According to an eight-century-old rumor, which persists in some Jewish circles today despite the lack of evidence to support it, sacred items from the Second Temple lie in the vaults of the Vatican. The ancient historian Josephus recounts that the golden menorah, the table of the showbread, and other ritual objects were indeed transported to Rome after the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE, paraded through its streets in a triumphal procession—depicted famously in the Arch of Titus—and then placed in the recently built Temple of Peace. In the last post of a five-part series, Carl Rasmussen explores what happened to them next:
[I]n 192 CE the Temple of Peace [in Rome] was burned down. [The historian Clyde] Billington argues that “the [Jerusalem] Temple menorah and the other ‘treasures of the Jews’ were rescued and placed in the royal palace where, according to the Byzantine historian Procopius, they remained until the mid-5th century CE.” . . . In 445 CE . . . the Vandals conquered and looted the city of Rome and [took these treasures] to their capital city of Carthage in North Africa. Procopius of Caesarea also describes how . . . the Byzantine general Belisarius conquered Carthage in 534 CE. . . . [Then] the Temple treasures were brought to Constantinople [and] placed, for a time, in the newly built Nea Church [in Jerusalem], dedicated in 543 CE.
Some of the remains of the Nea Church have been excavated and are located in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem—but much is covered by the Jewish Quarter parking lot. . . .
At that point, the story becomes very complex because of the Persian invasion and capture of Jerusalem in 614 CE. It is complex partially because the Jews initially assisted the Persians, and may have gained possession of the objects then, but soon thereafter the Persians sided with the Christians. And eventually the Byzantine ruler Heraclius captured Jerusalem in 630 and treated the Jewish population harshly.
More about: Ancient Rome, Archaeology, Jerusalem, Josephus, Second Temple