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Issue 11 – Trinity 2022

Historia Ecclesiastica

Another Richelieu

On Cardinal Ruffo.


On June 13, 1799, the Feast of Saint Anthony of Padua, the Christian and Royal Army of the Holy Faith (“Santa Fede”) in Our Lord Jesus Christ amassed at the Ponte della Maddalena. Across the bridge lay Naples, defended by revolutionary forces armed with the latest French-supplied artillery. As his men rested in preparation for the assault, Fabrizio Cardinal Ruffo, the royal vicar-general and commander of the “Sanfedisti,” conferred with a contingent of Turkish and Russian military advisors. This was a holy war, yes, but it was also the War of the Second Coalition. With the British navy supporting the Sanfedisti from the sea, Ruffo’s secretary and biographer observed that “heretics, schismatics, Protestants, and even Mohammedans had arrived unexpectedly to defend the Christian religion.” 

The sounds of stampeding boots and hollers of “Viva il re!” interrupted His Eminence’s war council. A mob of townspeople had killed a republican rebel (a “Jacobin” as the Sanfedisti called them) and were rushing toward the bridge with his head on the pike. Caught up in the excitement, Ruffo’s Calabrian irregulars tossed aside their meals, grabbed hunting rifles, clubs, scythes, and daggers, and joined the berserkers. Cardinal Ruffo excused himself from this exotic company and rode out to corral his foolhardy troops. He barely succeeded in forestalling a doomed charge. 

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About the author

Anthony Piccirillo