Altar of Heaven, Lady of Victory

Well, I’m back.

In my last post I said I would post some more pictures of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli. The Church does not look like much from the street 124 steps below its porch. Inside, however, is a different story. There is plenty of interest, especially for a Franciscan, the Church being the medieval generalate house for the Order. Our focus here, though, is the Battle of Lepanto.

This is the interior wall of the front of the Church:

The central stone panel in the lower half of the photograph contains an inscription commemorating The Battle of Lepanto. Click on the photo above for a better look. The inscription tranlsates:

To Jesus Christ author of mankind’s salvation that Pius V, a high minded Supreme Pontiff, having made an alliance with Philip II, King of the Spanish, and with the Venetian Republic, defeated Selyman the Tyrant of the Turks at Lepanto (Islands of Echinadas) in a naval battle greater than any in human memory

The Senate and the Roman People

On the return of Mark Anthony Colonna, Admiral of the Pontifical Fleet, in thanksgiving with the support and thanks of every social order, the reception committee decorated this edifice with the golden paneled ceiling and with the standards of the enemy

In the year of salvation 1586

[Thanks to Father Peter for the translation.]

Interestingly enough, there is no reference to Don John of Austria. Mark Anthony Colonna was the admiral in command of the papal fleet, which constituted only part, and not the largest part of the Holy League; however, it is only right that he would have been honored in Rome. The central panel for the whole of “the golden paneled ceiling” is this medallion of Our Lady, which I would guess measures 30-40 feet in length:

This gives an idea of the proportion of the medallion and the massiveness of the ceiling. Click on the image for a better look:

In my last post, I guessed that at least some of the military decoration represented the Christian side of the battle. According to the inscription that is not the case. According to the great Roman tradition, the Victor, or in this case, Victrix is surrounded by trinkets from the enemy. Here is an Ottoman galley:

This is the same photo digitally enhanced to correct my lousy camerawork. I corrected the color and fixed some of water damage:

Pretty cool decoration. I may adopt some of it for this blog.

BTW, Santa Maria in Ara Coeli means St. Mary of the Altar of Heaven. The Church is built over the shrine fo Juno Moneta, who is the patron goddess of Rome. Tradition has it that Caesar Augustus received the prophesy of the Tiburtine Sibyl concerning the coming of the true Christ.

According to this legend, the Emperor Augustus, disturbed by rumors that the Senate was about to honor him as a God, consulted the Tiburtine Sibyl, who prophesied the descent from the skies of “the King of the ages.” As she spoke, the Emperor beheld a marvelous vision – the Virgin standing on an altar in a dazzling light and holding the baby Jesus in her arms – and heard a voice which said: “This is the altar of the Son of God.” Of course, the Emperor immediately raised an altar on the site, the Ara Coeli, or altar of the heavens.

Later that altar became the location for a Christian Church to honor the Blessed Virgin, and still later a place to honor Her for Her protection of Christendom and the winning of a great battle:

Non arma, non vires, non duces, sed unice Regina sacratissimi Rosarii fecit nos victores.

Not arms, nor men, nor commanders, but the Queen of the Most Holy Rosary alone made us victors.

Well that’s all for now. More tomorrow.


4 thoughts on “Altar of Heaven, Lady of Victory

  1. Very impressive … I cannot believe how massive the medalion is. Thirty to forty feet … the ceiling must be HUGE. The workmanship in centuries past truly puts us all to shame today. I’ve never heard of this church before. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I am interested in the beautiful sword with the inscription MaryVictrix. In terms of spiritual warfare I understand that the ‘sword’ indicates the word of God. But I am interested in the deeper significance, if there is one.
    Today I was drawn into the circle of the Rosary while I prayed. Yesterday while I visited a Jesuit site, an image of a Priest ‘offering up’ his sword before an altar came up.
    I’m needing to understand, since “we contend not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers, hosts of wickedness,,,”
    I like the site!

  3. Pingback: Our Lady of the Rosary, Victrix at Lepanto « Mary Victrix

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