St Peter’s Basilica

The sacred site of Mons Vaticanus and its giant serpent

In Places, Travel and Retreats by Stella WoodsLeave a Comment

Our astrology writer is on leave in Europe. She’s discovered at the Vatican, and specifically at St Peter’s Basilica that stories of the mother and resurrection, and the communication between heaven and earth, were connected with the sites before the Roman Church took up residence.

‘The Vatican Hill takes its name from the Latin word ‘vaticanus’ alluding to the oracles or prophecies which were anciently delivered here.’ [Vatican curator]

Current nameSt Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Rome, Italy
Former nameMons Vaticanus (Hill of Prophecy) Rome, Italy
HistoryPre 600 BC – Cemetery for wealthy Romans
204 BC – Site of Temple of Cybele, the Mother Goddess of Rome
37 BC – Obelisk from Heliopolis (City of the Sun) erected on Mons Vaticanus
312 AD – Christianity becomes the official religion of Rome and Old St Peter’s Basilica is built over the grave of the martyred apostle St Peter on the Mons Vaticanus
1626 – Completion of the present-day St Peter’s Basilica.

On my recent journey through Italy, I visited St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City in Rome, one of the holiest Christian sites in the world, and said to be the final resting place of Simon Peter (apostle of Jesus) after his crucifixion. However, after a little research, I discovered the site of St Peter’s Basilica was originally a Roman cemetery directly aligned with the Capitoline Hill, the place where the Roman ruling class built their villas. Known as Mons Vaticanus, meaning ‘hill of prophecy’, the site then became a sacred mound marked by a standing stone to honour the earth mother goddess Cybele. In mythology, Cybele ruled over fertility, mountains and fortresses and her crown was shaped like a city wall (cf the Empress card in the Rider Waite tarot deck). Her followers called her ‘Mountain Mother and offered sacrifices to her on mountain peaks. Cybele became the official protector of Rome from the beginning of the Imperial Period (205 BC), and a temple known as the Phrygianum was built on Mons Vaticanus in her honour.

Cybele has two different faces: a gentle, civilised, human side, and a serpent aspect representing her darker and more destructive nature (similar to the light and dark sides of Venus). Her name is related to the Latin word ‘sibilare’ meaning ‘to hiss’. Serpent energy refers to the sacred life force and those invisible electromagnetic or telluric currents that criss-cross the earth and upon which all important sacred sites of antiquity were built. The serpent also symbolises the continuous cycle of birth, death and rebirth. So, from the earliest times, the Mons Vaticanus had all the elements of a sacred site – its name means ‘oracle’ or ‘prophecy’; it is a mountain close to water and its deity was the serpent or Great Mother who carries the secret of life, death and rebirth.

Cybele had a son Attis, born on 25th December who preceded Jesus as a crucified hero-god. Cybele’s annual festival celebrated the death and resurrection of Attis. Initiates into the higher mysteries of this religion underwent a taurobolium (baptism in bull’s blood) in the temple after which they were ‘reborn for eternity’. The festival took place during the spring equinox over a three-day period. 24th March was ‘The Bloody Day’, 25th March was ‘The Day of Joy’ and 26th March was ‘The Day of Rest’. Cybele’s festival was eventually adopted by Christians who turned ‘The Bloody Day’ into Good Friday, and the ‘Day of Rest’ into Easter Sunday. Easter of course takes its name from Ishtar, the Babylonian fertility goddess, a sister goddess of Cybele.

The sun and the serpent

In 37 BC, the Roman Emperor Caligula transported a rose-coloured obelisk from Heliopolis in Egypt, built by Pharoah Mencares in 1835 BC to honour the sun. Heliopolis means ‘city of the sun’ and, for the Egyptians, Heliopolis was the centre of the universe and the obelisk a solar symbol representing the sacred flow of life between heaven and earth. Caligula placed the obelisk on Mons Vaticanus.

In 312 AD the Emperor Constantine decided that Christianity would become the official religion of the Roman Empire. He built the first basilica on the Mons Vaticanus and named it after the martyred St Peter, apostle of Jesus. Considering the close parallels between the story of Attis and the story of Jesus, this choice of site was hardly surprising. Both religions share a death and resurrection story, both represent their saviours as shepherds (Attis was known as ‘the good shepherd’), both use wheat (an ear of wheat for Attis, bread for Christ) as a central symbol of their saviour, and the practice of celibacy is common to both their priesthoods. The big shift was that, under Christianity, the Great Mother became God the Father.

But what you may ask is a basilica? A little research reveals that the word ‘basilica’ is derived from basilisk, a mythological snake, known as the king of the serpents because its Greek name ‘basiliscus’ means ‘little king’. In the Harry Potter books you may remember that Basilisk was a giant serpent.

Look at how these stories are interwoven – the earth mother, the sun, the serpent, the birth, death and resurrection themes and the communication between heaven and earth. In another interesting twist, it is said that Emperor Constantine took columns from Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem to build the altar of St Peter’s Basilica. Solomon’s Temple was a celestial observatory and the temple pillars were engraved with information on astronomy, celestial mechanics and sacred geometry. (Solomon comes from the words ‘sol’ and ‘amun’ meaning ‘the sun and the moon’). Did Constantine actually ‘take the pillars’ or did he simply ‘take the knowledge of sacred geometry’ to build his basilica? In the early days of Christianity, Pope Leo the Great (440-61 AD) reprimanded his congregation for performing devotions to the Sun God on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica before turning their backs and entering the church to perform Christian worship!

As the centuries rolled by, St Peter’s Basilica fell into disrepair and required extensive renovations and repairs. A decision was taken to demolish the old church and build a new one. Work began in 1506 and the present-day basilica was completed in 1626. The obelisk was moved to the centre of the Vatican Plaza outside the church.

Today, visitors to St Peter’s Basilica gaze in awe at the impressive sun wheel dome inside the church, while outside in the Vatican Plaza they admire the massive eight-rayed sun wheel (eight is the number of Ishtar or Venus or Cybele) pierced by the phallic Heliopolis obelisk. The obelisk acts as a sun dial with its moving shadow crossing the white marble paving stones of the piazza. And every ‘Sun Day’ people from all over the world flock to worship at this ancient and powerful sacred site.


Stella Woods is one of Australia’s leading astrologers with a reputation for offering practical, sensitive and insightful advice. Stella is also an experienced astrology teacher and hosted a popular astrology talkback segment on Melbourne’s 3RRR from 2003-2010. Her first book The Seven Secrets of Magic & Manifestation was published in 2012.

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