Sunday, December 01, 2013

The Falklands are still the Falklands in the Vatican even with an Argentinian Pope.

In the third loggia above the Belvedere Courtyard are some of the offices of the Secretary of State, in practice, the government of the Vatican. A portion of these are the Dicastery of Relations with States, in practice, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs where I went with students last week. And as one might expect in the Vatican, the loggia is decorated with 16th and 17th century panels of maps of the papal possessions in Italy and more generic maps of the rest of the world.

Off the main gallery, there is a modern map of the world showing where the Holy See has its delegates and nunzios; it follows 20th century cartography but with somewhat improbably invented Graeco-Latin names. The capital of Chile (itself renamed Chillia) loses its sainthood and becomes the not entirely euphonious Jacobopolis (tho’ I doubt that many people actually pronounce the word out loud). On the other side of the continent, there is the Argentinian capital, Bonaeropolis, only slightly less contrived.

But the real surprise in what must be the oldest diplomatic organisation on earth, is the unequivocal commitment to British sovereignty over those islands in the South Atlantic “Insulae Falklandianae”. (top left, thanks to Peter Cardena for the photo).

Long before the 1982 Falklands War, I met a Czechoslovak girl in Buenos Aires who explained with sardonic confusion her problems in high school. In her French classes, she told me, they stated punctilliously that “Les Îles Malouines étaient decouvertes par des pecheurs de St. Malo et alors, elles sont françaises”. Then the English teacher arrived and told the class, no less uncertainly, that “the Falklands are British and ever more shall be so”. Finally in history, “las Islas Malvinas son argentinas y nada puede cambiarlo”. “What am I supposed to accept?” She came from a country hardly 50 years old at the time and which was to have only another 20 to run (and when they did break up in their Velvet Divorce, it was with no fuss and no violence) so one could understand her confusion. Territorial nationalism does not run very deep in either the Czech Republic or Slovakia.

It is good to see that it does not run deep in the Vatican even with a Supreme Pontiff who hails from the country with the loudest claims to the islands. The first time I saw the map, some six or seven years ago, I asked if it represented a political rather than a cartographical one and received a mumbled and uncertain response (often I’ve seen airline maps where the islands are ignored or conveniently covered with other script – the Vatican could have finessed the matter similarly).

Obviously the Falkland-Malvinas question is not a priority for the Pope or even for his diplomats but it is a healthy sign that they are so laid back about it.

Their predecessors divided the Americas and the rest of the world between Spain and Portugal in 1495 with the Treaty of Tordesillas so they have some experience in that part of the world and even for the Holy See, priorities change in half a millenium (or even half a century).

As for the Latin, my classicist colleague, Paul Gwynne told me that 36 years ago, the Vatican had its Latin name for the islands and it wasn’t the Falklands:
Appellantur vulgo Malouines eo quod nautae Galli ex urbe Saint-Malo eas lustrare consueverant. Nomen Malo Latine sic redditur: Maclovius, ii; re quidem vera urbs illa ex usu Curiae Romanae (urbs) Sancti Maclovii nuncupatur; incolae vero Gallice audiunt: Malouins (m.) et Malouines (f.); merito ergo eae Insulae Latine Maclovienses dicuntur.
Caroli Egger, Lexicon Nominum Locorum (Officina Libraria Vaticana: 1977), p. 193

That's as maybe but if you start by calling the Falklands then the rendering into Latin is plausibly “Falklandianae” as the Vatican cartographers give it to us.

Much more serious things are happening in the Vatican and I will try and address some of the issues in my next blog.

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