Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bambino Gesù: in a church with a chubby Pope and 52 chandeliers

On Saturday I climbed up 124 "penitential" steps to reach the front door of the Church of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli. It is where the Temple of Juno once stood on the Capitoline Hill. In the 6th century there was a Byzantine monastery on the site. The Benedictines were here from the 9th to the 13th century and the Franciscans built the current building in the early 14th century.

The church is most famous for the wooden statue of the infant Jesus -- Santo Bambino. The story goes that the Bambino was carved by a Franciscan friar during the 15th century in Jerusalem. According to the legend, the statue was miraculously painted by an angel as its Franciscan creator slept. The image was transported to Rome upon the orders of the Franciscan Curia, headquartered in the Church of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli. Caught in a storm during the voyage to Europe, the wooden statue was thrown overboard. It bobbed around the stormy seas (even avoiding pirates) and finally landed at the feet of the Franciscan monk who had been waiting anxiously on the shore.

The Bambino receives letters from all over the world. There are baskets of them on both sides of his private altar. After a certain time they are burned, without being opened.

The statue was stolen in February 1994, and never recovered. Now a copy is on display in the church, housed in its own chapel by the sacristy. At midnight Mass on Christmas Eve the image is placed on a throne before the high altar and unveiled during the singing of the Gloria. Until Epiphany the jewel-encrusted Bambino resides among the firgures of the precipio in the left nave.

These are some of the 52 Murano Chandeliers that adorn the church of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli.

Here is a 16th century sculpture of the chubby Pope Leo X (1475-1521) located outside the chapel of the Bambino. (He is the pope who sold indulgences to finance the building of St. Peter's Basilica.)

1 comment:

Gerry said...

Hi Larry,
My mom had great faith in the Infant Jesus of Prague. She would tell me if I ever saw a statue anyplace not to leave it. (That was if I could buy it). I love seeing the Infant in your post. I brought good memories
Love Ya