Saint Magnus’ crypt – a subtle bond between the Universe, astrology, and religion… Welcome to mysterious and contradictory Anagni!

Today we are going to one of the most mysterious and contradictory places in the world! The place where lived the hernic deities, saints, and famous popes! The place where unexplained magic events took place constantly for centuries and where Barnekow, keen on esotericism and alchemy, found his own home.  Trust me, while there you can hardly resist numerous emblems, gravestones, and bas-reliefs rich in history and legends. By the way, have you ever heard about the so-called “slap of Anagni”? As you can imagine, we can speak about Anagni to infinity, but this time I’d like to dedicate my article to Saint Magnus’ crypt – a subtle bond between the Universe, astrology, and religion!

Saint Peter from Salerno and Saint Magnus’ miracle in Constantinople

In 1071 Saint Peter from Salerno (known also as Saint Peter from Anagni) came to Emperor Michael VII in Constantinople to ask him fundings for the construction of the Cathedral and the Crypt. At first, the Emperor denied any contribution. But a few days later he got sick and was about to die. While the Emperor was sleeping, Saint Magnus appeared before him revealing that the only person who could heal him was Saint Peter. So, as you can imagine, the Emperor survived and, just to express his gratitude, donated a lot of money to Saint Peter.

Unknown painters – the so-called Three Masters of Saint Magnus’ crypt

The frescoes of Saint Magnus’ crypt were realized by three unknown painters, the so-called Masters. Beneath you can see the plant of the crypt:

Plan of Saint Magnus’ crypt according to the Masters*

Blu – frescoes by the First Master; Green – by the Second Master; Yellow – by the Third Master; Red – by Lello de Urbe.

It’s very difficult to establish the precise date of the realization of the frescoes: some scientists date them before 1104, others – 1227-1250.

In any case, the painting styles are very different from each other. The first is characterized by decorative plant and animal repertoire, the second is close to Byzantine culture, the third one introduces the volume concept. Just give a look at some particulars of the frescoes below:

The crypt which probably inspired Giotto

In 1300 Pope Boniface VIII invited Giotto to fresco the Lateran basilica and to stay at his court in Anagni. While staying in Anagni, Giotto, no doubt, visited Saint Magnus’ Crypt – the so-called “Sixtine Chapel of Middle Ages”.  Perspective, movement, new colors and, above all, the liveliness of storytelling captured and inspired him to the point that most probably he adopted these new inventions for his own works.

Unexpected cycle of scientific creation inside Saint Magnus’ crypt

The frescoes at the first three vaults painted by the First Master are dedicated to the creation of the Cosmos and its physical components.

Scientific creation*, Saint Magnus’ crypt

Creation of the Cosmos

In the first vault situated right at the entrance of Saint Magnus’ crypt, you can admire a circular band divided into twelve squares with Zodiac signs. Unfortunately, the fresco is badly preserved and you can distinguish only signs of Aquarius, Pisces, Cancer, and Lion. In the corners of the vault, there are four small figures blowing tubes. Just guess who they are and what they are doing?! Any idea?! Don’t worry, I’ll reveal to you the secret: they are the winds moving the stars!

Zodiac signs, Saint Magnus’ crypt

The second vault is certainly the most famous of the Cosmos cycle and represents a rare scientific and philosophical creation of man. It’s really very anomalous if we think of the sacred place where it was painted. The man is naked and he is just at the center of the double circular system: the inner system stands for the cycle of human life (microcosm); the external one – the cycle of nature (macrocosm). Both systems are divided into four segments. Starting from the top left corner and continuing clockwise, you can recognize: the lively baby associated with air and spring, the choleric teenager – with fire and summer; the melancholy adult – with earth and autumn and finally the phlegmatic old man – with water and winter.

Creation of man, Saint Magnus’ crypt

The third vault is divided into four sectors with four tetramorphs. Each figure is composed of four animated beings (human, lion, bull, and eagle) and has six wings. This vault represents the qualities of the human soul.

