In this bas relief Nike offers an egg to a snake entwined about a column with the Palladium on top.Louvre, Paris
During the sack of Troy, the Trojan princess Cassandra took refuge at the
Temple of Athena, but to no avail.
After the war the Palladium was carried, some say, to Athens and housed on the Acropolis. The 5th century Athenians worshiped an olive wood xoanon (statue not made by human hands) housed in the east-facing wing of the Erechtheum temple. This holiest image of the goddess was placed under a bronze likeness of a palm tree and a gold lamp burned in front of it. The centerpiece of the grand feast of the Panathenaia was the replacement of statue's woolen veil with a newly woven one. The statue was also carried to the sea by the priestesses and ceremonially washed once a year, in the feast called the Plynteria.
In the 4th century AD the Palladium was transferred from Rome to Constantinople by Constantine and installed in a building at the base of the Column of Constantine. Such a move undermined Rome and announced to the world the primacy of Constantinople as capital of the Roman Empire.
The classical world's switch from pagan to Christian did not happen over night, Constantine hedged his bets. The fifty meter tall Column was surmounted by a statue of Constantine as Apollo. The orb he carried was said to contain a fragment of the True Cross. At the foot of the column was a sanctuary which contained Christian relics, the palladium from Rome, and the Palladium from Athens.
The Palladium from Rome and, perhaps, the Palladium from the
Erechtheum remained in
Constantinople until 1204 AD when the crusaders sacked Constantinople. The Venetians appreciated the treasures of Byzantium;
they looted rather
than destroy. St Mark's in Venice is graced today by many rich
possessions brought back in 1204, including parts of the Pala d'Oro, the porphyry
figures known as the tetrarchs, and above all the four great bronze
horses. If either Palladium made it back to Venice is anybody's guess.
The Palladium as Axis Mundi
An axis mundi is the center of a group, culture, religion, or nation; the connection between the heavenly and earthly realms. In Mircea Eliade's opinion, "Every Microcosm, every inhabited region, has a Centre; that is to say, a place that is sacred above all."
Originally a celestial pole, tree, or a high point, such as the top of a mountain, the axis expresses a connection between heaven and earth. From this axis emanates the four geographic points of the compass. Thus prayers travel up the axis to heaven and blessings from higher realms descend for dissemination. The spot where the axis enters the earth symbolizes the omphalos, navel of the world's beginning. The axis is both the feminine umbilical and the masculine phallus.
Whenever the connection and balance between heaven and earth is
interrupted, all hell breaks loose. In Greek tragedy the break is often caused
by an arrogant male. In
Whenever the connection and balance between heaven and earth is interrupted, all hell breaks loose. In Greek tragedy the break is often caused by an arrogant male. InSophocles play Antigone, Antigone is interrupted while performing a religious rite, burial of her brother, by the king. This break in the sacred relationship between the community and heaven is fixed only after much human suffering. The tragedy often ends with a sacrificial hanged woman, often from a tree. This vertical suicide reconnects earth and heaven - at least until the next arrogant male comes down the pike.
Anyone or anything suspended on the axis between heaven and earth becomes a repository of potential knowledge. A special status accrues to the thing suspended: a serpent, a victim of crucifixion or hanging, a rod, a fruit, mistletoe.
In the Christian religion the crucifix or cross is the axis mundi. The blood and death of the sacrifice, ritualized each Easter, redeems mankind and reaffirms the link between earth and heaven. During the middle ages the cathedral, where the mass was performed, served as both the religious and civic center for the larger community.
|The four points of the compass are indicated. The axis mundi is located at the crossing, which is often covered with a dome (indicating the heavens). Mass is often conducted at the crossing.||Norwich Cathedral has the spire (axis mundi) directly over the crossing.|
|Mother Nature's belly button, the Omphalos at Delphi||Our national axis mundi, the Washington Monument.|
|Homes can also represent centers. The symbolism for our residents is the
same as for inhabitants of palaces, sacred mountains, or national
The hearth acts as the altar.