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The Arch of Titus, the Jews and the Ceremony of the Adventus

21Nov6:00 pmThe Arch of Titus, the Jews and the Ceremony of the Adventus6:00 pm(GMT+00:00)

Event Details

Marina Caffiero, University of Rome La Sapienza.

Free and open to the public. Reservations:

Marina Caffiero will discuss the symbolism of the ceremony of the Papal adventus, its transformation over time and the role of the Jews.

In the Middle Ages, Roman Jews used to exhibit for the new Pope and later present him with a  Torah scroll. Through this act they defined themselves as people of the book. Some sources report of a ritual in which upon receiving it, the Pope let the Torah drop on the ground. The symbolism surrounding the law of the Torah and the legitimacy of the two religions is very present at this time. By the 14th century the Pope confirmed the law but rejected any rabbinical interpretation of it. With Leone X, in 1513, the ritual of the book ended. The years following are those of the sack of Rome in 1527, the burning of the Talmud in 1553, and the installation of the Ghetto in 1555. We do not have documents concerning the participation of the Jews in the papal installation during this period.

Starting in 1590, however, the Universitas Haebreorum, as the Jewish Community was called, was again present in the inaugural horse parade that brought the new Pope across the city from San Peter to San Giovanni in Laterano. The Jews were assigned the Arch of Septimius Severus and decorated it with panels and welcoming inscriptions in Latin and Hebrew. Around the middle of the 1600 they were moved to the route that goes from the Arch of Titus (under which Roman Jews traditionally do not pass) to the Coliseum, which they were requested to decorate with tapestry and painted paper panels installed over wooden racks. Pius VI was the last Pope to be installed with the triumphal cavalcade in 1775. After him, Pius VII was elected in exile because of the Napoleonic wars. He arrived in Rome a year later and took power with a much simpler ceremony. He eliminated the participation of guilds, associations, and the Jews from the public ceremony, and receives their gift in private.

Roman Jews Welcome the Pope, an interview with Daniela Di Castro


On the Ceremony and its symbolism

The ceremony of the papal adventus, which was originally called processio (procession), was the  most spectacular among the inaugural rituals for the installation of a newly elected pontiff. It consisted of a thoroughly orchestrated horseback parade (it was in fact also called “cavalcata”). The parade, that flourished in the early modern and modern age, took place after the coronation of a new pope following a precise symbolic order. It led the pope from the St. Peter’s Basilica to take possession of  St. John Lateran, which was his diocese and cathedral church. The pontiff, dressed in white and red and mounting on a white horse with red velvet barding, crossed the city of Rome of which he was bishop but also temporal sovereign.

Through the ceremony, the pope took possession of the city, through a carefully pre-defined route, called the ”papal route” interspersed with stations where various city guilds paid him tribute.

The most important tributes were those paid to the pope by the Senator of Rome, the highest representative of the yet modest municipal power, and the Roman Jewish community between the Arch of Titus and the Coliseum. The ride of papal adventus was in fact intended as a sort of sacred triumph and therefore passed symbolically by the historic Arch of Titus. There, the Roman Jews presented to the new pope the scroll of the Law (rapraesentatio Legis). With a complex ritual the pontiff accepted the gift but performed a refusal of the Jewish interpretation, adding nonetheless that he assured the protection of the community.

The last testimony of the rite of the Jewish gift to the Pope dates back to the election of Leo X Medici in 1513; later on, this part of the ceremony was foregone. It was a significant signal of the intensification of an anti-Jewish policy, linked to the Church’s reaction to Protestant ferments. However, the Jews did not disappear from the ceremonial scene, but the forms and contents of the ritual changed. In 1644, on the occasion of the installation of Innocent X, the Jews were permanently entrusted with a whole section of the papal route, the one from the Arch of Titus to the Coliseum: they had to decorate it with tapestries, insignia and billboards featuring emblems and biblical passages alluding both to the triumph of the new pontiff and to the “devoted obedience” paid to him by the Jewish community. The choice of the place that was the symbol of the greater humiliation of the Jews revealed a setback in the papal policies towards the Jews. Nevertheless, and perhaps paradoxically, the Jews kept in great consideration their participation in the ceremony of the adventus as it indicated the recognition of their presence in the life of the city. In the 19th century, however the Jews were totally removed from this ceremony and therefore excluded from the rituals of the city. The history of this ancient ceremony reflects the history of the Jews of Rome and their public visibility in the city.



Marina Caffiero is Full Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Rome “La Sapienza”, Department of History, Cultures, and Religions. Her research interests include: 1) religious and cultural history in Italy and Europe, 16th to 19th centuries (Inquisition and conversions); 2) social history of Jewish and Islamic minorities; 3) gender history and women’s writings in Early Modern Europe. Publications: 11 monographs; about 200 essays in Italian and foreign journals, in Italian and foreign languages;10 volumes edited. One of her books, Battesimi forzati. Storie di ebrei, cristiani e convertiti nella Roma dei papi, Roma, Viella, 2004 e 2009, was translated and published in in the US: Forced Baptism. Histories of Jews, Christians and Converts in Papal Rome, California University Press, 2011, and now in France, Honoré Champion, 2017. The book Legami pericolosi. Ebrei e cristiani tra eresia, stregoneria e libri proibiti, Einaudi 2012, is being translated in the US. The book Storia degli ebrei nell’Italia moderna. Dal Rinascimento alla Restaurazione, Roma, Carocci 2014, 2015 and 2017, won the National Prize of Culture Benedetto Croce 2015. It is being translated in the US and in France.

She has been the coordinator of the PhD course “History, Anthropology Religions” at the University of Rome “La Sapienza”. She is the founder and the editor of the book series “Sources for Women’s History” (Viella, Rome) which published 15 volumes until now, and the founder and the editor of the book series “Religioni Frontiere Contaminazioni” (Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, Roma) and “Alterità” (New Digital Press, Palermo). She attended and organized several national and international conferences. She was “professeur invité” at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales of Marseille and Paris. She is director or member of editorial board of several scientific journals. She is the founder and director of the scientific web-journal “Giornale di Storia moderna e contemporanea” (

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