A Palm Sunday Legend
The obelisk in St. Peter’s Square was originally erected in Heliopolis, Egypt sometime between 2494 and 2345 BC. After 63 BC it was moved to Alexandria, then Caligula moved it to Rome in 37 AD. It moved to its current location in 1586. It’s the only obelisk in Rome that hasn’t fallen since antiquity. It used to be topped with a globe that was rumored to contain Caesar’s ashes. That turned out to be wrong and today it’s topped with a reliquary that contains a piece of the True Cross.
That much is true… this a legend I heard in Rome about what allegedly happened when the architect/engineer Domenico Fontana was re-erecting the obelisk for the last time in 1586. Fontana gathered 900 men and 140 horses (as shown in the engraving above). Pope Sixtus V forbid anyone to speak while the obelisk was raised, so no one would break their concentration. In silence, the massive team began to lift it. But one sailor noticed that the ropes were smoking from the friction. Against the pope’s orders he yelled, “Water on the ropes!”
Fortunately, they heeded his advice. The water cooled down the ropes and the obelisk went up successfully. However the sailor was still hauled in front of the pope for breaking his decree. But instead of punishing him, the pope thanked him and offered him a reward. The sailor asked that his family’s farm in Bordighera supply the palms for Palm Sunday every year, as long as they owned the land.
To this day, the Vatican sources their Palm Sunday fronds from Bordighera. That much is true too.
(Engraving from Wikimedia, photos from freeallpictures.com.)