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Pontiff

means one who has charge of the bridges. According to Varro, the highest class of the Roman priesthood had to superintend the construction of the bridges (pontes) (See Ramsay: Roman Antiquities, p. 51.)

1


“Well has the name of Pontifex been given

Unto the church’s head, as the chief builder

And architect of the invisible bridge

That leads from earth to heaven.”


Longfellow: Golden Legend, v.

⁂ Here Longfellow follows the general notion that “pontiff” is from pons-facio, and refers to the tradition that a Roman priest threw over the Tiber, in the time of Numa, a sublician, or wooden bridge.

Sablicius means made of timber or piles. There were subsequently eight stone bridges, and Æmilius converted the sublician bridge into a stone one. There were fifteen pontiffs in the time of Sylla.

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Entry taken from Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, edited by the Rev. E. Cobham Brewer, LL.D. and revised in 1895.

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