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Pagan Roman emperor venerated Christ’s image

July 20, 2011

A pagan Roman emperor venerated an image of Christ every morning, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi notes in a brief L’Osservatore Romano article.

Alexander Severus (222-35) “venerated at dawn in his lararium portraits of his ancestors, images of several emperors, the figure of Apollonio of Tiana, but also the icons of Christ, Abraham and Orpheus,” writes the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture. “This syncretism was widespread in the empire at the time and the Roman pantheon unhesitatingly gathered together the figures, ideas, symbols and cults of the Orient, creating an intercultural and multi-religious climate which corresponded to the multiethnic makeup of the populations of the metropolis and of the empire.”

Although several saints were martyred during Alexander Severus’ reign, the era is viewed as a relatively tolerant time that preceded the brutal persecutions of Decius (249-51), Valerianus (253-58), and Diocletian (286-305).


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