More old photographs of the Meta Sudans

There are many, many old photographs of the Arch of Constantine, the Colosseum, and the now-vanished Meta Sudans, the fountain that stood outside it and was demolished by Mussolini.  A few more have come my way this week.  For most of them I am indebted to the amazing Roma Ieri Oggi site and its twitter feed @romaierioggi.

The first is from 1930, and shows an unusual view:

(I do wish he would not vandalise the photo with a watermark).

Helpfully he has zoomed in on the Meta Sudans:

Another item is from some amazing aerial photographs from ca 1926 by Walter Mittelholzer.  These may be found here.  This one shows the area that we are interested in, although sadly the Meta Sudans is but a bump:

Another photograph via @PhotoVintageFr depicts the Meta Sudans from the opposite side:

While this one shows it peeking through the Arch of Constantine:

Finally there is this one, from here.  It’s from 1850, and taken from high up in the Colosseum:

Really somebody ought to make a 3-D model of the structure as it was at this time!


St George and the Crusaders

Today is St George’s Day. April 23rd is the feast day of the Patron Saint of England, adopted as such during the crusader period.  So I thought that I would collect a few early sources connecting the crusaders and St George.  This is not comprehensive: merely whatever comes to hand.

In the Latin Gesta Francorum et aliorum Hierosolymytanorum, ch.15, written 1100-1101, St George is accompanied by St Demetrius and St Mercurius:[1]

The squadrons began to go forth from both sides and to surround our men on all sides, hurling, shooting, and wounding them. There came out from the mountains, also, countless armies with white horses, whose standards were all white. And so, when our leaders saw this army, they were entirely ignorant as to what it was, and who they were, until they recognized the aid of Christ, whose leaders were St. George, Mercurius, and Demetrius. This is to be believed, for many of our men saw it. However, when the Turks who were stationed on the side toward the sea saw that that they could hold out no longer, they set fire to the grass, so that, upon seeing it, those who were in the tents might flee.

There was celebrated Pentecost on the third day of outgoing May. Then we came to Ramlah, which through fear of the Franks the Saracens had left empty. Near it was the famous church in which rested the most precious body of St. George, since for the name of Christ he there happily received martyrdom from the treacherous pagans. There our leaders held a council to choose a bishop who should have charge of this place and erect a church.

The shrine of St George was that at Lydda.

In the Chanson d’Antioche, to which I have no access, I gather that St George is also accompanied by St Maurice.[2]

The Golden Legend reads:[3]

We read in the History of Antioch that during the Crusades, when the Christian hosts were about to lay siege to Jerusalem, a passing fair young man appeared to a priest. He told him that he was St George, the captain of the Christian armies; and that if the crusaders carried his relics to Jerusalem, he would be with them. And when the Crusaders, during the siege of Jerusalem, feared to scale the walls because of the Saracens who were mounted thereon. Saint George appeared to them, accoutred in white armour adorned with the red cross. He signed to them to follow him without fear in the assault of the walls: and they, encouraged by his leadership, repulsed the Saracens and took the city.

In the history of Richard of Devizes,[4] we find many references to “St George” – i.e. Lydda – as a town, a mile from Ramleh, and Richard the Lionheart and his men basing themselves there.

It would be nice to see a proper collection of sources.  (I’m currently busy with a new job, so I can’t do anything at the moment!)

Happy St George’s Day!

  1. [1]
  2. [2]See Susan B. Edgington, “Romance and Reality in the sources for the sieges of Antioch, 1097-8”, in:  Porphyrogenita: Essays on the History and Literature of Byzantium and the Latin East in Honour of Julian Chrysostomides, Ashgate (2003), p.37-8, 44.
  3. [3]Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend, transl. and adapted from the Latin by Granger Ryan and Helmut Ripperger (New York. 1969). pp. 237-8)
  4. [4]1848, p.253. Online here.

A colour fresco of Old St Peter’s, half-demolished but with the obelisk in position

A kind commenter drew my attention to this fascinating fresco of the appearance of Old St Peter’s.

It shows clearly the rather ramshackle old front of Constantine’s basilica – there was an atrium/courtyard behind, and then the main front.  The huge construction of New St Peter’s looms at the back, unfinished – as indeed it stood for some decades.

But the most interesting feature is the Egyptian obelisk, already moved from its medieval position to the left of the church, and standing where it stands today.

I’m not sure where this fresco is from.  I think it may be from the Papal palace, which still stands, to the right of the basilica in the above picture.  It is notable how the palace dwarfs the old basilica!

It’s also interesting to see the slope of the Vatican hill, to the left.  The circus of Calgula and Nero stood at the foot of the hill, and St Peter was executed on a cross on the spina or central spine of the race-track.  His grave or trophaion was in an existing cemetery further up the hill.

Constantine built his basilica over the grave.  His Roman architects had to underpin the left side of the church, to prevent it sliding down the hill.  In fact cracks developed over the succeeding millennium, and this was one reason why the old basilica was demolished.

It’s a marvellous depiction, and I wish I knew more about it.