History of Castel Sant’ Angelo:
Once called Hadrian’s Tomb, and now called Sant’ Angelo, this is one of the most recognized buildings in Rome. It was originally constructed between 134 AND 389 A.D. as the tomb of the Roman emperor Hadrian, and succeeding emperors were placed here as well, up until 217 A.D. After the legalization of Christianity much of the interior decorations were removed and for a while it became a fortress.
Today it is visited by many tourists as well as pilgrims who view it as an historical monument….but perhaps many do not know of the reason behind the statue of Saint Michael atop the castle.
The great plague and appearance of Michael the Archangel:
In 590 A.D., Rome suffered a terrible plague causing many deaths. Pope St. Gregory the Great (whose predecessor, Pope Pelagius, had himself died of the plague earlier that year) pleaded for the angels help to fight this terrible epidemic. So on April 25th of that year, the Holy Father celebrated Masses, intoned the Litany of the Saints and processed through Rome with prayers, incense, and an image of Blessed Mary Ever Virgin. As the procession approached Castel Sant’ Angelo, a heavenly perfume seemingly filled the air and Pope Gregory suddenly noticed in amazement that the heavens had open up. What he saw next absolutely astounded him…he saw Saint Michael the Archangel, along with numerous other Angels, descended above the crowd. He saw the Blessed Virgin Mary seated on a throne above St. Michael and the Angels, and heard angelic voices singing the “Regina Caeli” in her honor. As he approached the castle, he saw another angel above the tomb, who was wiping a bloody sword and putting it back in its sheath.
The following day the pestilence subsided.
From that point on it was called “The Castle of the Holy Angel”. Pope St. Gregory the Great then had a statue of Saint Michael placed on top of the castle, representing his protection over Rome and the Church.
Later, under the reign of Pope Clement VII (1523-1534), statues of Saint Peter and Saint Paul were placed along the entrance to the bridge. Then in the 1600’s, statues of angels by Bernini and his students were added, giving it the nickname, “The Bridge of Angels”.
Finding Castel Sant’ Angelo:
As pointed out, it is one of the most recognizable buildings in Rome. It is now officially a museum, and is quite often crowded…but many are unaware of the significance of the statue of Saint Michael atop the building.
It is an easy walk from Vatican City….about 1/4 mile.
Address: Lungotevere Castello, 50, 00193 Roma RM, Italy
Tel: +39 06 32810
Click here for the official website of Museo Nazionale di Sant’ Angelo.