Years ago, while crossing the bridge of Castel Sant’Angelo, my skin felt the angels speak. A mystical experience? No, it was the magic of French conceptual artist, Alain Fleischer, who, via technology, had given life to angels made of stone. Intrigued, I asked the artist (a very sexy guy with eyes like lasers) to speak to my students at the Academy of Fine Arts. Ooh là là, I wondered, had Fleischer, who has a PhD in Semiotics, ever heard the angels sing?
The other day, after seeing drone photos of a depopulated Ponte Sant’Angelo, I remembered Fleischer’s angels. Although majestically standing on their pedestals, they were silent. Because angels, when alone, don’t talk.
Angels have not always been present at Castel Sant’Angelo. Initially, Sant’Angelo was a mausoleum that the Roman emperor, Hadrian, had built for himself. Although considered a “benevolent dictator” he was, nevertheless, quite conceited and wanted an impressive monument left behind to remind history that he’d existed.
After the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of papal rule, the mausoleum was renamed Castel Sant’Angelo (the Catholics were masters at recycling pagan constructions). It’s said that, during the Roman Plague of 590, the Archangel Michael stood on top of the mausoleum with a burning sword to chase away death and thus its new name. Much later, in 1669, the esoteric Bernini was commissioned by Pope Clemente IX to design the ten angels now standing on the bridge.
Ahhh, so many angels.
Without wanting to be, Julian Jaynes was a controversial scholar. He speculated that, 3,000 years ago, man had a bi-cameral mind where one half of the brain spoke and the other half listened believing it was a god who was speaking to him. In other words, once upon a time, everyone heard voices. Then an increase in demographics, the collapse of ancient societies, and mass migrations marked a transition in man’s way of thinking. Introspection was now no longer a voice from a god but a voice from just one half of the brain.
But the gods could not be silenced. Anxious to be heard again, they sent winged messengers to reactivate that forgotten voice. So man, afraid of his own thoughts, could say that they’d come from an angel. But why? Why can we not accept our inner voice as our own? Why is it that we need an excuse to believe in ourselves? Why is it that we are so eager to conform to the words of gurus, preachers, and/or narcissistic world leaders that we cannot understand that God is within our own being as much as it is within anyone else’s.
There is an angel within us all just waiting to be heard.