Missione a Londra is the title of a brief volume that collects the memoirs of Count Stanislao Medolago Albani, secret chamberlain of Pope Saint Pius X (D’Ettoris Editore, Crotone 2023, edited by Luisa Maddalena Medolago Albani, with a preface by Marco Invernizzi).
Stanislao Medolago Albani was born in Bergamo in 1851 to Count Gerolamo, a descendant of the famous Savoyard count, and to Benedetta de Maistre. After studying theology and philosophy at the Gregorian University, he played a very prominent role within the Catholic movement. Fr Paolo de Töth, who wrote a beautiful biography of him, stated that “writing the life of Count Medolago Albani is the same as tracing the history of Italian Catholic Action.” He died in Bergamo on 3 July 1921.
Medolago, like de Töth, belonged to the most resolute wing of Italian Catholicism, and because of this was specially esteemed by St Pius X, who in 1905 entrusted him and Blessed Giuseppe Toniolo with the task of reorganising the Catholic movement after the suppression of the Opera dei Congressi, which had been infiltrated by modernism. On 11 April 1911, Medolago received a letter from Pius X’s secretary of state, Rafael Merry del Val, in which the cardinal informed him of the pope’s intention to call him to be part of the pontifical mission that was going to London in June to participate in the coronation of His Majesty the King of England George V. The mission, led by Archbishop Gennaro Granito Pignatelli di Belmonte, made a cardinal in November of that same year, also saw the participation of Monsignor Eugenio Pacelli, undersecretary of the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, and of Count Francesco Bezzi Scali, noble guard of His Holiness.
The pontifical mission arrived in London on 19 June. Its members were received by the English sovereigns and on 22 June they had a place of honour in the royal procession that made its way to Westminster Abbey. But the pope’s representatives avoided attending the religious service at which the sovereign, as head of the Anglican church, publicly reaffirmed his Protestant faith. The Holy See’s participation in the coronation of the English sovereign was in fact a diplomatic gesture, but not an “ecumenical” one. The following day, the members of the mission also participated, in their gala attire, in the second spectacular royal “procession” through the streets of the capital. Archbishop Granito di Belmonte, in his report to the pope, wrote: “What most characterised the kind and affectionate welcome received was the intention manifested by the Sovereigns to honour in the Delegation the person of the Holy Father, and this with extraordinary public displays extolled and approved by the greater number of Foreign Princes, who were glad to follow the example of the English Sovereigns”.
George V, king of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions, as well as Emperor of India, in addition to being head of the Anglican Church was also the Grand Master of English Freemasonry. England, the home of Fabian socialism and of the nascent feminism, was teeming with esoteric sects. Annie Besant was president of the Theosophical Society and had founded the first women’s Masonic lodge in London. Figures like Oscar Wilde embodied the era’s tremendous drive towards moral transgression. 15 July 1909 brought the death in Storrington, in the United Kingdom, of the modernist priest George Tyrrell, excommunicated by Pius X in 1907. The English merchant bankers dominated international finance, and the city of London, with Wall Street, was one of the centres of the Anglo-American imperialist project. Pius X and his secretary of state were perfectly aware of this landscape, but they never demonised the English royal house, nor did they consider the “Anglosphere” as the absolute evil.
There were 1.6 million Catholics living in England, and a movement for a return to the Church of Rome was developing, launched under the pontificate of Blessed Pius IX by Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman, Blessed Dominic of the Mother of God, and the “Oxford Movement”. In 1570, Saint Pius V had excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I, releasing English Catholics from their oath of loyalty to her, because at that historical moment, thanks to the help of Philip II’s Spain, the military and religious reconquest of England was still possible. Three centuries later, the main interest of the Church of Rome was to regain its freedom in a now Protestantised kingdom.
Leo XIII had done the same as St Pius X when, in 1887, he had decided to send a papal mission to London, led by Archbishop Luigi Ruffo Scilla, to congratulate Queen Victoria on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of her ascent to the throne. In the instructions of Secretary of State Mariano Rampolla del Tindaro for the papal envoy, the United Kingdom was praised because, although officially Anglican, it did not set obstacles to Catholic worship in its realms and showed respect “for the Catholic Church, especially in the Missions of Canada and the East Indies”.
“The good and most faithful Duke of Norfolk”, wrote Cardinal Henry Edward Manning, archbishop of Westminster, to Leo XIII on 3 July 1887, “has exhibited the most delicate hospitality; our faithful came in crowds to the Cathedral on the Day of Jubilee, when Archbishop Ruffo Scilla did me the charity of most solemnly celebrating the Pontifical Mass. Our Queen has shown at the Palace in London and at Windsor Castle every sign of veneration towards the person of Your Holiness, and of respect and goodwill towards the Envoy”.
In 1887, the then twenty-two-year-old Rafael Merry del Val – Londoner by birth, Spaniard by family, but Roman in spirit – was designated by the pope as secretary of the pontifical mission in England. In 1901, Leo XIII sent him once more to London to convey his congratulations to the new king, Edward VII. Having become Pius X’s secretary of state, Merry del Val wanted to strengthen the relations of cordial friendship with the Court of Windsor. In him, a staunch doctrinal opposition to Protestantism, liberalism and Freemasonry was accompanied by great political flexibility and above all by a deep love for the English people. The 13 September 1896 encyclical Apostolicae Curae of Leo XIII, which declares the invalidity of Anglican ordinations, concludes with a prayer commonly attributed to Cardinal Merry del Val, which is worth presenting in its entirety: “O Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, our Queen and most sweet Mother, kindly turn your eyes to England, which is called your ‘Dowry’, and turn them to us, who place in you all of our trust. Through you we have been given Christ, the Saviour of the world, so that in him our hope may be firm; and from him we have been given you, so that through you our hope might be increased. So come now and pray for us, O sorrowful Mother who have received us as children at the Cross of the Lord; intercede for the dissident brothers, so that with us they may be united, in the one true Sheepfold, to the supreme Shepherd, Vicar on earth of your Son. Pray for us all, O most pious Mother, so that through faith made fruitful by good works we may all merit with you to contemplate God in the heavenly homeland, and to praise him for ever. Amen”.
The Church has never demonised any people; it did not do so yesterday and it does not do so today. Every society, like every individual, can turn its back on God, but it can also come back to his arms, responding to divine grace. The conflicts that are tearing the world apart must always be seen from a supernatural and not a political or ideological perspective, remembering that the Church is Mother, not stepmother, of the peoples, and that her mission is catholic, that is, universal.