Note: Tea’s Weird Week is back! One book project I looked into was exploring the stories of people who have claimed that they have traveled through time. That project was abandoned, but not before I wrote this chapter about alleged time travel inventor and Benedictine monk Father Pellegrino Ernetti. I’m sharing here for the first time and might follow up with stories about other so called “chrononauts”… in the future.
October 28, 1941, Venice, Italy: Pellegrino Ernetti joins the Benedictine Abbey of San Giorgio Maggiore.
The basilica and Benedictine abbey of San Giorgio Maggiore is located on an island near Venice, a short boat ride across the Grand Canal from Piazette di San Marco (Saint Mark’s Square). The main traffic back and forth between the island and the square are small boats called vaporettos.
The first church was built on San Giorgio Maggiore in 790 AD and in 982 AD the island was given to the Order of Saint Benedict. The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, a basilica of bright white marble surrounded by the blue waters of the Adriatic Sea, was built between 1566 and 1610 AD. Over the centuries, the island survived Napoleon Bonaparte and two world wars, but lack of manpower and supplies during the war years led parts of the island to fall into ruin.
Perhaps San Giorgio Maggiore’s most unusual story is that of Father Pellegrino Maria Ernetti (1925-1994), a Benedictine monk who was an expert in the Gregorian chants, a specialty of the island’s Benedictine order. He was also a prolific exorcist.
Father Ernetti had quite a claim– that he was part of a team that invented a device called the Chronovisor, which allowed the viewer to view events from history, tuning into them in the same way you would a TV channel.
Young Pellegrino Ernetti joined the monastery as a postulant on San Giorgio Maggiore shortly after he turned 16 in 1941. He fell into his daily routine– the Benedictines arose at 5am as the sun began to rise above the sea, filed into the Holy Office of Matins at 5:30, then ate breakfast in silence at 6:30 while a brother read to them, usually in Latin. Then there were classes, followed by study and prayer in the evening.
“His ear was as sharp as his mind,” German author Peter Krassa writes in his biography, Father Ernetti’s Chronovisor: The Creation and Disappearance of the World’s First Time Machine. Ernetti excelled at his studies and in particular was drawn to the study of archaic music, songs from the Western world from the tenth century B.C. to the tenth century AD. The Gregorian Chants*, which emerged in the sixth century AD, are one of the well-known examples of archaic music along with the music of ancient Greece. To understand these music traditions, Father Ernetti would study Latin, Greek, and modern European languages. He led the choir at San Giorgio to record performances of archaic music.
*[Footnote] Although Father Ernetti was not involved in the recordings, the Gregorian Chants were a commercial success with the release of Chant, a 1994 album that featured the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos in Spain. It peaked at number 3 on the Billboard chart, went double platinum in the U.S. and sold about 6 million copies worldwide. It was billed, like popular New Age music of the time (Enya and Enigma for example) as an antidote to the stress of modern life. Chant Noel: Chants for the Holiday Season (1994), Chant II (1995), and Chant III (1996) followed.
After 8 years of study, Pellegrino would become ordained as a Benedictine priest on August 14, 1949. He would go on to write a 12-volume Trattaro Generale di Canto Gregoriano (“General Treatise on Gregorian Chant”), published between 1958-64, as well as Parola, Musica, Ritmo (“Words, Music, Rhythm”).
In addition to music study and teaching, Father Ernetti was a working exorcist. According to Krassa’s book, Father Ernetti’s reputation “had spread far and wide through Italy,” and he performed thousands of exorcisms over the decades, most making the pilgrimage to San Giorgio where they would get relief from demons in Father Ernetti’s cell. He was so effective at his job, Krassa writes, that “in the mid-1970s, the Conference of Bishops in Rome had even commissioned him– perhaps commanded is a better word– to set his techniques down on paper in the form of a set of guidelines.” Father Ernetti complied, writing a book titled La Catechesi di Satana (Satan’s Catechism).
The guide details the progression of demonic home invasion– chairs pushed by an invisible force, dishes flying through the air and smashing into a wall, and windows opening on their own, for example. Next the victim would begin to hear voices in their head, would be unable to think clearly, lose smell and taste, then speak in tongues or obscenities, and exhibit unusual strength. These signs would point to the need for a professional like Father Ernetti to perform an exorcism, which he continued to carry out until the final days of his life. He ignored criticisms that exorcisms were many times being performed on people who had physical or mental conditions, not demons. Krassa notes:
“It is tempting to speculate that, in every one of his exorcisms, Ernetti was really attempting to drive out of himself a single, huge demon– the demon that caused him to make up fibs about a Chronovisor.”
September 15, 1952: Father Ernetti hears a voice from beyond.
