K. Paulius Zygas (Arizona State University)
In 1621 the Vatican upgraded the feast day of St. Casimir from duplex status, granted in 1602, to ritu semiduplici status, which expanded the saint’s veneration from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to all Roman Catholics worldwide. Eustachijus Valavičius, Bishop of Vilnius, and King Sigismund III Vasa then decided to add an entirely new chapel to the Cathedral of Vilnius, raising issues of its design and the choice of an architect.
Bishop Valavičius was well acquainted with Italian architectural trends. A seminarian in Rome during the early 1590’s, he returned there in 1620 to facilitate the canonization upgrade and other diocesan matters. During the quarter-century interval St. Peter’s Basilica had been transformed into the present building but still maintained some links to Old St. Peter’s.
The new building completely covered the sacred ground which the old building had covered. Venerable mementos were also salvaged and saved for re-use. The Solomonic columns, which Roman emperor Constantine donated to Old St. Peter’s in the 4-th century, were placed into the piers supporting the new basilica’s dome. Two antique africano columns, the first ones encountered on entering the old basilica, flanked the new basilica’s main entrance portal, immediately underneath the Benediction Loggia. This column pair was often compared to St. Peter and St. Paul and, likewise, to Joachin and Boaz, the free-standing column pair facing Solomon’s Temple. The dark red marble pilasters flanking the Benediction Loggia evinced the curtains which once covered the entrances to the temples of Moses, Solomon, and Herod.