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In addition to what has been said of this word in the article on the Bridge Builders of the middle Ages, the following from Athanase Coquerel, in a recent essay entitled The Rise and Decline of the Romish Church, will be interesting.
What is the meaning of pontiff? Pontiff means bridge maker, bridge builder. Why are they called in that way? Here is the explanation of the fact:
In the very first year of the existence of Rome, at a time of which we have a very fabulous history and but few existing monuments, the little town of Rome, not built on seven hills, as is generally supposed--there are eleven of them now, then there were within the town less than seven even--that little town had a great deal to fear from an enemy which should take one of the hills that were out of town--the Janiculum--because the Janiculum is higher than the others, and from that hill an enemy could very easily throw stones, fire, or any means of destruction into the town.
The Januculum was Heparated from the town by the Tiber. Then the first necessity for the defense of that little town of Rome was to have a bridge.
They had built a wooden bridge over the Tiber and a great point of interest to the town was, that this bridge should be kept always in good order, so that at any moment troops could pass over. Then, with the special genius of the Romans, of which we have other instances, they ordained, curiously enough, that the men who were a corporation, to take care of that bridge shouid be sacred; that their function. necessary to the defense of the town, should be considered holy; that thev should be priests, and the highest of them was called the High Bridge Maker. So it happened that there was in Rome a Corporation of Bridge Makers-- pontifices--of whom the head was the most sacred of all Romans; because in those days his life and the life of his companions was deemed necessary to the safety of the town. Thus it is that the title of Pontifex Maximus, assumed by the Pope of Rome, literally means the Grand Bridge Builder (see Bridge Builders of the Middle Ages).
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