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 Cathedral of Limburg is one of the best preserved late Romanesque style buildings. It is unknown When the first church was built above the Lahn river. Archaeological discoveries have revealed traces of a 9th-century church building in the area of the current chapel. It was probably built in Merovingian times as a castle and the chapel added in the early 9th century.
In 910 AD, Count Konrad Kurzbold (cousin of the future King Konrad I) founded a collegiate chapter of 18 canons, who lived according to the rule of Bishop Chrodegang of Metz, on the hilltop site. The original castle chapel was torn down and a three-aisled basilica was built in its place. The foundations of this basilica have been found beneath the present floor.
The construction of current cathedral is dated to 1180-90. The consecration was performed in 1235 by the archbishop of Trier. It seems certain that the cathedral was built in four stages. The first stage encompassed the west facade, the south side aisle, the choir and the transept up to the matroneum. This section forms the Conradine church. The second stage consisted of the addition of the inner pillars of the south nave. In this stage the bound system was first introduced. In the third phase, the matroneum in the southern nave was built. The fourth stage included the north side of the transept and the choir matroneum. By this stage Gothic influence is very clear.
The interior was destroyed by Swedish soldiers during the Thirty Years War (1618-48) and reconstructed in a late Baroque style in 1749. The Baroque renovation was heavy-handed: the surviving medieval stained glass windows were replaced; all the murals were covered up; the ribs of the vaults and columns of the arcades were painted blue and red; the capstones were gilded; the original high altar was replaced. The colorfully painted exterior was coated in plain white and the central tower was extended by 6.5 meters.
The collegiate chapter of Limburg was dissolved in 1803 during the Napoleonic period, but then raised to the rank of cathedral in 1827 when the bishopric of Limburg was founded. Some renovations in contemporary style followed: the walls were coated white, the windows were redone in blue and orange (the heraldic colors of the Duke of Nassau) and towers were added to the south transept (1865).
Further changes came after Limburg was incorporated into the Kingdom of Prussia in 1866. It was now the Romantic period and the cathedral was accordingly restored to an idealized vision of its original Romanesque appearance. The exterior stonework was stripped of all its plaster and paint, to better conform with the Romantic ideal of a medieval church growing out of the rock. The Baroque interior was stripped away and the wall paintings were uncovered and repainted.
Further renovations came in 1934-35, enlightened by better knowledge of the original art and architecture. Art Nouveau stained glass windows were also added. A major restoration in 1965-90 included replastering and painting the exterior, both to restore it to its original appearance and to protect the stonework, which was rapidly deteriorating while exposed to the elements.
The interior is covered in medieval frescoes dating from 1220 to 1235. They are magnificent and important survivals, but time has not been terribly kind to them - they were whitewashed over in the Baroque period (1749) and uncovered and repainted with a heavy hand in the Romantic period (1870s) before finally being restored more sensitively in the 1980s.