Thursday, February 25, 2010
A Public Library fit for the Name of the Rose
The Ceccano Municipal Library is housed in a huge, unassailable, pale limestone palace, the only gothic residential structure in Avignon which does not pale in comparison with the Palace of the Popes. This formidable dungeon built during the papacy of Benedict XII actually predates the famous Palace ; it was the "livrée" of cardinal Annibale de Ceccano. It holds about 50000 books, 7000 manuscripts, and 60000 prints and drawings. It is indeed a pleasure to wander through the bookselves under the painted rafters of the ceremonial rooms, or to rest on a stone bench by an antique window, holding a copy of Edwin Mullins' "Avignon of the Popes", wich brings to life the history of the city.
But it is thanks to an other author, David Lodge, (in The Year of Henry James) that I became aware again that Umberto Eco's famous bestseller of the eighties, "The name of the Rose" was staged right in the period when the popes where exiled in Avignon, then dubbed the 'Altera Roma'.
Remember the moving letter of dying Prior Adso ? Umberto Eco concluded this epistle and his palpitating and erudite crime novel with the famous verse :
STAT ROSA PRISTINE NOMINE, NOMINA NUDA TENEMUS
Only the name of the early Rose remains, nude names only are left to us
Mr. Lodge says, along with many scholars, that the'Rosa' so mysterious in the book as well as in the famous verse might have stood for 'Roma' due to a copying error. But here I beg to dissent : indeed in Avignon the museum holds a precious gold and jewel rose, wich was bestowed by the popes to their most grand and faithfull supporters visiting the Holy See in Avignon.
Umberto Eco's novel explicitly refers to the visit of Michael of Cesena in the benedictine abbey, while en route to Avignon, in the winter of 1321 under the papacy of John XXII, Benedict XII predecessor. So maybe this was the key of the power struggle in the abbey : they all wanted to please the pope and get a pretty "Souvenir d'Avignon" just like modern-day visitors.