Innocent III, a proud and learned Roman pope, was well acquainted with the history and literature of the Rome of earlier days. He would have been aware of the prophecy given by Virgil in the Aeneid that when the foaming Tiber appeared to run as a river of blood disaster was foretold. In his own day the River Tiber gave him a clear message of a real disaster actually taking place. Far too frequently the fishermen of Rome drew in their nets only to find not a harvest of fish, but the tiny corpses of babies. These had been thrown naked to meet their deaths in the waters of the Tiber. Rome, of course, was by no means a stranger to the problem of abandoned babies. The great legend of the City’s origins with the suckling of the babes who were to become its eventual founders was given a daily reminder since, under the portico of the Lateran Palace, was the famous bronze statue of the Lupa or She-Wolf. In spite of the serious damage caused by a thunderbolt in Antiquity, which had left the Wolf’s feet broken and destroyed the group of the twins, the ‘Mother of the Romans’, as she was known, had come to represent papal jurisdiction over Rome, as well as the nourishing of its children. The River Tiber had always been available for the disposal of the many unwanted infants. Why, then, should the macabre catch of the fishermen of his time have been received by Innocent III as a matter in need of his most urgent attention? It might have been that there were more babies than usual. Population pressure was affecting Rome, and, as elsewhere, social problems were increasing with consequent effects on newborn children. What evidence then can be found to link Innocent with Rome’s Baby Box as a way of remedying such a dreadful situation?
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