In the cemetery of Priscilla, in a subterranean early Christian Rome, the symbolic hermetic rod maybe took origin from a fresco representing Moses.
The cemetery of Santa Priscilla is a huge subterranean burial system lying in the area of Via Salaria. Who exactly was this santa Priscilla, among three martyrs with this name, is rather uncertain. In the Acts of Apostles, chapter 18, three martyrs named Priscilla were mentioned. In “Roma Sotterranea, Opera Postuma by Antonio Bosio Romano”, Roma 1610, the author quotes Damasus in his Vita di San Marcello papa, or life of St. Marcello pope: ” hic rogavit quandam Matronam, nomine Priscilla, et fecit Coemeterium Via Salaria”, or this one asked a matron, called Priscilla, and made the cemetery in Via Salaria. But, as Antonio Bosio Romano pointed out, it was customary of the Acts of Apostles to use the verb to make in the place of to restore or improve. So, the huge cemetery in Via Salaria was probably neither made by San Marcello, nor his contemporary Priscilla, but perhaps by the second Priscilla, mother of St. Pudente and grand mother of Sante Prassede and Pudentiana. All martyrs.
Quite certainly the third Priscilla developed the area, where later many early popes will be buried. Till Celestine the first, if we believe to a letter sent to Charlemagne by his contemporary pope. The Greek Chapel, or Cappella Greca, is in Via Salaria Nuova and develops in a long series of “Cubicula”, or tunnels.
The picture we are examining is taken from a lithographic album edited by Giovanni Battista De Rossi in 1880, in occasion of his fifth tome of “Roma Sotterranea”. The lithographs are from various author.
Among very interesting frescoed images, which incidentally reminds of a symbolism serving hermeticism as well, I was caught up by this Moses beating a rock on a vault. Those who are not new to this site, know that I’m not easily stopped by false reverence when discovering a hermetic detail ( and very often, more than a detail) inside a medieval Christian building, that’s to say an age in which Christendom definitely was a system of power. But, in this occasion, I don’t want to seem disrespectful toward a burial-place of martyrs. Honor and reverence for the dead, first of all. In an age in which to be a Christian, meant to courageously face the roman ruling power cruelty. But I don’t think to lack respect toward these martyrs, if I say that on the Christian carriage many heterogeneous symbols and allegories have travelled. Further in early periods.
Having said that, I beg to differ from many italian archaeologists ( almost all, if not one can forget to apply as an archaeologist in Rome) putting forward a hermetic reading of some details in this chapel in the Cemetery of Priscilla. In fact it should require a huge imagination to keep together all those strange details: Why two peacocks facing a shrub? Why three men put to burn, not on a stake, but on a real roman cooker? Why the good shepherd surrounded by crows and dogs? Why a white dove bringing a white twig to a resurrected man coming out a sarcophagus? Archaelologists defined him Noah came out the ark ( strange stone ark, although very intriguing. We will see in a coming post how ark symbolism had much in common with art of memory). Why the so called Noah, in a next scene, is on a tree of life? I have already said, in my article on Holbein dead Christ (1), that Christendom, at least the late one, is not so enthusiast of resurrected independent persons. In fact they rather prefer the dissolution.
For all the examined details (see a gallery on next page), there is a hermetic explanation more rational and logic than a gathering of biblical episodes separated from each other and not telling the same story. If interpreted according to Alchemy keys, they could tell us an alchemical continuous.
But let’s get back to our main topic. On a vault we can observe Moses striking a rock with a rod: “Moses strikes, by order of the Lord, a rock which splits open, and out comes plenty of water …….. Moses struck the rock twice with his rod “. This is one of the Bible highlights. Every reader can remember this scene. Interpretations have been countless, of course. Anyway I’m intrigued by the similitude with some personages, in hermetic collections, holding strange rods in concomitance with mercurial sublimations, or rather elevations, or better volatilizations.
We know that our first matter Materia Prima is Mercurius/Secret Fire extracted from the raw matter by means of reiterated salts volatilizations. Very often a volatilization supposes a previous dissolution. This is, by far, the “conditio sine qua non”, or the needed condition to achieve our Secret Fire.
A synonym of Mercurius is “Water”, a flowing substance. Sometimes a flowing substance that doesn’t wet hands. Often we do have to do with fumes, indeed (2).
But, back to Moses, when he strikes the rock to open it (we in fact know we have to destroy raw matters to get the inside out), he gets the flowing substance (Mercurius) to beverage his people. And we know that the alchemical embryo has to be breastfed (3). Two times, because we need a repetition to get a real alchemical embryo ( see an Opus Magnum scheme).
A last observation: the presence of a vase with vegetation above the Moses scene. You can see this symbol ( which is hardly a Christian symbol) very often in later italian paintings (but only those with hermetic details). And always above a “springing” source (4).
Many of the current inexplicable alchemical symbolism origins date back to Bible. And without this in mind it is really difficult to understand why a simple rod could represent all that. Other symbols will stand for the same concept, anyway. And the same rod, for the rule of three, may stand for at least three different concepts.
I know what you are thinking: ” Why has God ordered Moses to use a rod-stick to open the rock? “. Well, it is quite impossible to go back in the night of times to find another outstanding rod. Unless you mean the famous ( because very hidden) wooden rod used in dry metallurgic paths to perform all that without a dissolvent.
Alchemical symbolism is all but consequential and systematic. Not because Alchemy is a chaotic discipline, but rather because of the antiquity of its origin. In fact ancient people lacked our modern mathematical mind. We are proud to infer by syllogisms, they by hyperboles. While Alchemy is learned by insights.To be honest, Moses had already used his rod to divide the red sea waters to let his people through. One might say that after the great Mercurial division ( Mercurius Duplicatus), Moses led his people through a desert. But, to arrive in Israel, Moses must necessarily cross the red sea and the Sinai desert. That was not a hermetic myth, that was the reality. I know that some researchers give a meaning to the land they travel as well, but I think this being a forcing. The first “invention” was the opening of the rock, indeed, and I prefer to search a hidden meaning for that. See also Raffaello Sanzio and a Rod Semantics, Pietro Perugino and the Moon, Lady of the Rod , Benedetto Mazzotta and Rods Celebrating a Headpiece.
- Hans Holbein Dead Christ Builds his Grave ;
- See also Symbola Aureae Mensae and the Supreme Purpose and Hortulus Hermeticus and Love Between Fumes ;
- See also Kamala Jnana, from Black to White and Cabala Mineralis or the She Horse on Urine Work part 2 ;
- See also Andrea da Murano: a Painter and the Art of Fire ;