Monday, April 29, 2013

The Catholic Church in Rome

Seven years ago, in 2006, Ross found and wrote about a great allegorical image of the Roman Catholic Church conveying blessings. It was used as a printer's mark in a number of books in the early 17th century. Ecclesia is shown with the characteristic papal crown, making a blessing gesture and holding a cornucopia. The five crowns in her lap represent the five patriarchal sees of the Church. There are vanities at her feet, including books, artworks, and musical instruments, and what appears to be a game ball. The motto HINC RELIGIO VERA ("From here the True Religion") indicates the location as Rome, (as do the landmarks in the background), and identifies the bounty symbolized by the cornucopia: True Religion.

Examples are easy to find. When I Google the motto, (quoted, in this order: "vera hinc religio"), the first item that comes up is a 1610 book at, Galileo Galilei's famous Sidereus Nuncius. The site has two copies: Sidereus Nuncius and Sidereus Nuncius. The 1600px image below is a reduced version of the illustration from that book, but still larger than what either of us has posted before.

The Catholic Church conveying the blessings of True Religion from Rome

Like most of the nearly 100 Popess images which Ross and I have found and presented, this serves as a devastating rejoinder to the occultists who maintain that the Popess must have been heretical, alchemical, Pagan, or otherwise non-Christian.(1) In the smaller version below, some of the main elements have been highlighted. The great cornucopia of blessings from the Church, in green, extends all the way to the ground. Symbols of the arts and letters, in red, are displayed as mere vanities scattered at the feet of the Church. Characteristic of Rome, a triumphal arch, an obelisk, the Colosseum, Trajan's spiral column, and a domed church are shown in the background. And the precise nature of the blessings is spelled out in the motto.

An Allegory of Blessings from the Church of Rome

The second item that Google returned is the old page by Ross: "Papesse" as an allegory of the Roman Catholic Church in 17th century printers' marks. (Some old Geocities pages have been resurrected.) He explained the emblem's function as a printer's device for some Venetian publishers. A lot more material is online today, so his list can be easily expanded. There are at least three slightly different versions of the image, and several of the online reproductions are good quality.

In 1607 the Venetian publisher Gio. Batista Pulciano used the emblem in L’Ortigia Tragicomedia Boscareccia, by Viviano Viviani. (This is an example of the first variant image, somewhat simplified.) In 1609 the Venetian publisher Thomas Baglioni used the emblem in Arte del Navigare by Pedro de Medina. As noted above, in 1610 Baglioni used the emblem in Sidereus Nuncius, by Galileo. Also in 1610 Baglioni used the emblem in Consilia Medicinalia, by Cristoforo Guarinoni, and used the emblem again in De Morbis Occultis, by Eustachio Rudio. (This is a good example of the second variant image, with some additional details. This is particularly noticeable in the procession passing through the triumphal arch.) In 1611 Baglioni used the emblem in De Radiis Visus et Lucis, by Marco Antonio de Dominis. In 1613 Baglioni used the emblem in Ad Theorema Geometricum, by Giovanni Camillo Glorioso. In 1616 the Venetian publisher Vincenzo Fiorina used the emblem in Disquisitionum Magicarum, by Martin Antonio Del Rio. In 1617 the Venetian publishers Giorgio Valentini & Antonio Giuliani used the emblem in Opere di Tomaso Garzoni da Bagnacavallo. The image was repeated within the book, at the head of two separate works, and again when some of Garzoni's works were published separately. In 1665 the Venetian publisher Michiel Miloco also used the emblem in a work by Garzoni, La Piazza Universale di Tutte le Professioni del Mondo. In 1679 the Venetian publisher Domenico Milocco used the emblem in La Monarchia d'Oriente, by Giacomo Fiorelli.

Naturally, that is a sketchy list, based on a little Googling. However, it does offer one more example of how the Popess was a commonplace figure in Roman Catholic iconography.(2) Just as this image has an intended meaning, (Eco's intentio operis), one which makes sense of the composition and motto in a conventional way, most other period works of art can also be explained. The "arcana", supposedly inexplicable mysteries of Tarot, can also be sensibly explained without resorting to silly Egyptian fantasies or New Age impositions.

May 1, 2013 postscript:

Here are the two variations mentioned above. First the simplified version from Pulciano, 1607, and second the more detailed version used by Baglioni in 1610 for both De Morbis Occultis and Consilia Medicinalia. In the latter, note the throng in triumphal procession, as well as the large figures with identifying attributes located in each corner.

