A medieval fortress in the centre of Rome.
One of the most rich monuments in history, art and spirituality of Rome, is located on the slopes of the Celio Hill, and its grandeur can be appreciated coming from the Colosseum. The impression you get when crossing the threshold is to immerse yourself in an ancient atmosphere suspended in time, far from the chaos and frenetic rhythms of the modern city.
In the complex you can visit: the Church dedicated to the four Christian Martyrs, the enchanting 13th century cloister, the Calendar Room and the Chapel of San Silvestro, the marvelous frescoes of the Gothic Hall.
THE CHURCH OF THE SANTI QUATTRO CORONATI
The church takes its name from the tradition of the martyrdom of four Roman soldiers who affirmed their Christian faith by refusing to worship the god Aesculapius, and five Pannonian stonecutters employed by the emperor Diocletian. To this we owe the particular devotion of stonemasons and marble workers towards them.
The monastery of the Santi Quattro Coronati was founded in the middle 5th century AD on the remains of a Roman domus. The great baptistery, discovered during recent excavations, also dates back to the same period and is second in size only to the Lateran one. The proximity to the Lateran Palace, the ancient residence of the popes, gave great importance to the whole complex over the centuries. In the 9th century the church was completely rebuilt at the behest of Pope Leo IV (847-855) in such grandiose forms as to become one of the most important basilicas of Carolingian Rome. The fire that devastated the city in 1084, set by the Norman prince Robert the Crafty to defend Gregorio VII from the emperor Henry IV, totally destroyed it. The church was rebuilt with smaller dimensions by Pope Pasquale II (1099-1118). This is why, even today, two courtyards are visible: the first corresponding to the ancient IX century four-sided portico; the second on the area of the original central nave.
At the beginning of the 13th century the building containing the monks' cells, the splendid cloister and the luxurious fortified cardinal's palace which entrance is dominated by the massive Torre Maggiore were added, together with the Chapel of San Silvestro and the Gothic Hall. With the transfer of the papal seat to Avignon, a long period of decadence began. Until 1564, when Pope Pius IV transformed the complex into a female orphanage for the Augustinian enclosed nuns who still live there.
The interior of the church, consecrated by Pasquale II in 1116, has three naves separated by columns coming from monuments of imperial Rome and is surmounted by women's galleries. The floor, in Cosmatesque style, is still the original one formed by large disks of marble and porphyry, and by polychrome mosaics made with tiles from Roman marbles. The apse, the only example in Rome, embraces all three naves. The sumptuous frescoes that cover it are by the Florentine painter Giovanni da San Giovanni (1592-1636) and depict the history of the Coronati. The ceiling is wooden coffered, on the walls of the aisles you can admire fragments of medieval frescoes.
The left aisle leads to the splendid 13th century square-shaped cloister, unearthed in all its ancient splendour at the beginning of the 20th century. At the centre of its garden is a marble fountain formed by circular basins carved in a single block. On the walls of the cloister corridors it is possible to admire the antiquarium, made with numerous archaeological finds - ancient, early medieval and medieval epigraphs and sculptures - found during the work in the monastery.
THE CALENDAR ROOM AND THE CHAPEL OF SAN SILVESTRO
An extraordinary fresco from the first half of the 13th century, depicting the personifications of the months that hold up a scroll of parchment on which the calendar was written, covers the walls of this room which today is the antechamber of the parlour of the Augustinian nuns living in the monastery. The wheel and the lattice openings indicate its original function as a parlour.
The room of the calendar leads to the Chapel of San Silvestro, the oratory of the cardinal's palace. Here is preserved another jewel of medieval pictorial art that narrates the Stories of Pope Sylvester (314-335). The fresco depicts episodes from the life of the Pope and the famous scene of the Donation of Constantine to the Pope, in which Rome and other Western regions are given up to the Church. From this act, which was later discovered to be false, the temporal power of the Church is born. Towards the end of the 16th century the chapel was purchased by the Marmorari University and frescoed with scenes of the martyrdom of the Santi Quattro Coronati, a work by Raffaellino da Reggio (before 1588).
THE GOTHIC HALL
In 1996, a routine intervention became one of the most unexpected and shocking revelations in the history of art.
Hidden from almost eight hundred years under seven layers of blue plaster, an incredible pictorial decoration was found. Today, after more than twenty years from the discovery and a complex work of restoration and consolidation, it is finally possible to admire this rare example of Gothic art in Rome: the 300 square meters of incredible frescoes that covered the walls and vaults of this hall which, in all probability, was the an ecclesiastical courtroom.
The lively secular scenes of the Third Master of Anagni represent the four seasons, the arts, the zodiac signs, the constellations, the vices and virtues, and the Judge par excellence, Solomon with his head crowned with a diadem.
The hall, also in Gothic style, is located on the first floor of the Torre Maggiore and is divided into two spans with cross vaults. On its walls are some doors and windows built after the construction of the structure that unfortunately mutilated the frescoes that originally covered the walls of the room.
Today, reading the representations appears rather complex and symbolic: from the south to the north span; then from the lower field to the upper ones up to the peak of the vault; then within each register in the south span we proceed counter-clockwise and in the north one clockwise. A child's play, instead, for an educated public like that of the Roman curia of the time.
The Gothic hall can only be visited a few days a month. To know the calendar of the next visits: www.aulagoticasantiquattrocoronati.it
THE AUGUSTINIAN NUNS
Following the growing number of young orphans and to guarantee privacy to the monastic life of the religious who looked after the girls, in 1562 Pope Pius IV assigned them the Santi Quattro Coronati complex which was transformed into a female orphanage and entrusted to the Archconfraternity of Santa Maria of the Visitation of the Orphans. After two years of restoration and adaptation, the building, which was in a state of degradation, was made accessible and the nuns moved there in 1564 to take care of the young orphans. This until 1872, when the Italian State suppressed the Conservatorio delle Zitelle, as the female orphanage was called until then.
For over 450 years the Augustinian nuns have been guarding and protecting the monastery and its wealth, reconciling a retired life, prayer and contemplation, with an openness to the faithful and tourists who visit this amazing place every day.
Photo: Monastero dei Santi Quattro Coronati
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