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Some Churches of Rome

A preliminary selection compiled after Dom P's first "serious photographic visit" to Rome in 2005

 

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San Pietro in Vaticano - May Day 2005

 

 

A wave from new Pope Benedict XVI at his first balcony appearance on May Day 2005, and we're off ...... 

 

This is a much earlier (church builder) Pope - Saint Paschal I (817 - 824) in the apse of the Basilica of Santa Prassede, nearly next door to Santa Maria Maggiore.  The square halo denotes a living person - not quite sure about the logic of that .....

 

 

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Santa Maria in Trastevere

 

Pope Innocent II (whose tomb was transferred here after fire gutted the Lateran Palace) ordered the building of the present Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere in the mid 1100s.  Below is the basilica's Apse mosaic.

 

The Cosmati Brothers' workshops developed a distinctive floor decoration during the 11, 12 and 13 hundreds.  Cosmati floors are to be found in many old Roman and Lazio churches.  This one is in Santa Maria in Trastevere.

The triumphal arch bases of some of the really old churches have mosaic representations of biblical cities.  Above left San Clemente, above right Santa Maria Maggiore (far and away our favourite Major Basilica), and right Santa Prassede.

 

 

 

Santa Maria Maggiore

 

The Roman Pope St  Liberius (?? - 352 - 366) was instructed by the Virgin Mary, in a dream, to build a church in Rome dedicated to her "where snow had fallen".  On the Summer morning of 5 August 358, Rome awoke to see the unheard of Summer sight of the summit of the Esquiline Hill entirely covered with snow, and Liberius, glad no doubt for a spot of respite from wearying and drawn out stoushes with Emperor, heretics, anti-Popes etc,  took time out to climb to the top of the hill and sketch in the snow the outline of the church he then had built.

 

Liberius' church was replaced less than a hundred years' later by a much larger basilica built by Pope St Sixtus III (? - 432 - 440) to celebrate the major output of the 431 Council of Ephesus - to wit the confirmation of the importance of the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God.  Sixtus paid personally for the glorious mosaic narrative story panels on the Triumphal Arch, as a tribute to the Ephesus Council.  They are still there today.  He also paid for 22 mosaic panels arrayed down the sides of the nave with illustrations of stories from the Old Testament.  Many of these are also still in place.

 

Santa Maria Maggiore is the only one of the Major Basilicas whose core structure remains as it was 1600 years ago, and the only one that Team Paradox makes a point of popping in to when in Rome, along with the next door Santa Prassede.  It is worth finding out a bit about the story lines of the Triumphal Arch before sitting down in the nave and taking time to enjoy it.  In the bottom scene below the Magi, dressed in the style of court jesters, attend the infant Jesus.

 

 

 

Ring a bell??  This 800s fresco of the Virgin and Child in one of the lower (=earlier) levels of San Clemente, is thought now to be a makeover of a portrait of our old friend the Exotic Dancer and Byzantine Empress Theodora, Justinian's wife.  Originally she would have been standing and without child (compare the mosaic of her below in S Vitale in Ravenna).

 

 

 

 

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

 

Later on in time and next door to the Pantheon, the Dominican Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is known as Rome's only gothic church.  Santa Caterina di Siena is under the altar, the Sangallo designed tombs of the two Medici cousins who were Popes -  Leo X and Clement VII - are the large marble structures which face each other across the apse, whilst the beautiful Michelangelo statue of Jesus and the cross, and the tomb of  Fra Angelico (both shown below) lie just to the north.  It's a big space - what you can see in the photo is only the east half of the nave!

 

 

 

 

The photo above of a spandrel sculpture in the cloisters of San Paolo fuori le Mura comes from an outstanding coffee table book called "Cloisters of  Europe" which is presently out of print, but can be obtained on the second hand  book market at very reasonable prices.

 

 Buy from Amazon USA      Buy from Amazon UK

 

 

 

 

The beauty of the cloisters of San Paolo fuori le Mura (above and below left) contrasts strongly with the grim and totally unspiritual grandeur of the Basilica next door - an 1800s rebuild after a fire. 

 

Back in town, below right is the tomb of the Sienese Pope Pius II (Piccolomini) in Sant'Andrea della Valle - the church better known as the setting for Act I of Tosca.

 

By contrast, another Fuori le Mura (outside the walls) church - San Lorenzo - is well worth the subway journey and lengthy walk through the indifferent architecture of the University.  

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