An Allegory of True Religion from the Church of Rome

An Allegory of True Religion from the Church of Rome


 ✎ 1. Sadly, such claims are not a strawman. This folklore remains a popular belief even today. The author of a 2012 book which, supposedly, “exposes the origin of the Tarot symbolism” in ancient Egypt, “from the Unas Pyramids Texts to the Ptolemaic period”, made this claim: “Yes, the Tarot is pre-Christian. Why wouldn't it be? Would Christians invent such a thing? If it were Christian, would it not be a single card rather than a deck? Is La Papesse a Christian concept?” (Answer: Yeah, she really is. Always was.) The post which precipitated this one argued that the present emblem shows an Egyptian setting, which the author connected with Tarot because... derp. I guess because everyone is supposed to know that Tarot is Egyptian. The main figure: “she is an evil magician”. This archaic folklore is not a strawman; it is a zombie idea, dead but undead, still walking around. “Fuckin’ magnets – how do they work?!”
 ✎ 2. This emblem is a great case study of a Popess figure outside of Tarot, but there are dozens of other examples. The more exceptional Popess figures have been presented in detail, including the earliest and the most famous and spectacular. Here are some links.
 • Pre-Tarot Images of Pope Joan (Mar. 26, 2009)
This post includes Popess images by Georgio Vasari, Pasquale Cati da Iesi, and Pieter Pauwel Rubens, but is primarily about early (pre-Tarot) Pope Joan illustrations of Boccaccio. There is also an essay regarding Vincenzo Imperiali's 16th-century comments on the Popess. Perhaps most valuable, it also includes a list of about a dozen old posts and pages from Ross and myself. Most of the links still work.
 • A Florentine Allegory of the Lord's Mercy (Mar. 28, 2009)
This post presents what may be the earliest Popess allegory using a papal tiara. Earlier allegories of the Church, (both Ecclesia per se and Maria Ecclesia), are common dating to the 12th century, but they either failed to use a crown at all or they used a different form. This post also discusses the Maria Ecclesia figure, Mary identified with the Church, who was sometimes depicted with papal attributes, and it presents an example from the 1440s. (Sponsa Christi, Regina Coeli, and Coronation of the Virgin are common motifs which imply Maria Ecclesia. Some show no crown, some show a papal crown, and most show other forms of crown.) Ad hoc allegories using a female figure with papal attributes are also discussed.
 • Popess: The Exemplary Mode (Aug. 16, 2012)
This post presents three wallpaper images which contain about six dozen non-Tarot Popess images. The figures can be grouped into four categories: Pope Joan is a legendary person; Maria Ecclesia is both a legendary person and an allegory of the Church; Catholic allegories are the most interesting category, usually Ecclesia but also an assortment of ad hoc allegories; the Protestant anti-Ecclesia is the Whore of Babylon as the Church of Rome. This post also includes a discussion of two magnificient Popess sculptures in St. Peter's Basilica.
 • A Popess for Pope Pius (Aug. 20, 2012)
This post discusses the Vasari Popess in some detail, and includes good quality images of that painting and two others. Like the sculptures in St. Peter's, each of these figures is perfectly orthodox as Christian allegory, and yet each one symbolizes a rather different subject.
 • Allegory is Allegory (Aug. 26, 2012)
This post presents some famous and striking examples of the Popess, as an allegory of the Roman Catholic Church, in anti-Catholic art. This anti-Ecclesia is typically shown as the Whore of Babylon from chapters 17 and 18 of Revelation, riding a seven-headed beast. This is another motif in which some figures are depicted bare-headed, some with a papal crown, and most are shown with a different form of crown.
 • The Most Celebrated Popess (Aug. 30, 2012)
This post discusses Pope Joan, and presents some pre-Tarot examples, examples of the continuing tradition, and the only Pope Joan illustration that has some arguable connection with Tarot. There is also a discussion of Joan's “crime” in comparison with the condemnation of the Popess by the author of the famous Steele Sermon.


  1. Hallo! I've just discovered your blog. Thanks for this interesting information! I have a question about the Popess: Somewhere else you suggest that the popess represents "false religion" in the "rank of man"; here you suggest that the popess represents the catholic church in Rom - or do you want only to make clear that a "popess" wouldn't be anti-catholic even if it represents a false religion?
    A second question: do analyse somewhere the cards Sun, moon and Star in Detail? I would like to know, how the lower part of the cards contact with the apocaliptcal development you suggest.
    I find your arguments very and thank you for this clear thinking.
    (Sorry for may bad Engish!)

    1. There is a common fallacy about images having a unique meaning. In fact, symbols, images, and words all have multiple meanings, which can be seen in just about any dictionary entry. To understand a word one must look at the sentence in which it occurs. Interpreting an image, such as a female figure with papal attributes, also requires some context. A few years ago I posted three collage images with many dozen Popess images. Two of the collages were "good girls" and one was "bad girls".

      There are a number of other posts on this site discussing how some (most) of these popess figures are positive and others are negative. Here is a post on Tarot History Forum which also mentions a number of such examples by name.

      Regarding the "lower part" of the Sun cards, for example, I assume that you are referring to things like Diogenes, a woman working with her distaff, two children playing, etc. The primary meaning of all these cards is the Sun, while these other elements are secondary, simply allusions that echo the primary subject. They do not appear to have any larger significance. It is possible that such secondary elements may have, in the original design, have been connected with a larger cyclical meaning of the trumps. However, it is difficult to make a case for that.

      On the other hand, I do argue that the highest trumps, from the Devil through Judgment and the World, are all eschatological. But that refers to the primary subjects, rather than things like Diogenes.

    2. The point of my previous reply is that the Popess in Tarot can be interpreted in different ways, depending on how the lowest trumps as a group are interpreted. I have offered different readings of the six cards from Fool to Pope, and the Popess has varied accordingly.

      My "best" interpretation of the Popess in the context of the Tarot sequence is probably the simplest: The Emperor and Pope represent the leaders of the State and the Church. The Empress and Popess are allegories of the State and Church. Some discussion of this is at the following links.

      A Tripartite Ranks of Man