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Monday, 5 July 2010

The Man in the Iron Mask

Fr John Salter writes in Chrysostom, Pascha 2010:

     Some weeks ago I was browsing through Donald Attwater’s book The Christian Churches of the East in Communion with Rome, when I came across, in the Armenian Catholic chapter, these astonishing words: 
Owing to the efforts of the Friars of Unity and others there were always groups of Catholics of the Armenian rite (for instance in the Nakshevan province of Persia). And in the middle of the seventeenth century a Catholic was made patriarch of his nation in Constantinople. But an already troubled position was made worse by the startling religio-political activity of the French ambassador, the Marquis de Ferreol, who abducted a subsequent dissident patriarch, Avedik of Tokat, and sent him to be tried by the Inquisition in France.

I decided to investigate this kidnapping further, and found some disturbing information in my Foreign Church Chronicle archive. Here I found that Captain the Honble. D. Bingham had been at work and had found that some people supposed Patriarch Avedik to be no less a mysterious figure as supposedly The Man in the Iron Mask! There seems to have been, as in L’viv, a confusion as to who would be Patriarch in Constantinople of the Armenians, Orthodox or Uniates, just as in L’viv what mattered was that the Armenians had a priest and it did not much matter whether he came from Orthodox Etchmiadzin or from the Uniate monastery of St. Lazzaro on the Armenian island in Venice, provided he was an Armenian; so in the Middle East the same position prevailed amongst the laity.

  From the Council of Chalcedon in the 5th century Armenian Christians have been in and out of communion with Rome. Fruitful contacts were established between Armenians and the Crusaders and it was from that period (1198-1375) that the introduction of Latin ceremonies, ornaments and vestments into the Armenian Church began. The Armenian Patriarch-Catholikos Constantine V was present at the Council of Ferrara-Florence and subscribed to all its canons in the name of all the Armenians in 1441. But soon afterwards there was an anti-Catholic backlash and a certain Kirakos Virapetzi was placed on the throne of the Catholikossate of Etchmiadzin over and against Catholikos Gregory IX whose election to the empty throne was contested. To add to the  problem the Ottoman Sultan Mohammed II, the Conqueror of   Byzantium and all its minorities, created an Armenian Patriarch  for Constantinople in 1461, thus rather tending to ignore the Catholikos in Etchmiadzin, and giving the new Armenian Patriarch spiritual and civil jurisdiction over not only the Armenians, but also the Chaldean Catholics, the Nestorians and the Copts. An Armenian Catholic minority remained under the care of the Jesuits, the Carmelites and the Dominicans.

   The Mother See of Etchmiadzin was again united with the Holy See from 1548 – 1737. In Constantinople, however, the Patriarch of the Armenians, disturbed at the prospect of an increase in Uniates, unecumenically encouraged the Sublime Porte, the seat of Ottoman rule, to take measures against them because of their allegiance to a foreign power, the Papacy. There followed a fierce persecution of Armenians both Orthodox and Catholic; the Catholic Armenians eventually settling their Catholikossate in the Lebanon in 1740, where it has remained to the present day outside Beirut. There is, however, today an Armenian Catholic Archbishop resident in Constantinople.

    It was into this troubled scenario that Patriarch Avedik makes his appearance. The reason for his kidnapping and abduction was due to his being elected to the Patriarchate of  Constantinople of the Gregorian or Orthodox Armenians, whereas France would have preferred a Catholic. One of Avedik’s first offences was to close the Jesuit college in The City.  The Marquis de Ferriol, knowing how money talked in the Ottoman Empire, egged on by the Catholic Fathers purchased from the Sublime Porte the dethroning of Patriarch Avedik. The  ambassador and the Jesuits had not taken into account Armenian wealth. In this instance the Orthodox were wealthier than the Catholics by a long chalk and were able to raise £40,000 and bribed the Grand Vizier to re-enthrone him. The Jesuits, not to be outdone insisted that the Marquis have Patriarch Avedik removed again, implying there would be trouble with the Uniates if he remained in office. So once again Avedik was removed from the Patriarchate in the Polly-put-the kettle-on-Sukie-take-it-off-again world of the Ottoman Empire. The Patriarch was exiled but was snatched and sent to France, just in case he should re-claim his throne.

    A letter from the Chancellor of France, Pontchartrain, to Father Hyacinthe, Custodian of the Capuchins in Constantinople, approves the abduction :
Versailles, 5th May 1706

It is fortunate that the Armenian Catholics have been able to procure the dismissal of the Patriarch of Constantinople, but this dismissal must be maintained; and you are quite right to apprehend intrigues till he has been sent into exile and another put in his place…

    On 25th February 1706 Avedik had been deposed for the third time. At this juncture the captain of a ship hired to take Patriarch Avedik from Tenedos where he had been detained, was bribed by the Marquis de Ferriol to take the prisoner on to Cyprus. At Scio he was handed over to the French Vice-Consul and put on  French ship bound for Messina, then under Spanish sovereignty. As  The Most Christian King Louis XIV had obligingly thrown into his prisons several people of whom The Most Catholic King Philip V of Spain did not approve, he  thought it best that the Spanish Inquisition should take custody of Avedik.

   Pontchartrain wrote to the French Vice-Consul in Messina M.Soulier :

Marly, June 30th 1706

You inform me of the arrival at Messina of a ship in which M. de Ferriol embarked the deposed Patriarch of the Armenians, directing you to hand him over to the Inquisitor … His Majesty approves what has been decided upon. The patriarch deserves harsher treatment, seeing the persecution he has excited towards the Catholic Armenians. But it is to be feared that the Grand Seigneur will not approve of his subjects being treated thus; you must at all events, say nothing about this matter.

