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FA I TH


‘Apotheosis of an Ecclesiastic’


‘Apotheosis of an Ecclesiastic’ Oil on canvas Italian, date unknown RRa0098 / 44815i Wellcome Library


The ecclesiastic taking centre stage under the phrase ‘protection and glory’ is being elevated to divine status, the ultimate glory for a mortal.


Gods as emperors


In ancient Rome, men could become divine as a result of their great deeds. As soon as the Roman senate deified Julius Caesar (100–44 BCE) after his death, his adopted son Octavian (63 BCE–14 CE) referred to himself as the son of a god, and the letters D F (standing for divi filius or ‘son of the divine’) were attached to his name on inscriptions and coins. Octavian soon rose to greater heights, though:


when he became the emperor Augustus, the Roman poets compared him to a god, or referred to him directly as one. Outside Rome, he was worshipped as a living god, presaging his own official deification after his death.


The divine nurse


When British nurse Edith Cavell (1865–1915) was executed by a German firing squad after admitting to ‘assisting men to the enemy’ during World War I, the Allies claimed her as a martyr. Cavell herself wouldn’t have approved; when a chaplain who saw her the night before her death suggested she would be remembered as a heroine and a martyr, Cavell replied that she should be thought of only as ‘a nurse who tried to do her duty’.


Julius Caesar Engraving After Aegidius Sadeler, after Titian, 18th century 664532i Wellcome Library


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