Four tetramorphs, Saint Magnus’ crypt

Elements’ Theory

On the pillar, to the left, you can see the diagram of the Elements’ Theory described in Timaeus by Plato. I d’ say a little bit strange and improbable to found in a crypt!

Elements’ theory, Saint Magnus’ crypt

The four spheres on the left represent four Elements associated with Roman numbers: IGNIS XXVII (FIRE 27), AER XVIII (AIR 18), AQUA XII (WATER 12), TERRA VIII (EARTH 8).

Each Element has three own characteristics (see the spheres on the right): Earth – immobilis (immobile), corpvlenta (corpulent), octs (obtuse); Water – corpvlenta (corpulent), octs (obtuse), mobilis (mobile); Air – octs (obtuse), mobilis (mobile), svbtilis (subtle); Fire – mobilis (mobile), svbtilis (subtle), actvs (acute).

The numbers refer to the mathematical formula and to the proportion: 8 = 2 x 2 x 2 (or 2³); 12 = 2 x 2 x 3 (or 2² x 3); 18 = 2 x 3 x 3 (or 2 x 3²); 27 = 3 x 3 x 3 (or 3³); 8 : 12 = 12 : 18 = 18 : 27.

This scheme demonstrates that the Elements’ mix is not casual and follows the precise rules based on principles of quality and quantity.

The lunette placed below the second vault with Microcosmo and besides the Elements’ Theory, represents the conversation between two ancient doctors – Hippocrates and Galen.

Hippocrates and Galen, Saint Magnus’ crypt

The Ark of the Covenant and Samuel’s stories

In the vaults of the central nave and in the two ones of the eastern nave you can admire the stories dedicated to the Ark of the Covenant and to the election of Saul as the first Israelite king by the priest Samuel.

The Ark of the Covenant and Samuel’s stories*, Saint Magnus’ crypt

What the Ark of the Covenant is?!

By the way, do you know what the Ark of the Covenant is?! Have you ever heard anything about its history and its superb power?! If no, don’t worry – our Crypt and I are at your complete disposal!

The Ark of the Covenant also known as the Ark of the Testimony was a gold-covered wooden chest. Its construction was ordered to Moses by God and constituted the sign of God’s presence in the midst of the people. It contained the two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s rod and a pot of manna. No doubt, nowadays the Ark is considered as one of the most mysterious objects of all time: it has never been found and there exist numerous hypotheses regarding its possible collocation.

The Israelite people and the Philistines

The thirteenth vault of Saint Magnus’ crypt describes the battle between the Israelite people and the Philistines. During the battle, the Philistines manage to kill the priest Eli’s sons – Hophni and Phineas and capture the Ark. Having received the devastating news, the priest Eli falls from his seat and dies.

The battle between the Israelite people and the Philistines, Saint Magnus’ crypt

In the twelfth vault, the Philistines carry the Ark to the Dagon Temple at Azotus. In the presence of the Ark, the statue of Dagon fells down and kills some Philistine priests. The plagues and epidemics spread to other cities of the Philistines, thus punishing them for the Ark’s capture.

Five cities of the Philistines, Saint Magnus’ crypt

The following two vaults narrow the restitution of the Ark by the Philistines to the Israelite people. While receiving the Ark at the Israelite town Beth-shemesh, out of curiosity some people gaze at it and fall to the ground dead. Can you imagine why? The Ark was sacred: nobody could look at it or touch it, otherwise, he could be punished by God! Then the Ark is taken to the house of Abinadab, whose son Eleazar is sanctified to keep it.

Samuel prepares the Israelite people for the final battle and elects Saul as the first Israelite king

The ninth vault represents the destruction of the false idols and the purification of the Israelite people with the sponge to prepare them for the final battle with the Philistines. The story continues with the sixth vault in the eastern nave where you can see the victory of the Israelite people against the Philistines.

In the last (fifth) vault you can admire the Christ surrounded by four scenes. In the first scene, the Israelite people ask Samuel to elect a king, in the following ones Samuel meets Saul at the entrance of the town, offers him food and then nominates him the first king of the Israelite people.

