Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The secret of the Sant'Angelo bridge.

Today I was once again passing by the Piazza di Ponte Sant'Angelo, on the Tiber bank opposite to the one of the Castel Sant'Angelo - I often stop there to admire one of the most charming sights of Rome: here the Tiber grows and slows down - on the other side of these now gentle waters is a small beach that once used to be a popular spot for Romans to go swimming. On top of this is the beautiful Renaissance castle built on a Roman mausoleum. This wonderful scenery is topped with the beautiful bridge that leads to the other bank. 


The Ponte Sant'Angelo that is often referred to by art historians as one of the most remarkable bridges in the world is rather astonishing. It is quite incredible to observe that the foundations of the bridge have been the same for almost 2000 years, since emperor Adrian had it built in front of his mausoleum, the future castle. Fine, it is an ancient bridge, one of many, so what? Many would think. Well, it is decorated with marble and classical arcades, with a great sense of harmony, redesigned by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1669 under commission of Pope Clemens IX - after it had collapsed in the 1450 jubilee for the weight of the pilgrims - it also seems to change colour during the day, but the sunset is certainly the most striking moment to admire it. Moreover, how not to notice the 10 massive statues that adorn it, they are all different and were sculpted in the 1600s by great masters of the time, among them: Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The tradition was started in 1535 when Pope Clemens VII commissioned statues of the patron saints of the city Peter and Paul to be placed at the entrance of the bridge. 


Perhaps this bridge in Rome is only one of the main attractions, but it would surely be one of the main symbols of any other European capital. This is not it, if you thought only mosaics and icons had complex iconographies or several hidden meanings here is one case that proves the untruth of this. 
This bridge has always been a sort of obliged passage for pilgrims, mostly coming from north, to pay homage to the tomb of Peter. Rome is divided by the Tiber, unlike other cities both banks of the river host important centres of power, this division has also a "spiritual" meaning - to cross the Tiber used to mean to pass from the profane side of the city to the sacred one - it was a sort of ritual purification  and the bridge symbolises this process, this communication between God and mankind, but what is the intermediary between the two? The angels! This is the meaning of the statues of angels on the bridge - which are not related to the one of St. Michael on the castle (I will soon write another article about that).


If we walk across it, from north to south, we will first see the statues of the patron saints of Rome: Peter and Paul, as a symbolic entrance to the heavenly city. While proceeding we can see that each angel has an instrument of the Passion of Christ: the Arma Christi. The first has a column, the second has a scourge, then the crown of thorns, the veil, the robe of mockery, etc. The bridge represents the Passion of Christ and it is a "spiritual" Via Crucis. Bear this in mind next time you will be walking across it!

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