Dr. Utr. Iur.


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A Basilica is not a Cathedral !

The two keys of the Pope: a golden one and an iron one.

Before I start with describing the St.Peters Basilica of Rome, I would like to explain you the concept of a “Basilica”. In the Roman Catholic churches, the most important feature is the tabernacle and the Holy Sacrament. Not so when you enter the St. Peter’s in Rome !! Through the baldachin/canapé you will find at the very end how, under the alabaster window, four Doctors of the Church are holding up a bronze throne.Two for the West: Ambrose and Augustine; and two for the East: Athanasius and Chrysostom; the universal Church.

It’s the chair of St. Peter. Isn’t it incredible that the most important feature seems to be a chair! and not the Holy Sacrament, that they located in a side-chapel behind a curtain, a bit hidden in the enormous building ---

It was produced by Bernini between 1647-1653, and covers in the inside a simple wooden chair . A legend tells us that it was the chair or  cathedra of the first of the Apostles: St. Peter. The truth is less prosaic. It is actually the throne of Charles the Bald, grandson of Charlemagne, who gave his throne as a gift to Pope John VIII in 875.

But why is the Cathedra of St. Peter so important, and is such a prime feature of the Basilica? And strange enough, the St. Peters Basilica is not the most important church in Christianity: that honor is going to the Basilica St. John in Rome: the Mater Ecclesiae - the Mother of all Churches. St. John in Lateran is Basilica but also Cathedral. That is the church where the pope is the spiritual leader of Christianity. There he is the head of the Holy See. For that reason Saint John in Lateran is the Mater Ecclesia, the Mother of all Churches. It's the golden key in the coat of arms of the popes. Today, the Pope is also the only monarch on earth (even over a very small country) who is at the same time spiritual director of a Religion. On paper, also the Dalai Lama and the Queen of England. The temporal power, being the head of the State of The City of the Vatican is the iron or bronze key in the coat of arms. Mussolini signed the famous Pacts of Lateran there on the 11 february 1929, recognizing the Vatican City as the smallest country in the world together with 22 extra-territorial buildings in the City, together with the summer residence Castel Gandolfo at the vulcanic lake Albano in the south of Rome. And for that the Church called Mussolini “A man send by God!” At least, that pact saved Rome in its inner walls form the bombardments of World War II. How you could hit the city without bombing also the neutral Holy See?!

     John Paul II and pope Francis I were invited as the heads of the State when they spoke at the United Nations in New York.

Dalai Lama

Similar, also Benedictus XVI spoke at the parliament in the UK, as the head of a state, not as a spiritual director. For sure, that evening, they would invite him at the banquet, toghether with Queen Elisabeth II. I can imagine myself the kind of conversation he had. Just talks between Kings & Queens.

*Benedict: "Hi Betty, how is your health? Since I am over 80, I am suffering a bit of rheumatism. How you are cooping with it?"

*Betty: "Probably it's part of my DNA, you remember? Also my mum was in a good shape ! Of course, the daily walks with my dogs keeps me also fit. How are your cats doing?"

*Benedict: "Fine, and the children ? no problems? I have none, but I heard a new grand-grand child of yours is on it's way ..."

*Betty: "Yes indeed, but we still keep it secret in the family ... you know, the press can be so intrusive ..."

*Benedict: "You should come to visit me; do you know, my summer-residence is bigger than my country. Are you still owning Scotland? ..."

Unfortunately, here, this small talk was interrupted by a toast that was offered in his honor.

Chat between two elder monarchs ....

But the Holly Father is the last spiritual leader in the world who has also a kingdom: Città del Vaticano - Vatican City. The main church of that state (only 1/8 of Central Park in New York) is the Basilica St. Peter, that is not a cathedral!

Then it becomes important that we understand the concept “Basilica”. The word has a greek origin and means a kings house or court. Like the remains of the pagan Basilicas on the Roman Forum: the basilica of the Gens Julia, the Basilica of Maxentius, the Basilica Emiliana and others. They represented the law court or the meeting hall for public assemblies. Often, the emperor or the ruler would hold a general audience in his basilica, and being seated on his throne, would hear your problems and offer you a recommendation how and where to find a solution. A gift to the crown was the price. The Pope, who as worldly leader over the smallest kingdom on earth, and being indirect the successor of the emperors is holding every week a general audience in the Vatican, listening to the people who come to him, being seated on his throne.

