Culture Programme
Education and Culture DG
Progetto Ricerca Interesse Nazionale
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CRHIMA - CINP project

Cultural Rupestrian Heritage in the Circum Mediterranean Area

Common Identity - New perspective

Universitas Florentina



Knowledge, Conservation and Improvement of HAbitat RUpestrian MEditerranean

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The study of graffiti in churches or in natural caves (which were sanctuaries of healing gods and were later turned into Christianized churches, often with the dedication to Saint Michael) is fundamental to understand life in rupestrian villages.
Devotional inscriptions and symbolic images were often engraved in rupestrian sites and churches.

The Cosmic Cross

The Cosmic Cross is inserted in a circle, and it symbolizes the universe, indicating the universal value of Redemption. A Cosmic Cross was engraved in a cave of Santeramo.

Pentalpha or Solomon’s star

In ancient Egypt, this was the esoteric symbol of Horus, son of Isis and Osiris, the Sun. He represented the alchemic primary material, inexhaustible source of life, sacred fire, and universal germ of all of the beings. Pentalpha is a Pythagorean symbol after the solution of the Golden Ratio: it means five alphas, that is the five principles. Pythagoras added the principle of Spirit to the four principles by Empedocles (Air, Water, Earth and Fire). In white magic it represents the human microcosm: the five extremities of the body (see the so called Agrippa figure), and its five secret strength spots, that white magic can wake. Pentalpha is considered an active and benign symbol with a single upper point (White Magic); if it is reversed, with two upper points, it becomes a passive and malefic symbol (Black Magic). The five pointed star is a very powerful magic symbol, thanks to the characteristics of numbers. It has the power of number 5,which is a positive power when it is composed by 1 and 4, and it is a negative power if composed by 2 and 3, as in the upside down Pentalpha. Christian Greeks used it as a propitiatory sign at the beginning of books and letters. In ancient England it was used in places of worship, as in a window of the Westminster Abbey: this is why occultists believe that the ancient English monks knew about occult science. I think that those monks, as many Christians, believed it as the most propitiatory sign after the Cross, as it was engraved on King Solomon’s ring. This is a very common sign in rupestrian churches.

Solomon’s knot

Solomon’s knot is a very ancient symbol. The legend maintains that Salomon was a young romantic man, but he was also very cruel with people. Once, while walking in a wood, he heard some noises, so he wanted to investigate. He had very long hairs under a hat, but the wind stole his hat, and knotted his hairs. He lost senses and, while sleeping, a voice invited him to be kinder. When he got awake, he hugged every person he met, so his hairs were loosened.
This symbol has a very deep spiritual meaning: it is the graphical paradigm of the knot between transcendent and immanent worlds, or the hard research for salvation and absolute. During the Early Middle Ages, the Salomon’s is on Lombard jewels, on architectural sculptures in churches, and on rocks. After, the Knights Templar adopted this symbol, and they used it in their places of worship. It represents a labyrinth (the hard path of the initiate to final illumination) and a cross (the tool to reach illumination).
It was used only used by cultured people, and it was engraved in many rupestrian churches in the territory of Matera, in the rupestrian church of San Posidonio (Massafra), ant it was painted on the omophor of a Saint Bishop in Salento.

Man inscribed in a square

The meaning of the Square is the expression of the Earth element (the Creation) as a Divine appearance. The Circle expresses the Celestial element, the Divine unity, Eternity and Infinity. The Square and the Cube represent Earth perfection, as the Circle and the Sphere represent Celestial perfection. The symbologies of the Square and of the number Four are entwined. The number Four represent Divine perfection, the stabilized world, the totally developed appearance: the Tetragrammaton of the name of God for the Hebrews, the Pythagorean Tetraktys. The rhythms of the ages of the world, of human life and of Lunar months are based on the number Four. In the Christian tradition, the Square is divided in for areas, as a representation of the Cosmos and the four elements.
During the Middle Ages, the Vitruvian Man, with arms straight out and the feet together, is linked to the representation of Christ and to the calculation for the building of a Romanic church. The square Romanic church, and especially the Cistercian churches, recalled the measures of Man as a microcosm that is the square man. He was represented as a 45 degrees rotated square, crossed by two diagonals: this is found in rupestrian churches of Puglia and Libya. In many popular traditions, the Square has the function and the meaning of the Magic Square: important evidences can be found in the Islamic tradition, where it is linked to the names of God. In its most simple form, it is divided into nine cells containing the first nine numbers: the total sum on every row, column and diagonal is 15. In the western world, the 25 cells Magic Square was very common: it contained the Late Latin palindrome sentence sator arepo tenet opera rotas (“the ploughing peasant superintends work”).

The Eagle fighting the Snake

The fight between Eagle and Snake is a very ancient myth, a common topic in the Euroasian mythology: it represents the rising year and the dying year, the struggle between Light and Dark, the Sun and the Underworld principles.
The Eagle is a solar bird, and it represents sun, fire, height and depth. The Eagle has the power to rejuvenate: it burns its wings with the sun, and then it dives in the water, to gather youth again.
On the other hand, the Snake (or Drake) is the prototype, the spirit of original water, one of the most important archetypes of Soul. It is the incarnation of lunar and night values, which does not mean “negative” values. In fact it also represents life and libido: Chaldeans had the same word for “life” and “snake”.
Eagle and Snake are the symbols of the eighth Astrological sign, Scorpio. This is the sign of the cycle life – death – rebirth: thus, Eagle and Snake are entwined in the alternation of sun and moon.
In the Toltec (8th to 12th century) and the following Aztec iconographies, the Eagle clutches with its talons the Snake (Quetzalcoatl, representing the planet Venus): the Snake’s blood will be used to create the new man. The struggle between Eagle and Snake is a “sacrifice”: the Snake dies to come to life again and to attack the Eagle, the eternal struggle between Life and Death.
This struggle may also signify the antithesis between Patriarchy and Matriarchy: the Eagle has solar/male attributes; the Snake has lunar/female attributes (Jung considered the Eagle as a paternal symbol, and the Snake is the Lord of Women and of Fertility in many traditions).
In the Christian world, this is the symbol of the struggle between Good and Evil: a graffito of this symbol was engraved in the rupestrian church of Santa Lucia in Mottola (Taranto).

The Peacock

The Peacock is the symbol of resurrection and eternal life. This is due because it renews its feathers in spring. In ancient Rome, it is linked to the myth of Juno. In a pagan legend, the Peacock flesh does not decompose. Some engraved Peacocks have been found in a cave of the ruined rupestrian village of San Giovanni (Taranto) and in some rupestrian churches in Cappadocia.
Anyway, symbolic graffiti and engravings are less diffused than chronicle images. There are horses and horsemen, which were carved especially in paintings of the Odegitria: they were propitiatory signs for a journey, or ex voto. There are also many images of ships, probably ex voto for avoided wrecks, or exactly riproduced prison hulks, as a thanksgiving for freedom from slavery.
Graffiti with faces in the Early Medieval church of San Marco (Massafra) are similar to faces on Lombard rings or on the so called Triumph of Agilulf, and so they have been dated from 7th to 8th century.
There are thousands inscriptions, but there is not a single corpus that contains them. Some historian of art has formulated a recent wrong theory (accepted by some archaeologist but rejected by epigraphists) that considers all the inscriptions as funerary inscriptions. Funerary inscriptions are greatly different from others inscriptions: the Greek formula for funerary inscriptions is entàde kìte ‘here lies”, the Latin formula is hic requiescit ‘here rests’, while the other inscriptions can be as “Lord, remember your servant, his wife and his house”, or “Lord, help your servant”.


Figurative arts

Migration of People