Pope Benedict and the Pillars of Saint John Bosco

Pope Benedict XVI at the statue of Mary the Immaculate Conception

This is a fantastic portrait that seems to have gone otherwise unnoticed. What a profound resemblance to the images of St. John Bosco’s parable of the Two Pillars (1862) was shown to the public at the Piazza della Spagna in Rome on Wednesday December 8th 2010! Pope Benedict XVI made the short pilgrimage to the thirty-nine foot tall Colonna dell’ Immacolata (statue of Mary the Immaculate Conception 1857) to honor the solemnity of Mary’s Immaculate Conception by placing a wreath at the foot of the column upon which her image stands. Just prior Benedict had visited the Dominican Friars at the Trinità dei Monti (Church of The Most Holy Trinity 1585) located at the opposite end of the Piazza and landmarked by another taller one-hundred foot column (Obelisco Sallustiano erected 1789) upon which stands a cross. Remarkably triangulated at the apex between the two columns is Bernini’s 1627 Fontana della Barcaccia (fountain of the old boat). This turn of events is invocative of the final events in John Bosco’s famous dream where the Pope moors the great ship, which represents the Church, first to the pillar bearing the Holy Eucharist and then to the smaller pillar bearing the image of Mary. Here is how Saint Bosco is recorded to have preached that moment:

“Breaking through all resistance, the new Pope steers his ship safely between the two columns. Once in between them, he attaches the prow to an anchor hanging from the column with the Host. With another anchor he attaches the other side of the ship to the column with the Blessed Virgin Immaculate.”

The only difference seems to be that in the dream/parable the taller pillar is topped by the Eucharist whereas at the piazza the taller obelisk is topped by a cross, yet behind the obelisk is the Church of the Most Holy Trinity where, of course, there would be a tabernacle reposing the Eucharist.

If Saint John Bosco’s story of the Two Columns is a parable then the similarities between it and the structures in the piazza give one cause to wonder if they were the inspiration, if the same story is indeed a dream then the same structures give cause to wonder if they were the impetus.

Both columns have placards explaining their history but the name of the Obelisk Sallustiano is particularly noteworthy. It is named after Sallust who was a roman historian who owned this replica of an obelisk in Egypt. St. John Bosco envisioned the column with the Eucharist as having a plaque with the words Salus Credentium (Salvation of Believers) inscribed on it. He evidently derived or borrowed Salus from Sallust or Sallustiano and gave it a Christian meaning by coupling it’s root with Credentium and the Holy Eucharist.

Church of The Most Holy Trinity with the Obelisk Sallustiano


Column of the Immaculate Conception


Foutain of the Old Boat with Immaculate Conception in the background


Fontana della Barcaccia


Aerial view of the Piazza della Spagna showing the two pillars and the ship

Sources:
Vatican Information Service; 12.09.2010 – Twentieth Year – Num. 219
Radio vaticana
Images – Wiki Media Commons
Google Earth

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