Stories of Samuel and Saul, Saint Magnus’ crypt

The scenes of Apocalypse in Saint Magnus’ Crypt

In the apse and three adjacent vaults of Saint Magnus’ crypt, you cad admire the apocalypse of John of Patmos – the final book of the New Testament.

Apocalypse*, Saint Magnus’ crypt

Christ the Judge in almond

Above the main altar of Saint Magnus’ crypt, there is Christ the Judge with white hair and beard in almond. As you can imagine, white hair and beard stand for a symbol of wisdom! Of course, you will wonder why he has a sword in his mouth? It’s easier than you think: the sword in his mouth underlines the importance of God’s word. In his left hand, he holds two keys: one – to death and the other – to life;  in the right hand – seven stars… What do these seven stars represent?! They are just an apocalyptic prophecy addressed to Seven Churches of Asia! if you look at the fresco more carefully, you can also distinguish seven angels, seven buildings, seven candlesticks… So, the apocalypse is also expressed in numbers! In the Bible, the “SEVEN” indicates completeness, the enumeration of seven examples represents the totality.

Christ the Judge, Saint Magnus’ crypt

Lamb, tetramorphs and old men

A little bit lower, just to stay on the “number seven” topic, you can see a lamb with seven horns and seven eyes and a book closed by seven seals. Around the lamb, there are four tetramorphs: human, lion, bull, and eagle. Each of them corresponds to an evangelist: lion – a symbol of Saint Mark, bull – Saint Luca, human – Saint Mattew and eagle – Saint John. Below you can admire the twenty-four old men worshiping the Lamb.

Lamb, tetramorphs and old men, Saint Magnus’ crypt

The fifth seal, four horsemen, and four angels…

To the left up of the apse, the martyrs ask Christ to avenge the blood they shed for the testimony of their faith.  To the right up, the four horsemen immediately capture our attention! It’s really curious that each horse has its own meaning: white – victory, red – war, black – famine, greenish – death. In the vault above the horsemen, four angels close the mouths of four demons representing the winds of the destruction of the seventh seal.

Saint Magnus’ stories and miracles

The main altar of Saint Magnus’ crypt is obviously dedicated to the martyrdom of Saint Magnus, bishop of Trani and evangelizer of Anagni. As for his miracles, you can enjoy them on three walls of the eastern nave. Just see the scheme below!

Saint Magno’s stories and miracles*, Saint Magnus’ crypt

Saint Magnus’ martyrdom

If you haven’t heard about Saint Magnus and his martyrdom, this time you can consider yourself lucky! The frescoes of our crypt will narrow to you everything very explicitly!

Bishop Magnus is captured by Roman soldiers and left to pray before the martyrdom. During the prayer, the divine forces “help” him and he dies. But, once having found his lifeless body, the soldiers get angry and cut off the top of his head.

Saint Magno’s martyrdom, Saint Magnus’ crypt

Afterward, his body is translated from Fondi to Veroli, 30 km east to Anagni. When the Saracens conquer Veroli, they decide to use the burial place of Saint Magnus as a stable, but their horses die because of this grave sacrilege. Having understood the real cause of misfortune, the Saracens decide to get rid of the body by selling it to the inhabitants of Anagni.

Finally, the Bishop of Anagni buries the body of Saint Magnus in the Cathedral of Anagni.

The Bishop buries the body of Saint Magnus, Saint Magnus’ crypt

Saint Magnus’ miracles

On two walls near the exit, you can admire four miracles of Saint Magnus: the miraculous healing of the young woman Cita suffering from a severe paralysis, healing of Andrea – the lame guardian of the Cathedral and of the cripple Italo, and finally, the rescue of Paternian fallen in the well.

To see the fifth miracle, you should just “jump over” one wall. A woman and her son are just collecting figs. Suddenly the woman realizes that her son has fallen into a well. San Magnus feels the mother’s desperation and saves the child by pulling him out by the hair. In the alongside scene, you can see Saint John Evangelist. The emperor Domitian condemns him because he is a Christian, cuts his hair and throws him in boiling oil. Thanks to the divine protection, Saint John comes out perfectly unharmed.

