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The Pope chair

On the bases of the baldachin made by Bernini in the basilica of St.Peter, there is represented the face of a woman who is giving birth.
When the great work was inaugurated on June 28 1633, the particularity of the faces did not escape the joke of the Romans about the decoration of the coat-of-arms of the Barberini, family to which Pope Urbano VIII was belonging.

Looking with attention at the coats of arms placed only on the external fronts of four pedestals from marble that hold the baldachin, and putting them into sequence, they revealed a history told by the expressions of the face put to the summit of the coat of arms: it is a woman's face that expresses her own labour, from the perception of the first pain to the contractions, to the spasm of the push up to the birth of the child. The history, almost a cinematographic sequence, must be seen leaving from the frontal left side pedestal and, going clockwise, to arrive at the frontal right pedestal where the face of the woman is substituted by a putto, the newborn baby.

The popular imagination on those images has built many legends fed also by the not really perfect relations between Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Pope Urbano VIII. An irreverent communication of the artist to the Pope to return the notice of have get pregnant his granddaughter or natural daughter who the pope had not wanted to concede in wife to Bernini, to a more prosaic return to nine months of time that were needed to realise the fusion of the columns.
The true reason of a so unusual iconography is almost certainly in a message more profound than the same Pope Urbano VIII, gathered and loving man of the symbology and of the aesthetics, has wanted to get on to the concept of Mater Ecclesia, referred not only to the Basilica of St. Peter but to the Roman Catholic Church.
The parallelism based on the labour and childbirth was already represented in the medieval ritual of settlement of the new pope, for which mitre was put into head to the Pope sitting on a childbirth-chair, to mean that each new papacy was representing almost a rebirth (or perhaps a renewal) of the Church for means of the new Pope.
This ritual introduced into the High Middle Ages, was using two (or perhaps three) childbirth-chair (called “gestatoria”) in red porphyry use beforehand by the Roman empresses; the chair perforated in the centre on which the Pope was sitting was used for symbolising the Mater Ecclesia.

The Ritual was abandoned because ridiculized by the new protesting churches (Portestant and French church, it was the period of pope and anti-pope, the clash between the power of the German Emperor and the Pope) that with the stories of Martin Polono on the Pontiffs and Emperors and the Chronicles of Norimberg of an anonymous author, they spread the history about the Female pope Joanna. It is the history about a woman of English origins who managed to have to elect Pope pretending to be a men until, picked at the labour pains, it gave birth in public, provoking the horror and the fury of the people and of the prelates. The history nevertheless without certain refutations, it was used by the Protestants to ridicule the Church of Rome or at least some liturgical traditions. The incriminated rite is that of the palpation of genitals, supposed to be imported after the event of the Female pope Joanna: a deacon or the youngest cardinals was inserting the arm in a lateral opening of the childbirth-chair for touch the elected Pope, if the result was a positive he said in a loud voice "Virgam ed testiculos habet!" (It has the penis and the testicles) and all the clergymen were answering "Deo gratias" (Thanks to God).

by M.L. ©ALL RIGHTS RESERVED (Ed 1.0 - 05/06/2015)