Wandering Castel Sant’Angelo

Hadrian’s Mausoleum

Hadrian’s last resting place proves to be an unassailable fortress that over the centuries withstood wars and incursions. Over time the Mausoleum came to be known as Castel Sant’Angelo.

Castel Sant’Angelo

The most poignant story about the castle dates from the late 6th, early 7th Centuries.

Rome lies in ruins, the city is in the grip of the plague, poverty is rampant, famine brings despair, and the River Tiber overflowed at Urbe. Rome is at the brink of anarchy. The once glorious city is a mere shadow of it’s former self.

Pope Gregory the Great mobilizes Rome’s citizens, or rather what’s left of them, to participate in a procession and invoke God’s mercy. While marching on, people here and there are being felled by the plague. As the procession reaches Hadrian’s Mausoleum, people clearly observe  above its dome the silhouette of the Archangel Michael, sheathing his flaming sword. That same night, on August 29, 590, the Plague ends (other records mention April 25 as the end of the plague). Since that time, Hadrian’s Mausoleum is named Castel Sant’Angelo or Angel’s Castle.

Archangel Michael

Archangel Michael sheathing his sword

Through the years, the castle becomes home to many notable Roman families. Pope Nicholas IV (Orsini Family) commissions the building of a narrow passageway that connects Castel Sant’Angelo to the Vatican.

Basso sinistra - Passetto di Borgo

To the left below: narrow passageway between castle and Vatican

In 1367, the keys of the Castle are handed over to Pope Urbanus V to persuade the exiled clergy to return from Avignon. From then on, the Castle and the Vatican are inextricably linked to all successive popes.

Today, this impenetrable structure houses the Vatican’s Archives and Treasures, and also functions as tribunal and prison.

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