To commemorate the centenary of the death of Henry James Piggott, British Methodist Minister and founder of Wesleyan Missions in Italy in 1861, Methodists were joined by Catholics, Anglicans and Waldensians in the chapel of the Cimitero acattolico (Protestant Cemetery) in Rome to hear a welcome from Pastor Mirella Manocchio, President of OPCEMI (Methodist Churches in Italy), and greetings from Mario Cignoni on behalf of the Italian Bible Society.
Henry James Piggott was born in Lowestoft, England, in 1831, the son of a former missionary to Sierra Leone. He was educated at Kingswood School and Wesley College Taunton, before attending the University of London where he obtained a first class degree in Classics. He entered the ministry of the Wesley Methodist Connexion and served in local churches in Oxford, Hastings and Hammersmith in London. He resisted the call to overseas work until challenged to respond to the new opportunities for mission to Italy following the Risorgimento.
In 1861 he and Richard Green came to Italy. Piggott initially worked in the north, and then the Veneto, founding churches in Ivrea, Intra, Cremona, Parma, Padova and La Spezia. Then in 1873 he moved the centre of his work to Rome where he remained until his death in 1917. He was superintendent of the work of Methodism in the Italy District until his “retirement” in 1903, during which time he travelled and preached throughout the country. With the demand for more ministers, as the denomination increased in numbers of members and preaching places, schools and a theological college were established.
Piggott was a great advocate for Protestant missions in Italy, writing articles in the British religious press. He also contributed to the work of biblical scholarship in Italian (he was President of the Italian Bible Society as well as its Sunday School Union). He admired the work of the great orator and founder of the Italian Free Church, Alessandro Gavazzi, former chaplain to Garibaldi (buried here in Zone 1.13,15), whose Rome base at Ponte Sant`Angelo Church came into Wesleyan Methodism in 1903 when the churches merged. It is there that the memorial tablet, formerly housed at the church in Via della Scrofa where he lived, is now displayed, recording his death in Rome on 30th November 1917 after 56 years of ministry in Italy.
During the service commemorating Pigott’s death, Rev. Jacqui Horton from The Methodist Church in Britain’s East Anglia District (Pigott’s birthplace) gave a fascinating illustrated account of his life and service before he came to Italy, culminating in Pigott’s response to a challenge for missionaries to Italy issued at a meeting in Hammersmith. The Director of the Methodist Ecumenical Office Rome and minister at the Ponte Sant`Angelo Methodist Church, Rev. Dr. Tim Macquiban, gave a short account of Pigott’s ministry in Italy, focusing on his time in Rome where he trained generations of ministers, and served as President of the Bible Revision Committee.
On a mercifully fine and sunny day, the twenty five persons who had gathered (including the British and Canadian Ambassadors to the Holy See , the President of OPCEMI and the Director of the Cemetery) went to the Piggott grave where a bible reading and prayers were shared around the graveside, concluding with the laying of flowers in his memory as the Charles Wesley hymn “Come let us join our friends above” was sung.
This great preacher and pastor, scholar and theologian, was the bedrock upon which Methodism in Italy was established and grew.