The Basilica of St. Mary of the Altar of Heaven (Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara coeli al Campidoglio) is a titular basilica located on the highest summit of the Campidoglio. The shrine is known for housing relics belonging to Saint Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine and various minor relics from the Holy Sepulchre.
The foundation of the church was laid on the site of a Byzantine abbey mentioned in 574. Many buildings were built around the first church; in the upper part they gave rise to a cloister, while on the slopes of the hill a little quarter and a market grew up. Taken over by the papacy by the 9th century, the church was given first to the Benedictines, then, by papal bull to the Franciscans in 1249-1250; under the Franciscans it received its Romanesque-Gothic aspect. The arches that divide the nave from the aisles are supported on columns, no two precisely alike, scavenged from Roman ruins. During the Middle Ages, this church became the centre of the religious and civil life of the city. in particular during the republican experience of the 14th century, when Cola di Rienzo inaugurated the monumental stairway of 124 steps in front of the church, designed in 1348 by Simone Andreozzi, on the occasion of the Black Death.
The original unfinished façade has lost the mosaics and subsequent frescoes that originally decorated it, save a mosaic in the tympanum of the main door, one of three doors that are later additions. The Gothic window is the main detail that tourists can see from the bottom of the stairs, but it is the sole truly Gothic detail of the church.
The church is built as a nave and two aisles that are divided by Roman columns, all different, taken from diverse antique monuments. Among its numerous treasures are Pinturicchio's 15th-century frescoes depicting the life of Saint Bernardino of Siena in the Bufalini Chapel. Other features are the wooden ceiling, the inlaid cosmatesque floor, a Transfiguration painted on wood, the tombstone of Giovanni Crivelli by Donatello and the tomb of Cecchino dei Bracci, designed by his friend Michelangelo.
The relics of Saint Helena, mother of Constantine the Great are housed at Santa Maria in Aracoeli, as are the remains of Saint Juniper, one of the original followers of Saint Francis of Assisi. Pope Honorius IV and Queen Catherine of Bosnia are also buried in the church. The tablet with the monogram of Jesus that Saint Bernardino of Siena used to promote devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus is kept in Aracoeli.References:
The moated castle at Beersel is one of the few exceptionally well-preserved examples of medieval fortifications in Belgium. It remains pretty much as it must have appeared in the 15th century. Remarkably, it was never converted into a fortified mansion. A visitor is able to experience at first-hand how it must have felt to live in a heavily fortified castle in the Middle Ages.
The castle was built in around 1420 as a means of defence on the outer reaches of Brussels. The tall, dense walls and towers were intended to hold any besiegers at bay. The moat and the marshy ground along its eastern, southern and western edges made any attack a formidable proposition. For that reason, any attackers would have chosen its weaker northern defences where the castle adjoins higher lying ground. But the castle was only taken and destroyed on one occasion in 1489, by the inhabitants of Brussels who were in rebellion against Maximilian of Austria.
After being stormed and plundered by the rebels it was partially rebuilt. The pointed roofs and stepped gables are features which have survived this period. The reconstruction explains why two periods can be identified in the fabric of the edifice, particularly on the outside.
The red Brabant sandstone surrounds of the embrasures, now more or less all bricked up, are characteristic of the 15th century. The other embrasures, edged with white sandstone, date from the end of the 15th century. They were intended for setting up the artillery fire. The merlons too are in white sandstone. The year 1617 can be clearly seen in the foundation support on the first tower. This refers to restorations carried out at the time by the Arenberg family.
Nowadays, the castle is dominated by three massive towers. The means of defence follow the classic pattern: a wide, deep moat surrounding the castle, a drawbridge, merlons on the towers, embrasures in the walls and in the towers, at more or less regular intervals, and machiolations. Circular, projecting towers ensured that attacks from the side could be thwarted. If the enemy were to penetrate the outer wall, each tower could be defended from embrasures facing onto the inner courtyard.
The second and third towers are flanked by watchtowers from which shots could be fired directly below. Between the second and third tower are two openings in the walkway on the wall. It is not clear what these were used for. Were these holes used for the disposing of rubbish, or escape routes. The windows on the exterior are narrow and low. All light entering comes from the interior. The few larger windows on the exterior date from a later period. It is most probable that the third tower - the highest - was used as a watchtower.