A story

San Bartolomeo, the site of my musing in my previous post, is a medieval church + hospital complex on Isola Tiburtina. Apparently the island has been associated with healing since Roman times, when there was a temple to Aesculapius (probably) on the site of the present day church. The story goes that, faced with a dire plague, the Romans sent some ambassadors to the Temple of Aesculapius in Epidauros, Greece to ask the god for help. Bear in mind that traditionally, the ambassadors would have swords and would cart off a big gold statue from the temple to set up in their own city to make sure that they had the protection of the particular god, these gods having a small radius of effect, apparently. This time however, they were met by the priests of Aesculapius who gave them a snake. Which the Romans took instead. That's right, I don't know why either, just listen to the story. ("Er, no, you can't take our solid gold idol, it's... er... out for repairs. But wait, we've got this... er... umm... holy SNAKE you can have!" Fabulous.)

Anyway, after a long sea voyage, just as the ambassador's ship was coming up the Tiber and into the city, the snake escaped from it's basket, jumped off the ship and swam onto the island. Which apparently indicated that this was where the god wanted his temple to be built, and so it was. Not sure what happened to the snake after that, the story doesn't say. Actually, I don't even know if the snake helped to end the plague, but I'd like to assume that the story has a happy ending, and that the snake and Romans lived happily ever after.


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