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7. The San Micheles: A Tangled Web

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

How to get to Delphi?

How is it that two of the most important points on the European Michael axis are in Italy, but I can't find a way to get from one to the other on my winter Phi line?

The Sacra di San Michele in the Alps connects with Le Mans, the Mont Saint-Michael, Saint Michael's Mount and Skellig Michael as each one is on the preceding one's winter phi day sunrise line. So what about Monte Gargano / Monte Sant'Angelo in the South? How does it fit in? Have I made a mistake somewhere?

The Sacra di San Michele fitted in perfectly with everything from Ireland, through to England and France. And now the Monte Gargano site in the South of Italy, also called Monte Sant'Angelo, has eluded me. Here, the logic that I have found so far to try and understand the line has disintegrated and now I'm baffled. And yet Monte Gargano fits in well according to that same logic with the Greek section of the line, and it is also an exceptional phi day place in that it is a 'winter phi day = winter solstice day' place: the day, in winter, when the ratio of darkness to light is the golden ratio happens to be also the shortest day of the year. In the same way, Delphi is a place where summer phi days are also summer solstice days. You could say they are 'phi solstice places'. But what's going on between Monte Sant'Angelo and the Sacra di San Michele? What's going on is that I don't know Italy well enough. I followed the winter phi day sunrise line from the Sacra and came to this little seaside town with a Michael monastery called Recco. But then what? I'd never even hear of Recco till now, and it isn't mentioned in any of the lists of places on the Michael axis I've come across. I think Recco is for keeps because it has not just a church of San Michele but a monastery, and this is in keeping with some of the places included so far: mainly, the points on the line are Michael monasteries, or cathedrals on St Michael squares. Add to that the fact that Recco is on the sea, which is almost as good as being on a rock, and of course its right on a winter phi day line, from the Sacra in the Alps.

All the buildings I've looked at are probably the latest in a very long line of structures built on the same sites, with all the local variations you might expect. Perhaps at first they were marked by megalithic structures. The logistics involved certainly seem to predate what we think the Gothic and Romanesque cathedral builders were capable of - and yet, perhaps they deserve more credit than is generally allowed. Their buildings are obviously extraordinary. But I think that the line, if it exists, must go back at least to the time of Stonehenge. This means that over such a long period, the structures on these sites have been tugged into various shapes according to regional ideals, on one worldwide grid.

I am sitting in my kitchen and I just noticed on the table a packet of soda bread with the slogan is 'A Tradition Made Fresh Every Day', and I think that sums up the history of sacred places quite well, or more like 'A Tradition Made Fresh Every Couple of Centuries Or So'.

Here, the problem seems to be the sheer number of Saint Michael churches all over Italy - which ones, if any, were built in the place of megalithic structures? You only need two points to make a line, but more than ten, dotted here and there, and suddenly you have no line at all, just a headache. The other problem is that in Italy, there are so many more places from which to project summer and winter phi day sunrise lines, as well as perhaps sunset lines, and Michaelmas lines, etc, compared to say Ireland.

I realised I needed to get to know the lie of the land a little better, so I looked up and tagged every place called San Michele or Sant'Angelo I could find, and also in the south of France and the other side of the Adriatic. I drew tentative lines between some, even connecting with San Miguel places over in Spain. I was left with a tangled web of Michael places, and uncertainty.

But rather a crowd than a desert. At least I have something to work with.

The sanctuary dedicated to the Archangel Michael on Monte Gargano is not on the Sacra di San Michele's winter phi line. It just isn't. Should I by-pass it and head for Delphi? Or re-evaluate the criteria for including a site and include Monte Gargano. I think the by-pass for now.

Every other place, so far, starting with Skellig Michael, has produced a winter phi sunrise line which is a path to, or very close to, the next official point on the axis. So I went back to the Alps, and stuck with the winter phi line from the Sacra there, and arrived at Recco. But then what? There has to be somewhere on the winter phi line from Recco called San Michele or Sant'Angelo which then connects with the rest of the line to Delphi, but where? Maybe there will be a place dedicated to the Virgin Mary along the way instead, but they are hardly few and far between either. Or perhaps a megalithic site, but this is no longer the North Atlantic seabord, teaming with mysterious giant stone structures. Whatever I do find, will it somehow connect to the rest of the line in Southern Italy and Greece? At the moment, the orientation of the line between the Sacra in the North and Sant'Angelo in the South is wrong, compared to the rest of the line anyway. I might have to go even further back, to France, to see if I can resolve that.

