In the city of Pavia devotion to the angels it is ancient and well documented. In this regard, we can cite a witness of the historic Opicino de Canistris ( "Liber de laudibus Civitatis Ticinensis"): "... the church of Santa Maria, after being destroyed by fire along with the other at the hands of Odoacer tyrant, was restored by the power of the Angels for Epifanio merits, our bishop "(Ambaglio translation, 1984, p. 90). Maybe that's why, on the base of the cupola of the old cathedral of St. Stephen was placed a Serafino in gilded bronze, to protect the city, as shown in a drawing of the same Opicino de Canistris (Avignon 1330). Pavia was the capital of the kingdom of the Lombards. Nation of warriors, they had a special devotion to the Archangel Michael, mentioned in the Bible as the victorious commander of the angelic hosts in the fight against Lucifer and the rebellious angels (AP, 12). He has dedicated our basilica, which certainly was important also as a place of worship of St. Michael along the Via Francigena. With this name is mentioned a bundle of routes from Northern Europe, through the Col du Mont Cenis or the Monginevro, (therefore coming from the Land of the Franks) led the Italian peninsula, and from here to the most important Christian religious destinations in the Middle Ages : the Holy Land, the burial places of St. James in Santiago de Compostela and St. Peter's in Rome and the places dedicated to the Archangel Michael. Just Ticinum, the modern Pavia, was a meeting point of these pathways. Along what is now called "via Francana" you can visit the church of St. Lazarus, beside which a c 'time were establishments open to pilgrims, later used as a military hospital.
A variant of the Via Francigena, known as the "Angel Street", started from Mont Saint Michel in Brittany, and the goal was the sanctuary of St. Michael Gargano, Monte S. Angelo. Observing some iconography present in our church, we can find in my opinion confirms that in this sacred place pilgrims sostassero to pray. A basilica dedicated to the Archangel Warrior existed in Pavia already in the Lombard period, perhaps on the site of the present church, rebuilt in the Romanesque style that we see today between the eleventh century and the first half of the twelfth. At that time the Via Francigena was crossed by a multitude of pilgrims who traveled, walking about 20 kilometers a day, mostly in groups, with the insignia of their pilgrimage: the shell, the key, the Cross, the palm tree ... the medieval symbolism was complex and rich in meaning, often multiple. Interestingly, the depiction of St. Michael on the facade of our church. He stands hieratic and victorious over the dragon, like an emperor, holding the symbols of power: the orb and scepter. The scepter shaped like the palm tree. This symbol characterizes the pilgrims called "palmieri" who, after having taken a path almost coinciding with the "way of the Angel", continued for the Holy Land, embarking from the port of Brindisi. classical iconography, the palm is a symbol of joy, acceptance of the Divine Will to death, and victory. The palm sign reminds us of the Holy Week and Easter, Christ's victory over death. Pilgrims in Jerusalem visited the places of death and resurrection of Jesus were at the end of a process that aimed to raise them spiritually to the Heavenly Jerusalem.
Inside St. Michele basilica there is another important symbol linked to the pilgrimage: the labyrinth, of which there remained a fragment with the figure of the king years and some months. Medieval labyrinths represent the eyes of the people the way of life towards the heavenly Jerusalem. They followed the ancient iconography of classical Cretan labyrinth and were unicursali, that inevitably led to reach the center. Here could be shown the Heavenly Jerusalem or the conflict between good and evil (just like in the human heart, that God wanted to be free to choose between good and its negation). In our church, according to a sixteenth-century reconstruction (Rome, BA V, Barb. Lat. 4426, c.35r) at the center of a circular maze eleven coils it was depicted the struggle between Theseus and the Minotaur, while the lower left corner is faced David and Goliath: these iconography form a double reference to Christ and his victorious battle against Satan.
Many cathedrals of northern Europe had large pavement labyrinths, on which they were celebrated the penitential rites. The labyrinths of the cathedrals of Auxerre and Sens, according to a documented liturgical use, during Easter were celebrated dances and performances with a precise ritual that recalled the resurrection and Christ's victory over evil. Take a maze in a spirit of penance during these sacred ceremonies had the atoning value of a real pilgrimage. The two figures in prayer present the icon of St. Michael on the sides of our basilica facade (now readable with difficulty) may also allude to the penitent pilgrims along the "Angel."
With the passage of time, the spiritual meaning of ecclesial labyrinths was lost. A canon of the cathedral of Chartres, Jean Baptiste Souchet (sec. XVII), was convinced that the maze was not that "a meaningless game, a waste of time". Despite the great labyrinth of Chartres Cathedral we have survived intact. Unfortunately, between the seventeenth and eighteenth century, many others have been lost. Bompiani on the cover of "The Name of the Rose" by Umberto Eco, is reproduced the plan of the ancient labyrinth of Reims Cathedral and, on the back cover, an author's note recalls that it was destroyed by canon Jaquemart because "he was annoyed the playful use of them were children who, during Mass, trying to follow the intricacies, with the purpose evidently perverse." Other labyrinths were destroyed in the cathedrals of Auxerre (1690), Sens (1768), Arras (1795), Amiens (1825). In the latter case, the labyrinth was rebuilt in 1894, a sign perhaps that he had felt it was a mistake to destroy something because I do not understand ... Also in Italy many labyrinths have been lost. Among those remaining we will mention some of the walls of churches: the stone of the cathedral of Lucca, the large fresco in the church of St. Francis in Alatri, in the center the figure of Christ blessing (both identical in form to that of Chartres) and the graffiti on a sandstone slab in the church of St. Francis in Pontremoli. It seems that these labyrinths were linked to the Via Francigena. Precious and rare are the documented examples of ecclesial pavement labyrinths in Italy. Destroyed that of St. Savino church in Piacenza, the fragment remained in our church takes on a unique historical value.
I would add some concluding remarks. The Angels have always belonged to all cultures and religions. Even in the icon of the Archangel Michael on our basilica facade we can see traces of the old Lombard Nordic beliefs, mixed with oriental influences: some see the scepter that the Archangel bears the image of the lotus flower. As for the maze, it is an ancient and widespread symbol known by the wealth of meanings and forms all over the world. This wealth says that humanity is always on the way, along ancient roads and along new paths. It is still "a pilgrim on earth" and today more than ever, in the era of "globalization" needs to weave the ancient roots of peoples and cultures, and to walk together, in the world that God has created for all her children , looking in a spirit of true peace, along the passage of time the way, the truth and the life ...