     The Grand Seigneur, as Pontchartrain surmised, certainly did not take kindly to the kindnapping and abduction of one of the Sultan’s rayah ( cattle), but he could not prove it. Pontchartrain penned a letter to M. Montmort, Intendant of the galleys at Marseilles:

                                                                          Marly, July 28th 1706

I have received letters from M. de Ferriol informing of the changes that have taken place in Constantinople; the Patriarch of the Armenians, of whom he speaks, has arrived at Messina, and has been confined in the prison of the Inquisition. I shall take orders of the king as to what is to be done.

        And a further letter to from Pontchartrain to the Marquis de Bedmar the Spanish Minister:

Versailles, August 4th 1706
I learn through M. de Ferriol, the Ambassador of the King at Constantinople, that he, having found means to cause the Patriarch of the Armenians, called Avedik, to be deposed and exiled, in order to avoid his re-establishment had him seized on his way to exile, and ordered the captain, if unable to bring him to France, to leave him in Sicily and have him confined in the prisons of the Inquisition. I learn that the captain was obliged to adopt the latter course… His Majesty has commanded me to write to your Excellency that it is of greatest importance that this unfortunate patriarch should be detained in the prison, where he is so closely watched as not to be able to write, because of the daring committed by M. de Ferriol might lead to remonstrances on the part of the (Supreme) Porte, and it would be difficult to avoid sending him back to Constantinople, where the authorities would feel themselves bound to re-establish him, which would be the ruin of all Armenian Catholics. M. de Ferriol, and all the missionaries declare that he is the most ungodly,the most designing, and the man most to be feared in all the world.

    Apparently, when news reached the Grand Vizier of the kidnapping he insisted that the Marquis should hand over the Patriarch, and failing that he would have the Father Superior of the Jesuits in Constantinople arrested. The Marquis replied that he knew nothing of the affair. The Father Superior of the Jesuits kept his freedom.

     But the lying, the deceit, the deception and the intrigue continued. On 15th September, Pontchartrain wrote a second letter to the Marquis de Bedmar:   
The King is anxious for your reply, because he must take measures to avoid the character of his ambassador being compromised. The Patriarch must be forced to write that, having been exiled several times and fearing for his life, he obliged the captain to take him to a place of safety, and that on his way he touched at Sicily. This declaration ought to be written in his (Avedik’s) own hand and in Armenian.

     Pontchartrain began to panic and puts forward to the Marquis plans to create rumours that Avedik has died. Then he is to be sent to Mont St. Michel, but must be told he is going to Versailles. Meanwhile back in Constantinople a certain Sari had replaced Avedik, but in order to save his head had embraced Islam. The Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem had been exiled and forty of his court had been sent to the galleys.  The Grand Vizier refused to swallow the lies of the Marquis and demanded Avedik (habeas corpus!) Avedik in the meantime had expressed a wish to become a Catholic.

    Armenian Uniates were still being persecuted in the Ottoman Empire even after Avedik was out of the country, so it seemed to the King of France that he was not the sole persecutor of Catholics. Avedik’s attempt to become a Catholic was severely hampered as  he only spoke Armenian and Turkish and so no one at Mont St. Michel could hear his confession.

    His Most Christian Majesty wondered who had given the Marquis such bad advice in the first place and seemed to regret having been party to the abduction.   He commands the Marquis to bring the Avedik affair to an end as he is worried about his spiritual  state and he is not one of the king’s subjects and has committed no crime against his  majesty. Louis XIV was alarmed to hear that the government of the Ottoman Empire were searching for the missing patriarch and one of the patriarch’s servants had arrived in Marseilles and had been promptly placed in solitary confinement the hospital for galley slaves! Cardinal de Tremonille had been told by the Holy Office of the Inquisition to make sure Avedik was under close arrest. But not only was an Armenian servant found in Marseilles, there were other Armenians searching in Messina and Malta.

    Patriarch Avedik was then transported to the Bastille, where he was visited by the Abbé Renaudot, an Orientalist, who drew up a plan to save the face of France or of Louis XIV. It was this:
  1. Detain Avedik by force and deny his presence in France.
  2. Win him over by kindness, give him a pension and persuade him to stay in France.
  3. Send him to Rome and place him in the hands of the Pope.
  4. Send him to Persia.
  5. Send him straight back to Constantinople.

  The Abbé suggested it would be diplomatic to draw up a document whereby the King of France would give the impression he had been made aware of the outrage against the patriarch which was a violation of the law of nations and  because of the good relations which had existed  during the reigns of various French monarchs and the Sublime Porte the perpetrators of this crime against an Ottoman subject should be found and punished. It was suggested that the English might be blamed!

Patriarch Avedik of the Armenians of Constantinople  converted to Catholicism. He never got to visit the Pope in Rome. He died,so it is said, of too much brandy:  a useful but possibly false rumour. He was buried with the rites of the Latin Church in the church of St. Sulpice in Paris. His servant, Chachadur, who had been arrested in Marseilles while searching for his master, was packed off to Martinique on the death of Avedik. He was provided with a pension and the authorities were given instructions to convert him and find him a wife !

It is not on record as to what the Sublime Porte thought of the admission that the patriarch had in fact been in France; neither is it known who was The Man in the Iron Mask, if there ever was such an historical figure, but knowing the shenanigans of the Marquis de Ferriol, one would not put it past him to create one !

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