Category Archives: Places in Rome

Can Notre Dame Be Rebuilt? Yes!

Recently we have witness the catastrophic fire in the Cathedral of Notre Dame—and it’s loss to Christianity and Western Culture in general.  I have seen many sources dealing with the “traumas” that Notre Dame has suffered though its long history but I was surprised by “it will be rebuilt.”  Is this realistic? Or just wishful thinking?

Well, many churches have suffered sever damage through out their history, but to use an example of one in Rome, let me mention the Papal Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.

Rome — the remains of Saint Paul Outside the Walls after the fire of July 1823.

This is the church where, according to very early Christian tradtion, the Apostle Paul was buried after his martyrdom.  Constantine built the original church, but Theodosius built a new church in this spot around A.D. 390.  This church lasted until July 15, 1823 when it was destroyed by a fire caused by careless workmen who were repairing the roof.  This church had been standing for about 1,400 years before it was destroyed!  Much longer than even Notre Dame (ca. 800 years).

the interior of the church after its reconstruction in 1840.

View looking east down the central nave of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside of the walls. The nave is flanked by double aisle on both the north and the south.  At the far (east) end is a triumphal arch that is a relic of the old pre–fire of 1823 that is supported by two granite columns.

View looking east at the mosaic at the top of the Triumphal Arch. Although heavily reconstructed this is a relic of the old pre–fire of 1823 arch.

On the top is a “grim–faced” Christ holding his hand blessing in the Greek manner. The four winged creatures above him have “faces” that represent the four Evangelists—gospel writers. Below them are figures representing the saints of the Apocalyse (book of Revelation). On the lower left side of the arch is St. Paul with a sword (of the spirit/word) and to the right St. Peter holding the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.

View of the “Grotto” (Confessio) that is located below the High Altar

Notice the grating and behind that, a small portion of the sarcophagus that is said to contain the remains of Saint Paul is barely visible.   During the reconstruction of the church two slabs were found with the inscription “PAULO APOSTOLO MART” (to Paul, apostle and martyr).  Below the glass floor are rock carvings and a portion of the apse of an earlier church.

The familiar couryard of the church.

View looking east through the courtyard (Quadriporticus) of the  Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.  The statue on the left is that of Saint Paul.   Notice the beautiful mosaics of the church.

If this wonderful church can be rebuilt, certainly Notre Dame can as well!

For 21 images of the important Basilica, Click Here.

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A.D. 70 The Destruction of the Temple — Where did the Temple Treasure Go? Final Part

In my previous blog, I noted that both Brandfon and Billington trace the objects taken by the Roman’s from the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70 to the Nea Church in Jerusalem.

At that point, the story becomes very complex because of the Persian invasion and capture of Jerusalem in A.D. 614.  It is complex partially because the Jews initially assisted the Persians, and may have gained possession of the objects then.  But soon, the Persians sided with the Christian.   And eventually the Byzantine ruler Heraclius captured Jerusalem in 630 and was harsh on the Jewish population.

Both Brandfon and Billington cite a number of Jewish sources from this period.  They concluded that when the Muslims took control of Jerusalem in 638 the trail goes cold!  Billington writes:

I have searched through every Byzantine, medieval Catholic, Crusader, and Arab historical source that I could find, and these sacred Jewish items disappear from historical sources at the time that Omar took Jerusalem in 638 AD. . . .

It appears that the Jews wisely hid their sacred items from Omar and the Muslim Arabs before they [?] surrendered Jerusalem to them. . . .

My best guess—and it is only a guess—is that the 7th Century Jews hid their Golden Temple Menorah and their other sacred Temple items somewhere inside of the Temple Mount . . . But this is only a guess.  (Billington pp. 21–22)

The end?  Well not quite, as my teachers and later colleague Anson Rainey used to tell his students—”let me enrich you with some new uncertainties!”

