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SAN GAETANO
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The world of his day
The age that Gaetano Thiene came into was a time of social awakening, with new discoveries and inventions, and also exploration far away from the shores of Europe. It also saw some of the greatest changes regarding politics, wars and conquests, even huge upheavals within the Catholic church itself because of the 'Reformation'. Nature did not help too much either since the northern latitudes started suffering from what is now called 'The little ice age', cutting down on the yield of crops all over the world and dealing the northern countries some harsher climate than was usual, making way for a chain reaction of poverty throughout Europe.

In Gaetano's youth, Europe had already been introduced to new crops brought over from the New World by Columbus and others. Since he came from a rich and noble family, the young Gaetano might have well seen, all be it tasted, his first tomato or potato which like maize, peppers, allspice, pineapple and chocolate were newly discovered in the 'New world'. Human beings called 'Indians' (because of Columbus' conviction of having arrived in India) had been brought to Europe together with exotic birds such as parrots, never before known to exist. The New world being explored by Europeans was now being called America after Amerigo Vespucci and here, in future centuries San Gaetano's order would be sent for missionary work especially to the South. Here too, Europeans would spread the seeds of slavery in places like Brazil and Haiti and through the conquistadores show their greed by suppressing and destroying whole civilizations such as the Aztec of Mexico and the Inca of Peru. A while later they would even fight amongst themselves over territory with the Spanish and the Portuguese sweeping into Guarani territory and involving the church in the process.

Some inventions of the time must have affected Gaetano in little and greater ways. Innovations like the spinning wheel gave a boost to textile production while the invention of the commercial printing press by John Gutenberg in 1438, a few decades before Gaetano's birth revolutionized the spreading and sharing of knowledge and information, and proving itself an essential tool in the sowing the seed of the Word of God through the printing of the Holy Bible. The profession of publisher had already taken shape and consisted of type founder, printer and bookseller. Gaetano too availed himself of this fact and was already working hard in Veneto among the branches of his order remaining there until 1531. While starting up, assisting and consolidating all the houses of his new order together with the connected hospitals, churches and works of charity, he also accepted the services of the celebrated typographer Paganino Paganini. He remained in his service until his Theatines were well acquainted with the new revolutionary process and had a sort of publishing house of their own.

We may be sure that the news of discoveries made by European explorers in the new world like the first circumnavigation of the globe by Ferdinand Magellan in 1522 did arrive to Gaetano at one time or another. So must have had theories about astronomy like Copernicus' earth revolving around the sun published in 1512. We must keep in mind that Gaetano was an intelligent person who had studied at the best University in Italy and we can imagine that he must have discussed with the other students the fresh theories of astronomy. What we do not know is which way he swayed, that is what his beliefs were regarding these theories. Of one thing we can be sure, that if anything was against Christ's teachings, he would have discarded it too quickly.

His love for God's house and his meticulous following of Liturgy in church would have surely awakened in him an admiration for the arts of his time. His stint as the Pope's secretary and later sojourn and visits to Rome must have brought him to the Sistine chapel where Michaelangelo had started (in 1508) his now famous paintings on the ceiling. Gaetano must have stood in awe at all the glory and colourful depictions of saints and heavenly scenes. He must have also been well versed in Gregorian chant and used it liberally in his celebration of the liturgy. We can also be sure that he had also heard polyphonic music being sung in the Basilicas in Rome and would have been enchanted with the purity of Pierluigi da Palestrina's music had he lived a few more years.

In his century there would also arise unions of countries and invasions of European territories attempted by the Turkish Empire. Castile united with Aragon and formed Spain which later invaded the Navarre kingdom. War broke out between the Swabian league and Swiss cantons forcing the treaty of Basel wherein Switzerland gained its independence. The areas where San Gaetano spent his life were not yet united into what we now know as Italy, so by him going to different cities such as Rome with the Pope as both spiritual and temporal leader; Venice under the Doges; and Naples first under the French and then under Spanish jurisdiction with a Viceroy at its head, it was in fact three different countries and systems that our Saint was dealing with. Although his work was among the poor, he was many times dependent on the authorities and so, want it or not, he had his share of brushes with different rulers. The worst experience he and his company had, was when Rome was ransacked by foreign mercenaries. This period of Gaetano's life will be studied in depth in another chapter.

Europe in 1519
The expansion of the Ottoman empire especially to territories in Italy and neighbouring countries must have had some effect on our Saint, at least in a way. It was in August of the year when Gaetano was born that the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II sent a fleet commanded by Gedik Ahmed Pasha westward. It captured the Italian port city of Otranto. Further incursions into Italy ended with the death of Mehmed and fighting among his sons over the leadership of the Ottoman Empire. Had the Turks pressed forward they would have likely conquered most of Italy with little trouble, a feat accomplished by the French a few years later in 1494 and 1495. Had this occurred at this time, just as the Renaissance was getting off the ground, the history of Italy and of the world would have been dramatically different, and the story of our Saint too! The next year Otranto was won back from the Turks but they were still active, too close for comfort, invading Dalmatia and Croatia.

When Gaetano was a young man, probably in University, in 1499, Venice went to war against the Turks and its fleet was defeated at Sapienza. The next year Pope Alexander VI imposed a tithe for a crusade against the Turks. Gaetano was already ordained a year when a union of several European powers, the Holy League, was created. This was a Christian fighting force designed to combat the growing threat of Turkish expansion. At least, one of the last thrusts of the Ottomans against the Order of the Knights St. John (who were the same Crusaders fighting the Ottomans) was far away from Venice where Don Gaetano was doing his charitable work.

Italy: Turn of 16th Century
In 1523 Suleiman the Magnificent led the Ottoman Turks in an assault on the Hospitallers in Rhodes who were able to hold out until the end of the year when they formally surrendered and were able to secure the right to evacuate and later settle in Malta. It was only after Don Gaetano's death that after an unsuccessful siege on Malta in 1565, the Ottomans were at last vanquished at sea by an alliance of European states at the battle of Lepanto in 1571.