Saint Magno’s fifth miracle and Saint John Evangelist, Saint Magnus’ crypt

Saint Secondina and two Armenian princesses

The altar you see in front of you at the entrance of Saint Magnus’ crypt contains the remains of Saint Secondina from Anagni and of two Armenian princesses – Aurelia and Neomisia.

Saint Secondina and two Armenian princesses*, Saint Magnus’ crypt

Do you know who was Saint Secondina and why she is so so worshipped in Anagni? Let’s give a look at the frescoes of the apse which tell us her story and her martyrdom.

Saint Secondina is a young woman converted to Christianity by Saint Magnus in the middle of the third century. During the persecution of Emperor Decius, she is captured and remains imprisoned for five long months. Finally, the saint is led to the forum where she refuses to sacrifice to the gods in front of the perfect Valerian and for this, she is sentenced to death. Before her martyrdom, Saint Secondina manages to convert eighteen soldiers to Christianity. At this point, the young woman is stripped naked and tortured by two executioners, but immediately afterward the executioners are killed by three rays from the sky. The saint dies and the angel takes her soul. Some years later the faithfuls carry her body to Anagni.

On the sides of the window near the altar, you can admire two Armenian princesses Aurelia e Neomisia who died in Anagni in the ninth century. Always the two of them are depicted near the Virgin and her son Jesus in the apsidal basin.

In the vault, there is the benedictory Christ surrounded by the symbols of four evangelists.

Christ Pantocrator

Exactly in front of the main altar of Saint Magnus’ crypt,

Christ Pantocrator*, Saint Magnus’ crypt

there is a fresco with Christ Pantocrator and four Saints. From left to the right: Saint Peter Apostle, a saint (probably Saint Mark Evangelist), Saint Leonardo, and Saint John Evangelist.

Christ Pantocrator and four Saints, Saint Magnus’ crypt

The plaque you see a little bit lower testifies to the discovery of Saint Magnus’ remains during the construction of the wonderful Cosmatesque floor of Saint Magnus’ crypt. The floor was completed in 1231 by Maestro Cosma and his sons.

In the vault above, four angels hold the disk with the jeweled cross.

Four angels hold the disk with the jeweled cross, Saint Magnus’ crypt

The altar of Saint Peter from Salerno and other stories of the Crypt of Anagni

The altar of Saint Peter from Salerno*, Saint Magnus’ crypt

Of course, our Saint Magnus’ Crypt contains a tribute to its founder – the altar dedicated to Saint Peter from Salerno. On the fresco painted by Lello de Urbe in 1324, you can see the bishop Peter and two Armenian princesses.

Saint Peter from Salerno and two Armenian princesses, Saint Magnus’ crypt

The altar aside is dedicated to seventeen martyrs and to the adoration of the Cross.

Seventeen martyrs, Saint Magnus’ crypt

In the vaults above, there are Abraham and Melchizedek and Elijah lending the mantle to Elisha.

Before saying good-bye to our breath-taking crypt, just at the exit, you can admire Madonna among the Saints on the wall and kings and prophets in the vault.

I really hope that you have enjoyed our visit! Once there, explore also the Cathedral and the Oratory of Saint Thomas Becket! I’m sure that you will be charmed by its history and secrets!


*The plans and  some photos of the Crypt are taken from the book “Il Museo della Cattedrale di Anagni. La guida storico-artistica”, Davide Angelucci, Claudia Coladarci, Edizioni Efesto – Marzo 2018
“Il Museo della Cattedrale di Anagni. La guida storico-artistica”, Davide Angelucci, Claudia Coladarci, Edizioni Efesto – Marzo 2018;
“Il Restauro della Cripta” a cura di Alessandro Bianchi, Editoriale Artemide Srl – 2019;
“Anagni. La citta vicina alle stelle”, “Casa Barnekow. Tribuna di un alchimista”, “I misteri di Anagni 2” Guglielmo Viti, Anagni 2018

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