Ambrogio Lorenzetti - Rofeno Abbey Poliptych. Saint Michael the Archangel slaying the Dragon between Saints Bartholomew and Benedict; Madonna with Child, Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Ludwig of Tolouse (in the cusps); tempera on panel Date (1330 - 1335) Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Wikimadia Commons sAGysy5zysRGtQ at Google Cultural Institute

I spent a lot of time looking up San Michele places in Italy, and there really are loads. That's my first difficulty: which one, if any will provide the stepping stone on the way from Skellig to Delphi? Also, none of them seemed to be on the winter phi day line from Recco. Then I had a look at a book I have on my kindle by Lucas Mandelbaum called The Axis of Mithras, a very interesting book about the link between places dedicated to Michael and places dedicated to the Roman god Mithras. His approach is to study the line as a broad corridor of Michael places, and he considers sites to be included in the axis on the basis of their link with the archangel, and with Mithras, taking in even the city of Lyon. I started out in North West Europe inspired by Robin Heath, and I just can't bring myself - yet - to include places in this axis if the fit is only approximate (although I do wish I could include Lyon, as it has a great statue of Michael the Archangel overlooking the city - also, I grew up in that city.) My approach has been more: let's see where this sunrise azimuth line goes to, and stop at the first important Michael connection.

The winter phi sunrise line from Recco goes through the Cinque Terra area, a group of five villages that are quite well known for being ridiculously picturesque. The village of Monterosse al Mare is right on the line from Recco, but has no Michael connection that I can see.

Just South from there, the line goes past a very Michael looking church, but it's dedicated to Saint Peter, in place called Porto Venere (Venere refers to Venus, but the name unfortunately conjures up images of syphilitic sailors). Where the church of Saint Peter is now, there was once a temple to Venus - quite a change. The church of Saint Peter is linked to the monks of Saint Columbus - a link to the early Christian Celtic church.

I say a 'Michael looking' church because it is on a rock on the water's edge. The church next to it is a sanctuary dedicated to Our Lady, something which often goes together with Michael churches. Is there a connection between the Archangel Michael and Saint Peter, other than their connection to stone and rock? Do they share a similar pre-Christian heritage? Perhaps no more than do Saint Peter and Venus.

There's also a VIIth century abbey on the smaller of the two islands, the Isola del Tino.

Portovenere, santo pietro, Di I, Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The church was officially consecrated in 1198, but the original church was Vth century. In the painting below you can see Saint Peter next to the Virgin Mary.

Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints Leonard and Peter, circa 1270, commissioned by San Leonardo a Acetri (church), Florence (?) 1871: purchased by Yale University, New Haven, The Yorck Project (2002), Wikimedia Commons

Santuario della Madonna Bianca, Portovenere, Di Davide Papalini - Opera propria, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The nearby village of Lucca does however have a magnificent Michael church, as well as a cathedral. It's a bit off the line, though only by 3.3 miles, so at first I wasn't sure whether to include it.

San Michele in Foro, By jimmyweee - Lucca, CC BY 2.0,

San Michele in Foro is a romanesque church, which was built over the Roman Forum, hence the name. The church is mentioned for the first time in 795 as ad foro (in the forum). It was rebuilt after 1070 by Pope Alexander II. The statue on top of the church is a little more demure than some of them, with barely any leg or abs showing at all, and in fact both angel and dragon look a little tired, as if this ongoing battle has been going on for too long. Looking at this face of this Archangel, you can see that the powers attributed to Michael have already started to wane, at least in the eye of the artist, and of the beholders.

San Michele in Foro, Lucca, By Aconcagua (talk) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

San Michele, a nearby church at Antraccoli, was founded in 777, and was enlarged and rebuilt in the twelfth century.

Chiesa di San Michele, Antraccoli, Lucca, Tuscany, Italy, by Lucarelli , Wikimedia Commons

There's also a Pieve di San Giorgio, a Romanesque rural parish church, just outside of the city of Lucca, worth mentioning here because of the similarity between Saint George and Saint Michael.

Then the line goes to the town of Certaldo.

The church here was once dedicated to San Michele, but no longer.

