FURTUM SACRILEGUM
THE “HOLY HEADS” OF PETER AND PAUL AND A LOST FRESCO CYCLE IN THE LATERAN BASILICA IN ROME

May 15, 2018

The organisers of the Center for Early Medieval Studies at the Department of Art History would like to cordially invite you to the lecture by prof. Daniela Mondini titled Furtum Sacrilegum. The “Holy Heads” of Peter and Paul and a Lost Fresco Cycle in the Lateran Basilica in Rome. The lecture will take place on Tuesday, May 15th, at 18.00, in the Hans Belting Library. It will be devoted to the reliquaries containing the remains of St. Peter and St. Paul as well as to the currently-already-lost cycle of frescos in the Lateran Basilica.

The “Holy Heads” of Peter and Paul, attested during the 11th century within a side altar in the chapel of St. Laurence in Lateran, and later within the main altar of Sancta Sanctorum, gained major importance after having been transferred by Pope Urban V. (1368-1370) to the Lateran Basilica. They were deposited into two large lavishly-decorated reliquaries, made by a Sienese goldsmith Giovanni di Bartolo, and placed for safe-keeping within a new tabernacle above the main altar of the basilica. The holy relics of Peter and Paul became the symbol of the apostolic Rome and the Roman Church as such, after the papal office returned back to Rome from Avignon (although not temporarily yet).

The relics, which were put on display only a few times each year, attracted pilgrims and robbers alike. During their display at Easter of 1438, there was an attempt to steal several precious stones from the reliquary. In response to this event, the currently-already-lost cycle of frescos was created in the transept of the basilica. The cycle was meant to dissuade further attempts of robbery, as it portrayed the merciless means of punishment that could await potential robbers.

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