Jacopo Zucchi
The Procession of St. Gregory

Oil on wood panel
Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome

In 590 the newly elected Pope Gregory I called on the entire populace to process from their seven regions to Santa Maria Maggiore in solemn prayer for pardon and an end to the plagues that had beset the city for almost fifty years. A legend has it that St. Michael the Archangel ended the plague, stood atop the mausoleum of Hadrian (thenceforth called Castel Sant'Angelo in Michael's honor), and sheathed his sword to show that the people's prayers had been answered.

The painting shows Michael with his sword, but in other respects seems to diverge somewhat from the story. Gregory and his court are pictured as spectators of the procession rather than participants, watching it from behind a low stone barrier on Vatican Hill. Further, the people are processing not to Santa Maria Maggiore but to the mausoleum, where Michael appears with his sword.

The scroll held by the angels at the top reads REGINA CAELI LAETARE, "Queen of Heaven, Rejoice," the opening of a hymn sung on certain days in the Liturgy of the Hours.

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Read more about Gregory the Great.

Photographed at the Pinacoteca Vaticana by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. Historical information from the Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Pope St. Gregory I."