Live from Italy! Pine cones, palm leaves, and wheat–what do they mean? The past two days, I’ve been in Bari, a major city in the region of Puglia. While in Bari, I visited two of the major churches, the late 12th century Basilica of San Nicola and the late 13th century Cathedral of San Sabino. Both temples were constructed during the Norman era. The artwork in these churches is very similar to that you’ll find in the cloister of Monreale Cathedral, outside of Palermo that was built by William II, the grandson of Roger II (Bari sports a magnificent castle that was originally constructed by Roger II.) Specifically, this particular column capital, pictured from the ancient crypt under the Bari cathedral, grabbed my attention.
In a single design, it contains three important symbols of ancient, spiritual wisdom that you’ll see throughout historic architecture and art: (1) The pine cone, which recalls the Greek god of male fertility, Dionysus (who had a pine cone atop of his staff or thyrsus), the third eye–our own awakened inner spiritual wisdom, and a more modern interpretation a welcoming, hospitable home; (2) The palm leaf, which illustrates victory, eternal life, and the triumph of the human spirit over death especially in the case of martyrs; and (3) the wheat shaft that represents fertility, the cycle of life, and the resurrection. Now that you know, as you travel throughout Sicily and southern Italy, take note of these significant symbols!