Divided between Body and Mind

If you wanted to know anything about Matilde – not the one who told such dreadful lies but the great mediaeval countess who built ninety-nine churches, the extraordinary Ponte Della Maddalena at Borgo a Mozzano and brought an emperor to his knees in winter snows at Canossa to ask forgiveness, then 2015 was the year to swat up on her. It was ‘Matilde year’ since the grand lady died nine hundred years before in 1115 at Bondanazzo in Reggio Emilia aged 69 – a remarkable longevity at a time when most women were dead before they were thirty. It’s said that eating a large amount of pomegranates helped to lengthen Matilde’s life. In fact, the pomegranate became her emblem:

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Throughout the country various conferences and exhibitions celebrated this exceptional woman who wielded the greatest power and influence at a time when the majority of her sex was regarded as mere chattels. Indeed, such was the fame of Matilda that she is one of only two women buried in Saint Peter’s basilica in Rome – the other being Queen Christina of Sweden.

In my posts at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/10/25/who-was-matilde-di-canossa/

and  https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/11/15/borgo-a-mozzanos-matilde/ I talked about the extraordinary person of Matilde di Canossa, (described by one as the Angela Merkel of her time, although the latter’s  power seems apparently to have diminished over the United Kingdom as a result of the UK’s recent referendum).

The original conference was held at Borgo a Mozzano on November 15th last year and among the speakers was Emilio Tampucci, director of the education department at Borgo, who didn’t describe himself as an academic but whose knowledge of the subject, in his forthcoming book, was extraordinary.

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That book has now forthcomed and it is a highly enjoyable (Italian) read which really gets into the psyche of the formidable woman that Matilde was. The book is also beautifully illustrated with photographs of places associated with her.

The book’s late afternoon presentation opened in the courtyard of the palazzo Santini which now houses Borgo’s library. It was just as well we were outside since the weather has been stultifying hot thanks to anti-cyclone Juno. Mayor Andreucetti, as befits a government official with an academic background in history, gave a very full exposition describing the importance and the life of Matilde. He emphasised the fact that, despite her powerful position, she had essentially a sad life and, indeed, was of a melancholic disposition.

(Emilio Tampucci, Mayor Andreucetti and the presenter)

We, too, felt somewhat melancholic because a great speaker from the November conference, Domenico Maselli, was no longer with us. Domenico was one of the most important figures in Italian Protestantism, emeritus professor of Christianity at Florence university and emeritus pastor of the Valdensian church in Lucca. Without a single note in front of him, without a hesitation and with a superbly clear voice his account was nothing less than gripping. It was truly a joy to be able to understand everything Maselli said and to be wrapped up in his enthusiasm of the subject. Sadly he died on 4th March this year at the age of 82.

Emilio Tampucci’s book is a must for all those interested in Matilde di Canossa (and can read Italian). The book’s subtitle ‘divisa tra corpo e anima’ reveals Matilde’s constant battle between temporal and spiritual forces and is most charmingly and fascinatingly written.

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(Tampucci explaining Matilde’s Signature)

After the presentation there was a very tasty rinfresco and plenty of time to meet and talk to the many interesting and learned people present. At least it got Brexit off my mind for a bit. I wonder what Matilde di Canossa might have thought about that. As a Europeanist, not much I feel.

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