Certaldo Church, by Pavek , Wikimedia Commons

Cloisters of the Chiesa dei Santi Jacopo e Filippo, once dedicated to Saint Michael, Certaldo, Davide Papalini, Wikimedia Commons

Then we come to city of Siena, with three churches of interest, between 5 and 8 miles south of the line. Is this too far off? I was glad to find such a major place near the line, but uncertain, because it should really be closer. Siena might not be exactly on the line, but the whole area, the province of Siena is packed full of San Michele churches, and artwork showing the archangel. Here are just a few of them, in photo:

Campanile and Apse pof the Church of San Donato (Chiesa di San Michele al Monte di San Donato), Piazza dell’Abbadia, Siena, the Tuscany region, Italy. In the background Rocca Salimbeni (Palazzo Salimbeni) by LigaDue, Wikimedia Commons

Beccafumi, testata di cataletto, 1503 ca. (siena pinacoteca), San Michele, This is a photo of a monument which is part of cultural heritage of Italy. This monument participates in the contest Wiki Loves Monuments Italia Sailko, Wikimedia Commons

Niccolo di Segna, San Benedetto e Michele arcangelo , ca. 1336, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena, Wikimedia Commons

In the painting below, very unusually, the deed is done: the dragon lies in bits at Michael's feet, who is seated. And also unusual is his beautiful golden dress, which, contrasts quite strongly with the victorious strong gaze directed at the viewer.

Angelo puccinelli, san michele in trono e santi, Painting in the National Pinacotheque, Siena, Combusken, Wikimedia Commons

If the dragon is dead, perhaps the archangel is out of a job.

This San Michele has obviously seen better days.

Battistero di siena, san michele e il drago di scuola senese del trecento, by sailko, Wikimedia Commons

Church San Michele Arcangelo, Fungaia, village in the territory of Monteriggioni, Province of Siena, Tuscany, Italy, LigaDue, Wikimedia Commons

Church San Michele Arcangelo, Cetona, Province of Siena, Tuscany, Italy, LigaDue, Wikimedia Commons

Church of San Michele Arcangelo in Chiusdino, Val di Merse, Province of Siena, Tuscany, Italy, LigaDue - Wikimedia Commons

You can see from the state of these churches that the cult of the archangel has waned a little.

Many of these places I have found purely thanks to these photos posted by LigaDue on Wikimedia Commons. A huge grazie to LigaDue for their amazing photos, and very accurate GPS coordinates. They seem to have documented all the San Micheles in the province of Siena. Thanks to them, it's clear that the province of Siena is Michele country. I imagine them researching all the San Micheles in the area over successive weekends, followed by gorgeous lunches in excellent village restaurants.

The province of Siena, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Church San Michele Arcangelo (Canonica di San Michele), Rèncine, hamlet of Castellina in Chianti, Province of Siena, Tuscany, Italy, LigaDue, Wikimedia Commons

Church San Michele Arcangelo, Montepertuso, part of Murlo, Province of Siena, Tuscany, Italy LigaDue Wikimedia Commons

One thing these churches show, through the cracked and peeling paint, the rising damp, sometimes even from their re-dedication to some new saint, is that the heyday of the Michael cult is well and truly in the past. In paintings, the Archangel Michael remains youthful, beautiful. His shrines haven't fared so well, pertaining, as they do, to the human world.

Church San Michele Arcangelo, Borgatello, hamlet of Colle di Val d'Elsa, Province of Siena, Tuscany, Italy, LigaDue, Wikimedia Commons

Ex-Church Sant'Angelo (San Michele Arcangelo), Abbadia San Salvatore, Province of Siena, Tuscany, LigaDue, Wikimedia Commons

Church San Michele Arcangelo a Nebbiano, Gaiole in Chianti, Province of Siena, Tuscany, Italy

Church San Michele Arcangelo, Iesa, hamlet of Monticiano, Province of Siena, Tuscany, Italy, Liga Due, Wikimedia Commons

Abbey Badia a Quarto (San Michele a Quarto) in Monteriggioni, Province of Siena, Tuscany, Italy LigaDue - Wikimedia Commons

Church of San Donato (Chiesa di San Michele al Monte di San Donato), Piazza dell’Abbadia, Siena, the Tuscany region, Italy., LigaDue, Wikimedia Commons

Church San Michele Arcangelo, Vico Alto, hamlet of Siena, Province of Siena, Tuscany, Italy by LigaDue, Wikimedia Commons

Church San Michele a Strada (built 12th Century), Località Strada, San Gimignano, Wikimedia Commons

Church San Michele Arcangelo, Parish Church of Ponte a Tressa (hamlet of Monteroni d’Arbia), but situated on the left side of the River Tressa (belonging to Isola d’Arbia, hamlet of Siena) by LigaDue Wikimedia Commons

It's clear the entire province of Siena is jam-packed full of Michael churches, all completely different from one another.

There are also a few San Giorgio churches in the area, including this one in the city of Siena.