But what has this to do with the building that the Catholic Church today calls a “Basilica”? In every basilica of the world you will find a baldacchino, a canape or an umbrella. Underneath are the relics of saints. In the Saint Peter we have exactly under the baldacchino of Bernini the tomb of Saint Peter as was discovered in the 1950’s. Let say that I am a christian and have a problem. I can go to the tomb of saint Peter and ask for his intercession by the King of Heaven who has probably no time to listen to my humble request. But saint Peter can intercede for me by the King of heaven, knowing him quite well. And that is exactly the role of the saints in the Catholic Church. We have veneration (not adoration) for them and ask for their help and intercession for our material or spiritual problems. Of course, a priest will ask a small donation (burning a candle, a coin given ....). It is a way of communicating with the Lord who is sitting on his throne in Heaven. The tomb of st. Peter explains also why the baldacchino is not centered under the dome. It is build above the tomb of the first successor of Christ: Peter. And it also explains why it is not build, as most of the churches, towards the east (in the direction of the resurrection of the sun). It is build to the west, over the tomb of St. Peter, who is looking from his tomb to the east.

Basilica ... a way to win the elections?

The concept “basilica” and how it works is also the main reason why Hillary Clinton never became president in 2008. Years earlier, her husband Bill won the elections through “Basilica”: we call it “town hall meetings”; where people could meet their ruler and express to them their problems. When she started her campaign, she was already so famous that she thought that winning in five states on Super-Tuesday would have been enough for the victory. In the mean time Obama, for us Europeans, a totally unknown senator started organizing “Basilica” -”Town Hall Meetings” over internet. He asked everybody to write their problems to him. In his call-center would be seated his “hundreds of saints”, who were listening to your problems with the promise that they would present YOUR problem to Mr. Obama. Of course, at the end of the phone call, they would ask for a small donation. Basilica is what you are calling grass-rooted movements. Through “basilica” he out routed Hillary in funding and popularity. When she discovered it, it was to late. And never it happened that a man who won the convention and the elections, lost all the states in the two months coming up to the nomination. What happened there? In the last months we saw the good old fashion beer & whisky  drinking Hillary back. A woman who took direct contact with her audience. It would have been enough for her to visit from the beginning village to village and making that everywhere would hang a picture of her with the people. She would have won on one leg.

Hillary Clinton

Rick Santorum

.... and in 2012, the same happened in the Republican Party: Rick Santorum. He had hardly funding or organization, but won however 11 states in the primaries against his most feared rival Mitt Romney. How he did it? Again: “Basilica”. In the years upcoming to the nomination, he visited state after state and village after village. And everywhere were he went personally, people voted for him. At the end, he couldn’t stand up against the money and organization of Mitt Romney.

And the popes of today are knowing it. Benedict XVI condemned the paedophilia in the Church very strongly in words, but also, in every visits worldwide, he took his time to talk personally to the victims of it. As pope, he would go on ordinary Sundays to one of the parishes in Rome for celebrating the Holy Mess with the locals ... for being in time at St. Peters Square for the Angelus, addressing the pilgrims and the crowd. A bishop has to be the father of his priest and listening to them, otherwise the priest can’t be the father for his congregation. That direct contact is “living Basilica”!!

Basilica Maxentius Roma Forum

(One) of the Legends of the Conversion of Constantine and how a basilica became a concept of the Church.

What a stupid man was Maxentius. He had the largest army, and controlled the city of Rome in 308 A.D. But his grandiose projects like his basilica combined with the starvation of the people, made that he lost the popolar vote. One of the rules of ancient Rome is: "if you have money .... don't show it!!" By building the Basilica, Maxentius showed Constantine how many people depended on himself and not on Constantine. That creates jalousy.

When Constantine arrived with a much smaller army from the nord, Maxentius, against all the odds, left the city of Rome (where he would be safe) an marched towards Constantine.  On the 28th of October 308, his soothsayers reported favourable omens, because it was the day of his Dies Imperii, the day of his ascension to the throne on the 28th October 306.

The legend tells us that the night before, Constantine had a dream and a vision of the cross.

