The Church of St Peter In Vinculis
Rome's Hidden Treasure

Ciro T. De Rosa

© Copyright 2010  by Ciro T. De Rosa


Photo of St. Peter In Viculis Church in Rome.

While in Rome, my wife, Giovanna and I roamed the narrow vicolas where more often than not reside some of the city’s least traveled sights. One such treasure can be found just off the

 Via S. Francesco di Paola. As we passed under a vault on which sits the House of Borgia, we followed the underground passage to a flight of stairs that leads to the Church of St. Peter in Vinculis (Saint Peter in Chains) that houses one of Michelangelo’s most famous sculptures. The Moses, completed in 1515 as what was to be part a massive 47 statue free standing funeral monument for Pope Julius II, became the centerpiece of the Pope’s funeral monument and tomb in this, his family church. (della Rovere Family)

Also known as the Basilica Eudoxiana after Empress Eudoxia, the wife of Valentinian III, as a gift to Pope Leo I;  erected in 432-440 to house the chains that bound Saint Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem. Miraculously, the other set of chains that bound St. Peter while in Rome’s Mamertine Prison fused together with the first and are now kept in a reliquary under the main altar in the Basilica.

We looked to the right nave of the church and  seated on a throne sits a stern Moses peering out at the world as he cradles the Ten Commandments given to him by God on Mount Sinai. The Law Giver is depicted with horns protruding from the top of his head as his flowing mane cascades onto his massive shoulders.

I reminded my wife that much has been made of the placement of the horns implying that the Michelangelo made a terrible error when translating Moses’ description from the Hebrew text. In fact, Moses is depicted with horns as opposed to “the radiance of the Lord” due to the similarity in the Hebrew between the words for “beams of light” and “horns”.

However, it was more practical for Michelangelo to create the horns as “beams of light” rather than attempting to sculpture rays of light out of a piece of stone.  And there is no doubt that it would have been understood by anyone who saw it at that time as referring to the radiance of Moses’ face; and  not think that he had horns.

 There is also an apocryphal story that upon completion of the statue Michelangelo took his sculptor’s mallet and while crashing in upon Moses’ extended knee commanded,” Parle Mosei” [“Speak Moses! “] so life like was the statue. Of course the master often said that the subject was already in the stone, he merely released it from its confines. And so, the story of Michelangelo and Moses’ knee!

 The Basilica itself  underwent several restorations with the addition of the front portico in 1475,  and the cloister (1493-1503). There was also a renovation in 1875. It contains paintings of Saint Augustine and Saint Margret, by Guercino, and the tomb of Nicolo Cardinal da Cusa with its relief of the Cardinal before Saint Peter by Andrea Bregno.There is also a fresco by Giovanni Battista Parodi portraying the Miracle of the Chains (1706).

While  Saint Peter in Vinculis is a minor Basilica as churches go,  the marvelous statue of Moses and the miracle of the chains make this hidden treasure  a must see when in Rome.


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