San Giorgio, Siena, By MarkusMark - Own work, Public Domain,

What I have come across so far is unbelievable precision in the layout of the line and the whole network - till now... Which one of these places is the most important? Is my line the right one? Is there even any line?

I decided to re-read Lucas Mandelbaum's book The Axis of Mithras. He documents the line very well, going from the shrine in the Alps, Sacra di San Michele, to Monte Sant'Angelo in the South, via Spoleto, Perugia and Larino, with enviable ease. (Well, in fact, he works in the opposite direction, from South - East to North - West.) Lucas Mandelbaum is very good on the many places in Europe with Michael or Mithras connections, especially France, Italy and Germany, another country I don't really know well. His knowledge of Italy is impressive, and he has all sorts of interesting comments, such as Spoleto and Larino being possibly older Michaelitic sites than Monte Sant'Angelo, or where Mithraeums, that is, shrines to Mithras, have also been found, and their relation to Michael sites. He doesn't mention Siena or Recco though.


And so I found the Italian town of Spoleto, in the Province of Perugia. I don't know how I'd missed it, but I had. It's on the winter phi line from Recco, exactly on the line, and has a small run down church dedicated to San Michele, and a cathedral too. Its Saint Michael church is so small it's not even mentioned anywhere online that I can find. To get a photo of it, I had to take a screen shot on Google Earth.

Recco - Spoleto: 120° 213.6 miles

The winter phi sunrise line from Recco is 119.91°

Google Earth snapshot of Chiesa San Michele, Spoleto - no photos available on Wikimedia Commons

Spoleto is a small city in Perugia, in Umbria. The church of San Michele is on the side of a small hill near the city centre, a tiny little place on a narrow street. It's so unprepossessing that it's not even mentioned in the list of churches in Spoleto on Wikipedia. It's a far cry from La Merveille at the Mont Saint-Michel, but if the shoe fits...

To be fair, the city of Spoleto does have some pretty amazing churches that are worth mentioning: the Basilica of San Salvatore, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, the monastery and church of San Ponziano, the Basilica of Sant'Eufemia, the churches of San Domenico and San Gregorio Maggiore, and the Xth century San Paolo inter vineas. That's alot for a small place

If you want to stay there, I also I found a XIIIth century Castillo di Sant'Angelo in Mercole, and a Palazzo Dragoni on TripAdvisor : you can make your own choice between angel and dragon.


Date Sunrise Azimuth Hours of Daylight

29 September 92.35° 11:51:14

15 May 63.12° 14:37:29

6 January 120.53° 09:10:45

6 December 120.46° 09:10:45

22 May 60.89° 14:51:09

22 July 60.86° 14:50:13

The summer phi line goes just yards past a wonderful looking place in the Sibilline mountains, the sanctuary of Madonna dell'Ambrogio, between Monte Priora (2.333 m) and Monte Castel Manardo (1.817 m), by a little waterfall. The sanctuary website explains that the Virgin Mary appeared here to a little girl called Santina. They call it the little Lourdes of the Sibillines. Funny how the archangel Michael appears before bishops and popes, but the Virgin Mary appears to little girls.

Montefortino (FM) - Santuario della Madonna dell'Ambro, Di pizzodisevo -, CC BY-SA 2.0,

After that, heading towards the coast, the line goes past two places called San Michele, but not through them.

The winter phi sunrise line from Spoleto leads South-East to a tiny little place called Larino.


What I already like about Larino is that Lucas Mandelbaum mentions it in The Axis of Mithras, so I feel as though I'm on the right track again. It's absolutely full of interesting places: thermal waters, a Roman amphitheatre and forum, a romanesque / gothic cathedral, built on a previous structure, and a even a (slightly drab) ducal palace from the XIth century. It's surrounded by olive groves. I can't find an actual church dedicated to Michael, but there is a Via San Michele that runs past the amphitheatre, and directly into our winter phi day sunrise line. Does this make it a potential Michael place.... I'm not sure, kind of. There are, apparently, scraps of a mural of Michael the Archangel in the cathedral, which is dedicated to San Pardo.

Amphitheatre, Larino, Di Pietro Valocchi from L'Aquila, Italy, CC BY-SA 2.0,

There's something odd about Larino, it's just so tiny, only 6,600 inhabitants, and a cathedral and all those magnificent churches. It was probably once an important place. Why build so many religious buildings in a town without the means to support a big population? Or were the religious buildings (Christian or pre-Christian) put there first, and the town grew up around them? And if that is the case, why were the religious buildings put there? The coat of arms is an angel wing. Is there any actual Michael connection or not? A faded fresco in the cathedral, a Via San Michele, an angel wing on the coat of arms, and it's on a winter phi sunrise line from Spoleto: that's it.

