Today in Catholic History – The Obelisk before St. Peter’s is blessed

On 28 September 1586, the obelisk known as “The Witness” was blessed in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The obelisk, originally taken from Rome and erected at the Circus of Nero in 37 AD, was the second largest standing obelisk at 130 ft including the base and the cross and weighing 330 tons. Pope Sixtus V wanted the obelisk moved and so arranged a competition among three hundred architects, engineers and others. Domenico Fontana won the competition and spent seven months gathering supplies and building a ramp and on April 30, the project of transporting the obelisk began with 907 men, 70 winches and 145 horses. However, as the obelisk was being raised disaster almost struck when the ropes holding the obelisk started smoking from the friction. A voice cried out “Acqua alle funi!” or “Water the ropes!. Fontana followed the advice and the daylong process of raising the obelisk and lowering onto the platform for moving was completed successfully.

The man who cried out was a sailor from Bordighera and in gratitude Pope Sixtus granted Bordighera the perpetual privilege of providing the palms to St Peter’s for Palm Sunday.

Due to the summer heat of Rome, the obelisk remained on its side and on the morning of September 10th the obelisk was raised in St. Peter’s square. Domenico Fontana was made Cavalier della Guglia – or Knight of the Obelisk. On the 28th the scaffolding of the obelisk was removed and Pope Sixtus blessed the obelisk.

It is said that Fontana had horses prepared for a quick escape should the transport have failed.


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