Castel Sant’Angelo traces its origins all the way back to the second century, when the Roman Emperor Hadrian commissioned it as a mausoleum for himself and his family. It first saw use as a military fortress in the fifth century.
The fortress gained its association with St. Michael the Archangel in the sixth century, when a plague devastated Rome. Pope St. Gregory the Great led a procession around the city in supplication for an end to the plague. As the procession passed near the fortress, Pope Gregory had a vision of St. Michael at the pinnacle, sheathing his sword triumphantly and indicating the imminent end of the plague.
The castle began its career as a Vatican fortress in the Middle Ages. Pope Leo IV connected it to Vatican City in the ninth century when he built the “Leonine Walls” to protect St. Peter’s and the rest of the Vatican. Pope St. Gregory VII fled to the Castel in the 1080s when he was threatened by the forces of the German monarch Henry IV, whom he had refused to crown Holy Roman Emperor.
In 1277, Pope Nicholas III created the famed Passetto di Borgo as a safe escape route for the Holy Father from the Vatican. 250 years later, Pope Clement VII made use of this passage during the Sack of Rome by Charles V’s forces, which massacred most of the Swiss Guard defending the Vatican as the Holy Father escaped through the tunnel. (Stay tuned for a future GetFed email on that story!)
Castel Sant’Angelo is now a museum that you can visit when you are in the Eternal City. Be sure to walk across the picturesque Ponte Sant’Angelo, which stretches from the Castel across the Tiber and is lined with beautiful statues of angels holding the instruments of the Passion.
The pinnacle of the Castel has borne a few different statues of St. Michael since the famous apparition that gave the structure its name. The bronze sculpture you see today dates from the eighteenth century and shows the archangel sheathing his sword as he did in St. Gregory’s vision.
You can have your own bronze-finish statue of the great archangel St. Michael to place in your home or office and increase your devotion to this powerful saint. Get yours right here at The Catholic Company!