Larino Coat of Arms, Per gentile concessione di Araldica Civica, Wikipedia Commons

Then I stumbled upon something strange.

I was looking aimlessly around Italy on Google Earth at even more San Michele places, the tangled web, when I saw three that might just line up, on the Western side of the 'boot' of Italy. As it happened, they didn't match up exactly into a line, but this brought my attention to Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome, which I had marked already with a pin, next to the Vatican City. It occurred to me that maybe a Michaelmas line from there might lead to Sant'Angelo in Monte Gargano, to the East, that shrine which is supposedly crucial to the Michael - Apollo - Artemis axis which keeps eluding me. It would really suit me I thought, if I found that Monte Gargano were part of another line altogether, that it's not on the Skellig Delphi line at all.... Could it be to Rome what Stonehenge is to Skellig Michael, the first stop on a Michaelmas line? I looked at the sunrise azimuth for the 29th September on

The answer was no... but something interesting did come of it at least. Larino Cathedral is on the Michaelmas sunrise path from Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome.

Castel Sant'Angelo 29 September sunrise: 92.34°

Castel Sant'Angelo - Larino Cathedral: 92.34°

(Castel Sant'Angelo - Santuario di San Michele Archangelo Monte Gargano: 93.08°)

The first Michaelmas sunrise line I found was by chance, I drew a ridiculously long line from Skellig Michael on Google Earth with an azimuth matching sunrise on the 29th September on Skellig, and I could hardly believe it when I saw the line run through the Stonehenge area. So then I extended the line further, not straight, but with a new azimuth from Stonehenge: Michaelmas sunrise at Stonehenge, and I got to Brussels, and then from there to Aix-La-Chapelle or Aachen. So when I saw this Michaelmas line extending out from Rome, I thought it must be of some significance.

So what is this Castel Sant'Angelo?

Castel Sant'Angelo

Do all roads lead to Rome?

Castel Sant'Angelo from the bridge. The top statue is of Michael the Archangel, the angel from whom the building derives its name, By Thomas Wolf,, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,

What a weird place! Are those windows or light boxes on top? Why is it round?

It was initially commissioned by the Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. Later emperors were laid to rest there too. The building was later used by the popes as a fortress and castle. It was built between the years 134 and 139, and was damaged during the sack of Rome in 410, after which it began a new life as a military fortress, and was damaged again in 537. The Archangel Michael was seen sheathing his sword as a sign of the end of the plague of 590 on top of the castel, not once but twice, the second time by the pope himself . The authorities were obviously keen that the story be believed and widely circulated: here was a building that was not only Christian but protected by the Archangel Michael, and part of a network of places where the archangel had appeared. Here was a place where perhaps pre-Christian deities had been worshipped once, but now the Christian supernatural guys were, literally, on top. And just to be sure to be sure, the authorities renamed the place Sant'Angelo and the apparitions were followed by the destruction of several pagan shrines in the city. The castel has also been a castle, a prison, and now a museum, and it was the setting for the third act of Tosca, Puccini's opera. How is it that a building designed to be a mausoleum should be so easily transformed into a military fortress or a prison? Why was it built as a circular building? Why so close to the Vatican City? I can't imagine say the Taj Mahal, the most famous mausoleum in the world, working as a military building too - it's too delicate, too open. Why was this mausoleum designed to be, well, closed?

The architecture is quite complex.

Apollo as the sun god; cast of the "Sarcofago matti" (c. 220 AD) by Giovanni Dall'Orto, Wikimedia Commons

It has a square base, a large cylindrical body, and a third cylindrical body but smaller in diameter, on the top of which the statue of Hadrian pulling a quadriga. By coincidence, Apollo too drives a quadriga across the heavens, delivering daylight and dispersing the night. Is Hadrian's quadriga a symbol of victory, or an allusion to the sun? Is Hadrian comparing himself to Apollo? Hadrian's mausoleum was added to over the centuries, but the fascination with circles and domes remains evident. Each central room within the mausoleum was designed around a dome, a perfect square within a circle.

