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June 21: Rome August 3, 2010

Posted by msmith78 in Uncategorized.

Santa Sabina

This was originally a house church on the Aventine hill a wealthy part of town owned by Sabina, but the area was destroyed in a fire in 410AD. The new church built on top of the old house church and a Temple to Juno was constructed in 422 AD. It is a poster child for the basilica form of church. It is home to the Dominican order, which is made more apparent through the artwork including St. Dominic and other monks and the closed choir.


The columns were believed to be taken from the Temple of Juno, but I think they may have been from a more heavily trafficked area due to the filled flutes at the bottom of the columns similar to those at the Stoa of Attalus in Athens. At the center in the floor is a mosaic tomb from the 1300s of a monk in the traditional Dominican attire. The walls are covered in frescos, and the mosaic in the apse was redone in the 16th century due to the ware on it.


There are twenty-six windows at the clearstory level, but twenty of these were covered during the Counter Reformation because it was believed that less light created a more prayer like environment. The silenite windows are covered with perforated panels with different geometric designs.

Cyprus Doors

These are the original doors from 430 AD but they were not meant for this frame and are cut to fit the frame. The depict scenes from the Old and New Testament and include one of the first depictions of the crucifixion. It took this long to have an artistic display of the crucifixion because during the early development of Christianity it was in a Roman world and crucifixion was reserved for non-citizen criminals against the state. The first depiction was in the 3rd century AD on the Palatine hill by Anaximinus. It was graffiti of a crucified man with a donkey head saying, “Anaximinus loves his God.”

Basilica Form

Christianity was a communal religion therefore it needed building in which to congregate. Before the Edict of Milan in 312 AD, there were sporadic persecution of Christians therefore Christians worshipped in secret in house churches. Once Christianity was legalized and Christians were able to congregate freely, the basilica form was adopted as the predominated form of the church. Being built in what was once a Roman courthouse, the basilica took on a new association with the true and final judge Christ. Constantine’s adoption of this form for the first St. Peter’s basilica solidified this form as the standard and popular form. The Eastern Church used the cross-and-square form. The basilica form progressed in the 8th century AD to include transepts, which made the church in the form of a cross. The churches developing in the Gothic north established the east to west orientation with the apse facing the east and the Holy Land. The churches of Rome such as Santa Sabina, which developed from previous sporadic house churches and holy sites did not use the same orientations.

Santa Maria in Trastevere

This is one of the oldest churches in Rome, and some believe it is the oldest churches dedicated to the Holy Mother. The church is so old in fact that Septimius Severus gave the land to build the church around 220 AD before the Edict of Milan. The land was being used for taverns, but he said, “I prefer that it should belong to those who honor God, whatever be their form of worship.” The sight had previous miracle status due to an explosion of oil that occurred there in 38 AD.

The current church itself dates from 1138 AD when it was rebuilt by Innocent II using materials from the baths of Caraculla; due to his level of contributions to this church Innocent II is buried here and is depicted with a model of the church in the mosaic in the apse. The building is at its core medieval including the 12th century bell tower. Carlo Fontana completed the portico in 1702 with pieces of old churches lining the walls. The ten women on the façade of the church flanking Mary and the baby Jesus are derived from the parable of the wise virgins from the Bible.

The colonnades flanking the nave exhibit the spolio which occurred to build this church because each column and capital are made of different materials with different designs. The church has a wealth of mosaics that include many depictions of the life of the Virgin Mary.  Specifically in ceiling of the nave there are mosaics by Pietro Cavallini and Domenichino that flows this theme. There is also a beautiful Baroque chapel on the left side with angles carrying the upper colonnade.

San Pietro In Montoria and the Academy of Spain

Following the increase in interest in Classical studies and archeology jumpstarted by Schleiman and his discovery of Troy in the 1840s, many countries established schools in Rome. Different countries and rules have wanted reprentation in Rome throughout the importance of the city in the church. This area has long been of Spanish importance, and San Pietro even received funding from Isabella and Ferdinand in the 1490s. Inside the academy is what was considered the first Renaissance building. It was constructed between 1500 and 1510 as a monument over the site where St. Peter was originaly thought to have been crucified.

San Clemente

This church lies between two hills and with erosion and building projects over the years it is a layering of Rome’s history.

St. Clement

Saint Clement is noted as the third pope in succession to St. Peter. He was martyred by having his legs tied to an anchor and being thrown into the Black Sea. A tomb was built to him by the angles and St. Cyril recovered his remains in about 867 AD. Both St. Clements’s and St. Cyril’s remains are in San Clemente.

First Level from the 1st -2nd Century AD

This level along with the 4th century basilica were discovered and excavated by Father Joseph Mullooly in the mid-nineteenth century. This was initially a Roman house that was converted to a Mythraic temple. The Clemens family lived in the house and the patriarch of the Clemens house was a senator and probably had military connections and associations which would have made the Mythraic religion appealing to him. This temple was later bricked up to respect the past religion that was housed there rather than destroy it; the altar still stands showing this step of repsect. The temple has a tufa ceiling to make it look like a cave where Mythrais was said to have been born. On top the Mythraic temple, the Clemens family house was transformed into a house church with the apse over the former Mythraic temple.

4th Century AD Basilica

The bascillica that was built on this level endured several earthquakes and attacks from different tribes throughout the years. One fresco on this level depicts the finding of the underwater tomb by St. Cyril, and the family who paid for the painting are depicted below the painting. There is another fresco that depicts the life story of St. Alexis who entered a religious life as a monk upon returning to his family he was unrecognizable and he became their servant.

12th Century AD Basilica

Paschal II commissioned the mosaics in the apse in the 12th century AD; it depicts Christ on the cross at the center as the true vine with monks and other church figures as the branches. This circular intertwining vine symbolism was drawn from Roman art and adjusted. There are also frescos found in the side chapels. Stefano Fontana who restored several Roman churches completed the changes made to this church in the 1700s; these included a new marble façade and gilded coffered ceiling.


I starting to think about the geometric patterning Thanos talked about today, and the floor of San Marco, the elaborate Mulsim tiling, and the Jewish manipulations of David’s star rushed into my head. These geometric designs describe cultures, and at times these cultures merge. For San Marco(my church project) the tiling is not just the pattern work as we have seen today in San Sabino. It is more vibrant and complex drawing influence from the eastern mosaic and geometric practices; showing the merging of the Venetians with the Eastern Empire. The preference of Septimius Severus, “I prefer that it should belong to those who honor God, whatever be their form of worship,” is so powerful and fair-minded even if it only for the practical reason that a church is more easily managed then a brothel. The persecution of Christians by Romans is a familiar subject, but not these moments of civility and freedom. Santa Maria in Trastevere definitely emphasized the new arch of the covenant aspect of Mary. She is the new bearer of the covenant with the prophets and other old Testament stories of virgins (like on the façade) as the foretelling of her coming.



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