architectural agendas - crossed archaeology
As it happens, today, May 3, is the feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross, and St. Helena (the recently proclaimed first master architect of Christianity) is the person attributed with having found the Holy Cross--a very interesting (and saintly) combination of archaeology and architecture.
recollection of the day's events
In perfoming a web search on emperor Maximian, a surprising number of links to saints turned. It appears that maximian is responsible for a great many Christian martyrdoms, for example, St. Maurice, St. Ursus, St. Dimitrius, St. Panteleimon, the 20,000 martyrs of Nicomedia, St. Hesychios the Senator.
Without his knowing it, Helena may have been Maximian's greatest nemesis.
I thought you would like to know about The Saintly Patronessing of Women Architects: Reconstructing the Practice of Flavia Julia Helena Augusta. This is a work-in-progress project proporting the notion that Helena was the first master architect of Christianity. see:
I have lately become familiar (April 9, 1999) with your work regarding Helena Augusta, and it has helped me a great deal, however, I have only read the history section of your book so far.
I imagine you will find my work regarding Helena as architect somewhat strange and unprecedented, yet I also imagine that you will likewise realize that Helena is indeed "legendary" in so many respects. Essentially, my "hypothesis" is largely based on the architectural similarity of all the early Constantinian Christian basilica/churches in both Rome and Palestine (and perhaps even Trier and Salona), and then combining this architectural similarity with the fact that Helena was present when each these structures begun construction. There are also some "spiritual" coincidences within my own recent life that lead me to have "faith" in my hypothesis, and these are being gradually disclosed in the "neo-legend" section of The Saintly Patronessing... .
I have just yesterday become acquainted with Borgehammer's work, and I actually find his thesis and dating as to Helena's Palestine trip most intriguing--Borgehammer's earlier dating of Helena's "pilgrimage" actually solves many of the intricacies within my own (building) dating sequence.
In any case, I hope you find the time and interest to follow my project as it comes together over the next few months (proposed finish date is August 18, of course). I will greatly appreciate any of your comments or suggestions.
Director, Quondam - A Virtual Museum of Architecture
May 21st - the Agonalia
Agonalia - a festival in honor of Janus celebrated in Rome on the 9th of January and the 21st of May.
Janus is my favorite Roman god.
Janus - an old Italian deity. He was represented with a face on the front and another on the back of his head. The month of January was sacred to him, as were all other beginnings. The myth makes him a king of Latium or Etruria, where he hospitably received Saturn when expelled by Jupiter from Crete. He had a small temple in the Forum, with two doors opposite to each other, which in time of war stood open and in time of peace were shut; the temple was trice closed on this account. With reference to his temple, the
deity was called Janus Geminus or Janus Quirinus.
In its over 800 year history, Rome was at peace only three times?
I like Janus because he can see in front of him and he can see behind him--into the future and into the past? Also, I like to wonder whether Janus was "two faced" or was he schizophrenic?
Within his large plan of the Campo Marzio, Piranesi applies the label "Circus Agonalis sive Alexandri" to the original Circus of Domitian which is today Rome's Piazza Navona. Albeit obscure information, Piranesi was indeed correct in his designation because the emperor Alexander Severus rebuilt the Circus of Domitian and renamed it in honor of Janus. It is fun to imagine all the big goings-on over 1700 years ago today within what is now the Piazza Navona.
Another monument in honor of Janus that still stands in Rome today is the Arch of Janus Quadrifrons, which is in the Forum Boarium. It is one of those unique four-way arches, and, according to Banister Fletcher, is "of poor design." What is most interesting about this arch, however, is that it was constructed under Constantine the Great AFTER he converted to Christianity. I believe this signifies two important facts. First, the aristocratic and pagan population of Rome still had tremendous influence and power. Second, whoever designed this arch was extremely clever in that Janus, precisely because of his "two faced" nature, was the perfect god to reflect Constantine's own political position -- exactly because of his conversion from paganism to Christianity, Constantine himself is Rome's ultimate Janus-like emperor. [Personally, I can't help but believe that it was Constantine's mother Helena (that most saintly of architects) that thought all this poignant symbolism through.] And, in an almost too good to be true sense, the Arch of Janus may well have predicted (looked towards) European architecture's next 1200 years: Banister Fletcher notes "it has a simple cross-vault with embedded brick box-ribs at the groins, affording a further instance of the progressive character of Roman construction techniques: such ribs are possibly the prototypes of Gothic rib vaults." [Fletcher is being a little two faced himself here -- first the Arch of Janus is not good design, and then the arch is progressive construction!] Could it really be that the
first ribbed cross-vaults ever were built in late antiquity? Do these vaults, built by ancient Rome's first Christian emperor, unwittingly and uncannily prophesies a whole new future era of Western architecture? [And is it possible that Helena, besides being the first master architect of Christianity, is also the world's proto-Gothic architect?]
