St Joseph Moscati - Voyage to England:
Antonio Tripodoro s.j.
The voyage Moscati did to England and France can be dated between the second half of July and the first decade of August 1923. This voyage, beyond its reports, is an important event even today to make us know about the Saint's tastes, personality, way of acting and opinions.
His biographers give a great importance to this voyage and get many informations from the diary that has been saved for us and from the many letters sent to his relatives. Never Moscati has been writing so many letters in only one occasion and never, as in these letters and in his diary, he is so free, spontaneous, witty and humorous, but also thoughtful, conscious of his responsibilities as a hospital director and solicitous to the sick and suffering.
You can perceive in this man, considered great for his science and sanctity, so many peculiarities, shapes and connotations that make him attractive, lovable and cheerful. Even his style is lively, strict and agreeable, joint to a content that is full of literary, artistic references, various culture and deep humanity.
The occasion for the voyage has been so described by Dr. Enrico Sica: "The Servant of God suffered of some light illness. I remember he had been ill for a long time in two periods of his life, in 1923 he had some problems with his sight that doctors didn't explain and this fact was worrying. He didn't care so much for himself as he was afraid he had to stop his work.
After some useless months of treatment, invited by Dr. Bottazzi to participate to a scientific meeting in Edinburgh, he followed his relatives' advices to go there to have a rest and entertainment, and he went there.
While he was there, he wrote to his relatives about his health and he expressed his wish of recovering because he needed to work in God's vineyard.
This is what Moscati himself wrote in his diary written out in that occasion. It is a diary rich of acute remarks, of anxiety for his patients, but most of all of faith.
"Until the end I was in doubt, if leaving or not. Tormented as I was by the hospital, the patients' questions, by consultations and most of all held back by my sight disease, I was waving. But my sister's insistences talked to me as an angel's voice. I could have delayed the voyage, and go to Lourdes and Paray-le-Monial; but I didn't think this when my good friends Prof. Bottazzi and Quagliariello, my future travelling companions, made me to have my passport and my railway tickets. I had the inspiration of leaving at the Madonna del Carmine's feet in St. Teresa al Museo, a church rich of so many childish remembrances...".
On 18th July 1923 he leaves. In Rome he prays in the church of Jesus (Chiesa del Gesù), during the Quarantore, and on 19th July he arrives in Turin by train.
"20th July 1923 (Friday). At 6.30 a.m. I go to the church of St. Charles of the Serviti Fathers; so I can listen to the Mass (indeed two!) and receive the Holy Communion... Virgin Mary, You know that I decided to do this voyage even if I lost my living joy. Life is nothing but a duty for me now; You gather my weak strenghts to make an apostolate. The vanity of things my ambition maybe diverted me too much and made me seem stronger in brain and in science then I am! The recollections of the past joys and sorrows of my family make me stronger in this prayer, in this abandoning in God".
On 21st July he arrives in Edinburgh, he stays at the Nasmyths and his diary stops this day.
Prof. Quagliariello, his travelling companion, let us know that at first Moscati had some problems with his English, but after few days he could speak it fluently, so that he could keep long conversations going. And, as regards his guests, he notes that they were surprised by "how rapidly he made himself master of the language, by the deep artistic and historical sense he shows visiting the beauties of Edinburgh, by the richness and variety of his conversation."
And Quagliariello goes on: "In spite of his unpretentiousness, he shows himself to his guests just as he is, a man exceptional in mind and heart, and they have the greatest care and particular attention for him, they place their car at his disposal, they arrange for him a journey to Melrose to visit W.Scott's house, that he mentioned with great sympathy, and they ask him to visit a little nephew who was suffering of a heart defect, illness already diagnosed by the most well-known doctors in Edinburgh and London.
I become a secondary guest and I enjoyed indirectly the particular attentions given to my friend, but this time I don't feel humiliate but I find it perfectly natural and I was very glad of it.
Even in Edinburgh he doesn't care very much about the Meeting: he participate, as I can remember, only to a party in honour of Prof. Schafer, of whom he admires his basic contribution to the knowledge of the endocrine glands, and to the solemn ceremony held for Prof. Bottazzi's honorary degree, ceremony that gives him a great pleasure because of the honour given to one of his friend and teacher, and for the ornament given to all the Italian science.
