San Lorenzo in Lucina is one of the oldest churches in Rome: it was built in the 4th-5th century over a domus, probably owned by a Roman matron named Lucina, who allegedly founded an “ecclesia domestica” in her house. A second theory links the name of the church to an ancient temple dedicated to Juno Lucina, goddess of women in childbirth: in ancient Rome, women drew “miraculous” water from the temple, a tradition confirmed by the discovery of a well (still visible today in the basement) and an intact mosaic, with white marble steps and frescoed walls.
Consecrated in 440 by Pope Sixtus III, the church was reconstructed under Pope Paschal II in the 12th century: dating back to this time are the beautiful portico flanked by two marble lions, the medieval apse hidden by the surrounding buildings and the five-storey bell tower with triple arches on the upper three levels. The narthex contains several very interesting 12th century inscriptions: one of them records the church’s consecration by Pope Celestine III on 26 May, 1196.
The interior was completely renovated in the 17th century, the floor was raised to avoid flooding from the Tiber and the lateral naves were replaced by Baroque chapels, which were then leased to noble families to decorate and use as mausolea. In one of the chapels a precious reliquary preserves the bronze grille on which tradition maintains that St Lawrence was martyred in the persecution ordered by Emperor Valerian in 258. Another chapel not to be missed is the one designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini for Gabriele Fonseca, a rich Portuguese physician who attended on Pope Innocent X and who is also known for helping to introduce the use of quinine against malaria. Bernini asked the painter Giacinto Gimignani for a copy of the famous Annunciation by Guido Reni which was connected to the space of the chapel through small stucco angels that lead towards the lantern at the top. Bernini then created the bust of Gabriele Fonseca that emerges from a false window, according to a typical baroque artifice. On the main altar, by Carlo Rainaldi (1675), is placed the canvas of the “Christ on the Cross” by Guido Reni.
During archoelogical investigation the remains of the large sundial built by Augustus in 10 BC were found under the sacristy of the basilica: its gnomon was an Egyptian obelisk currently placed in Piazza Montecitorio.
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