According to the founder's inscription above the west entrance, the The Church of Panagia Chalkeon was built in 1028 by the protospatharios Christopher, katepano of Longobardia, and his wife, son, and two daughters.
The ground plan is that of a classic 'cross-in-square-form' typical of Macedonian-period architecture, with four columns and three domes, one central and two over the narthex. The entire building is built of bricks, which gave it the popular nickname 'Red Church'. The exterior is enlivened with a variety of arches and pilasters, elements which can be traced to Constantinopolitan influence. The use of arches with several setbacks gives the building a 'sculpted' appearance. A marble cornice runs around the whole church, giving the building distinctive upper and lower sections. The lower section is more spare, while the upper section is decoratively distinguished by half-columns between arches, and saw-tooth courses where the wall meets the roof.
The interior of the church is divided into three sections: The narthex, the naos (the central square of a ‘cross-in-square’ plan), and the sanctuary.
The narthex is covered by three barrel vaults and has an upper gallery that was perhaps used as a sacristy. There was never, however, a stair leading up to it. Anna Tsitouridou speculates that it may have been accessed by a ladder through a now closed up arched window on the northwest corner of the church.
In the naos, four light grey marble columns form a square and support the arches of the four barrel-vaults that make up the arms of the cross going out. In the center of the square is the dome. Pendentives between the arches create a circular base for the dome above. The dome is 3.8m wide and its height is 5.3m. It is octagonal, containing sixteen windows in two rows, one atop the other. The arms of the cross can be clearly seen on the exterior, with saddle back roofs over their great barrel vaults, and triangular pediments emphasising their ends. Domical vaults cover the four bays between the arms of the cross, completing the square of the naos.
Though founders' tombs are usually placed in the narthex of their churches, at Panagia Chalkeon the tomb believed to be Christopher the founder's is found in a niche (an arcosolium) in the north wall of the naos.
The painted decoration of the church is not in a good state of preservation. It is nonetheless of great interest because the bigger part of the wall-paintings was executed at the same time as the foundation of the church, according to a second founder's inscription, which forms part of the painted decoration, on the intrados of the triumphal arch in the sanctuary, and refers to the same founders. The original painted decoration of the church represents two styles that have their origins in Constantinople. The iconographic program of the church includes scenes from the life of Christ (the Dodekaorton and the Passion), and is of interest in that the Ascension is placed on the main dome. The side walls of the sanctuary have two scenes in which is unfolded the divine Eucharist.
The original 11th century painted decoration on the lower parts of the north and south walls, and on the west side of the nave appears to have been replaced in the Palaiologan period. Of these paintings, all that survive are a few remains of the Dormition of the Virgin, some figures of individual saints, and three of the twenty-four stanzas of the Akathistos Hynnos. The Last Judgment is painted on the vault and parts of the east and west walls of the narthex, in a majestic composition. This, too, belongs to the initial decoration of the church.References:
The Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the oldest churches of Rome. The basic floor plan and wall structure of the church date back to the 340s, and much of the structure to 1140-43. The first sanctuary was built in 221 and 227 by Pope Callixtus I and later completed by Pope Julius I.
The inscription on the episcopal throne states that this is the first church in Rome dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus, although some claim that privilege belongs to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. A Christian house-church was founded here about 220 by Pope Saint Callixtus I (217-222) on the site of the Taberna meritoria, a refuge for retired soldiers. The area was made available for Christian use by Emperor Alexander Severus when he settled a dispute between the Christians and tavern-keepers.
The church underwent two restorations in the fifth and eighth centuries and in 1140-43 it was re-erected on its old foundations under Pope Innocent II.