Steven Fine, who has been scanning the Arch of Titus in Rome, has an article that traces the echos of beliefs that the objects remained in Rome!  Among other sources, Fine draws our attention to a passage found in The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela (12th century):

In the church of St. John in the Lateran there are two copper columns that were in the Temple, the handiwork of King Solomon, peace be upon him.  . . . There also is the cave where Titus the son of Vespasian hid away the Temple vessels which he brought from Jerusalem. (Fine p. 62)

Fine concludes:

 By the end of the 13th century, then, the Lateran [church!] was claiming to have the Temple booty of the Solomonic Temple, taken anachronistically by ‘Titus and Vespasian’ and on display (or in a reliquary).  Though neither Christians nor Jews could actually see the Menorah, its presence was intense” (p. 63).

The Church of Saint John in the Lateran in Rome.


Fine, Steven. “The Temple Menorah—Where is It?” Biblical Archaeology Review 31, no. 4 (July/August, 2005): 18–25, 62–63.

Brandfon, Fredric. “Did the Temple Menorah Come Back to Jerusalem?” Biblical Archaeology Review 43, no. 5 (September/October, 2017): 40–49, 70.

Billington, Clyde E. “What Happened to the Golden Temple Menorah?” Artifax 34, no. 1 (Winter, 2019): 18–21.

Fine, Steven. “True Colors: Digital Reconstruction Restores Original Brilliance to the Arch of Titus.” Biblical Archaeology Review 43, no. 3 (May/June, 2005): 28–35, 60–61.

A.D. 70 The Destruction of the Temple — Where did the Temple Treasure Go? Part 3

As noted in a previous post, most of the articles from the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem had been placed in the Temple of Peace in Rome—but in A.D. 192 the Temple of Peace was burned down.  There are two important discussions that trace the history of the articles after this event—one by Fredric Brandfon and the other by Clyde Billington (see below).

A.D. 192 — Billington (p. 18) argues that “. .. the Temple Menorah and the other ‘Treasures of the Jews’ were rescued and placed in the royal palace where, according to the Byzantine historian Procopius, they remained until the mid 5th Century AD.”   This would mean that they were kept in one of the Palaces on the Palatine Hill.

A Garden from the Palace of Domitian on the Palatine Hill in Rome—where the Royal Palaces were located. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Click Here to view images of and on the Palatine Hill.

In A.D. 445 Gaiseric and the Vandals conquered and looted the city of Rome and “carried off the Temple Menorah and the other Treasures of the Jews . . .” to their capital city of Carthage in North Africa (Billington, 18).   Procopius of Caesarea also describes how later, the Byzantine general Belisarius conquered Carthage in A.D. 534.   He then goes on to describe the victory parade of the booty in Constantinople in the presence of the Emperor, Justinian (r. 527–565).  Conveniently, Billington provides his translation of the relevant passage from Procopius of Caesarea’s, History of the Wars (p. 18).

. . . and then followed all of the royal treasure which was worth an exceedingly great amount, because Gizeric (The vandal king) had looted the (Imperial) Palace in Rome, as was stated in a preceding portion of this history.  among the items take from the Palace in Rome were the Treasures of the Jews, which Titus, the son of Vespasian, and others had brought to Rome after the capture of Jerusalem.”

The Hippodrome in Constantinople (modern Istanbul) where the victory Parade may have taken place.

Thus the Temple Treasure was brought to Constantinople in A.D. 534.  But Procopius also says that one of the Jews warned that a curse would fall on Justinian, the Emperor, if the treasure was not returned to Jerusalem!  Billington’s translation continues . . .

When the Emperor (Justinian) heard of the things that were said (by this Jewish man), he became frightened, and with all haste sent all of these (sacred Jewish) items to the Christian churches in Jerusalem.

At this point, Billington has a detailed discussion of exactly when the articles were sent to Jerusalem, but both he and Brandfon agree that they were placed, for a time, in the newly built Nea Church dedicated A.D. 543.

Sixth Century Map on the floor of a Church in Madaba (Jordan). The Nea Church is in the upper right corner. The map is east oriented (at the top).

Some of the remains of the Nea Church have been excavated (Nahum Avigad) and are located in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem—but much of it is covered by the Jewish Quarter Parking Lot!

View looking northeast at the Parking Lot of the Jewish Quarter. The Nea Church is buried under part of it!

