André Charpentier-INSTAURATIO, The Roman Temple Founding Ritual

The Lituus staff projecting its shadow upon the ground, functioning as a gnomon.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA is a short excerpt from André Charpentier, aka Andre Raeymaeker (1934/2020), study about Virgil’s poetry and the Roman Pantheon, ‘Les Mysteres du Pantheon Romain’. The author develops a very thorough survey of the wealth of symbolic and sacred references that are met in the 3 works of the poet, with an strong emphasis on the symbolism of the temple, as representation of the relationship between Man and the Universe. English translation by HYGEIA from the original French.


We need now to specify the founding ritual we have already referred to earlier. The Palladium marking the immutable base of the universal pole, or Axis Mundi, is replaced in this practice by the scepter of the augur (the founding Pontiff), a staff named lituus (which will become the Christian Pontiffs’ staff).

The whole founding ritual consists in projecting on the earth an image of the heaven (like a plane projection). It will need to be in line with the sky, and in particular of its visible center, the polar star. This is when the lituus is involved, rooted at the origin point, hence giving Unity a fixed marker. (the Pythagoreans define this point as ‘Unity having a position’).

This point will mark the center of the terrestrial coordinates, that must correspond exactly to those of the heaven. In order to fix it, the augur with his staff, trace in the heaven a great cross. (The Latin ‘Instauratio’ and the Greek ‘stauros, σταυρός, cross’ have the same radical ST/SD expressing the stability of the axial pilar, or cosmic Throne). From that moment, he is identifying with the Axis linking heaven and earth, which explains his title of ‘Pontifex‘, or ‘bridge maker’. In order to determine the terrestrial Pole, he sinks in the ground the lituus which will serve from now on as a reference for the whole survey (tracing). (This is where the Palladium of Vesta will be placed, as a more permanent (and even eternal) sign: the central pilar of the city and of the world.)

Until now, no ‘creation’ has occurred yet, because the point, origin of the manifestation, is completely informal. In order to be manifested and allow the world of multiplicity to unfold, this invisible point will then need to ‘duplicate’ itself in order to create the first dimension. (di-mension, meaning literally ‘the measure of the distance between two points’). It is by this polarization that the survey (tracing) of the temple begins, which reproduces the whole cosmogenesis. But, in order to be sure that it is not an arbitrary creation, therefore too human, the initiative will be granted to the forces of Above, starting with the sun, which is the most visible representative of the divinity. (This is why, in the ‘Georgics’ (I, verse 468), Virgil repeats insistently “Sol tibi signa dabit“, ‘The sun will give you signs’, and even goes adding: “Solem quis dicere falsum audeat?” ,’Who would call the Sun a liar?’)

The lituus projects its shadow upon the ground, acting as a gnomon (the needle of a sundial). The limits of the projection of this shadow are marked, from morning to evening, which gives us the E/W axis of the temple. (see title figure). (These cardinal points are the inversed of ours, because the Romans, alike the Chinese, were contemplating the sun at noon. South, hence, was above on the maps. During the Middle Ages, one would ‘orientate’ oneself at sun-rise, which is the character of a tradition that has shifted.)

Then by the line two segments of 33 ‘points’ was determined, from either sides of the center. They will give the dimension to the future temple in providing a base 66 in the tracing of the surface. (This ground, or area, is found in the ‘Georgics’ (I, verse 178-180) , where the words ‘Treshing floor’ are echoed by Dante in his ‘De Monarchia’ in calling our earth: “This little area where mortals are exhausting themselves”. The treshing symbolizing human tribulations.)

From the origin, this sacred area therefore combines the attributes of space and time, because it was created by the very movement of the sun, main measure of the temporal condition. (This is why time is sometime represented as a fourth dimension, which should be taken with a pinch of salt, because space’s dimensions are reversable, while time cannot be.)




André Charpentier, aka André Raeymaeker (1934/2020)


The collected works of Andre Charpentier (to download): 🌿 More about Virgil:
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