Pontifical Swiss Guard

By Alberto Macchione

Tourists, the world over, often visit the Vatican City in Rome to see the Pope, St Peter’s Basilica and the the highly recognisable spear wielding court jesters that guard the sacred city. Unbeknownst to many, these elaborately adorned security detail are a very serious battalion known as the ‘Pontifical Swiss Guard’.

Unlike the equally iconic Queen’s Royal Guard in the United Kingdom who are instructed to ‘stamp their foot and request that any nuisance step away’ the Swiss Guard are a highly skilled elite fighting force who are not only highly adept with hand weapons  but also possess one of the most impressive munition stocks of army piercing weaponry on the planet.

In the 15th Century, Switzerland’s small army had a reputation of overcoming much larger rivals. As Switzerland  was an impoverished country with few prospects for many, individual soldiers and small groups of mercenaries often loaned themselves out to other armies or leaders. The relationship with Rome began with Pope Sixtus IV who had a strategic relationship with Swiss rulers. The Pontifical Guard were officially appointed on January 22nd 1506 by Pope Julius II. This makes the Swiss Guard one of the oldest standing military units in the world.
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Sunday, Feb. 19: Esercito Concertante with Luisa Sello

Esercito Concertante

Featuring Luisa Sello, Anton Niculescu,  & Aurora Sabia with special guest Charles Mengine

Sunday, Feb. 19 | 5 p.m. | Heinz History Center’s Detre Library & Archives

$15 adults, $12 seniors, $10 students, military, Mondo Italiano and History Center members 

Inspired by the 100th anniversary of World War I, an army of musicians will transform the letters of soldiers from the war from pain into art. This original program is inspired by letters by Pittsburgh soldier Paul Howe (Paul Howe Papers and Photographs, 1902-2005, MSS 734, Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center) and coordinated in partnership with Istituto Mondo Italiano.

This event features live instrumentation by international Italian flutist Luisa Sello, cellist Anton Niculescu, and pianist Aurora Sabia and readings performed by actor Charles Mengine.

The concert is a part of the project ‘Great Music’ supported by the Region Friuli Venezia Giulia and organized by the Association Amici della Musica of Udine and is included in the calendar of the Events for the celebration of the ‘World War 1915-1918.’ 

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Italian-Americans: Find Your Roots in the Old Country

On Monday, February 20th, at 1 PM, at the Mt Lebanon Public Library, Rich Venezia will be presenting Italian-Americans: Find Your Roots in the Old Country. The lecture is free and open to the public. The lecture will be genealogical in nature, and is geared towards both beginners and intermediate-level researchers who are interested in learning more about their Italian heritage.

They will be discussing tips on finding the exact place of Italian origin, the basics of Italian records, what’s available and where, and tips and tricks for finding elusive ancestors. Discover your famiglia and make Nonna proud!

The lecture is being sponsored by Mt Lebanon Genealogy Society, with more information here: http://www.mtlebanonlibrary.org/306/Genealogy-Society

More information on Rich’s lectures can be found here: http://www.richroots.net/.

La Befana: The Italian Witch

By Alberto Macchione

Christmas was over and the inevitable post yule tide remorse sets in. The feast is over, the family disperses, the presents are packed away and the decorations seem to take a different meaning, like a tombstone marking that the spirit of Christmas had passed through these walls in days past.

I come from a family of Italian immigrants and no country has contributed more to the traditions of the secular and Christian Christmas than Italy.  In my parent’s day, in the small villages of southern Italy, Christmas wasn’t such a big deal and there wasn’t much said of the Santa Claus we all know and love. My mother told me that they didn’t really give out much in the way of presents on Christmas day. Instead, they were still waiting for the real Santa Claus, only the real Santa Claus wasn’t a big fat man in a bright red suit but rather a woman, a tattered scrawny old woman, a witch in fact. Then it struck me, there are ’12 days of Christmas’. My mother was right. Christmas isn’t truly over until January 6th known as ‘The Epiphany’ in some Christian faiths.

So Christmas in the Christian Calendar is a little longer than many realize and that the birth of Jesus is somewhere near the beginning of that story. So what does the birth of Jesus have to do with an old witch? [Read more…]

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