The Coat of
Arms on the Pedestals
years, the details of the pedestals have been subject to extravagant
explanations. One of the most popular stories told by some
guides to the basilica, is that the woman was the neice of Urban VIII
who was undergoing a difficult pregnancy. The pope then vows to
dedicate an altar in St Peter's if the delivery is successful.
Thankfully this matter has been recently explained by the world's
greatest scholar on the work of Bernini in St Peter's, Irving Lavin.
Baldacchino above the Papal Altar is supported by 4 large
(2.68m) marble pedestals . Each of the outer sides of the
pedestals are decorated with Urban VIII's family coat of arms,
the Barberini bees, created by Bernini and his assistants
(1627-28). These shields also represent the stages of a woman
in childbirth, which begins on the SouthEast corner (1), moves
clockwise, and ends with a baby's face on the NorthEast corner (8).
Lavin in his book Visible Spirit: The Art of Gianlorenzo
Bernini, Volume 3, The Pedestals of the Baldacchino: Footsteps
on the Way to Redemption, states the following.
References to the tribulations and joys of childbirth were
understood as the labor and sufferings of the Mother Church in
bringing about salvation through a healing of the souls by
virtue of Christ's sacrifice at the crucifixion, reenacted in
the Eucharistic sacrifice of the mass.
The pedestals of
the baldacchino incorporate, as cornerstones the two stones,
Peter and Mary, on which Christ built his church. Following the
words about childbirth in the Book of Revelation and from
Christ's own mouth as reported by St John, the tribulations and
ultimate jubilation of childbirth depicted on the pedestals
reenact the process of salvation that is achieved in the
sacrifice at the altar and triumphs with the Resurrection of
Christ in the original plan for the Baldacchino, and with
the world dominion of the Cross as it was executed. The Original
Sin over which the church triumphs and from which the repentant
sinner is redeemed is illustrated in the satiric, indeed
devilish masks that appear as if imprisoned at the groins of the
The Chastity of Bees
Spiritual betrothal and the laborious creation of its progeny is exactly what is emblematized in the pedestals of the
Baldacchino: the birthing that takes place in the embrace of the papal arms, with the expressive heads above, the bees
marking the breast and belly in the swollen torso, and the groin covered or replaced by the ghoulish masks that echo the
goatskins with which, in the Lupercalia, pagan women were lashed at their groins to insure fertility. This increase in the
faithful through conversion and baptism is precisely the kind of progeny envisaged by Methodius and other churchmen as
resulting from the travails of the apocalyptic Woman clothed in the Sun, and Christ's own procreative passing from his death
to his Second Coming - a troubled birth with a happy issue. This construct of the ideology of the Church depends wholly on
the virginity of Mary, which is expressed in the Barberini coat of arms by the bees.
Altar, Baldacchino and the Coat of Arms on the pedestals
below the coat of arms