Santo Stefano al Monte Celio

Rome, Italy

The Basilica of St. Stephen in the Round on the Celian Hill (Basilica di Santo Stefano al Monte Celio), commonly named Santo Stefano Rotondo, is Hungary's 'national church' in Rome. It is dedicated to both Saint Stephen, the Christian first martyr, and Stephen I, the sanctified first king of Hungary who imposed Christianity on his subjects.

The earliest church was consecrated by Pope Simplicius between 468 and 483. It was dedicated to the protomartyr Saint Stephen, whose body had been discovered a few decades before in the Holy Land, and brought to Rome. The church was the first in Rome to have a circular plan, inspired by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

The church was embellished by Pope John I and Pope Felix IV in the 6th century with mosaics and colored marble. The church was restored in 1139-1143 by Pope Innocent II, who abandoned the outer ambulatory, and three of the four side chapels. He also had three transversal arches added to support the dome, enclosed the columns of the central ambulatory with brick to form the new outer wall, and walled up 14 of the windows in the drum.

In the Middle Ages, Santo Stefano Rotondo was in the charge of the Canons of San Giovanni in Laterano, but as time went on it fell into disrepair. In 1454, Pope Nicholas V entrusted the ruined church to the Pauline Fathers, the only Catholic Order founded by Hungarians.

Interior

The altar was made by the Florentine artist Bernardo Rossellino in the 15th century. The painting in the apse shows Christ between two martyrs. An ancient chair of Pope Gregory the Great from around 580 AD is preserved here.

The Chapel of Ss. Primo e Feliciano has very interesting and rare mosaics from the 7th century. 

The Hungarian chapel is dedicated to King Stephen I of Hungary, Szent István, the canonized first king of the Magyars. The frescoes of the chapel were painted in 1776 but older paintings were recently discovered under them.

Mithraeum

Under the church there is a 2nd-century mithraeum, related to the presence of the barracks of Roman soldiers in the neighbourhood. The cult of Mithras was especially popular among soldiers. A coloured marble bas-relief from the 3rd century is today in the Museo Nazionale Romano.

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Details

Founded: 468-483
Category: Religious sites in Italy

More Information

en.wikipedia.org

Rating

4.5/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Domenico Albonetti (5 months ago)
Beautiful and unique Church, although afresques cannot be seen in this period because of restoration.
Darryl Rich (6 months ago)
It worth visiting while undergoing renovation inside.
Marco Lopes (7 months ago)
An unique ancient round church undergoing restoration.
Chad Griffiths (9 months ago)
Beautiful and off the main tourist lists. Definitely worth a visit if you have already seen the big monuments. Went for a wedding and it was beautiful.
Milen Dimitrov (10 months ago)
The only round church we saw in Rome. It was hard to get there from the San Giovanni in Laterano, as there is no proper pedestrian walkway. Nevertheless, the rotunda is gorgeous, the murals are very impressive. The church is vary old - the first structue there being built in the 4th century AD, at time of Emperor Constantine, and is to be found on the Celian hill. It is commemorating the first Christian martyr - Saint Stefan and now the church is given to Hungary. Inside, one can find fine cosmatesque flooring and 34 frescoes of Christian martyrs, with captions explaining the scenes.
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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.