Embedded into the floor of the church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane is the emblem of the Order of the Most Holy Trinity and of the Captives (Ordo Sanctissimae Trinitatis et Captivorum or OSsT), also known as the Trinitarians.
The emblem of the Trinitarians takes the form of a Greek cross which is set against a white background. The vertical bar of the cross is red, while the horizontal bar is blue. The three colours symbolise God the Father (white), God the Son (blue) and God the Holy Spirit (red).
The Order of the Trinitarians was founded in 1198 to help liberate Christian slaves held captive by Muslim pirates. They did this by raising the money to pay the ransoms of the captives.
It has been estimated that as many as 90,000 such slaves were freed through the work of the Trinitarians, including the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), the author of the novel Don Quixote (1605), one of the founding works of Western literature.
Cervantes was serving as a soldier when, in 1575, he was captured off the Barbary Coast by Muslim pirates. He spent five years in captivity before his ransom was paid by the Trinitarians.
Cervantes died on April 22nd 1616 and, in accordance with his wishes, he was buried (in the habit of a Trinitarian tertiary) in the Convent of the Descalced Trinitarians in Madrid.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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