Wednesday, October 27, 2010


St. Cyriacus is shown above, enduring a typically unpleasant form of martyrdom. Reputedly, he was the bishop of the Roman city of Ancona in the 4th century.

I just finished reading a book about his namesake, Cyriacus of Ancona, who lived a millennium later in the early 15th century – To Wake the Dead : a Renaissance Merchant and the Birth of Archaeology by Marina Belozerskaya. In the 1430s and 40s when Cyriacus was exploring around the eastern Mediterranean in search of Greek and Roman ruins, nobody else was very much interested. The Renaissance had just about started up in Florence under Cosimo di Medici, but Rome was still an impoverished medieval village where ancient marble monuments were regularly dismantled to be reused as building material.

In 1444 Cyriacus made this drawing of the Parthenon (it was largely intact at that time and didn't reach its present skeletal condition until the Venetians bombed it 250 years later). Belozerskaya says that no European for a thousand years before Cyriacus had found the Parthenon worth mentioning in writing at all.

The story of Cyriacus makes sad reading. Many of the monuments and treasures he rediscovered in Greece and Turkey no longer exist, destroyed (between his time and ours) as often by thieves and souvenir hunters as by ordinary pillagers. Even in Rome the Popes continued to strip Roman buildings for raw materials or knock them down to make wider streets right up to the 18th century. The cross-cut saw seen at top splitting St. Cyriacus down the middle makes an appropriate emblem for the noble futility embodied in the life of Cyriacus of Ancona.