Around the same time that he wrapped his definite work on chants, starting in the 1960s, Father Ernetti began telling people a strange story. Father Ernetti says that in 1952 he was sent to Milan to work in the Electroacoustics Laboratory of the Catholic University with Father Agostino Gemelli.
On September 15, 1952, Father Ernetti says he was working with Father Gemelli on a recording of Gregorian chants, but the tape recorder mic kept malfunctioning. Frustrated, Father Gemelli, turned his head up and gestured to the sky, asking for his deceased father for help.
A disembodied voice replied from the tape recorder that said “of course I shall help you. I’m always with you.” The voice shocked Father Gemelli. He recognized it and shook and broke into a sweat, according to Father Ernetti. He thought it might be the Devil himself. But then the voice reassured him.
“But, Zucchini, it is clear, don’t you know it is I?” The voice said, using Father Gemelli’s childhood nickname.
Fathers Ernetti and Gemelli went to report their discovery directly to Pope Pius XII in Rome. The Pope allegedly put his hand on Father Gemelli’s shoulder and reassured him that he “really need not worry about this.” He explained the recording machine had been objective and that the communication was just scientific fact. In fact, the Holy See said, the discovery could be “a cornerstone for building scientific studies which will strengthen people’s faith in the hereafter.”
Father Ernetti returned to Venice the following year, 1953, and remained there the rest of his life. He had a good motivation to stay on San Giorgio Maggiore– Count Vittorio Cini had set up the Giorgio Cini Foundation, named after his deceased son. The Foundation funded the Institute for Cultural Collaboration on San Giorgio Maggiore, a research institute where Father Ernetti could pursue his interests of archaic music. He taught at the institute as well as across the Grand Canal at the Benedetto Marcello Conservatory of Music near Saint Mark’s Square.
The story of Father Ernetti and the Chronovisor began to unwind in the 1960s after a chance encounter with Father François Brune (1931-2019), a theologian and author with an interest in parapsychology who taught at the Sorbonne in Paris. Father Brune had visited San Giorgio Maggiore and ran into Father Ernetti while waiting for a vaporetto to cross the Grand Canal. They struck up a conversation and Father Ernetti intrigued Father Brune with a story about an invention he claimed he had helped create.
The next day Father Brune visited Father Ernetti to talk to him further in his humble monastic cell, which measured about 12 feet by 12 feet. The majority of the space in Father Ernetti’s quarters was taken up by a desk piled high with papers, books in many languages, and sheet music as well as a rickety old typewriter and a small brass cross, the symbol of the Benedictine order.
It was here that Father Ernetti weaved a story about the invention of the Chronovisor, which featured an all-star team. Enrico Fermi, the Italian physicist who invented the first nuclear reactor, was involved in the schematics. So was Wernher von Braun, the Nazi rocket scientist who worked on space technology for America after the war under Operation Paperclip. Other top scientists from around the world were among those who worked on the invention, Father Ernetti said, but refused to give more names.
Once this team had assembled the Chronovisor, Father Ernetti explained they were able to tune into the past and view it through something similar to a television screen. They watched a speech by Benito Mussolini, then dialed it back further and further, seeing a speech by Napoleon Bonaparte, then observed a marketplace in ancient Rome during the time of Emperor Trajan (98-117 AD) and Cicero (106-43 BC) addressing the Roman Senate. Father Ernetti said their biggest accomplishment happened in January 1956, when Team Chronovisor was able to tune into the Last Supper and then watch the Crucifixion of Christ.
Here at last was a supposed window into the Akashic Records, the theory that all universal events from the past, present, and future exist in a mental plane that can be tapped into. In addition to events the Akashic Records record all thoughts, words, and even emotions. The theory was popularized by theosophist Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, a Russian philosopher who co-founded the Theosophical Society in 1875. She described “indestructible tablets of astral light.”
A French religious publication published a story about the Chronovisor in 1965 and the story would pop up, usually in fringe New Age, parapsychology, or UFO themed publications until Father Ernetti’s death in 1994.
1972: Father Ernetti’s Photo of Christ and Transcription of Thyestes
The dazzle of Father Ernetti’s window into time began to fade when several problems with the story unraveled. First, the person who would best be able to corroborate his story, Father Gemelli, had died in 1959 before Ernetti began telling his tale. This is a common problem for people making time travel and other incredible claims– the participants in their story are conveniently deceased. Fermi had died in 1954. Wernher von Braun lived to 1977 (and made no mention of a Chronovisor). There was no one to back the story up.
