HERE WE LEAVE OUR HEART: ‘The Golden Lily’ gifted by Blessed Pope Paul VI to India in 1964
Giovanni Montini was born on September 26th, 1897 of a wealthy family at Concesio (Lombardy). After his ordination in 1920, he was sent to Rome to study at the Gregorian University and the University of Rome. He was assigned to the office of the Secretariat of State where he remained for the next thirty years. In 1953, Montini was appointed the Archbishop of Milan. He was soon recognised as the ‘Archbishop of workers.’ In 1958, he was raised to the Cardinalate. On the death of Pope John XXIII, Montini was elected Pope on June 21st, 1963. He took the name Pope Paul VI.
True to the spirit of the Apostle, Pope Paul VI travelled more widely than any of his predecessors and was the first ever Pope to have visited the six continents. He was affectionately called the ‘Pilgrim Pope’ for indeed he was a Pilgrim of Peace and Love to the modern secular world.
On August 11, 1964 Pope Paul VI made a historic helicopter trip (the first by a Pope) to the ancient Umbrian hill town of Orvieto to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the Feast of Corpus Christi (or Body and Blood of Christ). This feast was instituted by Pope Urban IV in 1264 on account of the Eucharistic miracle that took place in the town of Bolsena. A Bohemian priest beset by doubts with regards to the Eucharist was restored to faith when the consecrated host began to bleed during Mass. The Altar cloth from Bolsena (stained with the miraculous blood) was brought to Orvieto and is the greatest treasure of its Cathedral.
Pope Paul VI celebrated the Eucharist at the Cathedral to mark the anniversary. As a token of their love and as a lasting souvenir of the event, the city of Orvieto gifted a Chalice to the Pope. This masterpiece of art and sacred history was executed by the greatly reputed artist Marcello Conticelli also known as ‘the blacksmith of the Pope.’
In December 1964 when Pope Paul VI visited Bombay during the 38th International Eucharistic Congress, he desired to donate ‘the most precious gift since he sat on the Sogolio di Pietro’ to the world’s ‘poorest of the poor.’ What could be more precious than the tribute of a chalice surpassing artistic, historic and theological beauty, gloriously and graciously regarded the Golden Lily?
Well, the name of the chalice befits the Cathedral of Orvieto for it was benevolently acclaimed The Golden Lily of Italian Cathedrals by Pope Leo XIII (1810 – 1903). The paten of the Chalice bears an etched imprint of the magnificent 14th century Gothic façade of the Cathedral with its riot of spires, columns, bas-reliefs, colossal doors and other minute details.
Elegant as a blossomed lily, the chalice is delicately decorated with efflorescent petals. The cup is supported by graceful sheaves of wheat. The stalks of grain are held together by a hexagonal knop upon which are etched the words ‘UT LILIUM AUREUM IN MANIBUS TUIS’ which translates as: ‘Like a Lily of Gold in Thy hand’.
The wheat stalks prorate downwards forming the median ridge of the multi-stepped and the multi-triangular base. A cluster of grape vines surmounts the centre. The base of the chalice is exquisitely ornamented with enamel work. The colours imitate the mosaic pillars of the Orvieto Cathedral. The symbols include gothic trefoils (Trinity), the Greek cross, vine leaves, grapes and lily florets.
The stepped foot is adorned with bead motifs and six historic coat-of-arms. These include those of Pope Paul VI and two bishops of Orvieto as also the heralds of the ‘Opera Pia Sancte Marie’ (O.P.S.M) (the institution that promotes, manages, and administers the work of the construction of the Cathedral); the ‘Senatus Populus Que Verolanus’ (S.P.Q.V) of the city of Veroli and the coat-of-arms of the city of Orvieto itself.
The reverse of the base bears a Latin inscription that reads in English as, ‘Paul VI gives to the Chief Church of Bombay in memory of the Eucharistic Congress of 1964, the gift given to him by the Eucharistic city of Orvieto.’
This profound symbolic gesture (one of many others) by the Pope mirrored his deep love and affection for the people of Bombay (now Mumbai) and the country of India. The Pope’s visit to Urbs Prima in Indis was recorded as “‘love at first sight’ on both sides.” Large crowds greeted the Pope and gave him the most enthusiastic and warm welcome. Most of the people who extended this spontaneous hospitality were non-Christians.
It was not just the great events of the Holy Father’s visit that caught the public imagination but rather his simplicity, generosity and the little human things that he did that won the heart of India. Right from his concern for the photographer who died in an accident, to his swiftness to come to the aid of anyone young and old, to going down on his knees to give communion to little orphans, to his compassion for the sick and the blind, to his tears at the sight of suffering and poverty and his abandonment of prepared speeches in favour of an interpreter so that he could spontaneously speak his heart out; Pope Paul VI in his very own words left his heart in India. (‘We feel ourselves to share in a moral citizenship with this land which we will ever love. Here we leave our heart!’ –Pope Paul VI)
With a gracious Namaste as the Pope left for Rome he left behind in a million hearts a memory that is in itself a benediction – the paternal benediction of a Pope, the evermore affectionate intercession of a soon-to-be Saint!
Indeed! We are blessed to have his heart of gold!
Joynel Fernandes- Asst. Director- Archdiocesan Heritage Museum
The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday between 9am to 5pm. For a guided tour please contact: 022 – 29271557
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