A Study in Scarlet

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If you key “images Cardinal” into your search engine you will be visually bombarded by a beautiful barrage of scarlet, vermilion and crimson good enough to print, cut out and keep. Interestingly, pictures of cute American birds materialise first, seguing into a surreal juxtaposition of images avian and clerical. It’s the venerable Princes of the Church that intrigue me more: that magnificent title which combines the temporal and spiritual and which evokes the promise of a world of immense exoticism and arcane power. Also, being synaesthetic, I find just pronouncing the word of power is both satisfying and fun – “cardinal” conjures up a great blood red splash of rustling crackling coruscating satin and silk.

Wonderful names, too: the historic Cardinals Fleury (a great lover of cats); and Mazarin, the uncle – or maybe father – of the beautiful “Mazarinettes” who so entranced the young Sun King. Was Mazarin the lover of Louis XIV’s mother, as once widely rumoured? We remember Cardinal Richelieu, familiar to readers of “The Three Musketeers”; Cardinal Spellman, intimate of the Kennedy’s; and Cardinal Rohan who longed for the favour of Marie Antoinette and precipitated the Diamond Necklace Scandal which did so much to undermine the French monarchy and hasten the Revolution. Rohan’s arrest in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles while robed incarnadine for Mass, is one of the great images of eighteenth century France. The saintly English prelates Newman (author of the so-called Fragrance Prayer) and Manning altered the face of the Victorian Church; Thomas Barham set the Cardinal Archbishop to rhyme in The Jackdaw of Rheims; while in our own time we have seen the media resound to the evocative and beguiling names of their eminences Biffi, Casserole, Martini and Sin.

Coming from Leicester I grew up with the story of Cardinal Wolsey’s demise in that fair city – “Father Abbot I come to lay my bones among you”. He died here providentially and peacefully before he could reach London and a hanging trial for treason. (A butcher’s son from Ipswich he had set himself up as richer and mightier than the King, and was once said to have infected Henry VIII with syphilis by whispering in his ear). He lies in what is now Abbey Park in the shadow of the old knitwear factory, the Wolsey Works, from which he still stares forth, portrayed on a magnificent plaque. His scarlet biretta’d head looks over the roofs towards his tombstone among the old abbey ruins, the ducks and boating lake. When I was 8 or 9 he was my favourite figure in games of “dressing up” – simple enough to do in an old red dressing gown and hat cut down from a fez. I carried in my hands (gloved and bejewelled) an orange stuck with cloves which my mother assured me was the very essence of the man.

Today I should recommend a bottle of Heeley’s fragrance Cardinal to complete the picture. Many perfumers have experimented with incense, but James Heeley subtly portrays the man enveloped in the fragrance, a warm breathing human presence in red soutane and blue smoke, rather than an impersonal and impassive cathedral interior. So Cardinal is fresh and warm, rather than redolent of candles, woodwork and venerable cold stone. Cardinal has the delicacy and crispness of rochet lace and fine clean linen, pristine watered silk and taffeta scented with fumes of finest frankincense. Aldehydes and orange exult and exalt in the top notes, surging into woody, spicy resinous folds. Cardinal is the odour of sanctity, suave and uplifting: but, suitably for the 21st century, it welcomes women into the Church too, and the accent is on youthful fervour and exuberance rather than sombre venerability.

Image from famous-artists.net

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