Today the seat of the “parish of Santa Maria Maggiore in San Vito”, this small church stands by the arch of Gallienus on the ancient Mons Cispius and is very ancient. It is recorded for the first time in the 8th century with the name of San Vito in Macello for the nearby Macellum Liviae, an indoor marketplace named after Livia, the wife of Augustus, and built on the Esquiline.
The church was restored in 1477 by Pope Sixtus IV: the marble portal and the Gothic mullioned windows on the side date from this period. At the beginning of the 20th century it was thought convenient to reverse the orientation of the church, and to provide a new façade on Via Carlo Alberto. The final restoration started in the seventies entailed another reversal of orientation, back to what it was in the first place, with the main entrance on Via di San Vito.
The church is a simple structure, having a nave and an external semi-circular apse. The interior preserves a beautiful Renaissance altar with a fresco attributed to Antoniazzo Romano. The so-called “Stone of Iniquity” (pietra scellerata) can be seen on the right hand side. It was believed to have been used as an instrument in the martyrdom of many Christians, but it is in fact a Roman funeral pillar. The old tradition was that scrapings from it were a preventative for rabies should one be bitten by a mad dog.
The crypt of the church contains ancient Roman fabric. The excavations carried out in the seventies have made it possible to better understand the ancient topography of the area and have brought to light the medieval foundations of the church, remains of the ancient walls built using the local tufa and perhaps dating back to the 6th century BC, a stretch of the Roman road leading to the Esquiline Gate, some hydraulic works (including the castellum aquae) linked to the Anio Vetus aqueduct and some late ancient tombs.
For the timetable of the masses and visiting conditions, please consult the contacts.
To visit the crypt and the archaeological site, contact the church.
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