Gargano Comes to Rome: A Revision of Castel Sant’Angelo’s Historical Origins

Gargano Comes to Rome: A Revision of Castel Sant’Angelo’s Historical Origins

By Louis Shwartz

University of Toronto Working Papers (2011)

Abstract: This article explores the early medieval transformation of a pagan Roman monument, Hadrian’s tomb, into a Christian fortress consecrated to St Michael. Ado of Vienne’s claim that Boniface IV (r. 608-15) dedicated an elevated chapel to the archangel atop the moles Hadriani is challenged and reexamined. The many similarities between Michael’s shrine on Monte Gargano and this Roman chapel instead indicate that the angelic devotion spread from Gargano to Rome, sometime in the early eighth century, and that the Lombards were the likely transmitters.

Introduction: Rome, the Eternal City, Caput mundi, is also home to certain un-worldly creatures – ones even more exotic than the Swiss Guards. The archangel Michael, perched on the dome of what was once the Emperor Hadrian’s mausoleum, presides over a pageant of his confrères below on Ponte Sant’Angelo; Michael is thus preeminent in Roman architecture as he is among the angelic hosts. This paper explores the problematic historical origins of Rome’s celestial guardian and his presence atop Castel Sant’Angelo.

Ado of Vienne (d. 875) was the first to mention a Roman chapel dedicated to the archangel, attributing the initial renovation of the pagan moles Hadriani to Pope Boniface (likely intending Boniface IV, pope from 608-15, but more on this later). The entry in Ado’s Martyrologium for 29 September, the Feast of St Michael, after a lengthy account of the archangel’s apparitions atop Monte Gargano, concludes thus:

But not much later, in Rome, the venerable Pope Boniface dedicated to Holy Michael a church built atop a circular monument, a crypt of marvelous craft and great height. The church is housed within the very summit of this building, thus it is said to reside among the clouds.

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