Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Vulval Altar



I read an article this past weekend in Russ Kick's "Everything You Know About God is Wrong" about a certain series of carvings on the columns of the Papal Altar in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, written by Kristan Lawson, and I just can't get the images out of my head. On the columns of the base of the high altar are carvings by Bernini, supposedly of the Pope Urban VIII's coat of arms. The strange and wonderful thing about the series, though, is that the carvings are a series of swelling vulvas with explicit detail of a woman's genitals. Take a look at the image and in addition to the woman's face you'll see ovaries, fallopian tubes, the uterus, and detailed outer/inner labia and even a clitoral hood.

Following a brief Google search, I can find few references to these particular carvings at the base of the baldacchino. As such, the notes they do get are brief. The majority explanation is simply that they are the coat of arms of the Barberini (Pope Urban VIII) family; and sometimes the explanations expand to explain that Pope Urban VIII commissioned the carvings in thanks that his favourite niece survived a life-threatening labour and birth of a child. Certainly, the carvings do depict a progression of labour with a swelling womb. But when I look at this Pope's Coat of Arms,


and compare it with the carving,


I can't help but note the graphic sexual transformation of the "coat of arms" and suppose that there is a deeper signification. And as Lawson points out, the baldacchino in St. Peter's Basilica may be the most holy of holy sites in the Catholic world. It is built atop the head of the Christian church: St. Peter's tomb. The Pope alone is permitted to mount it. And at the base of the columns; the very supporting columns that make up the high altar; are a series of not coats of arms, but vulvas holding it all up.


On the most holy of places in the Catholic world, I can't believe that these images are simply a tip of the hap of a pope to his niece. I don't understand why, with the bee being a symbol of immortality and resurrection, there isn't mass speculation that perhaps the carvings signify Mary's pregnancy with Christ. Why would the column's supporting bases be something so simple as a difficult labour of a relative? For a religion that venerates the mother mary why would the Vatican triviolize these exquisite carvings on the Pope's High Altar?
I nor Kristan Lawson can offer concluding answers or evidence for why Bernini's vulval carvings [click here for more images] lie at the base of the baldacchino. I've never been to Rome but should I find myself there I will be taking a close look at these magnificent carvings and taking special note of the lack of reference material regarding the images on the very base of the massive baldacchino.

5 comments:

Michelle said...

I think these carvings may symbolize Pope Joan, the little known and hidden woman pope. I have been researching about her, and came across a few places mentioning carvings in this church. The carvings are supposedly 8 faces. The first 7 are of a woman who starts calm, but ends in excruciating pain, while the 8th is of a baby. This symbolizes Joan giving birth, which revealed her identity as a woman.

I examined the photos of the carvings, and it seems that these may be the ones, which would also explain their resemblance to the female reproductive organs.

I recommend doing some of your own research on Pope Joan to decide for yourself if this is the same thing, for this is just my own opinion.

lilith attack said...

Thanks Michelle,
I have considered that they are of Pope Joan, and the faces and the birth makes sense. However I can't help but wonder why an effigy of such an outrageous scandel would be featured on the most holy of holy places in the Vatican. That just doesn't make sense to me...

Marieann said...

The woman in travail with birthpangs is mentioned in the New Testament as a metaphor for the great suffering at the end of time. Please note, the biblical allegory is more than a euphemistic suffering of the world, but also involves the very real birth of a child, which the Pope Joan legend details in its allegorical tale.

Marieann said...

P.S. Forgot to mention. The baldacchino's base is related to the numerous pagan Sheila-na-gigs that appear on Christian churches. Like the Baldacchino's scene, that is no accident, and they have nothing to do with Jesus' mother. As far as the columns spiral shape, it should be noted that Sprials are a symbol of hope and expectation. The spiral shape appears on the Apprentice column at Rosslyn Chapel also...again, the meaning is the same, hope and expectation. King Solomon is important in Bernini's juxtaposition of a woman in childbirth. In the New Testament, Jesus stated that at the end of time, a woman would appear whose wisdom would be greater than Solomon's. Probably shouldn't say much more.

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