Friday, November 14, 2008

Mary's Obelisk

As you know, I am filling in for our esteemed bloggmistress while she is touring Roma, the Eternal City, with her family. You may already know that Chesterton wrote a book about his visit there - it is called The Resurrection of Rome and can be found in CW21. There are a number of very interesting bits to that book - which I have no time to explore today - but there is one to which I would like to call your attention. I don't know if she has this on her itinerary, but if I ever get to Roma, it will be something I am planning on seeing...

Mary’s Obelisk

The obelisk of the Piazza del Popolo is in itself very ancient and unique, having been raised in adoration of the Egyptian Sun-God, Ra, in the time of Rameses the Third, famous as the Pharaoh who consented to the exodus of Moses and the Israelites. Being taken to Rome, it was rededicated to Apollo, the Sun-God of the Latins, if I remember right, by the Emperor Augustus. Now this also stands surmounted by a cross and in front of a Christian Church, the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo; and bearing a Latin inscription pertinent and to our purpose. I find this inscription somewhat quaintly translated, in an excellent little guide-book written for Englishmen, but I should imagine by Italians; and Italians unaware of some nuances of our national speech. “Before the sanctuary of the one, in whose womb the Sun of Justice was born under the reign of Augustus, I arise more cheerful and with more dignity.”
There is something pleasing in the thought of a hoary and primeval Egyptian monolith announcing that it rises more cheerful and with more dignity. It is as if it were all the better for a sea voyage, and had been quite bright at breakfast on the following day. But the announcement, however we translate it, is profoundly true. And it is the truth most necessary to grasp if we are to begin to understand the part played by Rome in history. It is not only a joke about being bright at breakfast; it is a very serious fact that this stone, once dedicated to two sungods, now stands in a light that is brighter than twenty suns. If the jest in any way obscures it I will try my hand here at rendering what I imagine it to mean, in parallel English phrases; it would have to read something like this: “Before her shrine of whose body was born the very Sun of Justice, in the Empire of Augustus, more joyfully and with a nobler dignity I arise.”
[GKC The Resurrection of Rome, CW21:356-357]

Some years ago I found a book called The Eternal City. It was written by Father Clement, S.D.S. in 1925, and is a collection of pictures and descriptions of Roma, published in the Jubilee Year – about four years before the Chestertons spent three months there. It is distinctly possible that it was this book to which Chesterton refers in The Resurrection of Rome, when he quotes the inscription on the obelisk in the Piazza of Santa Maria del Populo.

Above: the obelisk in the Piazza del Popolo.

The Piazza del Popolo

Our ancestors entered Rome by the Piazza del Populo. This fine spacious Piazza with its huge obelisk was “a poetical preface to Rome” for the newcomers.
This piazza has preserved its appearance unchanged since the 16th century. The three fountains which animate and decorate it date from the same period. The one on the western side shows Neptune between two Tritons. On the eastern side, the statue of Roma rests between the figures of the Tiber and the Anio, a tributary stream which rises in Subiaco and flows into the Tiber before it reaches Rome. Leo XIII ordered the middle fountain to be adorned with four lions, from whose mouths water springs forth. In the centre of the fountain rises an obelisk from Egypt 115 feet high. This obelisk once stood before the temple of the Sun-god in Heliopolis and bears the hieroglyphic inscription of King Seti-Merenptah II 1195 B.C. and of Rameses III of the 20th dynasty of the Pharaohs, 1184 B.C. It was the first Egyptian obelisk brought to Rome. With regard to the neighbouring church, “Santa Maria del Popolo,” original intended for the glorification of the Sun-god, the inscription says: – “Before the sanctuary of the one, in whose womb the Sun of Justice was born, under the reign of Augustus, I arise more cheerful and with more dignity.”
At the Porta del Popolo, the Via Flaminia ends. This was the old pilgrim route for all those coming from the North.
In the course of centuries how many of our fellow-countrymen have arrived here fatigued, but nevertheless happy to greet the end of their journey. The gate was built by Pius IV, in 1561. The inside shows an inscription by Bernini, greeting Queen Christina of Sweden when she came to Rome after her conversion.
To the right of the gate is the Church Santa Maria del Popolo, with a plain facade, erected by Meo da Caprino, a neat cupola octagonal in shape, and a bell tower. Adjoining is a convent of Augustinian Monks.
Aided by the generous contributions of the Roman people, Pope Paschal II constructed the church Santa Maria del Popolo in 1099. The name del Popolo (of the people) has been retained, owing to the cheerful participation of the people in the construction of the church.
[Father Clement, S.D.S. The Eternal City 126-128]

PS: If someone can supply a photo (or the link to a photo) of the actual Latin inscription, please let us know. Thanks.

1 comment:

  1. The text is something like this:




    IMP . XII . COS . XI . TUIB . POT . XIV




    See the following links for a bit more info:


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