Vanity Project

I tried to avoid the obvious locations when I last visited Rome; what would I gain from seeing the Coliseum once more, or ambling through the Forum and Imperial ruins for the third time in my life? There were two particular exceptions to this; the Musei Vaticani was one, for how could a few hours possibly reveal all of the wonders there?  St Peter’s Basilica was the other.  Despite my atheism the Catholic Church had got my attention.  The museum contents are of course full of what were once private collections of the popes, but from its design and construction throughout the 16th Century the church was a very public display; a display of wealth, power, and influence.  Remember that the popes of this period had a powerful military at their disposal too. Which is why many of the great artists of the period were called upon to design and build what would be the world’s largest church on the supposed site of St Peter’s burial.  (Incidentally this doesn’t make it the most important; Rome’s cathedral is actually the older Archbasilica of St John Lateran which is a few kilometres away from the Vatican.)  Michelangelo contributed a design for the church, and in particular its famous dome that dominates the city and his Pietá sculpture.
Pieta, Michelangelo
Bernini of course gave us the great welcoming arms of the colonnade that encircles St Peter’s Square and the magnificent bronze baldacchino at the heart of the church.  The Chair of St Peter, a wooden relic thought to have been the saint’s seat as the first bishop of the city, is encased in another of his confections. Bramante, Raphael, Giacomo della Porta, Sangallo and more worked on designs during the century and the great facade was added by Carlo Madermo.  Then there are the numerous artisans who added the polychromatic marble, the dramatic and imposing statuary and the gilt ceiling details. Now if you look carefully at the last image in the gallery above you’ll see two separate pieces of symbolism.  The keys in the lower half are of course associated with St Peter who holds the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  The upper symbol is a peculiar piece of headgear worn by popes for centuries and is usually combined with the keys as an overall symbol of the papacy.  This headgear or papal tiara is properly known as the triregnum, comprising as it does of three crowns.  Three!  Though there are multiple crowns in the Queen’s jewels neither she nor any of there predecessors would wear them all at once.  Combined with the keys there is an underlying threat that you’d better comply with the authority of the Pope. There was little chance you might forget it either… Some years ago I undertook a development project in a Tanzanian village called Mahida.  The poverty was striking, and the two main features in the village, the school and the community centre, both benefitted from some repair work that we undertook.  In a clearing just outside the village centre was another structure.  Bigger, sturdier, unimaginatively designed, and completely at odds with the surroundings.  It was a catholic church.
Welcome to the jungle
Postscript:  the header image in this piece isn’t St Peter, it’s St Paul.  My own piece of vanity.
Advertisements

My Name is Nobody (Enna IV)

And so as the two floats have been escorted to the cathedral with a funeral march and choral accompaniments at 7.00pm we are ready for the procession to begin.
The robes for the oldest confraternity of SS Salvatore bear a red Maltese cross which suggests a link back to the crusades (this being the emblem of the Knights Hospitaler), but the pictures on the exterior walls of their church  suggest their presence much earlier in time.

As rewriting history goes it isn’t subtle.  The other confraternities wear similar garb but in different colour combinations, but they are all united in wearing pointed white hoods that obscure their identities.  (The exceptions being those carrying the burden of the floats who presumably need more ventilation.)

Some see the hoods as reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan (though there is no known connection) and of course the costumes long predate the Klan’s origins, but perhaps for this reason, all but one of the confraternities have the points of their hoods carefully folded over and held in place with what might be seen as an ersatz crown of thorns reducing the resemblance, though they are still very strange-looking.  Mondassian cybermen sprang to mind.

The true purpose of these hoods was originally to serve as a mark of humiliation for sinners in the early days of the inquisition, although it is also seen as a symbol of mourning, hiding the grief they feel at the death of Jesus.

And so at 7.00 the procession begins, a slow, funeral march from the Cathedral near the top of the hill, down to the cemetery which is nearly 4km away.  Those taking part are almost exclusively male (though the occasional small group of girls get to dress as nuns and walk between the two columns of mysterious figures slowly making their way through the town.

Each group has its own symbol that it parades, though for the confraternity of the Passion, a series of symbols from the crucifixion are individually carried on either side of the procession.  Borne on red velvet cushions they include nails, dice and even a heavily sedated cockerel.

Fascinating stuff, but there’s a problem, for after the brotherhood of the Passion have passed we then have  the brotherhoods of SS. Crocifisso of Pergusa, Maria SS of Valverde, SS. Sacramento, Maria SS of the Grazie, San Giuseppe, Maria SS del Rosario, confraternity Maria SS. Della Visitazione, Sacro Cuore, Spirito Santo, Maria SS Immacolata, Anime Sante del Purgatorio, Maria SS la Nuova and SS. Salvatore. Then clergy with a Cross reliquary containing fragments of the cross and the thorns of Christ under a canopy followed finally by the urn of the Dead Christ, the float bearing the Addolorata and another band as well as local dignitaries.  All in all there are some 3,000 people and it takes some time for them to complete the trip at which point they turn around and return via a different route.

It’s a point I’ll repeat in respect of some of the churches I saw in Sicily, but really sometimes less is more!

About Face

APW_6843One of the consequences of the Reformation was the loss of art in Northern Europe.  Statues were removed. (Did you spot the empty niches in this shot yesterday?) Paintings were destroyed.  Murals and frescos whitewashed over.  Carvings were vandalised.

The Lady Chapel at Ely which adjoins the Cathedral is a large an airy building; a magnificent space for worship in its own right.APW_7152_3_4Around its walls are dozens of small arches framed with intricate carving; now pale stone, but once brightly painted as this fragment demonstrates.APW_7158Within each of these arches is a small sculpture of a person; perhaps saints or other important religious figures.  It’s hard to tell though because every one of them has been attacked; their faces and heads removed with hammer and chisel.  As we in west decry the actions of Islamic State in flattening historic sites, as we were horrified by Taliban attacking statues of the Buddha, we should perhaps remember that we have been just as ignorant in our own history.APW_7150What is ironic is that some statuary was immune to the fanatic’s hammer; there are still plenty of faces adorning Ely Cathedral who have had nothing more than the weather to contend with.

APW_6864