HC Deb 31 July 1866 vol 184 cc1841-3

rose to draw the attention of the House to certain circumstances relating to the great Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino, in Italy, and other distinguished seats of learning. The inmates of this convent were not what we supposed the inhabitants of convents generally to be. They were men of family, education, and independence, who in their retirement guarded literary treasures of great value, and whose learning had been of advantage to the whole of Europe. He might also observe that they had taken a warm interest in the progress of Italy. He begged to move for Copy of any Communications received by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs from Her Majesty's Minister Plenipotentiary at the Italian Court, upon the subject of the Statute of the 7th of July, for the suppression of Ecclesiastical Corporations; and he wished to inquire whether, in the opinion of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the terms of the Statute sanction the expectation that without derogating from the principle of the decree, the Italian Government may devise means for preserving institutions which, like the Monastery of Monte Cassino, have for centuries been distinguished as seats of learning, and have acquired the sympathy and respect of the civilized world?


said, the question was one interesting to civilization and science, and apart from all religious, political, and party feeling, he would press upon the Italian Government not to destroy so ancient and influential a seat of learning as that referred to. He hoped the Government would use their influence to prevent such a disgrace to the civilization of Europe as that which it was feared was contemplated.


said, as foreign intervention was given up by our Government he hoped that it would not be induced to interfere in the internal affairs of Italy. He could not suppose that the Italian Government was so lost to the traditions of its own people as to be guilty of anything like the destruction or desecration of its own monuments of art or literature, and he thought that any expression of suspicion on our part in respect to its conduct in these matters would be received by the Italian Government as something like an insult. If addressed upon this point the Government of Victor Emmanuel might reply that it had had experience of those monastic orders, and was, of course, much more competent to form a judgment in respect to them than we were. It might say— Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?


said, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire had evidently misunderstood the Motion of his hon. Friend, who had no idea whatever of urging our Government to interfere with the Government of Italy, or that of any other country in the world. All he asked was that the noble Lord the Minister for Foreign Affairs would use his influence to prevent the destruction of those beautiful monuments of art such as Monte Cassino by the Italian Government.


said, the papers referred to were very few, and he had no objection to their production. His predecessor (the Earl of Clarendon) addressed one or two communications to the Italian Government with reference to Monte Cassino, and an answer was returned on the 27th substantially to the effect that it was not in the power of the Italian Government to modify the law which had been passed by the Italian Chamber with reference to these establishments, more especially as an Amendment which was expressly moved in the Chamber in favour of this institution was rejected by the Chamber, but that they would use what discretionary power they possessed to preserve the library and monuments of antiquity which the institution possessed. It was a matter which belonged to the Italian Government; and he considered that, under the circumstances, our Government ought not to further interfere, and Her Majesty's Government did not propose to take any further steps in respect to it.


said, he did not complain of the course adopted by the Government, as the repetition of a formal application might bear an aspect which ought not to be assumed by one friendly Government towards another on such a subject. It was, however, a matter which went far beyond the limits of Italy, and one in which other countries were greatly interested. When Monte Cassino and other similar institutions were first founded Italy was but just beginning to abdicate her position of supremacy of the civilized world, and in fact it was the mother of civilization, by which all had been nurtured and enriched, and therefore we had almost the same interest in what took place in connection with this institution as the people of Italy had. Although Italy could not recognize this institution, he believed there was a provision which could be so liberally interpreted as would preserve the library, archives, and monuments of the institution of Monte Cassino and other similar institutions in Italy.

Motion agreed to.

Address for "Copy of any Communications received by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs from Her Majesty's Minister Plenipotentiary at the Italian Court, upon the subject of the Statute of the 7th July, for the suppression of Ecclesiastical Corporations."—(Mr. Hubbard).