Roman sunrise was at 7:32 and Roman sunset will be at 18:16. The Ave Maria bell ought to ring at 18:30. There will be a partial eclipse of the sun at 10:59 UTC (9:59 Rome time) and the maximum in Rome 11:25 Rome time.
My maximum view today, slightly cloudy.
It is the Feast of Sts. Crispin and Crispinian, whose relics are at San Lorenzo in Panisperna about which I wrote recently in regard to Card. Sirleto.
Thank you, O Lord, for this day.
My offering to you all in this daily column today is about… columns.
This is the column at Santa Maria Maggiore set up by Paul V (Borghese +1621).
Sixtus V (+1590 Peretti) had remapped the city in a massive urban project of straightened streets and piazzas marked with obelisks and by christianizing the ancient columns of Marcus Aurelius and of Trajan. Sixtus’ goal was to present Rome as a city that was no longer pagan, but was sacred and dedicated to Christ.
Here is the obelisk at the apse of St. Mary Major, a starting point of one of the rays of the star configuration of streets to plazas that would be imitated in Paris and Washington DC.
Staying in place and turning around you see all the way down a straight shot to Piazza del Popolo. The top of its obelisk is visible.
You might remember the trident of streets that spoked out from P.za del Popolo. On the left, the Via del Babuino, center Via del Corso, right Via della Ripetta.
Paul V continued in this vein with the column of the Blessed Virgin at St. Mary Major.
Sixtus had raised four obelisks, at important places, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, P.za del Popolo and St. Peter’s Square. The column of Trajan, set up in 113 after the campaign in Dacia with Trajan on the top as “divus… a god“, near the Forum was rededicated to St. Peter.
The column of Marcus Aurelius, set up in 180 by Commodus to mark the Danube campaign, was rededicated to St. Paul.
There were other pagan columns, such as the Column of Phocas in the Forum from 608.
Sixtus had planned to take the last surviving column of the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine and set it up in front of Michelangelo’s Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli in the old baths of Diocletian, now the Piazza della Repubblica. Sixtus had a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin which is why he arranged for the “Sistine Chapel” of St. Mary Major to be the place of his burial.
Sixtus didn’t get to carry out his project. Paul V took it up. St. Mary Major was dear to him because as a young priest he had served at the Basilica. He also wanted to be buried in the chapel across from the Sistine, the Pauline Chapel that has the famous image of S.M. del Popolo, the image of Mary most important to the Romans.
So, on 23 Oct 1613, after two months of planning, and the allocation of almost 11K scudi, they started to move the massive column to its new place. It was a huge project, on the scale of the moving and raising of the obelisks, requiring a casing for the column, and a wooden causeway to move it with 60 horses. It took them until April 1614 to move it 1.5km. Carlo Maderno (buried near Borromini at the Florentine church S. Giovanni) was in charge of the restoration of the capital and for the fountain fed by Acqua Felice that was to be at the base of the column. Meanwhile, a French sculptor Guillaume Berthelot prepared the 4 meter tall statue of the Blessed Virgin in gilded bronze. It was put in place 18 July 1614. The four inscription panels were installed in June. And the Borghese eagles and dragons from the family coat of arms soon followed. Paul V granted a perpetual indulgence of three years and 40 days to anyone who venerated the statue and prayed there on their knees.
Sixtus had cleared the area behind the basilica and set out new streets. Paul continued the work in the front of the basilica and spoked streets out from it also, leading to the Suburra area, the Via Paolina, Via Urbana, the V. Gregoriana opened by Gregory XIII to St. John Lateran (now called Merulana), etc. These spoking streets were to showcase the 38 meter tall Marian column.
The opening of the area in front of the Basilica and the placement of a fountain for the good of the people in the area had been desired by the canons of the Basilica. That clearing was done with the help of “il Monsignore Presidente delle Strade” who is still commemorated around the city in the famous “no littering … no dumping” inscriptions, 67 surviving. One of them has its anniversary tomorrow. I should post it. It’s just up the street from where I write.
There were pagan columns with statues all around the ancient Empire. In the Christian era this practice was “baptized”, as it were, and pagan memorials were repurposed. They were religious and also political symbols. Think of the columns in Venice near San Marco or Trafalgar Square in London.
Paul V’s column had come from the Basilica of Maxentius which was considered to have been the Temple of Peace. There was a tradition that the temple caved in when Christ was born. Just as the column remained intact, so did the Virgin Mother of God. Once a pagan symbol, it was now a sign of the true Prince of Peace in the arms of the Virgin. The theme of peace is in the inscriptions.
VASTA COLUMNAM MOLE
QUAE STETIT DIV
PACIS PROFANA IN AEDE
IN EXQUILINUM QUINTUS
PAX UNDE VERA EST
Perhaps another day we can get into the connection of columns or pillars, in Scripture and in literature, another day.
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