Constantine converted to Christianity the night before the Battle at the Milvian Bridge (October 28, 312) which lead into the City of Rome. He saw a vision of the (Christ) Cross in the sky, and hence ordered his troops to paint the (Christ) Cross on their shields. Constantine was victorious over the usurpative emperor Maxentius, and on October 29 entered Rome in triumph. Constantine's mother, St. Helena, is most known for having discovered the True Cross in Jerusalem (most recently dated c. 324-25). If you asked me, I'd say the "signs" surrounding this incredible mother-son team are still appearing.
As odd as it sounds, only after sending the initial Agonalia post did two things occur to me:
1. the space created by the plan of the four-way Arch of Janus essentially forms a cross.
2. Only Helena is honored as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, and her feast is celebrated the 18th of August. The Greek Orthodox Church, on the other hand (or is it other face?), honors both Helena and Constantine as saints, and they share a combined feast day, which happens to be today, May 21st.
Re: the Agonalia
Tom raises one of the (religious) ambiguities that may always surrounded Constantine. I have read some reference to the popular worship of Mithra (spelling? - an eastern sun cult I believe) during Constantine's time. For example, while Constantine was one of the junior emporers ruling from Trier over Gaul, Britian and Spain, the overall political crises engendered by the usurpative Maxentius in Rome brought together the retired emperors of Diocletian, Maximian (Maxentius' father) and Galarius (eastern Augustus) for a meeting near Vienna. There is some existent inscription relating to that meeting suggesting that offerings to Mithra were made. I don't think that Constantine was at that meeting, however.
My feeling is that both Constantine and Helena were very interested in Chistianity, and perhaps believers, before Constantine's vision in 312. If they were, however, they had to keep it very much to themselves. The retired emperor Maximian, who resided within Constantine's court in Trier (c. 308-311) was an ardent persecutor of the Christians while he co-reigned with Diocletian. One has to look carefully at Constantine's early political position as emperor to see that it was precarious, and professing even a tolerance of Christianity before his position became stable might well have been political, if not literal suicide.
Personally, the more I research this particular history, the more facinating it becomes. For example, check out the uncanny family relations between Constantine and Maximian, and you will realize that none of the Constantine-Helena story is easy.
Constantine "practiced" Christianity as of 312, but was not baptized until a few days before his death in 337. Constantine's remaining an unbaptized Christian for most of his life is precisely the issue that raises all the ambiguity surrounding his "faith".
feast of St. Helena - August 18
I was already giving thought to the notion of legends = irrationality and how the enlightenment denies the existence of the irrational and this purports a not necessarily true image of reality.
18 August -- the feast of Saint Helena
Saint Helena is without doubt the person I least expected. There was no prior indication that the life of a woman from late antiquity would captivate my mind the way it has. I imagine many of you reading this now seriously wonder why or how Helena could even be relevant at this late point in the twentieth century. The simple answer is that Helena, as a woman, an empress, and even as an architect was instrumental in the first physical manifestations of a major cultural paradigm shift that ultimately encompassed global proportions. Helena's life presents nothing less than the role of a powerful woman during a time of incredibly major and rapid change. Today is definitely full of major and rapid change. Are we to expect the arrival of a powerful woman as well?
No doubt the most intriguing aspects of looking back at Helena's life [and practice as an architect] are the questions and the nature of the questions that surface.
Was Helena secretly a Christian well before Constantine's conversion the night before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge [12 October 312]?
