During our census this week, we visited the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum, which is their old house dating from the 1850s. It is run by the Sons of Italy but has a female curator. Of course, we asked about Garibaldi’s faith.
Guiseppi Garibaldi was a Staten Island resident that returned to help create the modern Italy that we know today. He was cooling his heels here at inventor’s Antonio Meucci’s house after an earlier unsuccessful revolution.
The curator had not deeply considered the faith aspect of Garibaldi. In our census we often run across people, religious or non-religioius, who have no idea how thick NYC culture is with religious faith. We hope that by showing the incredible variety and number of faith details about the city that people will understand more deeply how such details contribute to the excitement to the city.
We are like the animators at Pixar studio. They are pushing constantly to increase their ability to digitally increase the details in animation. The more small, invisible to the eye, details that are included, the more that the eye unconsciously ”sees” the animation as having a supple, natural reality. On the big picture screen you may not be able to see the nose hairs, but their presence is processed by the mind into a feeling of naturalness. We too hope to paint into the city picture the thick faith details of the city so that people will “see” the natural, spiritual excitements of the city.
So, we knew a little tiny bit about Garibaldi, that he was a Mason, to share with the curator. Masonry has a strong religious theme in its teachings and practices.
Her eyes brightened with recognition, saying, “Yes, he and Meucci used to hold monthly Masonic meetings here!” In fact the founder of the Sons of Italy, which runs the museum, was also a Mason.
In Europe Masons were an Enlightenment influenced secret network of modernizers and democratic activists. Often, they, like American Mason Thomas Jefferson, were deists, not believing that Jesus was divine, and saw God as the Rationality behind the world. Modernization is the bringing about the rationality of God into politics and society. In Catholic Europe, however, they also were sometimes Protestant in their thinking.
Could the Garibaldi-Meucci house be the historical site of early Italian Protestant meetings? We decided to investigate.
In their edition on October 2, 1867 the New York Times noticed this religious dimension of the city’s former citizen in their story “Garibaldi’s New Religion.” They reported on a speech that Garibaldi gave to an International Congress for Peace that was meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.
Garibaldi said, “I propose that this present Congress formally adhere to the religion of God, by which I mean those elements of religion that are demonstrably true and reasonable (Scripture alone), and we should pledge ourselves to propagate it.”
Sounds like those meetings in Staten Island may have had a religious caste, maybe even a Protestant-like one. Could the Garibaldi house be one of the first Italian Protestant sites in the city? Garibaldi’s chaplain in Italy, Alessandro Gavazzi, went onto founding The Free Church of Italy, which later merged with the Methodists. Most of the early Methodists were Garibaldi followers.
Garibaldi was a master propagandist, so it is not always clear what were his real beliefs. Much of his religious thinking was couched in terms against a Catholic hierarchy that supported authoritarian government and a divided Italy. Garibaldi had to fend off attacks that he was anti-religious. In 1870 he wrote, “It is in vain that my enemies try to make me out an atheist. I believe in God. I am of the religion of Christ, not of the religion of the Popes.”