A Closer Look at Symbolism of Christus and Ancient Apostles Statues in Rome

Contributed By Scott Taylor, Church News managing editor

  • 17 January 2019

Bertel Thorvaldsen’s original Christus statue is in the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Keys. A bag of money. An eagle. And numerous instruments representing a martyr’s death.

Those are some of the symbols found on the 12 ancient Apostles statues by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, which have been featured in the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark, for nearly 200 years and now at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Rome Italy Temple Visitors’ Center.

Each base bearing an Apostle statue has inscribed a Greek equivalent of that Apostle’s name. The larger Christus statue has a shorter base with “Venite a Me” and “Matteo 11:28”—Italian for “Come unto Me” and Matthew 11:28, which reads, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Christus

The Christus statue is seen with outstretched arms as welcoming, inviting, enveloping, with the hands and feet of the resurrected Christ shown with the wounds of the crucifixion. That differs from other similar statues and depictions of the Savior either suffering through the crucifixion or with arms reaching upward in a show of power.

Bertel Thorvaldsen’s original Christus statue is in the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

The pierced hand of a replica of Bertel Thorvaldsen’s Christus statue in the visitors’ center for the Rome Temple in Rome, Italy, on Friday, November 16, 2018. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

The following are some of the representations of symbolism found with Thorvaldsen’s statues of the 12 ancient Apostles.

Peter (Petrus)

The keys held in Peter’s right hand are symbolic of Matthew 16:19, where Christ tells Peter, “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Bertel Thorvaldsen’s statue of Peter, one of the Twelve Apostles, holds keys at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. The Twelve Apostles statues were carved out of Carrara marble between 1829 and 1848. Replicas of the statues are now on display in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center in Italy. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Bertel Thorvaldsen’s statue of Peter, one of the Twelve Apostles, holds keys at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. The Twelve Apostles statues were carved out of Carrara marble between 1829 and 1848. Replicas of the statues are now on display in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center in Italy. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

James, brother of John (Iacobus Frater Iohannes)

James is depicted holding a shepherd’s staff or walking stick and sporting hat behind his left shoulder. Tradition has James preaching in Spain, with many Christian pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago route to Santiago de Compostela, believed by some to be the Apostle’s burial location.

Bertel Thorvaldsen’s statue of James the elder, one of the Twelve Apostles, holds a staff at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. The Twelve Apostles statues were carved out of Carrara marble between 1829 and 1848. Replicas of the statues are now on display in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center in Italy. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Bertel Thorvaldsen’s James, the son of Alpheus, holds a staff at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. The Twelve Apostles statues were carved out of Carrara marble between 1829 and 1848. Replicas of the statues are now on display in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center in Italy. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Bertel Thorvaldsen’s statue of James the elder, one of the Twelve Apostles, holds a staff at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. The Twelve Apostles statues were carved out of Carrara marble between 1829 and 1848. Replicas of the statues are now on display in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center in Italy. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

John (Iohannes)

The lack of a beard underscores the youth of John, and the writing slate and pencil symbolize his role as an evangelist and one of the authors of the four Gospels. At his feet is an eagle, which was one of the winged creatures mentioned in Revelation 4:7, with John the author of that New Testament book.

Bertel Thorvaldsen’s statue of John, one of the Twelve Apostles, holds a tablet at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. The Twelve Apostles statues were carved out of Carrara marble between 1829 and 1848. Replicas of the statues are now on display in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center in Italy. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Bertel Thorvaldsen’s statue of John, one of the Twelve Apostles, is shown without a beard at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. The Twelve Apostles statues were carved out of Carrara marble between 1829 and 1848. Replicas of the statues are now on display in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center in Italy. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Bertel Thorvaldsen’s statue of John, one of the Twelve Apostles, holds a tablet at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. The Twelve Apostles statues were carved out of Carrara marble between 1829 and 1848. Replicas of the statues are now on display in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center in Italy. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Paul (Paulus)

In collections of Apostle statues, Paul often takes the place of Judas Iscariot. In his left hand, he holds a sword. Traditions have Paul suffering death under Emperor Nero sometime between 62 and 68 AD. As a Roman citizen, Paul was spared crucifixion and is believed to have been beheaded instead.

Bertel Thorvaldsen’s statue of Paul holds a sword at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. The Twelve Apostles statues were carved out of Carrara marble between 1829 and 1848. Replicas of the statues are now on display in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center in Italy. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Bertel Thorvaldsen’s statue of Paul holds a sword at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. The Twelve Apostles statues were carved out of Carrara marble between 1829 and 1848. Replicas of the statues are now on display in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center in Italy. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Matthew (Matthaeus)

Like fellow evangelist John, the statue of Matthew holds a writing slate and a pencil. Beside the right foot is a bag of money, with Matthew’s original profession being a tax collector.