Did the Donatist Controversy play a role in how Helena's "conversion" to Christianity was [incorrectly?] recorded by Eusebius?
Did the city and citizens of Rome experience their first true peace once Helena began to live there in 313? Was it indeed an Empress, and not an Emperor, that ultimate delivered Rome's "eternal" peace? [In the thirty years of Constantine's rule as an emperor, the combined time he actually stayed in Rome amounts to less than one year.]
Is it just coincidence that Helena's Palace in Rome was literally right down the street from the tract of land Constantine bestowed upon the Papacy in order for it to establish the first Papal Palace and Rome's (and the world's) first Christian basilica? [Don't we all wish we could choose our neighbors?]
Did the city of Rome simple become Helena's sole domain? [What person with an innate talent for architecture suddenly finding themselves holding absolute power wouldn't make the city of Rome their domain?]
After a dozen years of busily building churches in Rome, did Helena see as her next mission to start a similar [church] building boom in the Holy Land, that is, once Constantine became ruler of the eastern half of the Empire?
Did Helena's initialize the building of churches [as many legends say she did] in the towns she passed through as she began to travel across the again united Empire?
Was Helena one of the un-named members of Constantine's family that Eusebius mentions being present at the Council of Nicaea (May 325)?
Did Helena go the Holy Land immediately after the Council of Nicaea rather than a year or two later?
After her activities in the Holy Land, activities which legends say included the finding of the True Cross, did Helena travel back to Rome via the northern coast of Africa?
Is it possible that Helena was making her way back to Rome (to be present at Constantine's twentieth jubilee, July 326) when she learned that Constantine ordered the death of Crispus (Constanitne's first son) in May 326?
Did Crispus snap into schizophrenia in 326, and is that the main reason Constanitne had Crispus killed, aside from the fact that Fausta, Constantine's wife but not the mother of Crispus, may have prodded Constantine's action for the advancement of her own children?
Did Helena have a hand in the subsequent murder of Fausta as some ancient historians surmise she did?
After all her enormous religious activities, did Helena suddenly find herself within the greatest test of her faith?
Are the rare double basilicas of Aquileia and particularly Trier, the last early Christian church begun during Helena's life time, uncanny tributes to Crispus' schizophrenic demise?
Is Crispus the reason Helena made her unexpected appearance within Quondam's gallery 1999 schizophrenia + architecture exhibit?
Is the architect of the parish church of St. Helena in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Olney actually Flavia Julia Helena Augusta herself?
If nothing else, Helena has made me aware of a pivotal time in history about which I previously knew virtually nothing. What is most unfortunate, however, is that practically nothing remains of the buildings Helena designed. Practially all of the churches were eventually redone, very likely by men architects who thought they could do better.
18 August 1999 - epicenter
On 22 May 337, Constantine the Great died at Ancyrona, a suburb of Nicomedia.
Nicomedia is known today as Izmit, Turkey.
Nicomedia, back in the last years of the third century and the ealiest years of the fourth century, was the Roman imperial capital of Diocletian.
Diocletian instiututed the last "great" Roman persecution of the Christians in 303.
Nicomedia is thus where countless Christian martyrs died.
Back then there was all kinds of horrible (for some) news coming out of Nicomedia.
I never imagined that Nicomedia, aka Izmit, would, in my own lifetime, reënact its former status as death capital of the world.
The rape of the Sabine women
Plutarch tells us (I believe within the Life of Romulus--it's years since I read it) that the bridal tradition of the husband carrying the bride over the threshold stems from the rape of the Sabine women.
Now there's an example of putting a favorable spin on something otherwise not the best of circumstances.
Furthermore, I find it interesting that Romans held virgins in such high regard, to the point that to kill a virgin was one of the greatest offenses one could perform, hence raping a virgin prior to killing her became the loophole (so to speak).
The execution of St. Agnes, a young Roman Christian girl who refused marriage, was proceeded by her being sent to a brothel (the legendary location of which is St. Agnes on the Piazza Navona). Agnes, however, was protected there by an angel. The ultimate execution of Agnes sent shock waves through Rome precisely because those in power publicly killed a virgin. Many Romans were so outraged that they then actually converted to Christianity.