Jupiter Columns

Another forerunner of the Celtic cross is the Jupiter Column. As a type of monument, it seems that Jupiter Columns came into being as the result of a remarkable incident. In 65 bce, the image of Jupiter at the Capitol in Rome was destroyed by a lightning strike, along with stone tablets of the law and a statue of one of the twins beneath the Roman wolf. The destruction of some of the most sacred images of Rome was recognized as a disastrous omen for Roman society and the future of the city. Official investigations were put in hand to determine the nature of the threat, and a means to avert it. Whether the original, destroyed image of Jupiter had been set upon a column is uncertain, but, after Etruscan haruspices had investigated the omens, the augurs decided to set up a column to Jupiter on the site of the previous image. This was erected ceremonially in 63 bce, with an image of the god watching over his people. To the Romans, Jupiter, father of the gods and the people, was the great architect of the universe, sustaincr of all. The architectural column is thus completely appropriate as a symbol of the god. As protector of the city, the new column became the model for others in the western Roman Empire. Outside Italy, Jupiter Columns are found in the Celtic realms that came under Roman rule. While they are known from Britain, Brittany and most of France, the vast majority of columns have been discovered in Lorraine and Alsace and the Rhineland region of Germany, where the remains of 300 have been identified.

Most Jupiter Columns follow an iconic programme. At the base of the typical Jupiter Column is a four-sided stone pedestal carved as a so-called 'four-god stone'. Generally, this consists of four images of divine beings: two female and two male. A common scheme has the goddess Juno on the front side; Minerva on the right side; Hercules on the rear; and Mercury on the left. Sometimes Mercury is replaced by Apollo, while a column from Hauscn has an eagle bearing an inscription on the front side. On the left of the eagle is Apollo; the back bears Diana, and the right completes the four-deity scheme with an image of Venus and Vulcan. Some columns have an inscription carved on the front side of the base. Above this pedestal stands a seven- or eight-sided part with divine images. Usually, they depict the goddesses and gods of the days of the week, though some columns depart from this scheme. When the days of the week arc personified, the eighth place is occupied usually by a dedication or an image of Victoria, the goddess of victory. This so-called 'seven-god stone' part supports the shaft of the column. The deities carved on this section seem to have been more variable than those on the base. While a column found at Plieningen, in the Stuttgart region, has only the weekday images of Saturn, Sol, Luna, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter and Venus, another, found at Schwaigern-Stetten, in the region of Heilbronn, has carvings of Sol, Luna, Vesta, Neptune, Mercury and Maia Rosmerta.

From this seven- or eight-fold stone comes the shaft, which in many cases is carved with patterns. Sometimes the patterns resemble the bark of a tree. A variation can be seen on a Jupiter Column from Hausen which is covered with stylized oak leaves and acorns in a regular tesse-lation. The oak was the holy tree of Jupiter and his sky-god equivalents in the other European pantheons. Typical of Jupiter Column shafts is one discovered at Walheim, which has the lower portion resembling scales or bark, while the upper portion, divided from it by a ropelike pattern, has a vinescroll in which human figures carry out various actions. Originally associated with Dionysos, the vinescroll was adopted by the Christian artists to become a major element in their iconography, re-interpreted as 'the true vine', signifying the regenerative powers symbolized by Jesus Christ. Closely following the example of Jupiter Columns, scrolls of vine leaves appear on the shafts of Celtic Crosses. Good examples exist at Penally in west Wales and on many crosses that originated in the old Anglian kingdoms of Northumbria and Mercia in England, where Roman influence was strong.

There is another variant type of Jupiter Column which has the figures of the goddesses and gods on the shaft. Two of this type are known from the German city of Mainz alone. The larger of the two

Originally associated with Dionysos, the vinescroll was adopted by the Christian artists to become a major element in their iconography, re-interpreted as 'the true vine' ...Jesus Christ.

has been reconstructed, without Jupiter on top, and stands in the Mainzer Deutschhausplatz. The other had the figures of the goddesses and gods on the shaft, superimposed on a bark- or scalelike pattern. Above the columnar part is the capital that supports the image of Jupiter himself. The capital is composed of conventional foliage, but often it is carved with four heads that represent the four seasons, looking outwards to the four quarters. Finally, on top of the column is the image of the god. Often, he is depicted on horseback or in a chariot, riding down a humanoid yet demonic figure, which has serpents in place of legs. Terrified, the victim falls beneath the rampant hooves. In his right hand, the triumphant Jupiter holds a thunderbolt. Alternatively, the god is seated on a throne. Several surviving Jupiter Columns in Germany also depict him as the god with the wheel. On the column fragment at Butterstadt, the mounted Jupiter carries a wheel as a shield, while the column at Alzey has a wheel on the side of Jupiter's throne.

Symbolically, Jupiter Columns are a summation of time and space, and the Roman pantheon. Later, when Christianity had superseded Paganism as the state religion, this scheme of portraying the gods and goddesses on a column was taken up by churchmen and interpreted according to the newer doctrines. The Celtic Crosses that bear images of the figures of the three-fold godhead, prophets, patriarchs and saints are a re-interpretation of the scheme of the Pagan Jupiter Columns. The classical column was too good a symbolic form to abandon. The fantastic baroque Pestsäule and Lichtsäule of Austria are other instances of this re-interpretation at a later date. Erected in the eighteenth century, they often depict Our Lady's ascent into heaven amid an entourage of angels, putti and saints.

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