Janus was the gatekeeper that connected heaven and earth, life and death, youth and adulthood, rural and urban, war and peace. This duality Sulmona’s poet-philosopher Ovid portrayed as something akin to chaos…decisions decisions! Shrines dedicated to him were traditionally built close to water connected by a bridge to emphasise passage and movement. The saying of ‘leaving the door open’ to opportunities and peace derives from this powerful deity, to whom prayers were devoted to first thing in the morning and whom many historians believe was a real person, though they can’t agree on who and the time period. During times of peace the doors at his most important temple at the Forum were firmly closed, during war they were left open ready for opportunities and peace.
As part of our 3-part series exploring Janus god of doorways, in Abruzzo we look up above the door, the keystone, mantel and the tympanum (arched or semi- circular area with carvings which in Greek means drum). All these ornamental relief carvings personified the passage to here and now, most often the family stema (coat of arms), family initials, the emblem of the town or those more like gargoyles that signified good over evil, eating a giant if you see a tongue that is protruding!
Next week part 2 of Janus the doorkeeper focuses on beautiful Abruzzo doors, followed by ornamental knockers and locks. Happy January!
Look up Abruzzo! Stemma & Keystone Relief
Photographs by Pete Austin