In 1972, Father Ernetti offered a poor hoax as a piece of evidence. He showed off a picture that he claimed came from the Chronovisor, a picture of Christ’s face as he hung on the cross on Calvary. The image of was printed in a weekly newspaper called La Domencia del Corriere in their May 2, 1972, edition, and again in the Giornale dei Misteri (a magazine devoted to paranormal subjects) in August 1972. A reader of the latter publication quickly identified the image and sent its source in to the editors– a souvenir photograph that cost 100 lira available in the gift shop of the Sanctuaire de l’Amour Miséricordieux (Sanctuary of Merciful Love) in the town of Collevalenza. The photo was a detail of a wooden carving of Christ on the cross by Spanish sculptor Cullot Valera. Father Ernetti had simply reversed the image and distorted it, making it slightly blurry.
Father Ernetti claimed that using the Chronovisor, he was able to see the lost Greek play Thyestes and had transcribed part of it. This version of Thyestes was the one written by poet and playwright Quintus Ennius and performed in Rome shortly before he died in 169 BC. In short, the play is about how Thyestes’s brother, Atreus, tricked him into eating his own children at a banquet.
When Father Ernetti finally showed a “fragment” of the play he had written, it was quickly called into question by an expert’s eye. Dr. Katherine Owen Eldred, a PhD in Classics from Princeton, found that a number of the Latin words in the text did not appear until some 250 years later. Other words were misplaced or misused.
Father Ernetti also had squirrely behavior when asked to speak or be interviewed about the Chronovisor.
It started when Professor Giuseppe Marasca wrote to Father Ernetti, which led to phone calls and an in-person meeting. Marasca introduced Father Ernetti to Count Lorenzo Mancini-Spinucci, founder of the Society of Psychophonia and organizer of a paranormal phenomenon conference in Udine, a city in Northeastern Italy. They also brought Annuziato Grandi, director of Giorgio Grandi Foundation, into the loop and the three men approached Father Ernetti with an invitation to speak on the Chronovisor at an October 1979 conference in the Italian city of Fermo. Father Ernetti accepted, then threatened to back out if all of the speakers were not “professionals,” refusing to speak alongside “parapsychologists.” After much back and forth, he cancelled.
A likely reason is that Father Ernetti’s superiors caught wind of his Chronovisor story and told him to knock it off.
From Krassa’s biography:
“Brune believes we can be sure that, at a certain date– the Parisian father doesn’t know when– Ernetti was strictly forbidden, on his oath of obedience, to talk any longer about the chronovisor. At this point, says Brune, the Venetian priest would have found himself on shaky ground.”
In speaking to Ernetti in the year before he died, Father Brune found that he was still spinning his story, though. He told Brune that American and Russian intelligence agencies had sent spies to trail him and that he wasn’t able to leave the monastery without a bodyguard escort.
Ernetti also had a new explanation for his Christ photo for Brune. He said that a mystical Spanish nun had been consumed by the same vision of Christ and that she had shared this vision and gave instructions to the sculptor who had created the art. This mysterious Spanish nun moved to Italy where Father Ernetti had gotten to know her, so his convoluted spin was that they had shared the same vision and that although his photo was of a sculpture, it was a representation of the reality he had seen. The Spanish nun was not able to corroborate the story as she was deceased.
The chronovisor, Ernetti told Brune, was still being stored somewhere deep within the Vatican vaults.
1994: Father Ernetti’s death bed confession
Father Brune saw Ernetti for one more interview Nov. 1, 1993, five months before he died. He claimed that just a couple months earlier, Sept. 30, 1993, he responded to a Vatican invite with a couple other surviving members of the Chronovisor team, where he led a presentation to four Cardinals and an international committee of scientists.
When New Paradigm Books began working on an English translation of Peter Krassa’s book on Father Ernetti, they made inquiries in Italy to see if they could uncover any further information on the mysterious monk. They did receive a letter from someone claiming that their father was a distant relative to Father Ernetti but was close. This person called him “Uncle Pellegrino,” and agreed to share an account of Father Ernetti’s last days on the condition of anonymity.
After getting a call that his “uncle” was near death, this person visited Father Ernetti in his cell. On his deathbed, Father Ernetti admitted to wrestling with something that had spun out of control over the decades into a mortal sin– his lies about the Chronovisor. He said that he hadn’t seen Thyestes on the Chronovisor, but he had experienced it in a past life. He admitted he had hoaxed the photo of Christ. He said he had built the Chronovisor with the help of an assistant, but that they were not able to get it to work.
“Once it almost worked,” Father Ernetti said, some of his last words. It is one of the first stories of someone who claimed to have actually built a machine that was able to traverse time and space. But it certainly wasn’t the last.
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My latest books are:
Brady Street Pharmacy: Stories and Sketches (2021, Vegetarian Alcoholic Press)
American Madness: The Story of the Phantom Patriot and How Conspiracy Theories Hijacked American Consciousness (2020, Feral House)