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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Saint Andrew the Protoclete


Mosaic of St Andrew
AD 705
Left wall of the Chapel of John VII in St Maria Antiqua, Rome


The rediscovery of the church of St Maria Antiqua on the Palatine  in the heart of Rome in 1900 was one of the great art history discoveries of the twentieth century

It contained paintings from the sixth, seventh and eighth centuries which had never been "improved" or "repaired" by the hand of any restorer

They were "originals"

The church had been sealed and virtually forgotten about for about 1000 years

It had been crushed under Imperial buildings which had fallen  on the church

One of the earliest studies was by the British Council in Rome through its Director, Gordon Rushforth. See Rushforth G and Ashby T, The church of S. Maria antiqua (1902)

Three Popes in particular were responsible for the embellishment of the Church:  John VII (705-07), Gregory III (731-741) and Leo III (795-816), 

But John VII is also the only Pope whose work in the church was explicitly recorded in the Liber Pontificalis. 

The Church itself followed a Greek plan.

All the saints depicted in the diakonikon are Eastern and  all inscriptions are in Greek. 

The style of the frescoes has been described as “Hellenistic” 

The artists are commonly assumed to have been Byzantines.

S. Maria Antiqua was the church of a Greek community closely associated with the Byzantine administration residing on the Palatine. 

A Byzantine quarter established itself during the sixth and seventh centuries around the Palatine. Many Byzantine families  settled in the city after the re-conquest of Justinian in the mid-sixth century. There was a major influx of Greek immigrants from Egypt into the city after the Arab conquest of Alexandria in 641

The Pope himself like many Popes of the time was of Greek origin

The liturgy was in Greek not Latin

Therefore it is not surprising to see in this Church the icon of the first called Apostle, the Protoclete, the founder and the first bishop of the Church of Byzantium and  the patron saint of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

St Andrew was one of the two Apostles who spoke Greek

It was he who was responsible for introducing Christ to a number of Greek speakers. He acted as mediator between Christ and the Greek speakers.

Pope Benedict recalled this point in his catechesis on St Andrew in 2006. He said:
"[A] third initiative of Andrew is recorded in the Gospels:  the scene is still Jerusalem, shortly before the Passion. For the Feast of the Passover, John recounts, some Greeks had come to the city, probably proselytes or God-fearing men who had come up to worship the God of Israel at the Passover Feast. Andrew and Philip, the two Apostles with Greek names, served as interpreters and mediators of this small group of Greeks with Jesus. 
The Lord's answer to their question - as so often in John's Gospel - appears enigmatic, but precisely in this way proves full of meaning. Jesus said to the two disciples and, through them, to the Greek world:  "The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. I solemnly assure you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit" (12: 23-24).  
Jesus wants to say:  Yes, my meeting with the Greeks will take place, but not as a simple, brief conversation between myself and a few others, motivated above all by curiosity. The hour of my glorification will come with my death, which can be compared with the falling into the earth of a grain of wheat. My death on the Cross will bring forth great fruitfulness:  in the Resurrection the "dead grain of wheat" - a symbol of myself crucified - will become the bread of life for the world; it will be a light for the peoples and cultures. 
Yes, the encounter with the Greek soul, with the Greek world, will be achieved in that profundity to which the grain of wheat refers, which attracts to itself the forces of heaven and earth and becomes bread. 
In other words, Jesus was prophesying about the Church of the Greeks, the Church of the pagans, the Church of the world, as a fruit of his Pasch."