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Italian Report Italian Report
by Euro Reporter
2010-06-24 09:56:50
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Portraits of Apostles discovered in catacombs of St Thecla

The niche of the Apostles, at the site known as Ponticello di San Paolo, first revealed St Paul a year ago. Now he has been joined by Peter, Andrew and John. The fourth-century paintings, the earliest surviving icons of the apostles, were discovered in a two metre-long niche in the catacombs of St Thecla in Rome’s Via Silvio D’Amico, near Via Ostiense and not far from the Basilica of San Paolo fuori le mura. Archaeologists uncovered them four metres below a building erected by the Assicurazioni Generali insurance company in the 1950s. Miraculously, digging the foundations did not disturb the catacomb. The existence of the niche had been known since 1720 but the frescoes were hidden under a thick layer of plaster.

It took a laser to reveal the paintings, which had eluded scalpels, water and sprays. The find was presented today by Mgr Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, Mgr Giovanni Carru, the commission’s secretary, Fabrizio Bisconti, archaeological superintendent of the catacombs and professor of Christian and medieval archaeology at Roma Tre university, and Barbara Mazzei, who is in charge of the restoration. It all began a year ago when archaeologists discovered the first portrait, depicting St Paul, in a corner of the vault.

This was in June 2009 and scholars immediately realised that there could be more icons concealed in the vault of the niche. Professor Bisconti explains: “We made several unsuccessful attempts but then the laser treatment worked. When the plaster came away, we saw more Apostles in the other three corners and an image of the Good Shepherd in the centre. These are the oldest known representations of the Apostles as icons. We now have the most ancient images of the Apostles, dating from the fourth century. In the cases of Andrew and John, these are the oldest images in existence whereas there are other depictions of St Peter from the mid fourth century, although none show him on his own, in an icon”.


Genoa G8 Trial

Former head of police Gianni De Gennaro has been sentenced on appeal to one year and four months’ imprisonment for inciting Genoa chief of police Francesco Colucci to perjure himself at the trial for the attack in 2001 on the Diaz school during the G8 summit. The ruling overturns the sentence of first instance, which acquitted Mr Di Gennaro and Spartaco Mortola, former head of the DIGOS special branch police in Genoa. Mr Mortola, now deputy vice chief of police in Turin, received one year and two months on appeal. The two defendants will also have to pay damages to the three co-plaintiffs at the trial. Both Mr De Gennaro, who is currently in charge of the department of security information (DIS), and Mr Mortola were granted benefits made available by law.

“Gianni De Gennaro has my full and total confidence. Until the sentence becomes final, nothing will change”, said the minister of the interior, Roberto Maroni. Mr Maroni went on: “There is disappointment at the sentence but we await with confidence the outcome of the appeal to the Court of Cassation. For De Gennaro, as for everyone else, there is a presumption of innocence until the sentence is final”. Mr Maroni’s words were echoed by justice minister Angelino Alfano: “Gianni De Gennaro’s innocence until the sentence is final is guaranteed by the constitution. I have respect for, and faith in, Giovanni De Gennaro, a man who has served the state devotedly”.

Mr De Gennaro’s lawyer, Carlo Biondi, who is defending the police chief with Professor Franco Coppi, said merely: “It’s a surprising sentence. We’ll be taking it to the Court of Cassation”. Mr Mortola said: “I’m gobsmacked“. His lawyer added: “This is another burden we will take to the Court of Cassation. Sentences like this are hammer blows. It’s personal but also a career issue. Spartaco Mortola does a job that demands a certain tranquillity of mind. We’ll be examining the statement of grounds and appealing to the Court of Cassation”.


Vatican-owned Houses to be monitored

The storm that has engulfed Propaganda Fide and its property portfolio can’t be said to have taken the Vatican hierarchy by surprise. Serenity is the order of the day with invitations for “civil justice to run its course”. Obviously, “you read a lot of things that are not true” said several sources on the day when the newspapers carried Guido Bertolaso’s statement to magistrates in Perugia. That the head of the civil protection agency was a guest in the Via Giulia apartment while no one paid rent to the congregation for the evangelisation of peoples “should be ruled out”, say Vatican sources. “Someone must have been paying”.

Yet it was clear that something was going wrong well before phone taps and investigations uncovered the unsavoury business of property sales and allocations to favoured insiders. The harsh term being bandied about the Vatican is: “Removal”. Four years ago in 2006, the then prefect of Propaganda Fide, Crescenzio Sepe, was removed by Benedict XVI at the end of his five-year term. This was “unusual”, say sources, since his predecessor had remained in office for 16 years and other 20th-century prefects had served well beyond their first term, except for one who died prematurely. It is equally odd for the head of a congregation, no less than the influential “red pope” in charge of Propaganda Fide, to move to a diocese, even a prestigious one like Naples. Generally, the reverse is the case.

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