Bertel Thorvaldsen’s statue of Matthew, one of the Twelve Apostles, holds a tablet at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. There is also a bag of money by his feet, in reference to his former job as a tax collector. The Twelve Apostles statues were carved out of Carrara marble between 1829 and 1848. Replicas of the statues are now on display in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center in Italy. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Bertel Thorvaldsen’s statue of Matthew, one of the Twelve Apostles, holds a tablet at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. The Twelve Apostles statues were carved out of Carrara marble between 1829 and 1848. Replicas of the statues are now on display in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center in Italy. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

A winged child that was part of Bertel Thorvaldsen’s original statue of Matthew in Copenhagen is not part of this replica at the visitors’ center for the Rome Temple in Rome, Italy, on Friday, November 16, 2018. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Philip (Philippus)

The statue in Copenhagen is holding a small cross, since tradition has Philip often preaching of Christ’s crucifixion as well as being crucified upside down.

Bertel Thorvaldsen’s statue of Philip, one of the Twelve Apostles, holds a small cross at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

A close replica in Rome of Bertel Thorvaldsen’s statue of Philip, one of the Twelve Apostles, does not hold a small cross like the original, at the visitors’ center for the Rome Temple in Rome, Italy, on Friday, November 16, 2018. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

James, son of Alpheus (Iacobus Alphaeus Filius)

Tradition has this James—who is shown holding a staff or a fuller’s club—being stoned and beaten to death with such a club near the temple in Jerusalem.

Bertel Thorvaldsen’s James, the son of Alpheus, at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. The Twelve Apostles statues were carved out of Carrara marble between 1829 and 1848. Replicas of the statues are now on display in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center in Italy. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Thomas (Thomas)

Thomas holds a builder’s square, given that an ancient story has Thomas building a palace for King Gudaphara in India. Since the “doubting” Thomas didn’t initially believe in the first reports of the Savior’s Resurrection until he touched the wounds of crucifixion, the square symbolizes his belief in things “measured and weighed.”

Thomas, one of the Twelve Apostles statues, by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. The statues were carved out of Carrara marble between 1829 and 1848. Replicas of the statues are now on display in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center in Italy. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Thomas, one of the Twelve Apostles statues, by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, holds a measuring tool at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. The statues were carved out of Carrara marble between 1829 and 1848. Replicas of the statues are now on display in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center in Italy. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Bartholomew (Batholomeaus)

The knife being held conveys the legend of his death at the command of the king of Armenia.

Bertel Thorvaldsen’s statue of Bartholomew, one of the Twelve Apostles, holds a knife at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. The Twelve Apostles statues were carved out of Carrara marble between 1829 and 1848. Replicas of the statues are now on display in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center in Italy. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Andrew, brother of Peter (Andreas Frater Petri)

Portrayals often show Andrew with a book or scroll and accompanied by an X-shaped cross suggesting or representing the legend of his death in Patras, Greece.

Bertel Thorvaldsen’s statue of Andrew, one of the Twelve Apostles, holds a scroll and a large X-shaped cross at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. The Twelve Apostles statues were carved out of Carrara marble between 1829 and 1848. Replicas of the statues are now on display in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center in Italy. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Bertel Thorvaldsen’s statue of Andrew, one of the Twelve Apostles, holds a scroll at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. The Twelve Apostles statues were carved out of Carrara marble between 1829 and 1848. Replicas of the statues are now on display in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center in Italy. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Judas Thaddeus (Judas Thaddaeus)

This statue holds a halberd, which is a long-handled medieval weapon combining a spear and a battle-ax. Stories have Judas Thaddeus suffering a martyr’s death in Persia.

 

Judas Thaddeus, one of the Twelve Apostles statues by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, holds a halberd as a symbol of his martyrdom, at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. The statues were carved out of Carrara marble between 1829 and 1848. Replicas of the statues are now on display in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center in Italy. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Judas Thaddeus, one of the Twelve Apostles statues by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, holds a halberd as a symbol of his martyrdom, at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. The statues were carved out of Carrara marble between 1829 and 1848. Replicas of the statues are now on display in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center in Italy. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Simon Zelotes (Simon Zelotes)

The saw held in front represents the tradition of Simon Zelotes’s death in Persia.

Bertel Thorvaldsen’s statue of Simon, one of the Twelve Apostles, holds a saw at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. The Twelve Apostles statues were carved out of Carrara marble between 1829 and 1848. Replicas of the statues are now on display in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center in Italy. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Bertel Thorvaldsen’s statue of Simon, one of the Twelve Apostles, holds a saw at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. The Twelve Apostles statues were carved out of Carrara marble between 1829 and 1848. Replicas of the statues are now on display in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center in Italy. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.