husband had predicted in his “Marxist humanism.” The huge audience dumbfounded the faculty and the media said the crowd—some standing outside in the rain—indicated a temporary “fad for mediaevalism amongst undergraduates.” On Friday the pope will visit St. Mary’s University. When James VI chartered the University of Edinburgh in 1582, Scotland boasted four universities when England had two and Ireland none. The other three, St. Andrew’s, Glasgow and Aberdeen, all had papal charters. Of course they were important in the seventeenth century “Scottish Enlightenment” which was the cradle of modern science (especially medicine) and humanities and which helped shape the constitutional character of the new Untied States. It is also estimated that, in proportion to population, the Scots have won more Nobel prizes than any other race (excluding the deflated Peace Prize, but it has not been typical of the Scots to pursue peace at any price).
The pope’s response to the queen at the Palace of Holyrood House referred to two saints: Edward the Confessor, who built Westminster Abbey which the pope will visit, and St. Margaret of Scotland. Queen Elizabeth II, whose claim to the throne is through the Electress Sophia of Hanover, is also 38th in direct descent from Egbert of Wessex (775–839), the first King of England. St. Margaret was her 26th great-grandmother and St. Edward was her 27th great granduncle.