He spends his day visiting the hospitals because he wants to realize the organization of them, and in every hospital he looks for the Italian patients and brings them a word of consolation, of faith and eventually a material help."
Noteworthy is a call to the Jesuit Fathers in Edinburgh, that ask him for lunch. He, while writing to his relatives about it on 28th July 1923, says:
"At one o'clock, yesterday, I had lunch at the Jesuite Fathers and brought with me Quagliariello. We had a princely welcome. There are some Fathers very zealous for the Catholicism in England; among them Father Agius, who was a doctor, is extrardinary clever and he made a criticism to the results of the modern studies of psychoneurology, very effective.The Jesuites have a very nice house. The church, as all the Catholic churches, is a wide room with few pictures. You can see that you are in a non-Catholic country.".
The meeting was later so described by Dr. Quagliariello: "Leaving Naples, he received by Father Jollain, of the Society of Jesus, a letter for Father Nicholson. He looks for him, he didn't find him, but he kept in touch with the Fathers of the Society, who at once appreciated his exceptional virtues, and they insisted for him to go to their house for lunch the day after so much that he couldn't avoid it, but he took me with him.
We found many eminent Catholic activists from Edinburgh, and He, with his deep knowledge of the religious question in England, with his simple conversation, never idle, with the precision of his judgement, conquers admiration and sympathy of all. One among the guests, Dr. Zanasi, invites him to visit two of his Italian patients and he accepted, the day after, writing to his sister, mentioning these two visits, he writes: "It's very easy to refine the diagnosis" and then he says, as he was repented of having magnified his own mastery: "At least so it seemed to me!".
In Edinburgh he also visited the castle, the remains of the abbey Holy-rood and the Gothic church of St. Giles. Three days later he leaves to France.
We already sayed that Moscati in this voyage wrote many letters: they are thirteen, nine from England and four from France. In these letters he shows his impressions, often he describes ironically some episodes and he expresses positive or negative judgements.
Actually he wasn't enthusiastic about London: it seemed to him as a "boundless but uniform blackish metropolis" But soon after he adds that " Westminster Abbey is a superb example of a gothic temple" and has "a great and ideal content for the English." He says also that the town "holds endless treasures: the British Museum has a lot of mummies, of Greek, Roman and Italian things. I wanted to find, against my friends' opinion, the famous Rosetta Stone (1), and I found it, with the joy of everyone. There is the Parthenon frieze (wonderful!). I wanted also to find the bronze objects that had been found in our Mirabella country estate, but I wasn't able to find them (2).
The National Gallery holds The Virgin of the Rocks (Leonardo), many Rubens, Van Dick: Flemish and Italian Painters are always the joy and the glory of the picture-galleries in the world! A wonderful English painter (according to some modern critics he is American) is Sargent. His porteaits have a stimulating power".
About London he says also that with Gaetano Quagliariello he found an Italian Church.
"When I approached - he writes to his family on 23rd July 1923 - a beggar and I asked him what time the service would be in English (it was Sunday) he answered: "Signurì, a l'otto" (At 8 o'clock, Sir). He was an old Neapolitan man. In the confessional there was a father of the Pious Society of the missions, who told me that in London there are 150 Catholic Churches.
Going out from the church, I met an old woman with a strange dress and I asked her: "Are you Italian?" - "Yes Sir, I'm from Ravello" - "What are you doing here?" - "Here I have to die, I sell fruits". And he goes on: "Wonderful fruits and flowers in London and Edinburgh. My friends' house is full of beautiful flowers (enormous hydrangeas, delicious geraniums, campanulas); it is full of beautiful pictures. And of carpets, frames etc.).
1. The Rosetta stone is the stone found in 1799 in the North of the town of Rosetta, on the Nil delta. An epigraph is carved on it in three different languages and this allowed J. F. Champollion to decode the hieroglyphs.
2. Mirabella Eclano, near Avellino, is the ancient Oscan town Aeclanum, important Roman municipality on the via Appia. The Moscatis had a property there, in which many bronze objects were found, later given to the British Museum, never found by Moscati.