“Look Father, there goes Noah! No smoking on his ark, either!” a man running by yelled and laughed hysterically.
“I’ll see you at confession, you … just wait for your penance! You won’t be so amused!” Father Finelli screamed back. But the man didn’t hear him, the sound of the rain crashing on the stones drowned out everything.
Rome’s streets were rivers. The rain had lasted through the night and showed no signs of abating. Every sensible person was inside. But across the street from the new church of Sant'Ambrogio e Carlo al Corso, beneath the arches of the Mausoleum of Augustus, two soaked priests were pushing themselves flat against the wall, trying to keep their pipes lit in the downpour.
“This is madness!” Father Finelli shouted, “Let’s go to the ambulatory, no one will be there to humiliate us. Besides, we’ll light some incense to cover it up!”
“And risk excommunication?! No, Father … You know, we could always quit …” Father Signetti remarked.
“What?! Really? Would you really quit the Church over this? Well … I don’t know … let me think about it, Father.”
“Father Finelli! No! I mean we could quit this smoking! Father, honestly!”
“Oh … of course,” Father Finelli said in a nasaly voice and let out a horrific sneeze.
“God bless you, Father. Would like to confess to me here?” Father Signetti said with a smirk.
“Very funny, Father.”
The two priests smacked their pipes against the wall, tucked them into their cassocks and ran out again into the rain, late for Matins.
It was December 8th, 1624, and Religious were still adjusting to Pope Urban VIII’s decree prohibiting the consumption of tobacco on Church property, enforced by threat of excommunication. The good pope equated the sneezing it caused with improper sexual ecstasy.