Update: Magdi Allam

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Magdi Cristiano Allam, the Egyptian naturalized Italian journalist and convert from Islam to Catholicism profiled in an earlier post, made a new announcement on Monday regarding his religious identity.

In it, Allam announces his formal departure from the Catholic church, saying that “I consider my conversion to Catholicism over,” though he continues to consider himself a Christian “and to proudly identify myself with Christianity as the civilization which more than any other moves man closer to God.”

Behind the timing of this move lay the recent abdication of Benedict XVI, who personally baptized Allam on Easter Sunday in 2008, and the subsequent election of Pope Francis, who has called for greater dialogue with the Islamic world. Continue reading

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The Medici Press

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In 1584, Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici founded one of the world’s first Arabic printing presses in Rome, an enterprise with a clear missionary purpose: to provide a vehicle for spreading the Catholic faith to the Arabic speaking peoples – Christian and Muslim – of the Near East, and for training native clergy in Rome.

Over the following decades, under the guidance of Giovanni Battista Raimondi, a traveller and student of Eastern languages, the press became a center for the collection, editing, and publication of a range of Arabic and Syriac texts, including a famous edition of the New Testament replete with illustrations of the life of Christ. Continue reading

Fingers and Mirrors: Caravaggio and the Conversion of Mary Magdalene in Renaissance Rome

Caravaggio, Martha and Mary Magdalene

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Martha and Mary Magdalene, c. 1598. Detroit Institute of Arts, 73.268.

When the Conversion Narratives team went to Fort Worth, Texas for the Sixteenth-Century Studies conference in October last year, we were lucky enough to catch an incredible exhibition, ‘Caravaggio and his Followers in Rome’ at the magnificent Kimbell Art Museum. We particularly enjoyed the chance to spend some time face-to-face with Caravaggio’s potent image of Martha and Mary Magdalene, often called ‘The Conversion of Mary Magdalene’.

The image, which is usually housed in the Detroit Institute of Arts, where you can zoom in to see much of the fine detail of the painting, depicts an earnest Martha persuading a lavishly-dressed Mary of her sins. For Roman viewers, the scene would have gained a particular frisson from their knowledge that the sitter who portrayed Mary was a well-known courtesan, Fillide Melandroni (Martha may have been another courtesan, Anna Bianchini) — so that the dynamic of the painting is frustrated by the non-conversion of the real-life counterpart to this ambiguously pious figure. Continue reading

Northern convert artists in Rome

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Peter Paul Rubens, St. Gregory the Great surrounded by male and female saints adoring the miraculous image of the Virgin and child, the so-called Madonna della Vallicella, 1606, oil on canvas. Grenoble, Musée de Grenoble, France.

In 1606 the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), who had come to Rome from Antwerp, won perhaps the most important commission of his young career. This was the high altarpiece painting for the Chiesa Nuova, the Roman mother church of the Oratorians, a Catholic reform religious order founded in the papal city during the sixteenth century. That same year, German engraver Mattheus Greuter (c. 1564/1566 – 1638), come to Rome from Strassburg, executed two engravings for the Roman Oratorian congregation that echoed the composition of Rubens’ altarpiece. Continue reading