Saint Napoleon


Napoleon Bonaparte was born on 15 August 1769. This is a busy day in the Catholic calendar, celebrating the Assumption of the Mother of God, which meant that the future French Emperor would have to pick a name like Louis-Marie, or Louis-Marie-Joseph, or whatever other combination of names he might have fancied; but Napoleon? By 1805 his unusual choice created a hell of a problem in Vatican, specifically in the office of the Devil’s Advocate. The office existed since the late XVI century and its mission was to slow the proliferation of local European saints whose pantheon was getting too big; the preferential treatment was to be given to the New World, as well as the Far East; so, the Devil’s Advocate would disqualify saints like Saint Patrick in favor of, let’s say, Saint Karasumaru.

By 1805 the geopolitical situation demanded that Cardinal Giambattista Caprara find some way to get Napoleon on that very competitive list. The assignment required a flight of theoretical imagination. The cardinal had that a plenty; he went back to the year 304, all the way to Alexandria, where he discovered a certain Saint Newtown, a.k.a. Neopolus. Close, but needed some fine tuning. Caprara began to move letters around: Neopolus became Neopole and so on; the result accommodated both the Holy See and His Imperial Majesty, whose birthday bounced to 16 August; and from there the newcomer began to harass another questionable saint, Saint George — both of them competing for the job of the patron saint of all warriors.

To help his guy in an unequal fight against a well-established knight in shining armor, the Emperor declared 16 August to be a national holiday; so, the fight was fixed, but by 1815 Saint Napoleon was still loosing by quite a few points; and by then Louis XVIII was on the throne and the Emperor in retirement on Saint Helena, from where he could not give any effective assistance to his saint in what seemed like a very difficult situation; and this is why today we see about a thousand of Napoleons holding the fort against millions of Georges. This is tough. Very tough. Retrospectively I wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to follow in the wake of Louis XIV, stick to the pagan tradition, and drop the letters N and e?

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This entry was posted in French Revolution, Louis XIV, Napoleon. Bookmark the permalink.

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