The Remarkable Life of
That’s the title I would give to a biography of “Father” Gavazzi. Unfortunately no one, either in the last century or this, has embarked on such a work. The life of Alessandro Gavazzi makes a fascinating story.
Born in Bologna in Italy 1809, he was brought up to be a devout Roman Catholic. He became a monk in 1825, attached to the Barnabite order in Naples. He was appointed Professor of Rhetoric. His “radical” approach to spiritual matters caused his removal to Rome where he was given a subordinate position. However the invasion of Rome by the French prompted him to seek refuge in London. There he launched a campaign against the Roman priesthood and the work of the Jesuits. With “Roman” eyes he could see the corruption of the system to which he had given years of his life. He also saw through the machinations of the Oxford Movement, which had a Romanizing influence upon the Church of England.
While the date of Gavazzi’s conversion is uncertain, we find that by the 1850’s he is preaching in Evangelical churches throughout the British Isles, Belfast included. He was also involved in organising exiled Italian Protestants in London and was identified as an articulate spokesman on the controversy with Rome.
In 1853 he travelled to Canada and addressed rallies in Quebec and Montreal. Opposition to him was engineered by Roman Catholic activists, and the church in Montreal where he was preaching was invaded by those seeking his life. He had to defend himself and used a chair to beat off his assailants. The disorder spread to the streets and up to forty people were killed in a shameful display of bigoted violence, in which the Irish lobby were prominent. Undeterred, Gavazzi continued his ministry.
In 1860 he returned to Italy and acted as army chaplain to Garibaldi, who campaigned to unite Italy. (Garibaldi testified to being a Christian.) Burdened with a love for his fellow countrymen, Gavazzi went on to organise the Gospel preaching Protestant Church of Italy. By 1875 he had established the Free Church College in Rome. His next ministry was to attach Christian schools to each of the churches. After his death in 1889, all his achievements weakened in the absence of a dynamic successor.
Gavazzi was honoured with burial in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, now known as the British Cemetery. His grave is marked with a suitable sculpture.