|This part of the ceiling shows the Garden of Eden and God giving life to Adam,|
perhaps the most famous of the many famous elements of this gigantic work.
The stories of gods, saints, their deeds, their miracles and their sufferings have been told in paintings and sculpture for thousands of years, and religious buildings are often repositories for wonderful, other-worldly art. In my posts on ancient Rome (click HERE) and on Roman palaces (click HERE), there are many photos of art depicting ancient gods as well as Christian figures, but none of those deal with the amazing art and architecture of Rome's many churches.
During our six weeks in Rome, Jane and I visited many churches and basilicas, most quite grand and some rather modest. We skipped St. Peter's Basilica because the lines were extremely long. Years ago we got in with only a short wait when Benedict XVI was pope, but the crowds drawn to the popular Pope Francis mean that one waits on line hours to get into St. Peter's. (Click HERE for how we spent three months in Italy.) I don't include addresses of the churches here -- they're all easily found on the Internet, on tourist maps and in guidebooks. I hope this posting will encourage you to visit some of them.
I did not take any photos in the Catacombs of San Sebastian, a basilica on the Appian Way a short taxi or bus ride from central Rome. The maze-like, multi-level catacombs were used during the centuries of Christian persecution for Christian burials and for worship. There is a small chapel carved from stone deep underground that was used for clandestine worship services. It is marked with an anchor, which was the symbol for Christianity before the cross was adopted. Above the chilly and winding catacombs is a rather conventional church dedicated to Saint Sebastian, who is interred there. I mostly but not always conformed with "no photo" signs; in the catacombs, our guide enforced the no photo rule. Given an opportunity, though, sometimes one just can't help oneself. Most churches allow photos, though not flash photography. All my photos were taken using available light.
|Michelangelo's "Moses" at San Pietro in Vincoli, a rather minor basilica in Rome, despite|
having a Michelangelo, the tomb of a pope, and the chains that supposedly once
bound St. Peter (below).
|"San Pietro in Vincoli" means "St. Peter in Chains." The|
church was originally completed in the year 440 to house
the chains. Additions and renovations were made
through the centuries so one cannot tell what the
original basilica looked like.
|St. John in Lateran today is quite grand, rebuilt and restored over the centuries.|
|A cross tops|
obelisk in the plaza
outside St. John in
|Mosaics tell Bible stories at St. John in Lateran.|
|Pope Pius IX is a large presence at Maggiore.|
|One of the chapels at Maggiore.|
|The wonderful mosaics at Maggiore date to the fifth century.|
|A closer look at one of the mosaics.|
|The great artist Bernini was also a great architect, designing this|
stairway at Maggiore as well as the columned porticos that surround
St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. He and his family are buried
|Santa Maria in Trastevere seems rather modest|
on the outside, but it is considered one of Rome's
grandest churches, and one of its oldest.
|Another church, another Madonna. At Sant'Agostino.|
|The 4th-century church, filled with rubble when the newer San Clemente|
was built above it, has been excavated and opened to visitors. Murals
such as these survived, along with a simple altar (not shown).
|Water that once supplied the Roman villa still flows, presumbably|
tapped into a spring. Like the 4th-century church, the ruins of the
villa were once filled with rubble that has now been removed.
|The door to San Giorgio opens onto an interior |
with little adornment.
Jane and I rented an apartment for six weeks on Via dei Fienili in a tiny neighborhood surrounded by history: the Forum to the north, the Capitoline Hill to the west, the Palatine Hill to the east, and the Circus Maximus to the South. To walk anywhere from there, we often had to pass by three very different and interesting churches.
One, the Chiesa di San Giorgio al Velabro, dates to the 7th century. It is a relatively simple and plain structure with little adornment. In fact, it seems to have been built using mismatched columns of different sizes and stone recycled from older buildings. (The fact that stones used in ancient buildings were reused centuries later for construction projects elsewhere is a major reason why so many ruins are incomplete.)
Another rather modest church practically abuts the Forum. It is Santa Maria della Consolazione. The church is named after an icon of the Virgin Mary that was placed here in the 1300s to console criminals who were thrown to their deaths from the cliff above the church; in ancient Rome, the cliff was called the Tarpeian Rock and was used for the same purpose. Today the church is one of the few obviously still functioning as a neighborhood church. It drew a congregation on Sundays complete with a priest standing by the door greeting worshipers as they left.
The grandest of our "neighborhood" churches is Santa Maria in Aracoeli, which overlooks the Piazza Venezia and is adjacent to the Michelangelo-designed Piazza Campidoglia as well as a huge white building that resembles a wedding cake and is officially known as the Altare della Patria (and shown on most maps as the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument). Walking west into central Rome most days, we passed through Campidoglia and looked up at Aracoeli, which sits at the top of 124 steep steps constructed in the 14th century of white marble. The church itself dates to the 6th century and replaced a Byzantine abbey. For centuries Aracoeli housed a olive-wood figure of the Baby Jesus, known as the Aracoeli Bambino, which supposedly could ensure pregnant women that their babies would be healthy and was also believed able to resurrect the dead. The original 15th-century Bambino was stolen in 1994 and never recovered; the replica on display now appears to be just as venerated. Over the centuries the church has been owned by Benedictines and Franciscans and in the late 18th century was deconsecrated and used as a stable. Today its interior is probably grander than ever, with many elements from the church's long history well conserved and displayed.
|The altar canopy at San Giorgio.|
|San Giorgio al Velabro is one of the few Roman churches, I think, where a Mennonite or an Amish|
person might feel at home. The mismatched columns were recycled from ancient ruins.
|Santa Maria della Consolazione overlooks Piazza Consolazione|
just east of the Capitoline Hill.
|On Sundays these pews at Consolazione are occupied by worshipers.|
|Romans say that if you climb the 124 steps to Santa Maria in Aracoeli on your knees, you'll win the lottery.|
|View from the top of the Aracoeli stairs.|
|It's hard to believe that little more than 200 years ago Aracoeli was used as a stable.|
|Macabre exhibits, such as this at Aracoeli, are not uncommon in|
|Various miracles are attributed to the Aracoeli Bambino.|
|15th-century frescoes by Pinturicchio in one of the chapels at Aracoeli. The frescoes|
survived the church's deconsecration and its rehabilitation.
|Santa Maria della Vittoria, grand as it is, is known mainly for one small chapel.|
|St. Teresa swoons during an encounter with an angel. The chapel was|
undergoing restoration when I was there and scaffolding obscured
much of it. I've cropped the scaffolding out of my photos.