The great Italian poet Dante Alighieri was born three-quarters of a millennium ago this year. His native city of Florence, which has long gotten over its exile of the author of The Divine Comedy, is planning a huge celebration.
But one American history professor is combining a conference in Rome to honor Dante with a spiritual pilgrimage to commemorate the anniversary as well as some other medieval and Renaissance figures who have a lot to say to 21st-century man.
Edmund Mazza is a professor in the Department of History and Political Science at Azusa Pacific University. Mazza’s principal fields are Medieval Europe, Ancient History, Church History and Russian History. His most recent article, "Not Everybody Loves Raymond (or Regensberg)," was published in the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly. His travel and research has taken him to such varied places as New York, Paris, Lourdes, Rome, Venice, Padua, Florence, Barcelona, Kuala Lumpur, and Mexico City.
Mazza spoke with Aleteia about the pilgrimage, planned for May.
This year marks the 750th anniversary of the birth of Dante. I understand you are planning to celebrate that in a special way.
We have organized a conference in Rome, May 28-29, and we plan to have Cardinal Raymond Burke and other speakers about Dante from the US and abroad, who will commemorate him. Dante is the founder, in a sense of the Italian language, at least in terms of literature. He took his dialect and used that … when it was customary to use Latin. He created what came to be one of the greatest poems of all time, an epic poem that came to be called The Divine Comedy. Dante as a character in the poem traveled through hell, purgatory and heaven. As Dante is a pilgrim in that sense we are making a pilgrimage in addition to the conference. It will be from May 21-30.
What’s the pilgrimage route. You’re not planning to lead people through hell, are you?
We’re going to Turin for the special exposition of the Holy Shroud, which Christians believe to be the actual shroud in which the body of Christ was wrapped. There’s a whole host of scientific data verifying that it is the actual burial shroud. The shroud is displayed only on rare occasions, and this year is going to be one of those times.
Also, it’s a very pilgrim, penitential thing to do, to turn to our Lord.
In addition to honoring Dante, the conference is also honoring a lesser-known figure, Blessed Ramon Llull, who also 750 years ago this year, was called to preach to Muslims and Jews, and he did that in a very special way. Originally, he was a troubadour and a knight in arms. Dante also had military experience and wrote love poetry, usually of a courtly nature. Courtly love deals with the kind of love as, for example, between Lancelot and Guinevere. It ordinarily has certain adulterous connotations to it. In the case of Ramon Lllull, he had a series of visions of Christ crucified, and based on those visions he decided to give his live over to writing love verses of a different sort. To bring Muslims and Jews to fullness of the light, which is Christ. He’d go on to write hundreds of different works along those lines. He started out by making a pilgrimage through the shrines of Spain.
So to honor both Dante and Lllull we are inviting people to become pilgrims and start out with a vision of Christ crucified, namely, the Shroud of Turin, which may be an exact image of the crucifixion. We invite them to offer their sufferings up for the conversion of Muslims and Jews because, as much as the relations between Muslims and Jews and Christians is in the news these days it’s not often that one hears about offering penance for the conversion of others. We hear things more of a political nature, but of course we know that the spiritual is superior to the political