Kircher and the mystery of the fourth hidden side of Obeliscus Panphili

L'Obelisco della Minerva

Obelisk of Minerva

In 1615 Pietro della Valle, roman knight  and patrician, found in Cairo an old Coptic-Arabic dictionary. He broght it to Rom.

In Rome, Nicolaus Fabricius, senator in Aquisgrana, asked Athanasius Kircher, his good friend, for translating it into Latin. Kircher accepted and pope Urbano VII called him in Rome to do the work. Kircher’s translations have always considered incorrect by scholars. In 1821 the french scholar Jean-François Champollion would interpret correctly hieroglyphic writing.

La Stele di Rosetta (British Museum di Londra)

Rosetta’s Stone

Kircher method for interpreting hieroglyphic writing was completely different from what nowadays considered correct: Kircher believed that each symbol had infinite meanings, revealed directly from God to writer.

Nonetheless, in 1665,  a fact happened hard to explain:

Dominican monks discovered in their garden, in Santa Maria sopra Minerva, a little obelisk, in excellent condition. Kircher, director of the near Collegio Romano is the top-expert in hieroglyphic writing and they called him. He couldn’t go and examine the obelisk because he was going to have his yearly retreat at Mentorella’s shrine.

Padre Giuseppe Petrucci, a Jesuit and his personal collaborator went, agreeing to inform the director. When he came to the Dominican garden, the obelisk lay still down and only three of its four sides were visible. He drew the three sides of the obelisk and sent the drafts to his director.

When  Padre Petrucci, some weeks later, received Kircher’s answer, got astounded: Kircher had sent him a sketch of the forth side of obelisk and was absolutely corresponding to the just unveiled one.

I quattro lati dell'obelisco disegnati da Athanasius Kircher

The four sides of Obelisks Panphili by Athanasius Kircher

Kircher managed to imagine hieroglyphic symbols of forth side of obelisk after seeing the other three. Is it so granted that Kircher’s magical and strange method to interpret hieroglyphic writing couldn’t permit him to deeply understand the sacred Egyptian writing?

The Jesuit and the Uroboros

Dettaglio dell'obelisco kircheriano per Cristina di Svezia

Detail of Kircher’s obelisk for Christina of Sweden

Detail of the Uroboros on the Obelisk designed by jesuit priest Athanasius Kircher for queen Christina of Sweden (1626-1689) in 1654. “Great Christina, Isis Reborn, erects, delivers and consecrates this obelisk on which the secret marks of Egypt are inscribed.”(‘Visconti’ College’s museum in Rome – Jesuit Collegium Romanum before).

In October 1633 the German Jesuit scholar and Egyptologist Athanasius Kircher, now aged thirty-two, arrived in Rome. Soon after his arrival in Rome, Kircher joined the famous Collegio Romano as a teacher of mathematics, astronomy, and Hebrew. Kircher would become a close friend of Bernini and would collaborate with him on some architectural projects, including a fountain in Piazza Navona involving ancient Egyptian obelisks.

Christina, in 1654, would shock the whole of Protestant Europe by converting to Catholicism, then abdicating and going to Rome to live under the protection of Pope Alexander VII. Christina was a living encyclopedia and, to occult-minded scholars such as Kircher, an incarnation of ‘Divina Sapienza’ (Divine Wisdom). Christina is one of the only two women to be buried in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.


(From “The Vatican Heresy – Bernini and the Building of the Hermetic Temple of the Sun”, 2014)