Art in Faith

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Unknown Artist. Dove of Peace. Old St Peter Basilica. 12th century (copy of 1727)

Dove of Peace

Unknown Artist

12th century (copy of 1727)

originally, Basilica Vecchio Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano (the first building, from the 4th century, not the current edifice)

Roma (Province of RomaLazio RegionITALY


The building of the “new” St Peter’s Basilica in the 16th century was one of the greatest acts of vandalism in history. Yes, the old structure was in dire need of repair… but it was one of the most ancient monuments in Christendom, dating back to the times of the undivided Church. The destruction of the old basilica marked a definitive break of the papacy with the ancient Church. There’s no other way of looking at it. When one thinks of the irreplaceable art works that were wantonly destroyed… it does makes one wonder. The great Navicella mosaic (1305-13) in the atrium was attributed to Giotto di Bondone. This giant work, commissioned by Cardinal Jacopo Stefaneschi, occupied the whole wall above the entrance arcade facing the courtyard. It depicted St Peter walking on the waters. This extraordinary work was mainly destroyed during the construction of the new St Peter’s, but fragments were preserved. Navicella means “little ship” referring to the large boat which dominated the scene, and whose sail, filled by the storm, loomed over the horizon. Such a natural representation of a seascape was known only from ancient works of art. The nave ended with an arch, which held a mosaic of Ss Constantine and Peter, who presented a model of the church to Christ. On the walls, each having 11 windows, were frescoes of various people and scenes from both the Old and New Testament.

THAT is what Pope Julius destroyed in his megalomania. The present structure is larger and more grandiose, that’s all. Shed a tear for this monument of our ancient Christian heritage lost to us. Remember, the Catholic Church of the Counter-Reformation was NOT the medieval Catholic Church (Trent was as much of a departure as Vatican II was… ponder that), which was closer to we Orthodox in mentality. Sadly, more than just artwork was lost, I’m afraid.



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