Eusebius Pamphilius da Caesarea (313) gave as the following account of what happened: (28) "Accordingly he called on him with earnest prayer and supplications that he would reveal to him who he was, and stretch forth his right hand to help him in his present difficulties. And while he was thus praying with fervent entreaty, a most marvelous sign appeared to him from heaven, the account of which it might have been hard to believe had it been related by any other person. But since the victorious emperor himself long afterwards declared it to the writer of this history, when he was honored with his acquaintance and society, and confirmed his statement by an oath, who could hesitate to accredit the relation, especially since the testimony of after-time has established its truth? He said that about noon, when the day was already beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, Conquer by this . At this sight he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also, which followed him on this expedition, and witnessed the miracle."

In the background we see the Mausoleum of Hadrian and Augustus, together with a piramid that no longer exist in Rome.

Giulio Romano and Francesco Penni finished the room in the Vatican after the premature death of Raphael in 1520

In the second scene, we have the emperor Constantine on a white horse and behind him on the left, the eagles of the Roman empire with on top the symbol of the cross. During the battle at the Milvio bridge, on the 28th of October 308 AD, Maxentius drowned in the Tiber and his body was found back the next day. (the Pope, as successor of an emperor will also mount a white horse ... even it is today called the Pope-Mobil, and has much more horsepower; and even more, in Italy, the Holy Father is the only one with a pure white helicopter.

(29) He said, moreover, that he doubted within himself what the import of this apparition could be. And while he continued to ponder and reason on its meaning, night suddenly came on; then in his sleep the Christ of God appeared to him with the same sign which he had seen in the heavens, and commanded him to make a likeness of that sign which he had seen in the heavens, and to use it as a safeguard in all engagements with his enemies.

(38) And already he was approaching very near Rome itself, when, to save him from the necessity of fighting with all the Romans for the tyrant's sake, God himself drew the tyrant, as it were by secret cords, a long way outside the gates. And now those miracles recorded in Holy Writ, which God of old wrought against the ungodly (discredited by most as fables, yet believed by the faithful), did he in every deed confirm to all alike, believers and unbelievers, who were eye-witnesses of the wonders. For as once in the days of Moses and the Hebrew nation, who were worshipers of God, "Pharaoh's chariots and his host has he cast into the sea and his chosen chariot-captains are drowned in the Red Sea," — so at this time Maxentius, and the soldiers and guards with him, "went down into the depths like stone,"

With the Edict of Milan in 313, the Emperor Constantine recognized Christianity among the other religions and built the four large basilica's of Rome. It is said that he was baptized at St. John in Lateran, by pope Silvester I.

In the image you can recognize the Baptistery of Saint John in Lateran, as it still stands there.

The last wall is the most important for us to understand the "concept of Basilica": In the frescoe of Raphael, we have a view of the inside of the olf St. Peter's Basilica. The twisted collumns in the background are re-used for the relic-loggias above the four statues that surrounds the canape.

The Keys of Saint Peter and the "Concept Basilica"

I don't believe there are many kings who can say that their Summer-residence is bigger than their country. The Vatican city is about 90 acres, but the summer-residence Castel Gandolfo is about 120 acres !!

Isn't it strange that Constantine, who did so many good things for the Catholic Church: approving christianity among other religions with the edict of Milan in 313 AD, building the four large basilica's of Rome (St. Peter & St. Paul, Santa Croce in Jerusalem and St. John in Lateran), but ... yeah, he killed also more than 60 000 of his friends. One of the reasons he left Rome and built a new capital in the East, called after himself: Constantinople.

Now, we see that the Pope is sitting on the throne, under the canape: the symbol of temperal power, the iron key. And people come in general audience to the pope, for asking his direct intervention. Every wednesday, the holy Father is therefore giving a general audience on St. Peter's Square, for having that direct contact with the faithfull.

But the pope inherited also the spiritual power of the emperor who was also the Pontifex Maximus, the high priest. Now the pope will have this role too: therefore he is wearing the miter: expressed in the Golden Key.

The Battle of Ponte Milvio on the 28th October 308

Giulio Romano and Francesco Penni finished the room in the Vatican after the premature death of Raphael in 1520

The Baptism of Constantine by Pope Silvester I

Giulio Romano and Francesco Penni finished the room in the Vatican after the premature death of Raphael in 1520

Donatio Constantino: pope takes the two keys: Basilica: eartly power: throne and Baldachino = Basilica

Spiritual power: Miter = Pontifex Maximus

Giulio Romano and Francesco Penni finished the room in the Vatican after the premature death of Raphael in 1520