Statue of Elijah in
St. Peter's in Rome


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In 1668 the Superior Generals of the major Religious Orders asked permission of the Congregation for the Construction of Saint Peter's to place the statues of the Founders of their respective Orders in the niches of the Basilica's pillars that were still empty. The request was accepted and the Officials of the Construction reserved themselves the right to allocate the niches. The first statue to be placed was that of Saint Dominic de Guzman, founder of the Dominicans; that of Saint Francis followed, placed in 1725, and then that of Saint Elijah. On the June 26,1725 Benedict XIII gave permission to the Carmelites to place the statue of Elijah in the Vatican Basilica, between that of Saint Dominic and Saint Helena, putting on the pedestal the inscription: "Universus Ordo Carmelitarum Fundatori suo S. Eliae Prophetae erexit" (The entire Carmelite order erected [the statue] to its Founder). The necessary expenses for the making and placing of the statue would have been borne by the Carmelite Order. For the execution of the work, the Carmelites turned to the sculptor Agostino Cornacchini, an artist well known in Rome in the early years of the eighteenth century. He was born in Pescia, Tuscany, on August 26, 1686, and began working in Rome in 1712.

The contract with the sculptor was drawn up on July 23, 1725. The Carmelites were represented by the Procurators General of the Observants and of the Discalced Congregations of Spain and Italy. The artist took it on himself to sculpt and put the statue in its place within two and a half years. The expenses, a total of 3,800 Roman Scudi, were distributed in equal parts between the Calced and Discalced Carmelites. Halfway through July 1727 the statue was put in its place and solemnly unveiled. The Carmelites celebrated the event from July 13th to the 20th, the liturgical feast of the Prophet. The placing of the statue in the Basilica was, ideally, to close a long controversy in which the Order had been occupied. In the seventeenth century the historical tradition of the Order had already firmly established the direct descent of the Carmelites from Elijah, and the uninterrupted succession from the time of the Prophet onward. However, the first examples of historical criticism applied to the hagiographical sources, had placed the theory in crisis and this was particularly true of a group of Jesuits, the Bollandists, who in 1643 began to publish the Acta Sanctorum, with the view to discerning the authentic from the legendary texts. In the April volume, dealing with Albert of Jerusalem, the Bollandist Daniel Papenbroeck expressed all his doubts concerning the origins of the Carmelites, in 1691they denounced his work to the inquisition. There followed a period of polemic, conducted through lawsuits, which concluded in 1695 with the condemnation of the fourteen volumes of the Acta Sanctorum by the Spanish Inquisition. The decision did not put an end to the polemics, in the course of which the Carmelites and the Bollandists both appealed to the King of Spain, Charles 11. Seeing the impossibility of deciding in favor of one of the two parties, on November 20,1698 Pope Innocent XII published the Bull Redemptoris, in which he imposed silence on both, without taking a position in favor of one or the other.

Permitting the positioning of the statue of Elijah in the Vatican Basilica, Benedict XIII expressly repealed the provision of his predecessor Innocent XII. His doing so appeared to many of his contemporaries as an implicit approval of the opinion traditionally sustained by the Carmelites.


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