Sunday, July 22, 2012

The 1512 Vetralla Monument

On Saturday, July  21st  while showing a visitor from Scotland our town’s claim to English protection, I realized the  monument  was celebrating its 500th anniversary-and no one in town was interested…except us.
500 years of  English protection  

detail of  Henry VIII's coat of arms 

 Five centuries may seem like a long time, but  not in the layer cake of  European history  and not in an area where Etruscan tombs and sanctuaries dating from 800-300 BC dot the landscape.   

detail of Cardinal Bainbridge's coat of arms 
The year  1512 was a very busy one. Among the happenings in Europe:   
- the battle of Ravenna on   April 11th
- Pope  Julius II  opened  the Lateran Council in May
- Michelangelo’s  Sistine Chapel paintings were  publically shown for the first time in November
Holbein's portrait of Henry VIII 
- a baby named Anne Boleyn was born
-Niccolò Macchiavelli was expelled  from Florence by the Medici, newly returned  to power.
- Martin Luther was named  Doctor of Theology in Wittenberg.

In the new world the Spanish began importing black slaves to Hispaniola to replace the  local Indians  who were perishing at an alarming rate while along the coast of Newfoundland, European fishermen began exploiting the banks of cod fish, sending  the dried cod  back to Europe.

English ambassador visits Vetralla
 On July  20th, 1512 Pope Julius II donated the Castle of  Vetralla, an  important post  between Rome, the papal port of Civitavecchia and the city of Viterbo,  to the English crown. 
Cardinal  Christopher Bainbridge, Henry VIII's ambassador to Rome during those years and the only English prelate at the opening of the 5th Lateran Council, accepted  for his king. 

funerary monument of Cardinal Bainbridge, Venerable English College,Rome 
  In Vetralla, a sculpted marble monument and a smaller plaque with the date were set above the main portal of  the castle, thus sealing the alliance between  young Henry VIII and the Papacy in  the Cambrian League  against the French.
axes and squirrels feature on Bainbridge  coat of arms

 For the first time, Henry laid claim to some  French land, thus the title  King of  France  (REX FR) was included in the  inscription  of the Vetralla monument. 
Over the centuries  the heraldic  plaque was moved several times  and since the 1700s it has graced the  main staircase of the governor’s palace, now the City Hall.  
A few years ago volunteers cleaned the monument revealing the full beauty of its  heraldic motifs. Several coins  from the early  19th century were found lodged  among the intricate carvings.

Andrea Natali  cleaning the  1512 English monument 
 Unfortunately no documents  concerning the monument have yet come to light and most of the local population continue to ignore its significance and its very existence.

 This post is part of my submission for Team Florens, a meeting to be held in  autumn  where themes such as boosting economy through cultural awareness will be debated. 

Hopefully local cultural identity can grow and use existing historical monuments, especially those with international connections like the Vetralla 1512 monument, to create opportunities for tourism  in  towns not on regular tourist circuits.  Learn more about Fondazione Florens here.     

Latest  visitors   to Vetralla from England were a group  of young university students who had cycled all the  way  from Manchester, through  Holland, France and northern Italy. They were amazed  at the English connections  we pointed out to them.

posing  beneath the English monument  and
the bust of Cardinal Henry Stuart, Duke of
York, protector of  Vetralla


  1. Just realized this is the 70th article I have written for 50yearsinItaly. Something else to celebrate ! Guess which one has had the most readers ?

    1. This is the first time I've ever taken the time to review a blog site. (Only for you, Mary Jane.) But I have to say I found it interesting, educational, and enjoyable. I'll be back. Maria

  2. Thanks Maria..glad you enjoyed reading my articles. I appreciate you taking time to stop by...and to comment. Its what keeps us writers writing...for the readers.
    Subscribe by leaving your email where it says "Follow by email" and you will get weekly stories automatically.Don't forget to share with friends who like the same things you do.