Relief of a quadriga of sun-god Surya at Bodh Gaya, India, Probably 2nd-1st century BCE, Image extracted from page 406 of Buddha Gayá , the hermitage of Ś á kya Muni , Original held and digitised by the British Library, Wikimedia Commons

Who designed it? Perhaps Hadrian himself, at least in part. Apparently, he was always drawing domes, because when Hadrian suggested a solution to a problem the then emperor Trajan was trying to figure out with his architect, Apollodorus of Damascus, the architect turned around and said: "Be off, and draw your gourds. You don't understand any of these matters". By 'gourds', the architect apparently meant 'domes'. Later, when he was emperor, Hadrian showed some drawings of his to the same architect, with a view of creating his designs, and he was laughed at. Years later, the poor architect Apollodorus of Damascus was put to death by Hadrian.

What else did Hadrian build? The Temple of Venus and Roma, the Villa of Hadrian at Tivoli, where the emperor recreated buildings and works of art observed during his travels, possibly too the Serapeum of Alexandria. He also oversaw the reconstruction of the Pantheon, a temple, with a vast concrete cylindrical drum, hemispherical dome, central oculus, and theatrical light effects, which had originally been built during the reign of Augustus. Incredibly, the Pantheon still has the largest unsupported dome in the world.

Painting by Émile Signol (1804–1892) of the capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders on 15 July 1099: 1. Church of the Holy Sepulchre, 2. the Dome of the Rock, 3. ramparts Émile Signol - Musée du château de Versailles, Wikimedia Commons

The present site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was once a temple to Jupiter or Venus built by Hadrian, called Jupiter Capitolinus. In 130, Hadrian started a Roman colony in Jerusalem, and a few years later he ordered that a cave there containing a rock-cut tomb be filled in to create a flat foundation for a temple dedicated to Jupiter or Venus. The temple, usually referred to as Jupiter Capitolinus, remained until the early 4th century, when the church was built in its place.

That cave, which Hadrian had had filled in, was then cleared, and identified as the burial site of Jesus, one of the holiest sites in Christianity.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre also contains the other holiest site in Christianity: the site where Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, the "Calvary" or "Golgotha".

What did this place mean to Hadrian? What did it mean to the pre-Christian world in general? It is very close to the location of the (now gone) Temple of Solomon, which was then replaced with the Second Temple, also gone.

Various caves are also, of course, important to Mithras and Michael cults.

What did Hadrian believe in (apart from himself) ? What was he inspired by?

Temple of Venus and Roma, Upper Via Sacra, Rome, By Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany - Temple of Venus and Roma, Upper Via Sacra, Rome, CC BY-SA 2.0,

ground plan of Temple of Venus and Roma on heliogravura, By Chauvet -, Public Domain,

Interior of the Colosseum, 1964 by Peter Clarke - Own work Wikimedia Commons

The Canopus at Villa Adriana, Tivoli, by Pietro Orlandi, Wikimedia Commons

Pantheon Interior, Public Domain,

Pantheon Floor Plan, By Georg Dehio/Gustav von Bezold - This image is taken from Georg Dehio/Gustav von Bezold: Kirchliche Baukunst des Abendlandes. Stuttgart: Verlag der Cotta'schen Buchhandlung 1887-1901, Plate No. 1. Due to its age, it is to be used with care. It may not reflect the latest knowledge or the current state of the depicted structure., Public Domain,

Acquired in Rome (Italy) in 1876 Altes Museum Dark Green basalt, 120 - 130 AD Presumably the Emperor was depicted as a general in cuirasse and with a general's cloak - the bronze bust is modern. The beard style new to the imperial portrait alludes to Hadrian's love for the Greek culture or was to characterise him as a soldier, as has been presumed recently. … Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany - Bust of Emperor Hadrian Uploaded by Marcus Cyron Wikimedia Commons

What energy, what presence. Hadrian is mostly remembered for abandoning his predecessor Trajan's expansionist policies and territorial gains in Mesopotamia, Assyria, Armenia, and parts of Dacia. He preferred to invest in the development of stable, defensible borders and the unification of the empire. Here is a dialogue between Hadrian and Epictetus, that is worth reading to get a sense of the man.

