A Message from Father Nick 66
Roman Statue Wars …
It is difficult not to feel sorry for the Roman emperor Julian (361-363): known to history as “Julian the Apostate”. Although he was a nephew of Constantine, he resented Christianity’s growing influence and did his best to reinstate the old philosophy and worship. His short reign was Paganism’s last hurrah.
His efforts were doomed to fail, and Antioch – or rather the sacred groves at Daphne – would be associated with that failure. This was Apollo’s own special shrine, with a magnificently gilded wooden statue over forty-two feet tall. Julian decided that Antiochene Daphne would offer both a setting and a symbol for his restoration programme. Alas for him, that proved to be true.
Julian planned a great event. He later said in dismay, “I saw in my mind’s eye, the sort of procession it would be, like a man seeing visions in a dream – beasts for sacrifice, libations, choruses in honour of the god, incense, and the youths of your city attired in white and splendid raiment surrounding the shrine, their souls adorned with all holiness.” He arrived to find that nothing had been prepared. When he asked what sacrifice the city proposed to make, the priest came forward with a goose he had brought from home.
In a way, this was the end of the ancient world. But some changes would prove more controversial. Among them was the de-paganization of the senate, and the emergence of a new kind of bishop.
From 294 BC, there had been a temple to the goddess of Victory on the Palatine hill. After the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, Augustus placed a statue of Victory in the Senate house, with an altar where senators could offer incense and pray for the welfare of the empire. Here they pledged their loyalty, remembering Rome’s past and looking forward to its future. Obviously, this engendered strong emotional attachment.
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