There is now a renewed interest in the phenomenon which happens in Barga twice a year ( weather conditions permitting) of the double sunset – as the setting sun reappears momentarily through Monte Forato. A book on the subject was presented here in Barga just a couple of months ago ( article here) which once again put forward the theory that the position of the Duomo in Barga Vecchia was in some way connected to the double sunset – a theory which was also put forward in 2010 by professor Stefano Borsi in his book – “Le origini di Barga e il culto di San Cristoforo” (Libria di Melfi, 2009)
Borsi believes that Barga’s origins and religious practices are ancient indeed, predating the arrival of both Christianity and the Greco-Roman deities it replaced.
The vast, austerely rectalinear nave of the Duomo, surveyed by the towering oak statue at its eastern end, officially dates back “only” a thousand years or so. Yet its form and some of its foundation stones appear to be far older than that, and to walk into the Duomo is as close as a modern traveler can get to the actual sensation of entering a temple dedicated to the giant forest and river gods of Italy’s lost Celto-Ligurian civilization, circa 800 BC.
In a fascinating passage of “Le origini, Borsi explores the likelihood that the Duomo’s earliest predecessor was a sanctuary devoted to solar worship. How else, he notes, to explain the careful orientation of the site to achieve a “distant dialogue with Monte Forato” – the face of the celebrated Uomo Morto (“dead man”) crowning the ridgeline of the Apuan Alps across the Serchio River. The purpose, Borsi maintains, was to allow the sanctuary’s priests to make exact observations of the sun’s annual passage, divided in half by the eerie double sunsets over the Uomo Morto that still draw townsfolk to the Duomo terrace twice each year.
This year the cloudy weather conditions during the crucial two days when the event takes place during November denied the possibility of a decent sunset and so the few observers up at the Duomo will have to wait until January for the next possible event but all is not lost for another less spectacular but by no means less mysterious happening in the Duomo.
Twice a year just before the sun sets it shines right through the main door of the Doumo and lights up an area on the left hand side which is for most of the year is kept in shadow and unlit.
A small bas relief carving near to the top of the dividing wall now becomes very visible. Once upon a time it would have been even more noticeable as the outline would have been surrounded by black inserts but at some time in the past, the dark material has been chipped away and cleared leaving the carving more or less invisible for most of the year.
And what is startling image it is - a bare breasted twin tailed mermaid or Melusine.
This creature is associated with numerous stories and legends, and is imbued with symbolic meaning in alchemy. The most common iteration of the siren is as Melusine, a creature from medieval legend. Melusine (sometimes, Melusina) was, according to legend, beautiful woman with a disturbing tendency to transform into a serpent from the waist down while bathing; it is the discovery of this nature that triggers calamity.
As the story is most often told, the cursed maiden is discovered in the forest by Raymond, the Duke of Aquitaine, who begs her to marry him. She agrees, on condition that he never disturb her on a Saturday, when she bathes. Raymond eventually grows suspicious of his young wife, and spies on her- and his shocked reaction to her true appearance reveals his betrayal to Melusine, who transforms herself into a dragon and departs in a shrieking fury. This story can be viewed as a metaphor for sexuality, and the contradictory duality of the female nature as viewed through medieval eyes.
The same dual-nature symbolism is also at work in alchemy, which employs the siren as a more benevolent emblem of enlightenment- the siren of the philosophers. Alchemically, the siren’s two tails represent unity -of earth and water, body and soul- and the vision of Universal Mercury, the all-pervading anima mundi that calls out and makes the philosopher yearn to her.
The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects points out that a double-tailed siren, a baubo siren is a cross between a mermaid and a sheila-na-gig and according to them, the suggestive pose refers to female sexual mysteries and the lure of temptation for any simple-minded fellow. The sheila-na-gig is rooted in paganism and the worship of evil spirits. – source
So where does Starbucks “lewd logo” come into this story of a pagan fertility image in a Christian Duomo in Italy ?
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