Templar symbolisms: the Cathedral of St. Lawrence in Genoa

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The Genoa Cathedral of St. Lawrence was consecrated in 1118 by Pope Gelasius II. Located in the center of the city, the building is similar to the religious edifices constructed between the 10th and 12th century. Nonetheless, the Genoa Cathedral seems to be cloaked by an aura of supreme spirituality, like a chest full of treasures and mysteries.

 

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The papal seal with which Gelasius II consecrated the Cathedral of St. Lawrence, Museo del Tesoro.

 

This suggestive atmosphere is expressed by the exterior superbe features of the church. The facade, completed only in 1312, has a Gothic style, with three imperious doors made by French masters. 

 

The Cathedral of St. Lawrence.

 

Here, the splays gracefully curve upward, connecting with the remaining part of the facade through the linearity of the dichromate black and white bands, symbol of nobility. 

 

Detail of the jambs: the Catholic Church feeds the Apostles Peter and Paul.

 

Opposite: Jacob blesses Ephraim and Manasseh.

 

The large rose window is located at the center of the facade, between the slender bell tower on the left (60 meters) and the loggia placed on the opposite side [1]. 

The interior of the Cathedral is distributed over three naves, separated by marble columns, with a transept. 

 

Interior of the Cathedral

 

A marble lyons of St. Lawrence, that ideally look after the facade of the cathedral, date back to the end of the 19th century.

 

Origins of the name

The name of St. Lawrence Cathedral derives from an event related to the beginning of the Christianity. The saint and the Pope Sixtus Il were going to Spain when they were hosted in Genoa by some Christians (3rd century). After the martyrdom of St. Lawrence a primitive chapel was erected. Then, a basilica was constructed (5th century) at the same place. When in 1007 the basilica of St. Lawrence became an episcopal headquarter, the Genoese decided to reconstruct it, building the current church.

After the First Crusade the Templars brought the remains of St. John Baptist to Genoa. Hence, he became the patron saint of Genoa with St. Lawrence and St. George. The rests of the saint are preserved at the chapel on the left nave (1450-1465).

 

The Chapel of St. John Baptist.

 

In the Museo del Tesoro there is a plate, imported from Jerusalem during the Crusades. According to the tradition, it was the tray where the head of St. John was set down. Effectively, the radiocarbon analysis confirmed that the date is coherent: the relic dates back to around 2000 years.

 

Genoa, the Crusades and the Knights Templar 

In addition to a relevant stylistic apparatus, the cathedral of Saint Lawrence is rich of symbolisms too.  There is a historically proved link between the building and the Knights Templar, who were great diffusors of symbolic elements. During the Middle Age, Genoa represented one of the most important cities for the maritime trade and navigation overall. Since 1099, the city has been governed by a strong Republic for a short period. From its harbors, ships full of precious good and courageous soldiers left to the Holy Land. 

 

Representation of Genoa and its harbor, Museo Galata

 

The starting of the First Crusade two years before had given to the Genoese the opportunity to organize a dynamic colonialism. In this sense, the work of the admiral Guglielmo Embriaco was crucial. He managed to conquer Jerusalem by ingenious siege engines, created by him [2]. The contribution of the Genoese during the First Crusade was so important that the King Baldwin of Jerusalem made engrave the writing “Præpotens Genuensium præsidium” (Genoese’s strong district) on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Embriaco led the troops during the conquest of Caesarea, where the important relic called Sacred Basin was found. Moreover, Genoa had an important property in St. John of Acre, where the Knights Templar had allocated a fundamental base of operation. 

Today, based on the historical events, the link between the city of Genoa and the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon seems fundamental to understand the symbolisms of the cathedral of St. Lawrence.

 

Autograph letters by Christopher Columbus, the great Genoese explorer, Museo del Galata.

 

 

Symbolisms in the Cathedral of Saint Lawrence 

Firstly, the unbreakable destiny is shown by the presence of a Cross pattée, the real identification symbol of the Templars.  

 

 

It should not be confused with the Maltese Cross. In fact, Genoa was not only the Knights Templar’s headquarter, but also the Knights Hospitaller’s one [3], whose cross appears on a slab located on the left side facade. 

 

On the cathedral left side facade there is a funeral ark. Below it, an engraving of the Knights Hospitaller is visible.

 

Laterally there is a Maltese Cross.

 

The engraving.

 

There are also three Merels Boards, that could represent the spatial arrangement of the Solomon’s Temple, the sacred building that the Templars swore to protect and from which their name derives. 

The first two specimens of the Merels Board are located on the main staircase leading to the entrance of the Cathedral.

 

Third white step from below, at the center of the staircase.

 

Near the right marble lyon.

 

The third one is located on the left square of the building, on a step of the Baptistery of St. Lawrence. 

 

 

Another important symbolism of the Cathedral of St. Lawrence in Genoa is the Chessboard. It probably represents the eternal fight between the good and the evil, that will see the victory of the God’s Son during his last coming at the Parousia, “portae inferi non praevalebunt”.

 

The Chessboard on the right tower, at visual height.

 

The Knot of the Revelation

On the southern side of the Genoa Cathedral there is a wonderful gate of “Saint Gotthard” (11th century). In a carved column there is a Knot of the Revelation [4]. Referring to the period and the place of this discovery, it assumes a double meaning. On a hand, the Knot represents the power of the Holy Spirit (the Merkabah by the Ezekiel prophet), that reveals itself by the Sacred Scriptures and the work of the four Evangelists (the nooses). On the other hand, it symbolizes the generating force of the universe, that expresses by the four fundamental alchemical elements (air, water, earth, fire). 

 

At the center: a Knot of the Revelation

 

The Sacred Basin and the Holy Grail 

During the conquest of Caesarea in 1101 by the Guglielmo Embriaco’s troops, a particular object was found. It is called “Sacred basin”. It is a concave emerald glass manufact. The following year Guglielmo Embriaco decided to bring it to Genoa, with a fragment of the Real Cross. It quickly became an object of veneration. Genoese believed they found the Holy Grail, the chalice with which Christ drank during the Last Supper. 

 

The Sacred Basin in Genoa, Museo del Tesoro

 

The Zaccaria’s Cross contains some fragments which it is said belonging to the Real Cross.

 

 

This fascinating hypothesis is supported by the literary tradition of King Arthur. According to it, the Holy Grail was obtained directly digging an enormous emerald. Effectively, the Genoa relic seemed to be composed by the precious stone. However, when in 1806 Napoléon Bonaparte was conquering the city, the Sacred Basin was stolen by French and clumsily it was broken. This event showed the basin was composed only by Byzantine crystal. After various restorations, the relic is now preserved at the Museo del Tesoro, in the Cathedral of St. Lawrence. 

 

Samuele Corrente Naso

(Translation by Daniela Campus)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOTES

[1] The project originally envisaged two bell towers, of which the left one was effectivelt ended. [2] The “Bolzone” was a suspended ram. [3] Order of Malta. [4] Sometimes known as the Flower of Apoclypse. It corresponds to a St. John’s Knot (heraldry: Bowen’s Knowt) with pointed loops.
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