The Ambo and Easter Candle Holder in the Duomo of Sessa Aurunca, Italy
From Heinrich Wilhelm Schultz (1808–1855) Denkmaeler der Kunst des Mittelalters in Unteritalien (1860)
The town of Sessa Aurunca is an ancient one, lying in the province of Caserta in the Campania
Today, not well known, and rather off the beaten track for tourists, one could be forgiven for saying "So what ?"
Well, the history of the populated site goes back to about 1000 BC.
In Roman times its position between the Via Appia and the Via Latina led to its importance.
Its significance in Christian history is underlined by the fact that it is/was the centre of a Diocese (now unfortunately subsumed into the Archdiocese of Naples) The earliest known Bishop is recorded as being about AD 500
Its present Duomo or Cathedral was consecrated in 1113 and its present appearance dates from the 13th century
Mauro Piergigli and the Associazione Culturale Italia Medievale have a beautiful website which features a long discourse with plently of photographs on the Cathedral. It cannot be praised too highly
Apparently there was a local legend that St Peter himself preached in the town. Perhaps not too fanciful in view of the fact that the town lies near the Via Appia and is near Rome. In any event the Gospel preached by Saints Paul and Peter has held sway in this ancient town for nearly 2000 years.
In that sense perhaps the legend has truth
The connection with Saints Peter and Paul is stressed in the facade of the Cathedral. Scenes from the life of St Peter adorn it
But it was the ambo with Easter Candle candelabra which caught the attention of Schultz.
It is one of the great treasures of this ancient cathedral
Photographs and commentary are on this website page
The ambo appears to have been constructed in the time of Bishop Pandolfo (1224-1259) He recorded his commission thus:
"HOC HOPUS EST STUDIO PANDULFI PRESULIS ACTUM / QUEM LOCET IN PROPRIO REGNO VERBUM CARO FACTUM".
From the ambo or pulpit the Word was to be proclaimed and the Word was to be made flesh
The pulpit from which the Word was proclaimed contains figures and designs from all of God`s creation: known and unknown, real and imagined
At the base of the ambo are lions. Other figures include caryatids birds of all types including birds of paradise, pelicans, eagles, griffins, dogs, Figures from the Old Testament and the Classics include prophets such as Daniel, Zaccarias and Joel as well as the Eritrean Sibyl
All with their own symbolism and meaning
One image not depicted is the image inside the ambo which the priest would have seen just before his homily: the figure of Jonah being vomited out by the whale, Beside it is a scene showing the prophecy of the exile in Nineveh,
Quite appropriate reminders for a medieval preacher
Next to the ambo is the column representing the sacred Easter Candle, It was commissioned by the Bishop only known as John III.
One of the main images on the column is the Transfigured Christ in Majesty accompanied by the angels, Saints Peter, Paul and Casto (the local martyr bishop saint)
There are two inscriptions :
"PULCRA COLUMPNA NITE DANS NOBIS LUMINA VITE""AD LUMEN SANCTUM DEUS ACCIPE CANTUM"
A calling to prayer and prayers for those drawing near for true enlightenment and eternal salvation
It was of course in Sessa Aurunca in 1968 that the old friend of Blessed Pope John Paul II, Bishop Pavel Mária Hnilica S.J. founded the the Religious Congregation, Pro Deo et Fratribus, presently known as the Pro Deo et Fratribus – Famiglia di Maria Corredentrice to generate support for for the persecuted Church in Eastern Europe.