A Decade of Turbulence

The Pontifical Zouaves

Papal Power Threatened by Italian Republicanism

Canadian volunteer, régiment des Zouaves pontificaux, 1868-1870

Caption: Canadian volunteer, régiment des Zouaves pontificaux, 1868-1870

In 1860 the French-Canadian writer Arthur Buies volunteered to serve in Garibaldi's army. This was an extraordinary act, since many of Buies's compatriots enlisted in the opposing camp. In the early 1860s some devout Catholic French Canadians went to Italy to enlist in the pontifical army. The Pontifical States, with Rome as their capital, held the centre of the country and fought against the unification of Italy by the supporters of Piedmont and Garibaldi. The most fervent Catholics - the ultramontane - considered that the loss of Pope Pius IX's temporal power over his states would constitute a sacrilege. The pontifical army included a corps specially formed in 1860 for volunteers from various Catholic countries, particularly France and Belgium: the Pontifical Zouave Regiment. In November 1867 the Bishop of Montreal, Monseigneur Ignace Bourget, launched an appeal for volunteers to go and defend the Pope. The idea was taken up by other prelates and was received enthusiastically across Quebec.