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The Bridge of Angels (in Italian, Ponte Sant'Angelo) spans the Tiber River in Rome. Only a few steps away from St. Peter's Basilica, the bridge reflects the psychological shift from secular to sacred that occurs when pilgrims crossed from the busy streets of Rome over to the churches of the Vatican. Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the famed Italian sculptor, originally designed the bridge's angel sculptures in the seventeenth century. Though few of the angels standing today were done by his hand, Bernini's vision for the bridge lives on.
Five angel sculptures flank each side of the bridge, with statues of Saint Peter and Saint Paul on the eastern bank. At the base of each sculpture is a line from the Bible in Latin. The verses inscribed on many of the sculptures are dissimilar to the verses readers find in today's Bibles, because they are based on an old and superseded scripture translation called the Latin Vulgate.
Below are the Latin inscriptions, their translations, and an explanation of their religious significance.
Angel with the Column
Inscription: "Tronus meus in columna"
Translation: My throne is upon a column (Sirach 24:4)
Significance: According to tradition, Roman prisoners were whipped while bound to a low pillar or column. The book of Sirach is found in Catholic Bibles, but considered apocryphal by certain Christian denominations.
Angel with the Scourge
Inscription: "In flagella paratus sum"
Translation: I am ready for the scourge (Psalm 37:18, Latin Vulgate version) Significance: According to Mark 15:15, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate had Jesus scourged before having him crucified.
Angel with the Crown of Thorns
Inscription: "In aerumna mea dum configitur spina"
Translation: The thorn is fastened upon me (Psalm 31:4, Latin Vulgate)
Significance: According to Mark 15:17, Roman soldiers crowned Jesus with thorns before they crucified him.
Angel with Veronica's Veil
Inscription: "Respice faciem Christi tui"
Translation: Look upon the face of your Christ (Psalm 84:9)
Significance: According to Roman Catholic tradition, a woman named Veronica wiped Jesus' face with a cloth while he was carrying the cross; Jesus' image remained on the cloth.
Angel with the Garment and Dice
Inscription: "Super vestimentum meum miserunt sortem"
Translation: For my clothing they cast lots (Psalm 22:18)
Significance: According to Mark 15:24, Roman soldiers took Jesus' well-made garments and played dice for them.
Angel with the Cross
Inscription: "Cuius principatus super humerum eius"
Translation: Dominion rests on his shoulders (Isaiah 9:6)
Significance: This scripture verse links the "Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero" of Isaiah's prophecies to Jesus. Earlier in the same Isaiah passage, the prophet announces that "a child is born to us, a son is given us." The cross resting on Jesus' shoulders is symbolically linked to his dominion.
Angel with the Nails
Inscription: "Aspicient ad me quem confixerunt"
Translation: They will look upon me whom they have pierced (Zechariah 12:10)
Significance: According to Thomas' words in John 20:25, Jesus was nailed to the cross. The crucifixion narrative in John's gospel (John 19:37) quotes this Zechariah verse. Zechariah chapter 12 prophesies Jerusalem's victory and vindication, accompanied by mourning for those who suffered for her sake.
Angel with the Superscription "INRI"
Inscription: "Regnavit a ligno deus"
Translation: God has reigned from the tree (sixth-century hymn)
Significance: The lyrics to this ancient hymn about the cross describe the "blest Tree, whose happy branches bore/ the wealth that did the world restore." The inscription INRI is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase "Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews." According to the gospels, the INRI sign was affixed to Jesus' cross.
Angel with the Wine-Soaked Sponge
Inscription: "Potaverunt me aceto"
Translation: They gave me vinegar to drink (Psalm 69:21)
Significance: The gospels of Matthew and Mark report that just before Jesus died, one of the soldiers who crucified him placed a sponge dipped in "sour wine" on a stick and held the stick to Jesus' lips.
Angel with the Spear
Inscription: "Vulnerasti cor meum"
Translation: You have ravished my heart (Song of Solomon 4:9)
Significance: According to John's gospel, after Jesus died, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear to confirm that he was dead. Christian tradition has tied this action to the "ravishing" or "wounding" of the heart of the beloved in the Song of Solomon. This tradition emphasizes that Jesus underwent death by crucifixion as an act of love for humankind.
Art design: Michael Parisi
Art direction: Joanna Choy
Photos: Laura Sheahen and Roberto Piperno
Editorial direction: Laura Sheahen