Santi Quattro Coronati

Rome, Italy

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.

Interior decoration

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.

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Founded: 4th century AD
Category: Religious sites in Italy

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