Any normal teenager who daydreams of becoming a famous feuilletonist will find no theme more promising than the coincidence of men and birds.
Wild or domesticated or table fare, there has never been a high achievement without birds in hand or bush or sky above. Keat’s fleet nightingale and Coleridge’s fetid albatross conspire and never go away.
On January 10, 236, a dove settled on the head of the previously inconspicuous Fabian, and the Roman clergy took it as a sign that he should succeed Anterus as pope.
In June of 1846, a dove perched on the coach of Giovanni Cardinal Mastai-Ferretti, Bishop of Imola in the Romagna, who was passing through Fossombrone on his way to the conclave gathering to elect a successor to Pope Gregory XVI. Although the Papal Secretary of State, Luigi Cardinal Lambruschini was thought the most papabile, Mastai-Ferretti became Pope Pius IX.
When Angelo Cardinal Roncalli was Papal Nuncio to Paris (1944-1953), a dove circled around his head during a pilgrimage to Lourdes, an event recalled when he became Pope John XXIII in 1958, the centenary of the commencement of a medical practice in Bombay by the Anglo-Indian physiophilist, Sir George Birdwood. Roncalli’s tenure concluded on the 700th anniversary of the traditional date for the first well-know song about birds in English literature:
Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweth sed , and bloweth med,
And springth the wude nu.
The College of Cardinals elected the della Genga pope, Leo XII, in the hope that he would lead a reform of the papacy and the papal states, but he was something of a disappointment, and the first hint that this would be so came when he started shooting birds in the Vatican garden for relaxation. His claim to a place in the records of coincidence is by way of having been born in 1760 and crowned pope in 1823, which years have an identical arithmetic sum.
Captious curmudgeons link Catholic cardinals with the sixth horn of the Dragon in the Apocalypse. Cardinals are more happily associated with the crested finch,
There is the winsome story of the valiant anti-slave crusader, Charles Martial Cardinal Alleman-Lavigerie who, as Archbishop of Algiers, dismissed the objection of the French Consul General and married Prince S Ahmed Tidjani, a religious leader in sourthern Algeria, to Aurelie Picard in 1871. The Prince, visiting Bordeaux, fell in love when he saw the housekeeper to Postmaster General Steenacker feeding pigeons. As the Prince and the pigeon girl were wed, feudalism was abolished in Japan.
Excerpted from Coincidentally, The Time of the Singing Bird by George William Rutler, The Crossroad Publish Company, New York, N.Y., 2006