emergence from the East
Rick's post about the sack and ultimate fall of Constantinople is indicative of much history that does not often get mentioned in Western culture. I personally first learned about the later history of Constantinople in the early 1990s, particularly about the very significant role that mid-15th century Byzantine scholars played in the advancement of (Italian) Renaissance Classical/Humanist thought. The Byzantine scholars were fleeing the advancing Ottomans, and brought to Italy many ancient/classical texts that the West knew of by name but otherwise thought to be no longer in existence. It is fair to speculate that the Renaissance as we now know it would never have 'emerged' without the scholarship of the Eastern Roman
What Rick did not mention is that the 1204 'western' sack of Constantinople also started the Catholic Church schism that is still official to this very day. Indeed, there are TWO Holy Apostolic Churches (and if you asked me it's totally up to the Roman Catholic Pope to end the schism by admitting Roman/Latin wrong-doings and even make restitutions). But it can also be reasoned that Constintine himself started the Christian split between East and West when he made Constantinople his official Roman Imperial capital in 330 AD.
At the time of Constantine's Christian 'conversion' at the Milvian Bridge in Rome on the eve of 28 October 312, Christianity was already a well established (albeit occassionally persecuted) organization with a diocesan hierarchy of bishops firmly in place and the bishop of Rome the Church leader. Althought Rome was symbolically the supreme city of the Empire, the four Imperial capitals at that time were Nicomedia (today's Izmit, Turkey), originally the capital/court of Diocletian (and subsequent Eastern Augusti) where Constantine actually spent his formative years; Milan, seat of the Western Augustus, Thessalonica, seat of the Eastern Caesar (ie, junior Augustus), and Treves (Trier, Germany), seat of the Western Caesar. Jerusalem was then a Roman city built by Hadrian, with a Temple of Venus on the site of the Holy Sepulcher (of Christ).
Trier was Constantine's capital/official residence from 306 to c. 314 -- Constantine moved around a great deal throughout the Empire during his entire reign, mostly on military expeditions. Constantine's throne hall, the Aula Palatina, at Trier is perhaps the best example of the Roman basilican type to be built immediately prior to the construction of the Christian basilicas in Rome. Interestingly, we learn from Ward-Perkins (Roman Architecture) that the brickwork of the Aula Palatina is the first instance
of such work in the West, with earlier example of such work in the East, indicating that Constantine may well have imported the best artisans from places in the East, like Nicomedia, which is where he lived before residing at Trier. Helena most likely met Eutropia at Trier, since it was at Trier that Constantine married Fausta, Eutropia's daughter. The ruins of the Constantinian Imperial baths at Trier were the largest Imperial baths outside of Rome, and their construction is very similar to the construction of Helena's mausoleum in Rome.
At the same time that Constantine was ruling the northeastern part of the Empire from Trier, Maxentius was usuptively ruling Italy and Northern Africa from Rome. Maxentius was the son of Eutropia, and the brother of Fausta. Maxentius also built some very large Roman buildings while in power, eg, a gigantic circus along the Appian Way, and actually began the construction of what is today called the Basilica of Constantine in the Roman Forum (not to be confused with the Christian basilicas).
[I now wonder whether the artisans that built the Aula Palatina in Trier where also the artisans that built the first Christian basilicas in Rome just after 312 AD. Or, more probably, did the eastern artisans finally meet the artisans of Rome, thus generating a new style?]
The spiral columns of Bernini's baldachine in St. Peter's are based on a set of columns that formed a screen around the altar of the original St. Peter's Basilica. Legend says that the columns came from Solomon's Temple, but all we really know is that columns where brought to Rome from Greece. It was during Constantine's reign that the particularly offensive Pagan religions were outlawed and their temples dismantled and their treasuries confiscated. It is well known that the columns in early Christian basilicas were from preexisting buildings/temples. I like to think that the original spiral columns of St. Peter's were actually the most beautiful columns in the Roman empire at that time, and that they were personally procured by Helena, who made sure they wound up at St. Peter's. (It is historically recorded that while Constantine was sole ruler of the Empire (ie, after 19 September 324) he granted Helena access to the Empire's treasury that was equal to Constantine's own access, ie, she could do and spend in any way she saw fit.) The columns still exist today, and a pair of them is in each of the upper niches of the four piers holding up the dome of St. Peter's.
So it seems that the Vatican has 'received' it's richest treasures from the East from the very beginning.
ps Constantine founded Constantinople 8 November 324 [curiously close to 9 November] and Constantinople was officially dedicated 11 May 330.
Where is this 'immaterial' realm where the circle exists? I would like to make contact with it…….. It is worth noting that these 'perfect' shapes: circle (sphere) or cube or pyramid, etc. do not exist in nature. (The Earth, for instance is an oblate spheroid in other words, a sphere fattened at the equator). I am reminded here in Paul's thinking of Ptolemaic and Renaissance astronomies. They thought planets revolved in pure Pythagorean spheres (with musical accompaniment.) It took Kepler and Newton to show them they were wrong: the ellipse was the answer. Anyway, these perfect shapes do not exist other than as idealizations in peoples minds.
While I agree with Alex about there really being no 'perfect' shapes in actual existence, I nonetheless can't help but believe that the real 'inspiration' for the perfect circle comes from the pupils of our very own eyes. Who knows, it might even be the physical 'perfection' of our sight perception organ that somehow makes our brains/minds think ideals exist in the first place. Kind of like the medium being the message.