Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Consecration of St Peter`s Basilica

Unknown Italian Weaver at the Barberini Manufactory in Rome
Urban VIII Consecrates St Peter's Basilica
Tapestry insilk and wool,
400 x 519 cm.
Musei Vaticani, Vatican

Pope Urban VIII performed the consecration of the new St Peter`s Basilica on November 18, 1626, supposedly exactly 1,300 years after Pope Sylvester I dedicated old Saint Peter’s

In the tapestry the Pope is shown inscribing the Latin and Greek alphabets in two intersecting stripes of ashes on the church floor, the first part of the consecration ritual to take place inside the church

The ashen cross is laid out to span the whole surface of the building, forming the monogram chi, thereby declaring Christ to be the church’s foundation; the two alphabets proclaim the universality of the church by using Greek and Latin and by marking beginning and end, alpha and omega

The laying out of the cross and the even spacing of the letters is a way to measure and delineate the church, recalling Ezekiel’s vision of the angel setting out the measures of the Temple and, as such, a meditative act of contrition and “return to God”

In Framing history: The Jubilee of 1625, the dedication of new Saint Peter’s and the Baldacchino From Festival architecture/edited by Sarah Bonnemaison and Christine Macy. [Routledge 2008], Maarten Delbeke writes::

"The Old Testament accounts of Solomon’s Temple pay as much attention to the planning and the construction of the building as to its dedication (1 Kings 6–8; 2 Chronicles 3–5; Ezekiel 40–4). Paradoxically, it is the interruption of the ritual that signals God’s acceptance of his new dwelling. The cloud shrouding his majesty upon his entering the temple renders any activity or even human presence impossible. In that moment, the building’s precise construction, represented in the elaborate set of measures detailed in the biblical description, and the earthly magnificence of its interior decoration, give way to an ineffable and awe-inspiring presence exceeding the limits of language and art.

The architectural historian Christine Smith has indicated that the Christian liturgy for the consecration of the church associates the physical edifice of the church with the image of heavenly Jerusalem from the Book of Revelation which, in turn, had Solomon’s temple as one of its prefigurations. Smith points out that the epistle read at the consecration Mass is taken from Revelation 21, describing the descent of the heavenly city. Thus, Smith suggests, “this liturgy assumes, and affirms, that there are indeed places on earth where heaven is revealed and where the creature and creator are together as they will be in the heavenly Kingdom”
This new city is poetically described in the so-called dedication hymn, Urbs beata Ierusalem. It portrays Jerusalem as a vision of peace built from the living stones of the faithful, descending from heaven on earth like a bride entering her nuptial chamber, or thalamus. The hymn evokes the role of the master builder at great length, and his artifice is praised as he constructs his holy edifice, walled with gold and gems, on the cornerstone of Christ

...Through a complicated liturgy that fuses rites of baptism, exorcism and burial, the dedication of a church progressively defines it as a space of worship. Psalms, antiphons and short declamations establish the link between the rite, the building, its first model of the Temple, and its final fulfillment in the form of Jerusalem. The rite is therefore as essential a part of a church building as its walls, columns or altars

By constructing the members of a worshipping body, the rite transforms the dead mass of the building into an animated conglomerate.

The Pontificale, compiled by Charles Borromeo and Pius IV and published in 1561, prescribes a uniform dedication liturgy for every new church in Catholicism. But churches have been consecrated ever since the first centuries of Christianity and the dedication rite was considered a sacrament as early as the ninth century.

Church dedications obviously took place regardless of a building’s specific architectural features. In other words, the metaphorical transfer in the dedication rite of the Temple or the heavenly Jerusalem onto the building was not predicated upon a specific design or shape to its architecture. Yet there are certain instances where liturgy and building were made to resonate so as to reinforce the association between church and Temple."

For more about the Consecration or Dedication of a Church see The Catholic Encyclopedia and Henry, H. (1912). Urbs Beata Jerusalem dicta pacis visio. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved July 8, 2010 from New Advent