View looking north at the southern wall of the Old City outside the Jewish Quarter. Two courses of the stone foundation of the Nea Church protrude from under the wall of the Old City.

On March 14, 2019, AL-MONITOR published an article entitled Decades after discovery, Jerusalem’s Byzantine masterpiece may open to the PublicThe article is worth a read as it describes the current state of the remains of the Nea Church.

I hope to publish the next (hopefully last) installment of this saga later this week.


Brandfon, Fredric. “Did the Temple Menorah Come Back to Jerusalem?” Biblical Archaeology Review 43, no. 5 (September/October, 2017): 40–49, 70.

Billington, Clyde E. “What Happened to the Golden Temple Menorah?” Artifax 34, no. 1 (Winter, 2019): 18–21.

Rome — Temple of Peace and a Map of Ancient Rome

My last blog post raised a few questions about the “Temple of Peace” where the implements from the Jerusalem Temple were placed.  The pictures that I posted in that blog are (I think) the best of what is currently visible of the Temple.

The Temple, whatever remains of it, is apparently burried under the street—the Via dei Fori Imperiali.  Is there anything else of it that is visible?  Well yes.

Actually, the north wall of the Basilica of Saints Cosma and Dimiano (below), that is located on the south side of the Via Dei Fori Imperiali, preserves the wall of a side room of the Temple of Peace.

View looking south across the Via dei Fori Imperiali at the north side of the Basilica of Saints Cosma and Damiano. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The brick wall, left of the main entrance—in white marble—is the only remaining wall of a room that was attached to the actual Temple of Peace.  The actual Temple of Peace—if remains still exist—is probably burried under the Via dei Fori Imperiali that is in the foreground.  Actually, I may have been standing just above the sanctuary as I took this picture.

The brick wall, left of the main entrance—in white marble—is the only remaining wall of a room that was attached to the actual Temple of Peace.

On this brick wall were affixed 150 marble blocks—note the holes in the wall where they were attached to this wall.  This marble rectangle measured 59 ft. by 42 ft. and on it was inscribed a MAP of the city of Rome in the early third century A.D.!  The map is called the Forma Urbis Romae and was executed during the rule of Septimius Severus, between 205 and 208.  Only small fragments of it have been found to–date.

Note the excavations underway just this side of the brick wall—where the Temple of Peace was located.

Next post, back to the Temple Treasures.


By the way, Leen Ritmeyer has published an illustrated article about the Golden Gate of the Temple Mount — Here.

 

A.D. 70 The Destruction of the Temple — Where did the Temple Treasure Go? Part 2

All visitors to Rome will have visited the Colosseum, Arch of Titus, and the Roman Forum.  But one of the places that visitors, and guides, will normally pass over are the additions to the Roman Forum called The Roman Fora.  “Fora” is plural for the cluster of Forums that  Julius Caesar, Augustus, Vespasian/Domitian, Nerva, and Trajan built  north of the more frequently visited “Roman Forum.”  Normally all of this “pile of ruins” is passed over by guides and visitors except the Column of Trajan that is so conspicuous.

The 125 ft. tall Column of Trajan at the west end of his Forum.

The Temple of Peace was located at the east end of these Fora.  It was constructed by Vespasian after his conquest of Judea and Jerusalem and dedicated in A.D. 75—images below.

View looking west at the southwest portico—where the seven columns are—and the southwest portion of the large “garden” that was west of the Temple of Peace.

In the center of the image are two parallel walls that are joined in the center of the image. This is a part of one of six such low structures. Some believe that these were actually raised gardens and had a small aqueduct flowing on top of them. A partial one is seen to the right of this one.

The Temple of Peace and this Forum were built by Vespasian. It was financed from spoils from the First Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66–70) and was inaugurated in A.D. 75 to commemorate the end of the civil wars that followed the death of Nero. The “Forum” was actually a garden and the Temple of Peace and associated rooms and Porticos housed works of art, a library, and precious objects from the Temple of the Jew in Jerusalem.

