Architectural Reflections of Solomon’s Temple and St. Peter’s Basilica in St. Casimir’s Royal Chapel in the Cathedral of Vilnius

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.

Keyword: Žygas

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