It’s surely right that the new emergency field hospital opened in London in the Excel Centre has been called “Nightingale”. Florence Nightingale is just about the most recognisable name in British medical history.
“Nightingale” evokes a beautiful songbird, but Florence very nearly didn’t bear that surname at all. Her father’s family name had been “Shore”, but he changed it when he became heir to a relation who wished the “Nightingale” link to continue. Her then unusual Christian name was given her because she was born in Florence – in May 1820 – while her parents were on the Grand Tour of Europe.
Florence benefitted from a well-to-do background: but there were other aspects of her life that were formative (according to her most recent biographer, Mark Bostridge). Her parents believed in education for women. Her religious beliefs were strong and drove her on – she considered becoming an Anglican nun, or Lutheran deaconess. Nursing attracted her because she longed to have something meaningful to do – though she had been inclined to nurse “sick” dolls as a child, and once bound up a puppy’s injured paw.
The Crimean war gave Florence the opportunity to launch her nursing career: she took both Anglican and Catholic nursing nuns with her to Scutari. The French Sisters of Charity had been the original pioneers of nursing on the battlefield. She entered into legend as “the Lady with the Lamp” but her lasting achievement was to reform, even revolutionise, the nursing profession. Nurses had previously had low status – Dickens’s drunken, squalid Sarah Gamp was seen as typical – until Miss Nightingale insisted on standards of medical care, hygiene and education.
Recently, the Scots-Caribbean nurse Mary Seacole had been upheld as a more diverse and multicultural Crimean figure than the “white and privileged” Florence. Mrs Seacole had indeed been unfairly forgotten and she was a pioneering and heroic figure – especially in nursing cholera victims – and deservedly now has her own statue at St Thomas’s Hospital London. Both were surely remarkable women.
Nightingale was also an accomplished mathematician, popularised the “pie chart”, and wrote a novel. Her centenary will be marked next month so it’s fitting that the special pandemic hospital should be named for her now.
In these times when museums are closed, some of the world’s finest offer a “virtual” online tour of their treasures. The Vatican museum, at museumvaticani.va is among them
There are marvellous glimpses, through this electronic portal, of the more than 20 museums within the Vatican complex. The facility offers the luxury of viewing some of this art without having to queue with throngs of visitors – and the video can light the paintings and sculptures brilliantly – but there are limitations. The cameras pan across the sumptuous Borgia apartments, but the viewer has no control over the shots. And the choices of masterpieces must be only a tiny fraction of what is available.
But there are some astounding pieces of art: most notably, for me, Van Gogh’s Pieta (in the “Contemporary Art” collection), which he painted shortly before he died; Matisse’s striking sketch La Vierge à l’Enfant, which was a preparatory drawing for his work for the chapel at Venice, and Marc Chagall’s vivid Le Christ et le Peintre. These works have all been donated to the Vatican.
Father Dominic Robinson SJ delivered an uplifting BBC radio Sunday Worship on Palm Sunday from the beautiful Farm Street Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. It couldn’t be the full Mass and Communion, of course – he was in the church alone.
But I have a quibble with the updating of the Hail Mary by the reader, Dr Theodora Hawksley, where “Thou” and “Thy” were altered to “you”. These may be antiquated forms of address, but we still understand “blessed art thou amongst women”. And it has a rhythm and cadence. We do not rewrite Shakespeare, altering his sonnet “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” by replacing “thee” with “you”. We respect the text. Do likewise with the rhythm of prayers that have lasted for centuries.
Follow Mary Kenny on Twitter: @MaryKenny4
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