"Furthermore, We declare, We proclaim, We define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff."- Pope Boniface VIII, Unam Sanctam

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pope Facts: Hanno the Elephant

On the occasion of the coronation of Giovanni de' Medici as Pope Leo X in 1513, His Royal Majesty, King Manuel I of Portugal presented the new Pontiff with a white elephant, a gift from the Kingdom of Portugal, to the Holy See.

This white elephant arrived in Rome the following year. He was four years of age, and was originally from India. Hanno was his name, and he soon become the Pontiff's beloved pet, as well as a favourite amongst the peoples of Rome.

Upon his arrival, Hanno was kept in an enclosure in the Belvedere courtyard. He was later moved to a building specially constructed for him. This building was situated between St. Peter's Basilica and the Apostolic Palace.

His arrival in Rome prompted many works of art and poetry, one such example is the little poem by Pasquale Malaspina:

"In the Belvedere before the great Pastor
Was conducted the trained elephant
Dancing with such grace and such love
That hardly better would a man have danced:
And then with its trunk such a great noise
It made, that the entire place was deafened:
And stretching itself on the ground to kneel
It then straightened up in reverence to the Pope,
And to his entourage."

Hanno was to be seen in the great processions held in Rome. However, after two years in the Eternal City, he fell ill. On the 8th of June 1516, with his master, Pope Leo X at his side, he died. Hanno the elephant was buried in the Cortile del Belvedere, aged 7 years.

The artist Raffaello Santi designed a fresco in memory of Hanno, and the Pope himself created the epitaph. Unfortunately this fresco no longer exists, however the epitaph composed by His Holiness Leo X in honor of his pet, still remains with us. It reads:

"Under this great hill I lie buried

Mighty elephant which the King Manuel
Having conquered the Orient
Sent as captive to Pope Leo X.
At which the Roman people marvelled, --
A beast not seen for a long time,
And in my brutish breast they perceived human feelings.
Fate envied me my residence in the blessed Latium
And had not the patience to let me serve my master a full three years.
But I wish, oh gods, that the time which Nature would have assigned to me,
and Destiny stole away,
You will add to the life of the great Leo.

He lived seven years
He died of angina
He measured twelve palms in height.
Giovanni Battista Branconio dell'Aquila
Privy chamberlain to the Pope
And provost of the custody of the elephant,
Has erected this in 1516, the 8th of June,
In the fourth year of the pontificate of Leo X.

That which Nature has stolen away
Raphael of Urbino with his art has restored."

For a more detailed hisory of Hanno the elephant, see the Wikipedia article here indicated:

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