In 136 AD Emperor Hadrian ordered a new bridge to be built over the Tiber River. The purpose of the new bridge was to connect the left bank of the river with his mausoleum. The bridge was to be worthy of the emperor’s funeral procession. It was originally called the Aelian Bridge, as Aelius was the surname of Emperor Hadrian.
After the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica, the bridge became extremely important. It becomes the main road leading to the place where the remains of one of the most famous martyrs for the Christian faith are kept and where the head of the Catholic Church resides. The story behind the name of the bridge is interesting. Most visitors to Rome mistakenly believe that the name of the bridge is related to the ten statues of angels that are erected on it. In fact, according to legend, the bridge was renamed in 590 AD when an archangel appeared there. Since then, people started calling it the angels’bridge. Then Hadrian’s mausoleum was renamed the San Angelo Castle, and a figure of an archangel was placed on top of it.
Description: Angels’ bridge /picture source: Shutterstock/;
Ten angel statues adorn the bridge today. However, they were added long after its construction, as late as 1668. They are the work of the genius Jean Lorenzo Bernini. Each of the angels holds some object that is associated with the crucifixion of Jesus, such as a crown of thorns, a whip, etc. Bernini’s idea was to recreate symbolically the Way of the Cross, so that everyone who sees them can repent and prepare their confession as they go to the basilica in the Vatican, to the Holy See and to salvation.
For the making of the statues, Pope Clement IX had prepared ten large blocks of marble. Bernini sent eight of them to masters who shared his views and ideas, and kept two for himself. From these two blocks, Bernini created the statues of the angel holding the crown of thorns and the one holding the inscription INRI (“Jesus Christ, King of the Jews”). When Pope Clement IX saw the finished statues, he thought they were too fine to stand in the open on the bridge and ordered copies to be made to be placed there. You can see the originals in the church of Sant’Andrea delle Frate, not far from the Spanish Steps.
Description: statues of angels /picture source: Shutterstock/;
There are two more statues at the southern end of the bridge. They depict the apostles Peter and Paul. Saint Peter holds the keys to heaven and Saint Paul holds a sword. The following lines are written on the bases of the figures – “Here the humble will receive forgiveness” and “Here the proud will receive retribution”.
Address: Ponte Sant’ Angelo;
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