Update: Magdi Allam


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

The Medici Press


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

An Alpine Turncoat


Or, ‘exit, assassinated by a bear…’

The alpine region of the Grisons (the modern Swiss canton of Graubünden) was in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries a region of supreme strategic importance, a key passage of through the mountains between Italy and Northern and Central Europe. It formed a part of the Spanish Road, the caravan that led between the fortress-city of Milan and the Low Countries, where from 1572 until 1648, with a handful of interruptions, the armies of Spain were engaged in war with the Dutch Republic. For this entire period, the Valtelline pass was the main route for troops and provisions from Iberia to the North, since most of the alternatives, whether overland or by sea, were blocked by enemy troops and ships. Continue reading

Two Pilgrims

Saint James the Pilgrim by Juan de Juanes. Oil on board, from the church of the Convent of Corona de Jesús de los Religiosos Recoletos de San Francisco, Valencia. Museum of Santiago and the Pilgrimages, Santiago de Compostela.

The medieval ideal of a Christian life — that of a traveller who existed in the world without becoming a part of it, a viator or pilgrim whose thoughts and actions were constantly directed towards the afterlife — remained an essential part of the theological and cultural heritage of the Catholic Church in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and was one of many archetypes used to characterize or narrate the spiritual progress of converts. Continue reading

Conversion and controversy in the modern world

It is difficult not to recognize similarities with the distant (early modern) past in the ceremony held on March 22, 2008, when the Egyptian born and naturalized Italian journalist Magdi Allam, a commentator on Middle Eastern affairs who has worked at various times for all of the most important newspapers in Italy—first at La Repubblica, then at il Corriere della Sera, and later at il Giornale—was baptized by Pope Benedict XVI during the Easter mass in St. Peter’s. Continue reading

Strange bedfellows

An idealised image of a Renaissance schoolmaster

A story of religious conflict and attempted conversion from the central archive of the Jesuit order:

Before a trip to Rome and a meeting with Diego Laìnez led him to enter the Society of Jesus, Giacomo Cerruti lived a tormented existence as a schoolmaster in the Piemontese countryside, and nothing was more likely to spark his rage and indignation than an encounter with one of the followers of the evangelical churches that populated the alpine valleys. Continue reading

Politics and Conversion

Though we often associate conversion with the ordinary pressures, compromises, and motivations that commonly affect individual choices, major geopolitical events also could affect the way that conversions were pursued and undertaken in sixteenth century Europe, sometimes in unexpected ways.

Take the example of the surprise defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.  The Spanish monarchy had provided support for the English Catholic institutions founded in continental Europe during the second half of the sixteenth century, including the English college in Rome, where a group of Jesuits under the guidance of Cardinal William Allen (1532-1594) trained priests for the difficult task of ministering to English Catholic community and negotiating the political hazards of Elizabethan England.  It was a place of indoctrination, where the religious preparation of Catholics easily merged with attempts to intimidate members of the Church of England who found themselves away from home and in an unusually vulnerable position. Continue reading