Santi Quattro Coronati is an ancient basilica in Rome. The church dates back to the 4th (or 5th) century, and is devoted to four anonymous saints and martyrs. The complex of the basilica with its two courtyards, the fortified Cardinal Palace with the Saint Silvester Chapel, and the monastery with its cosmatesque cloister is built in a silent and green part of Rome, between the Colosseum and San Giovanni in Laterano.
Tradition holds the first church was begun by Pope Miltiades, in the 4th century on the north side of the Coelian Hill. One of the first churches of Rome, it bore the Titulus Aemilianae from the name of the foundress, who probably owned the elaborate Roman villa, whose structure is evident under the church. The church was completed the end of the 6th century, and because of its proximity to the medieval papal residence of the Lateran Palace, it became prominent in its day. The first renovations occurred under Pope Leo IV (847-855), who built the crypt under the nave, added to side aisles, enclosed the courtyard before the facade, and built the belltower and the chapels of Saints Barbara and Nicholas. The new remarkable basilica, Carolingian in style, was 95 m long and 50 m wide.
This church, however, was burned to the ground by Robert Guiscard's troops during the Norman Sack of Rome (1084). Instead of rebuilding the original basilica to scale, Pope Paschal II built a smaller basilica with a two courtyards. The two aisles were included in the Cardinal Palace and in the Benedictine monastery founded by Paschal himself. The original apse of the basilica, however, was preserved, and seems oversized for the new church, whose nave was divided into three parts by means of columns. The new church was consecrated in 1116.
In the 13th century a Cosmatesque cloister was added. The Cardinal Palace was enlarged by cardinal Stefano Conti, a nephew of Pope Innocent III. Cardinal Conti also transformed the palace into a fortress, to shelter Popes in the Lateran during the conflict with the Hohenstaufen emperors. In 1247, the chapel of St Sylvester, on the ground floor of the fortress, was consecrated; it contains frescoes depicting the stories of Pope Silvester I and Emperor Constantine I, among which the un-historical baptism of the emperor, as well as a depiction of the Donation of Constantine.
When the Popes moved to Avignon (14th century), the Cardinal Palace fell into ruin. Thus, upon the return of the Popes to Rome with Pope Martin V, a restoration was necessary. However, when the Papal residence moved from the Lateran to the Vatican palace, this basilica lost importance. In 1564, Pope Pius IV entrusted the basilica and the surrounding buildings to the Augustinians, who still serve it.
The interest in the history of this complex renewed in 1913. Once the building became an orphanage, the Augustinian nuns put a revolving drum by its entrance which was used as a deposit 'box' for unwanted babies.
The apse contains the frescoes (1630) by Giovanni da San Giovanni of the four patron martyr saints, Severo, Severiano, Carpoforo e Vittorino. The altarpiece on the left nave of S.Sebastiano curato da Lucina e Irene was painted by Giovanni Baglione. The second courtyard holds the entrance to the Oratorio di San Silvestro, with frescoes of medieval origin, as well as others by Raffaellino da Reggio.References:
From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.
The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.
At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.
The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.
The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.
Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).
The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.
At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».
The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.