Fortunately, in recent years portions of the “Temple of Peace” have been excavated.  But it seems that the key part, the Temple itself, is covered over by the street—the Via dei Fori Imperiali.

Josephus, the Jewish historian  lived in Rome during the time of Vespasian, Titus, Domitian, etc., and probably witnessed the construction and dedication of the Temple of Peace.  He wrote:

War.7.5.7. (158) After these triumphs [a procession through the old Forum—see Arch of Titus] were over, and after the affairs of the Romans were settled on the surest foundation, Vespasian resolved to build a temple to Peace, which he finished in so short a time, and in so glorious a manner, as was beyond all human expectations and opinion: (159) for he having now by Providence a vast quantity of wealth, besides what he had formerly gained in his other exploits, he had this temple adorned with pictures and statues; (160) for in this temple were collected and deposited all such rarities as men aforetime used to wander all over the habitable world to see, when they had a desire to see them one after another: (161) he also laid up therein, as ensigns of his glory, those golden vessels and instruments that were taken out of the Jewish temple. (162) But still he gave orders that they should lay up their Law, and the purple veils of the holy place, in the royal palace itself, and keep them there.

It is interesting to “muse” that Josephus, who claims to have been a priest, probably saw these objects in THE TEMPLE in Jerusalem—before it was destroyed, but also witnessed their being deposited in a pagan temple and in the palace of the Emperor who had slaughtered so many of his people and had destroyed the very Temple of God!

View looking south at the southwest portico—where the seven columns are—and the southwest portion of the large “garden” that was west of the Temple of Peace.

From left to right in the center of the image, there are two parallel walls that are joined in the center of the image. This is a part of one of six such low structures. Some believe that these were actually raised gardens and had a small aqueduct flowing on top of them. A partial one is seen to the right of this one.  The large building in the upper right is the Curia—Roman Senate House.

In A.D. 192 the Temple of Peace burned down!  So what happened to the Menorah, golden vessels and utensils then?

You are invited to check out “Part 3” of this series in the not-to-distant future.

A.D. 70 The Destruction of the Temple — Where Did the Temple Treasure Go? Part 1

The Arch of Titus (Roman Emperor A.D. 79–81) is located in Rome on the east end of the ancient Roman Forum not too far from the Colosseum.  The emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96) built it soon after the death of Titus in A.D. 81.

View looking west at the Arch of Titus from the east. Click on Images to Enlarge and/or Download.

The arch commemorates the victories of Vespasian (A.D. 69–79) and his son Titus—particularly their putting down the Jewish revolt in Judea and the capture of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

It is well to remember that this commemorative arch was built by Domitian, to commemorate a triumphal parade of the previous emperor Vespasian and his son Titus who was the actual conquer of Jerusalem.  On the south inner side of the arch, Roman soldiers carry the booty from the Jerusalem Temple in triumph into Rome—see end of blog for quote from Josephus.

View looking southwest at the relief carved on the southern pier of the Arch of Titus in Rome that depicts the procession of booty taken from Titus’ capture of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.  Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

From right to left note the representation of a Triumphal Gate with two chariot groups on top of it (enlarge the image to view details).  To the left of this are two crossed (silver) trumpets taken from the Temple in Jerusalem.  Faintly visible (enlarge image) is a representation of one of the tables that held the “show bread” in the Holy Place of the Temple.

On the left side of the image one of the seven-branched candlesticks (menorah) from the Jerusalem Temple.  This is one of the earliest representations of a menorah in existence!  Also visible are several rectangular placards on poles.  These probably were painted with inscriptions naming either cities or peoples conquered—or identifying the objects that were being displayed in triumph.

One of the seven-branched candlesticks (menorah) from the Jerusalem Temple.  Note the figures on its base!  This is one of the earliest representations of a menorah in existence!

