The St’Helen Chapel: where gold and mysticism stay together

cappella di sant'elenaThere are many places in Rome rich of mystical and religious atmosphere, where mainly a Christian man could find the right location where pray and get in touch with the real sense of the religion. But the Chapel of St’Helen, the Costantino’s Mother, represents a special place for its relics and fot its history.

First of all, I shortly speak about Helen, a woman who strongly embraced the Christian religion. According to the tradition, she decided to go in the Holy Land, in Palestine, in order to find one of the central relic of the Christianity: the Truth Cross, where Jesus Christ died. She was a clever and proud woman, and when she met a man who knew the exact place of the Cross, she asked him where it is. But the poor and old man didn’t want to answer to that foreign person. This is the reason why she inflicted pain to him, until he decided to count everything. In this way St’Helen found the famous “Golgota”, the hill where Jesus Christ basilica santa croce in gerusalemmeand the two thiefs were murdered. But the story doesn’t end here, because she founds three crosses! What could be the real One? Helen imagined a ploy and ordered to bring there a dead body. It was touched by pieces of the three cross, and when it got in touch with a wooden splinter of the Real and Truth Cross, it resuscitated. So, Helen decided to bring in Rome that piece of Cross…and this is the reason why the basilica that contains it, built during the first period of the IV century, is named “Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme” (The Basilica of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem).

golgota groundToday we could admire that relics close to other important proofs of the sanctity of the Chstianity: inside the Chapel of St’Helen there’s also the ground of the Golgota that was brought in Rome from Helen.

But what we could see inside the chapel i salso its fantastic mosaic decoration. Try to take a glance just above you, and you will look something incredible and fine gilded background, where coloured tiles form the holy face of Jesus Christ, surrounded and surmounted by angels. It was realized during the XVI century, mosaico cappella sant elenawhen the basilica was totally restored. Imagine how it is special for the Christianity! Of course, there are other pieces of the Holy Cross in Rome and in the world. They usually belonged to a period, the Middle Ages, where were created false relics in order to gain something, especially money.

But that wooden splinter symbolizes St Helen’s, the mother of the man who change the history allowing to the Christian people to come out from the shadows to speak the language of Jesus.

 

Pasquino: the statue which loves talk very much…

Statue Parlanti Roma - PasquinoWhen you stay in Piazza Navona you should go to the narrow street along the great palace which hosts the Brazilian Embassy. Go down that street until the final part of the huge building, and turn your eyes to the left: just above a basament you will find a not well preserved marble statue, with some little paper attached in its surface.
They are the words of the most famous “statua parlante” (talking staue), in Rome: its name is Pasquino

What is a “statua parlante”?

It’s a statue in which, over the centuries, were attached papers with satirical writings, mainly used against powerful men or women.
Bankers, Popes, Senators and other important people in Rome were put under the fire of that writings.

Why did they attache here? What is this statue?

It was discover at the final part of the XV century, during some excavations occured in that area to build a palace for a powerful cardinal: Oliviero Carafa.
Carafa family started to be very important in Rome, and this is the reason why a member of the family became Pope during the XVI with the name of Paolo IV.
Statue Parlanti Roma - PasquinoThe archeologists think that this sculpted group represents Patroclo and Menelao, two characters of the Iliade, the Homer’s epic poem.
You should know how in that period many schools stood in the area, and probably this is the origin of the legend of the “statua parlante”. Some nights strange papers started to appear above the face or the bust of the statue… but Oliviero Carafa, who was a clever man, knew that the Pasquino was very famous and popular in Rome, mainly in the poor part of the population.
For this reason he didnt’ destroy it and used it in a particular way. In fact, the cardinal decided to organize a sort of literary challenge: the students of the nearest school had to write whatever they want (histories, poems etc.) and the winner could have the privilege to see his work attached on the surface of the Pasquino!
So, the statue bacame more famous, while the satirical writings named “Pasquinate”, continue to “embellish” it. This is the origin of a real icon of Rome: it belongs to the Romans, that people who can’t stay in high social classes. That people who decided to use their voice in a very particularly way.
But there’s just a last question.

Why has Pasquino this name?

There’s a legend which claims how the student of a school not so far from the basament of the statue, had a laugh to a teacher. He probably had some phisical problem and for this reason he looks like the not well preserved sculpted group. “Pasquino” was a sort of insult…and the insults became the main peculiarity of this statue, the first “statua parlante” in the city (in Rome there are other five ones).

The “Pulcino della Minerva”: an elephant in the City Centre

Piazza della Minerva a Roma e il Pulcino del BerniniUsually Rome conceals hidden treasures which aren’t so easy to see. But there are also other monuments or little art masterpieces that everyone can look. For example, very close to the Pantheon, the famous ancient Roman temple changed in a Basilica, there’s a tasteful obelisk which surmounts an…elephant!
This is the history of the “Pulcino della Minerva”, that we could translate in English like “Minerva’s chick”.

Where is it?

We stay in Piazza della Minerva, a little square surrounded by a great and graceful Basilica, named Santa Maria della Minerva, a famous hotel and other two palaces.
In order to understand the history of that crazy sculpted group set just in the centre of this square, I’m to explain something about the palace which stands just next to the Basilica.
It was one of the headquartes of the Holy Inquisition, the sacred tribunal of the Christian Church that was born during the XVI century.
The main purpose of the Inquisition was to change and “improve” the mistakes in the faith of the heretic people. Sometimes this institution used to tortured that men and women who didn’t want to change their way to believe in God.
Piazza_della_Minerva_con_il_Pulcino_e_il_Pantheon_2880_banThe palace was erected during the XIII Century for the Dominican order and in the XVI century was chosen like the place in which had to take place the trials against the heretics. Also Galileo Galilei got in it, forswearing what he claimed about the Universe… Moreover, according to the Christian theology, there was an aspect that leads the Inquisition deeds: the Knowledge. So, during the XVII century, when the Pope Innocenzo X decided to restore the square, embellishing Rome and his city centre, he called one of the best artist in that period: Bernini.

The Pope commissioned to the great master of art something which could underline how the Knowledge, mainly in that place, could lead the Church. And Bernini projected this graceful and brilliant sculpted group. The dynamic and wonderful Elephant, with the strong trunk moving by the wind, represents the Mind, while the obelisk symbolizes the Knowledge. The famous Egyptian artifact was brought to light after some excavations made in that area: it represented one of the decorations of the ancient Temple of Iside, one of the goddesses in Egypt, which stood there during the Roman Empire.

Pulcin_della_Minerva_2006_n2_banBernini took his inspiration by an arcane book, very famous in Rome, named “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili”, which translates as “Polifilo’s Dream”. In one of his dreams, Polifilo saw an elephant with an obelisck, claiming: “We need to a strong mind for support the burden of the Knwoledge”. And Bernini managed to change the dream in reality, using marble and rocks.

Bernini was used to thinking about new escamotages for his creations…but we are quite at the end of the history. Ther’s just a question. Why is the name so strange? If we look the statue maybe you could think that it is a bit heavy, mainly the elephant dressed with this caparison that looks like a curtain. Why did Bernini choose it? Because the artist had many troubles with the Pope and his way to understand and live the art. Bernini in fact wanted to insert between the elephant’s paws simply an opens space. He desidered to create a sort of feeling of lightness…but the Pope denied it and Bernini changed his project. The name takes his origin from the word “Porcino”, that means a sort of insult, which develop over the centuries in the modern “Pulcino”.