A DIALOGUE BETWEEN THE ROMAN EMPEROR HADRIAN AND EPICTETUS, THE PHILOSOPHER, ABOUT A.D. 110. ——— TRANSLATED BY HENRY MEIGS. ——— Hadrian. Let us loose our girdles! examine our bodies naked, and see what we can gain? Epictetus. It is a mere note. Hadrian. What sort of a note? Epictetus. It is a silent messenger. Hadrian. What is a picture? Epictetus. A false truth. Hadrian. Why do you say that? Epictetus. Because we see pictures of apples, flowers, animals done in gold and silver—but these are not true. Hadrian. What is gold? Epictetus. A servant of death. Hadrian. What is silver? Epictetus. The seat of envy. Hadrian. What is iron? Epictetus. The instrument of all arts. Hadrian. What is a sword? Epictetus. The law of camps. Hadrian. What is a gladiator? Epictetus. A lawful homicide. Hadrian. What people in good health are yet sick? Epictetus. Those who meddle with other people's business. Hadrian. What is a man never tired of? Epictetus. Of making money. Hadrian. What is friendship? Epictetus. Concord—agreement. Hadrian. What is the longest thing? Epictetus. Hope. Hadrian. What is hope? Epictetus. A waking dream! The expectation of a doubtful event. Hadrian. What is that which a man cannot see? Epictetus. Another man's thoughts. Hadrian. What is the sin of men? Epictetus. Covetousness. Hadrian. What is liberty? Epictetus. Innocence! Hadrian. What is common to all kings and miserable men? Epictetus. To be born and to die. Hadrian. What is best and worst? Epictetus. Words. Hadrian. What is that which pleases some and displeases others? Epictetus. Life. Hadrian. Which is the best life? Epictetus. The shortest. Hadrian. Which is the most certain thing? Epictetus. Death. Hadrian. What is death? Epictetus. Perpetual security. Hadrian. (again.) What is death? Epictetus. A condition to be feared by no wise man; the enemy of all life; deity of the living; boundary of all relation; plunderer of children; an agreeable last will and testament; a funeral sermon; the last tears; oblivion of the dead; a burthen for the monument; and the end of all evils. Hadrian. Why do we crown the dead? Epictetus. As the symbol of his transit from life to death. Hadrian. Why are the thumbs of the dead together? Epictetus. That we may, after his apparent death, know that he is really dead. Hadrian. What is a corpse-bearer? Epictetus. A man whom many avoid and whom none can fly from. Hadrian. What is a funeral-pile? Epictetus. The final payment of debt. Hadrian. What is a trumpet? Epictetus. An incitement to battle; a camp signal; a call to the arena, to the theatre and circus; a mournful note for the funeral. Hadrian. What is a monument? Epictetus. A stigmatized stone; a speculation for an idle fellow. Hadrian. Who is a poor man? Epictetus. He is like a dry deserted well which every body runs. Hadrian. What is man? Epictetus. He is like a bath: first a warm one; then oil for him as infant; then a sweater when he is a boy; a dry heat when he is a young man; then a cold bath in old age. Hadrian. What is man? Epictetus. He is like an apple! which hangs on the tree until it is ripe; just our bodies fall when mature! more often while green! Hadrian. What is man? Epictetus. He is like a lamp or candle set in the wind! Hadrian. What is man? Epictetus. He is a guest; a lawful dream; a calamity-tale; Death's real estate; Life's delay; a thing which Fortune makes jokes of! Hadrian. What is Fortune? Epictetus. A noble matron, who whips her slaves! Hadrian. What is Fortune? Epictetus. The nearest turning post on the race-ground; a chance for another man's goods; he who has it shows out splendidly; when it quits him he is left in the dark—no one can see him! Hadrian. How many sorts of Fortune have we? Epictetus. Three: a blind one, hitting none knows how; a crazy one, which gives and instantly snatches it away again; third, and last, a deaf one, who can't hear the prayers of poor wretches. Hadrian. What are the gods? Epictetus. Visions! mental deities! Are you timid? then Fear is your god! Are you able to rule your passions? then Religion is your god! Hadrian. What is the sun? Epictetus. The splendor of the world! giving and taking away day; a clock measuring the hours! Hadrian. What is the moon? Epictetus. A day-helper; eye of night; torch of darkness! Hadrian. What are the heavens? Epictetus. An immense dome. Hadrian. What are the heavens? Epictetus. The air of the world. Hadrian. What are the stars? Epictetus. The destinies of men. Hadrian. What are the stars? Epictetus. The boundaries of all government. Hadrian. What is this earth? Epictetus. The barn of Ceres. Hadrian. What is this earth? Epictetus. The storehouse of life. Hadrian. What is the sea? Epictetus. A very uncertain road to travel on. Hadrian. What is a ship? Epictetus. An everywhere hotel. Hadrian. What is a ship? Epictetus. Neptune's church; an annual packet. Hadrian. What is a sailor? Epictetus. A sea lover; a land deserter; a despiser of death and of life too; a client of the waves. Hadrian. What is sleep? Epictetus. The image of death. Hadrian. What is night? Epictetus. The laborer's rest; the highwayman's profit. Hadrian. Why is Venus painted naked? Epictetus. All the loves are painted naked as well as Venus, and because naked beauty pleases most; but it ought not to be done. Hadrian. Why did Venus marry Vulcan? Epictetus. To show how hot love is. Hadrian. Why was she squint-eyed? Epictetus. Because her loves were depraved ones. Hadrian. What is love? Epictetus. The trouble of a peaceful breast; modesty or shame in a boy; blushes in a girl; a fury in a woman; ardor in a young man; a joke in old age; a crime in a seducer. Hadrian. What is God? Epictetus. He who holds all things in His hands. Hadrian. What is sacrifice? Epictetus. A drink-offering. Hadrian. What is without society? Epictetus. A kingdom. Hadrian. What is a kingdom? Epictetus. A part of the government of gods. Hadrian. What is Caesar? Epictetus. The head of public light. Hadrian. What is the Senate? Epictetus. The ornament of the city, and the splendor of its citizens. Hadrian. What is a soldier? Epictetus. The wall of the Empire; the glorious servant and defender of the country; the index of power. Hadrian. What is Rome? Epictetus. The fountain of the Empire of the world; mother of nations.