Josephus, who was probably an eye-witness to this Triumphal Procession describes it as follows:

(148) and for the other spoils, they were carried in great plenty. But for those that were taken in the temple of Jerusalem, they made the greatest figure of them all; that is, the golden table, of the weight of many talents; the candlestick also, that was made of gold, though its construction were now changed from that which we made use of: (149) for its middle shaft was fixed upon a basis, and the small branches were produced out of it to a great length, having the likeness of a trident in their position, and had every one a socket made of brass for a lamp at the tops of them. These lamps were in number seven, and represented the dignity of the number seven among the Jews; (150) and the last of all the spoils was carried the Law of the Jews. [= Torah scroll(s)?] (151) After these spoils passed by a great many men, carrying the images of Victory, whose structure was entirely either of ivory or of gold. (152) After which Vespasian [Emperor at the time] marched in the first place, and Titus [son of Vespasian] followed him; Domitian [son of Vespasian] also rode along with them, and made a glorious appearance, and rode on a horse that was worthy of admiration.  (Josephus War 7.148-152 [7.5.4])

Evidently, all this booty, along with other treasures from Judea, were deposited in Vespasian’s “Temple of Peace!”

What is the “Temple of Peace” you ask?  We will take a look at that in my next blog.


Click Here to view additional images of the Arch of Titus.

Rome: The Basilica Julia — Is this where Paul was condemned to death?

All visitors to Rome will visit the ancient heart of Rome—the Roman Forum.

View looking southeast at the west end of the Roman Forum. The Basilica of Julia is just to the right of the center of the image—to the left of the multiple columns on the right side of the image.

The Roman Forum was the central civil, commercial, and religious center of Ancient Rome.  Originally, it was a marshy swamp located below the Palatine and Capitoline Hills.  This stagnant area was drained by the Etruscan king Servius Tulius (6th century B.C.) when he constructed the Cloacae Maximus, a large drain system that diverted water into the Tiber river—it still is functioning today!

The Roman Forum grew during the Regnal, Republican, and Imperial Periods—expanding from the Capitoline Hill in the northwest toward the southeast.  Eventually, it was used for political and religious purposes—commercial enterprises were moved to a variety of fora to the north of the Roma Forum.

It fell out of use during the Medieval Period and was used for grazing animals, and as a source of building materials—some of the precious marbles were burned in kilns for lime (sigh).

View looking east over the west end of the Forum. The Basilica of Julia is on the right (south) side of the image.  The Basilica of Julia may well have been the place where Paul was tried and condemned to death—see below.

Only rows of column stubs, flooring, and steps of the large Julia Basilica have been preserved. The central nave is the large rectangular area with green grass—at the far end are three columns from the Temple of Castor and Pollux. To the left (north) of the nave, two long aisles are visible—the view of the southern aisles is blocked by the three arches in the lower right of the image.

The basilica was begun by Julius Caesar in 54 B.C. and completed by Augustus. All totaled, there were 5 versions of a basilica on this site over the centuries!

The Basilica Julia was known as a great center of Roman law, and it contained four law courts.  It is very likely that it was here that the apostle Paul eventually heard the sentence of death pronounced upon himself. (Finegan, p. 223)

The book of Acts ends with Paul under arrest, guarded by a soldier (Acts 28:26) in chains (v. 20) staying in his own “rented quarters” (v. 30) for two years.  Although it is not possible to know if he was tried and released, or merely released, much modern scholarhip believes that he was released (say from A.D. 62—67) and that he was rearrested and tried at the end of Nero’s reign (ca. 67/68).

Was The Basilica Julia
the Place of Paul’s Trials?

Although the final trial, condemnation, and execution of Paul are not mentioned in scripture, tradition and modern scholarship place the execution of Paul near the end of Nero’s reign—ca. A.D. 67/68.  No matter the date, being a Roman Citizen, Paul would have had a right to a trial in the courts of Rome, if not in front of the Emperor himself.  Since the Julia Basilica was the place where trials took place, it is very possible that the Apostle Paul, being a Roman Citizen, was tried and condemned to death by a Roman Court meeting in this structure!

On the other hand, tradition also places the martyrdom of Peter in Rome.  But Peter was not a Roman Citizen and thus his “legal rights,” if any, were very different than those of Paul.


Finegan, Jack. The Archeology of the New Testament: The Mediterranean World of the Early Christian Apostles. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1981.