The oldest funerary monument in St Peter's Basilica is that to Pope Innocent VIII (r. 1484-92), the work of the Florentine sculptor Antonio del Pollaiuolo (c. 1433-98). The monument originally stood in the Constantinian Basilica and was transferred to the new church in 1621.
In the upper part of the monument Innocent VIII holds what looks like a small spade, but which is, in fact, part of the lance that pierced the side of Christ. According to the Gospel of St. John: 'one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water' (19:34, KJV).
For centuries this relic of the Holy Lance was kept in Constantinople. However, in 1492, shortly before his death, the pope received it as a gift from the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II (r. 1481-1512). The Holy Lance is also known as the Lance of Longinus, the name given to the soldier, who, according to tradition, later converted to Christianity.
The pope is flanked by reliefs of the four cardinal virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance. In the lunette above are the three theological virtues: Faith, Hope and Charity.
At the base of the monument, Innocent VIII lies on his sarcophagus. This is an inexplicable inversion of the original monument, which had the recumbent figure at the top.
The inscription on the sepulchre makes the erroneous claim that the discovery of the New World (NOVI ORBIS) took place during his pontificate, when, in fact, Innocent VIII died little over a week after Columbus set sail.
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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