St. Peters Fountain

Three other fountains were placed before the church as the years went by. They are described by Pope Celestinus II (ii43-ii44), while he was Canon of St. Peters, and are set down in his Ordo Romanus, or Itinerary, or Guide. They were situated, not in the atrium, where stood the fountain of Symmachus, but below, in that small square or cortile at the foot of the steps of St. Peters. One fountain was of porphyry and two of white marble. They would seem to have disappeared quite early. The fountain of Symmachus was described in 1190 by Censius Camerarius, afterward Pope Honorius III, and it stood through more than eleven centuries of the confused and turbulent history of the city. It survived the siege and capture of Rome by Vitiges in 537. It came unscathed through the sack of the city by the Saracens in 886, and that of the Normans in 1084; and stranger still, it was not wrecked by the terrible Lanzknechts of the Constable de Bourbon in 1527. Only when the ages of violence and pillage were passed, did this historic fountain of the early church succumb to a fate similar to that of the Pagan monuments, out of which it had itself been formed. When in 1607 the work on the new Church of St. Peter, which was begun in 15o6 at the rear of the old sanctuary and brought forward through the century, had reached the atrium, this gem of the art of the dark ages was deliberately demolished by Pope Paul V, who melted the gilded bronze to make the figure of the Virgin now surmounting the Column of Santa Maria Maggiore. Perhaps the metal thus obtained was more than he needed; possibly some artistic or antiquarian compunction visited the pontiff-for two of the pea­cocks and the great bronze cone were spared. They found their way to the Vatican Gardens, and now they stand in the Giardino della Pigna waiting for the next turn of Fortunes wheel.

Yet another fountain was once associated with the basilica of St. Peter. It was erected in the old square while the fountain of Symmachus still stood in the atrium to the right of the main entrance to the church. About the year 1492, Innocent VIII (Giovanni Battista Cibo) gathered the waters from springs on the Vatican Hill and from the practically ruined Aqueduct of Trajan into this fountain, which was finished by his successor, Alexander VI (Borgia). The design was greatly admired in its day.

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