Three Blindfolded Moors

A curious detail from one of the altars in St. Peter’s: three blindfolded moors appear amidst the various symbols in the mosaic decoration on the front of the altar.

See if you can pick them out.

The good Matthew Alderman helped me to figure out why they are there: they, along with the hills surmounted by the cross and the word “pax” (peace) on the left, and the three stars above them, make up the various elements of the coat of arms of Pope Pius VII (who reigned from 1800-1823).

So it would seem that it was Pope Pius VII who had commissioned the decoration for this altar.

As to why the three blindfolded moors figure in to his coat of arms, it’s hard to say for sure. He had a lot of hassle with Napoleon, and the blindfolded moors are often associated with him (and with the island of Corsica, where Napoleon was from, the flag of which has four blindfolded moors, incidentally), though it appears to me that Pope Pius had these difficulties several years after he was consecrated a bishop. From what I have been able to find, when the blindfold is lifted (i.e. on their forehead), it symbolizes freedom from slavery. When the fold remains lowered, it symbolizes slavery. Beyond this, I have been able to find no further explanations.

An interesting bit of minutia, nonetheless.

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