The eight spokes wheel on a Trisulti pillar means more than a yearbook. An archeo-astronomical chart for Equinoxes, Solstices, heliacal and acronic stars.
When one looks at the sundial from the courtyard before the church of st. Bartholomew, he/she can just perceive the wheel, out of the four signs. So when seeing the solar clock the eight parts of the lunar-solar year also appear to be considered. In fact both the sundial and the pillar seem to belong to the same baroque age. An epoch in which art was never a chance occurrence or a fancy, but a symbol was always a hint. The reader can find an archeoastronomy course on heliacal and acronic stars in the last part of the article.
The presence of a sundial and a yearbook wheel in the st. Bartholomew courtyard may stand for the basic fact that not only the hour of the day is important but also the part of the solar-lunar year. So we are here before a solar significance for the allegory of the wheel again, as we have already seen in Heiligen Dreifaltigkeit and Secret Iconography of the Wheel, but this time as a partition of the solar and lunar path, our asters (2). And that leads us to reflect on how ancient romans were used to divide a year time. Because, apart from any other historical consideration, this could be interesting for our alchemical works too.
To make rather trouble-free the interpretation of this eight spokes specimen is all that surrounds. The set is an ancient ( ten centuries) monastery, turned into carthusian with the special protection by pope Innocenzo III in 1208, to definitely become an abbey in 1947.
The religious community inside were widely renown for their pharmacological skills. Even today they prepare and sell in their beautiful eighteenth style pharmacy their remedies not only from vegetal kingdom, but also from mineral one.
So those monks have been used to work in laboratory for centuries. Used to grind in their mortars, to distill and sublime. To fix in the end, as well. In fact the walls of the pharmacy are decorated with a symbolism that we can generically define hermetic. So that we cannot wonder to also see inside the monastery a Sator square painted on a wall.
The wheel we are examining is likely to be a so called “time” wheel, and not only because of its eight partitions but also for the other signs in the pillar. This quadrilateral stone column stands alongside the monastery driveway down and exactly in front of the sundial on the wall. On the top of the pillar stands a lion, very unusual decoration for an ancient catholic monastery, directly looking at the sundial, as though this piece of painted wall had been a very important item.
The central part of the sundial, or the part from which a very subtle gnomon starts, shows instead a painted kind of three-baluster emblem crossed by a carpenter’s square and a scythe. The emblem is really amazing in a catholic monastery. One can guess the farmer’s tool does represent the hard work of monks in the fields ( only a huge oak forest surround the housing, no meadows and just a garden for their medicinal plants inside), the carpenter’s tool might have a rational for the refurbishing of the original monastery. But why there is no mention of the main activity of the monks inside the Carthusian, that’s to say the iatro-chemistry? And why the three balusters? Three gates, as our three works (see an Opus magnum scheme)? Is really believable that back at an age from thirteenth to eighteenth century, a closed community in the middle of an italian forest, entirely dedicated to chemistry and medicine, had never been reached by the alchemical fashion waving the outside world around them? No, it isn’t in fact.
In the upper part of the emblem there is a motto: ” post tenebre spero lucem”, or after the dark I hope in light. But during the baroque age was not uncommon to see similar short sentences about light and dark on solar clocks. For instance, once I saw ” Lux fugat umbra”, or light puts the shadow to flight, which is just a slightly different concept from the Trisulti monastery, nevertheless we can not know if the monks had instead the secret intention to throw an alchemical nuance and makes their motto to encapsulate the first whiteness forming over the black matter during the end of the first putrefactive phase in preparatory works, which are brought to end by this white appearance in fact. We know that there is a stage in our alchemical works defined as ” light coming out of dark”, which as a matter of fact is the precise title of a poetic treatise by Santinelli.
It is a fact that the monks seem to were skilled not only in chemistry but even in the art of making solar clocks. The item in front of the pillar is on a perfectly south aligned wall, as on another perfectly south aligned wall, just a few meters away, one can find traces of another solar clock calculated with the sophisticated so called “method of corresponding heights” (1).
Let’s have a look at the other signs around the pillar. Exactly in front of the sundial there is a butcher’s knife, recalling san Bartholomew’s martyr. No wonder, since the church is dedicated to this saint ( we have already met him in Michelangelo & the Mumia Skin in Last Judgement. Apparently he was skinned, indeed). On the other sides of the quadrilateral we have a cross and an eagle. And here the explications are really curious: the cross standing for the papal power and the eagle for the imperial one. How frequently are we used to see ruling signs in a catholic monastery, and why the sign of the house of Hohenstaufen in the country ruled by the pope? And, what’s more, why having that sculptured some four or five centuries after the death of the last Hohenstaufen emperor, Frederick the second? And why to accompany all that is an eight spokes wheel? The official explication is here even more imaginative: the wheel represents the time during which the great ruling powers had appeared. But why a catholic monastery should have been concerned about a ruling power, the imperial one, which was foreigner to it ( although Frederik II was said to have made gifts to the monks) ?
Let’s set aside these too much sophisticated interpretations, while we could simply, and alchemically, observe that a knife, an eagle, a cross and an eight spokes wheel might be basic symbols of basic operations to achieve a lion, which in fact is on the top of the scene. Our alchemical lion, or the product of the last fixation, of course. A knife can be a symbol of dissolution, an eagle of sublimations, a cross of fixations. But let’s concentrate on the wheel instead. Since the interpretation as a piece of “time” suits me, but the lasting of a ruling time. In fact it is hardly to believe the carthusian monks do not know that an eight spokes wheel was a common symbol to represent the eight parts in which the lunar-solar year was divided before Julius Caesar’s new calendar.
Although the laws of the twelve tables just mentioned the rising and the fall of the Sun, in their origin roman people, as most of ancient people, used a lunar calendar in which a month corresponded to a lunation. They did not count the days from the beginning of the month: 1 2 3 4 etc.., but counted the days until the calendae, idus or nonae, depending on which of them were closer, as when counting the days until an important event, in short countdown. The first day of the month was the “calendae” or first day of the new moon, the ” nonae” were an intermediate between the new moon and the “Idus”, or the full moon, that’s to say nine days to a full moon. In fact the term month derives from the latin mensis which, together with month, also means Moon. And this was the same with germanic people and their monat month-moon.
Under the rule of the first king Romulus a lunar-solar year had ten months and a day constantly of 12 hours of light and dark, but during the winter the light hours were shorter, while during the summer were longer than the night ones. Numa Pompilius adjusted the situation adding other two months ( January and February) to balance lunar and solar paths. But as we can imagine, due to imprecisions, agriculture works were ruled by the sidereal year as well, or the rising and set of the stars.
This calendar linked to stellar phenomena led the Romans to divide the year into 8 parts. The Equinoxes and Solstices did not indicate the start of the seasons, but the middle period. In fact the beginning of summer coincided with the heliacal rise of the Pleiades in May, the beginning of autumn coincided with the acronic sunset of Lira. Solstices and equinoxes were a reference for campaigns.