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Rome Diaries - Week 109

July 31st, 2010

During a visit to Saint Peter’s, a woman in front of me sits down on one of the large circles of porphyry that make up the floor of the church. After striking this pose for a picture taken by her friend, she continues to sit on the cool marble...until a guard in blue tie and dark suit comes over and, bending down, extends his hand saying in English, “Do you need help getting up?”

August 1st, 2010

In reading “Rome Before Avignon” by Robert Brentano, I am intrigued by his mention an August 1st feast for the church of Saint Peter in Chains:

The guidebooks' and the medieval observers' dual (and more than dual) view of the Roman past and the relation of individual monuments to that past comes into sharpest focus when it observes the disparity between, or the combination of, the classical-pagan and Christian pasts. Sometimes this duality is handled perfectly straightforwardly... It is, for instance, in the Mirabilia's story of the origin of the feast of Saint Peter's Chains. That account tells of Octavian's assuming power after Caesar's death, and of his brother-in-law Anthony's opposition to him...Octavian took great riches from his victory and triumphed in the East and in Rome, where he was received by the senators and all the people. Because the victory took place on the Kalends of August, the whole city came to have a huge festa in honor of Octavian Caesar Augustus on that day. And that festa continued, according to the Mirabilia, moving into a story with a cast from mixed centuries, until the time of Arcadius, the husband of Eudoxia.

This good woman, who ruled the empire for her son Theodosius after her husband's death, was divinely inspired to go to Jerusalem to visit the sepulchre of the Lord and other sanctuaries. There she procured from a Jew the chains with which Herod had bound Peter; in her joy at finding the chains she decided that they should go back to the place where the body of the blessed Peter rested in the dust. She came to Rome on August 1, and there she saw in its full rapture the ancient pagan feast in honor of Augustus, the celebration of which no pope had been able to stop. Eudoxia approached the pope, Pelagius...she went, too, to the senate and people. She said to them all:

I see you so eager in your celebration of the festa in honor of the dead emperor Octavian, because of the victory he won over Egypt. I ask you that, for me, you give over the honor of the dead emperor Octavian for, instead, the honor of the Emperor of heaven and his apostle Peter, whose chains I have brought out of Jerusalem. Just as that other emperor freed you from Egyptian slavery, this heavenly Emperor would free you from slavery to evil spirits. And I wish to make a church to the honor of God and Saint Peter and to put the chains in it. And our apostolic lord should dedicate the church on the Kalends of August and it should be called "Sanctus Petrus ad Vincula," Saint Peter at the chains. There each year our apostolic lord should come to celebrate Mass. Just as Peter was freed by an angel, the people of Rome can go away freed from their sins with his blessing.

The people acceded to the request. The church was built. The pope dedicated it on August 1, just as Eudoxia christianissima imperatrix proposed. There, at San Pietro in Vincoli, Saint Paul's chains were added to Peter's, and each year on the first day of August the Roman people came and celebrated the feast.

The first day of August and the chains gather together the two great Roman traditions, put them together by showing the change from one to the other, through the agency of a woman whose very title, christianissima imperatrix , joins the two. The story also shows the movement from Jerusalem to Rome (rather forgetting Constantinople). It shows, in men's minds, Rome's becoming the second Jerusalem. The story is not the only medieval explanation of the chains, it cannot be historically correct, but it is historically interesting. Best of all, it illustrates, with a nicely balanced rhetoric, a common way of dealing with Rome's dual tradition, by showing the connection of one with the other, on a day, at a place, and the replacement of, or the enrichment of, one by the other. (pages 76-77)

A few days ago I contacted the rector of Saint Peter in Chains who told me this feast had been suppressed for over fifty years, but he said, each year, people (like me) keep calling to attend the celebrations. Today, I go to the church. No one in the crowd seems to know of this day’s medieval role in transitioning Jerusalem Rome as the new capital of Christianity. Ironically, everyone stares at a certain famous statue of Moses.

Rome Diaries - Week 109
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