by Andrea Valle
[student, Rome Sketchbook course, spring 2011]
The baldequin, or baldacchino, originates in processions of the ancient world. As far back as Babylon and Ancient Greece. The first baldacchinos were made of heavy brocade, or sometimes of less flexible materials, and were placed on top of by supporting poles, either held by people or fixed onto a carriage. Egyptian pharoes were carried both in life and dead under a baldacchino. Emperors and Kings, dukes and bishops were given the honour of being carried underneath the cloth of state. The king of France was carried under this canopy during his coronation, flanked by the highest nobles of France.
"Baldachin" originally meant a luxurious type of woven silk cloth from Bagdad, a city which was know in medieval Italy as Baldac. The baldacchino can be symbolically said to protect sacred people or divine beings, and later on it became a permanent structure in churches standing above the altar and tomb of the titular saint. This type of structure is more correctly called "ciborium". The baldacchino is equivalent to a mobile or miniature temple, and it encloses a sacred space around a holy figure.
Early examples of this can be found in the churches of San Giovanni in Laterano and the Basilica of San Paolo.The Baldacchino of San Paolo stands above the tomb of Saint Paul, And the baldacchino in San Giovanni encloses the table used by Saint Peter to perform mass. It has fragments of Saint peter and Saint Paul's skulls set into it's upper section.