I think this shows that Hadrian was a thinking man. The sun is 'The splendor of the world! giving and taking away day; a clock measuring the hours!', the heavens are 'an immense dome'. These answers are Epictetus's, not Hadrian's, and yet they explain, at least in part, Hadrian's obsession with domes: to build one is to represent the heavens on earth, and to invite the light of the sun inside, and measure its course during the day, and over the months of the year.

I've mentioned The Axis of Mithras a few times already, and it has been a huge help to me in trying to piece the Italian Micheles together into some kind of pattern. But I need to go back to Lucas Mandelbaum's book now, because of Mithras. Of course, the emeperor Hadrian pre-dated the surge in popularity of Michael churches and shrines that kicked off in the 5th and 6th centuries across Europe. But it's clear, if only from the connection between Stonehenge and the Michael axis, that the network of Michael places is much older than Christianity. What form did it take under the emperor Hadrian? Was he involved in the cult of Mithras?

It certainly flourished during his reign.


Mithraism was a cult or mystery religion centred on the god Mithras that was practiced in the Roman Empire from about the 1st to the 4th century, when it was stamped out by the Roman Christians. The religion was inspired by Iranian worship of the god Mithra, but was different in many ways, and it's not clear how much was borrowed and how much was new. Mithraism was especially popular among the Roman military.

Mithras killing the bull (c. 150 CE; Louvre-Lens), By Serge Ottaviani - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Why does Mithras have to ride the bull to kill it? When Hercules is depicted killing a bull, they both face each other. Very often, Mithras's right leg is straight, which is not the case with Hercules. Also, who is this little dog jumping in? He is often included. Is it Orion's dog, the constellation Canis Major? In the sky, the order is different: Taurus is to the right of Orion, and Canis Major is to the left. What is the snake below doing there?

Saint Augustin himself started out as a Mithraist but, on seeing many of his fellow believers being put to death, he decided to convert to Christianity, and despite this dubious start, he became a bastion of Christian thought, writing such classics as The City of God and his Confessions.

Most of what is known about Mithraism now is from the many images that have survived of Mithras, showing him being born from a rock, slaughtering a bull, and sharing a banquet with the god Sol (the Sun). In these depictions, the image of bull-slaying (tauroctony) is always in the central niche.

In his book, The Axis of Mithras, Lucas Mandelbaum shows the strong connections between the cults of Mithras and Michael.

Western terrace of the Nemrut Dağı, Turkey Bernard Gagnon , Wikimedia Commons

In his book The Undying Stars, David Warner Mathisen writes about an ancient culture with advanced scientific and spiritual understanding which 'creates a worldwide grid of megalithic sites'. (p. 274) He identifies myths as conveyors of an 'understanding of the universe and human experience that is holographic and shamanic (ecstatic), and adds: 'Among the ancient sacred traditions following this pattern are the "myths" of ancient Egypt, ancient Sumer and Babylon, ancient Greece, and the events in the Pentateuch. In other parts of the world, the same patterns can be seen in the Norse myths, and in the sacred traditions of the Maya, Inca, Aztec, and of the tribes of North America and the Polynesians of the Pacific Ocean.' (p 275)

The commonalities between all these traditions are one of the things that make David Warner Mathisen's writing so interesting. So how did these myths, this understanding manifest themselves in European culture after the Greeks? There seems to have been a good deal of hubris and secrecy built around this inherited knowledge, a will to conceal and rebuff, and conversely to elevate and promote the holders of this knowledge.