|Nuns in St Peter’s Square, Ash Wednesday 2013.|
On Ash Wednesday several thousand people queued around St Peter’s Square in the slanting afternoon sun. Above pulsed the blue dome of the a perfect Roman sky, ahead the pearly dome of the St Peter’s, mother church reaching out the long arms of the colonnade to embrace her flock.
In the queue were families, tourists, pilgrims and Romans, but most noticeably the nuns from all over the world – East Asia, South Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas – all in their peculiar habits, their faces tense with expectation, and the priests young, old, handsome, plain – more relaxed than the nuns, less diverse too, but still expectant, alight.
It was rumoured to be Pope Benedict XVI‘s last High Mass.
The navel of the square is the 4500-year-old pink granite obelisk taken from Egypt by conquering Romans. It was re-erected in St Peter’s Square in the 16th century with much hullabaloo. The obelisk works as the needle of a giant sundial, aligned to the summer solstice.
In 1817, paving stones were added showing 12 signs of the Zodiac. The tip of the shadow of obelisk hits each stone sign on the day that the Sun actually moves into it.
We had missed noon on Ash Wednesday, and the shadow had moved on, but if you were to go tomorrow at midday, you would see the Pope’s sundial pointing straight at Pisces, the sign associated with the Church itself, and with self-sacrifice. On the day Pope Benedict XVI steps down, 28 February, the Sun will conjoin Chiron, the wounded healer, and exactly sextile Pluto in Capricorn, the planet of death and transformation in the sign of the establishment.
|picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons|