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The Sacred & the Profane | by Egisto Sani
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The Sacred & the Profane

Roman sarcophagus dated from the 2nd century AD, decorated with musician Erotes. The image carved on the slab is a pantomime showing a Dionysian thiasos (ritual procession). The Erotes are shown as satyrs or Dionysus worshippers, while the central figure – in the pose of Dionysus itself – collapses into the arms of a follower.

Some Erotes are dancing and playing musical instruments. From left we may recognize players of “tintinnabulum” (bells), lyre, sistrum, double flute, tympanum and Pan's flute. A torch, a sash, cymbals and other musical instruments lie on the earth. Some Erotes have torches. They are arranging a pagan ritual. This iconography is well known and replicated on painted vases and bass-reliefs: here an example from Vatican Museums in Rome.

According to Dionysus’ myth, the god was conceived two times: a first time from Semele, his natural mother, the second one from Zeus itself. His rebirth is the primary reason why Dionysus was worshipped in mystery religions. His death and his rebirth became events of mystical reverence.

Moreover the cult of Dionysus as the god wine, and the Dionysian Mysteries were grounded in a seasonal death-rebirth theme, and were strongly connected with the ideas of death and rebirth.


Today, the sarcophagus contains the holy relics of the patron of Cagliari, Saint Saturnino. It is assembled in an altar built inside the crypt of the cathedral of Cagliari, erected in 1620.

The Latin inscription on the lid informs us that the Archbishop De Esquivel ordered to move the Roman sarcophagus with the Saint relics from the former Basilica of St. Saturnino to the current chapel.


Roman sarcophagus

2nd century AD

St. Saturnino chapel

Cagliari, Cathedral of Santa Maria


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Taken on June 26, 2013