Santa Costanza

Rome, Italy

Santa Costanza is a 4th-century round church in Rome with well preserved original layout and mosaics. It has been built adjacent to a horseshoe-shaped church, now in ruins, which has been identified as the initial 4th-century cemeterial basilica of Saint Agnes. Santa Costanza and the old Saint Agnes were both constructed over the earlier catacombs in which Saint Agnes is believed to be buried.

According to the traditional view, Santa Costanza was built under Constantine I as a mausoleum for his daughter Constantina, later also known as Constantia or Costanza, who died in AD 354. However, more recent excavations seem to date the existing church to the time of Emperor Julian (r. 361-363), who would have built it as a funerary structure for his wife, Helena, who died in AD 360, and was herself also a daughter of Emperor Constantine.

The original structure containing the tomb of Helena might be located underneath the current church. That could suggest that the current church is the second Christian building on the site, and may be some decades later than traditionally thought, being built as a mausoleum for Constantina's sister Helena in the reign of her husband Julian the Apostate. The larger of the two porphyry sarcophagi there would belong to Helena, and the smaller to Constantina, the opposite of what has been traditionally thought. The earlier triconch building of the 330s was probably indeed built for Constantina, but she later had to take second place to her sister; as Constantina's fame as a saintly figure developed in the Middle Ages, their roles became reversed in the popular mind.

The mausoleum is of circular form with an ambulatory surrounding a central dome. The fabric of Santa Costanza survives in essentially its original form. Despite the loss of the coloured stone veneers of the walls, some damage to the mosaics and incorrect restoration, the building stands in excellent condition as a prime example of Early Christian art and architecture. The vaults of the apses and ambulatory display well preserved examples of Late Roman mosaics. A key component which is missing from the decorative scheme is the mosaic of the central dome. In the sixteenth-century, watercolours were made of this central dome so the pictorial scheme can be hypothetically reconstructed. The large porphyry sarcophagus of either Constantina or her sister Helena has survived intact, and is now in the Vatican Museum - an object of great significance to the study of the art of Late Antiquity.

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Address

Via Nomentana 343, Rome, Italy
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Details

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

More Information

en.wikipedia.org

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4.7/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Stefano Prina (2 years ago)
The church was originally a part of the imperial funerary complex established here by the family of Emperor Constantine I, which may have been originally intended for the emperor himself. For a wider treatment of this complex, see Sant'Agnese fuori le Mura -Basilica Constantiniana. After an archaeological excavation in 1992, the status of this church has been under review. The traditional historical analysis was that it was built between 351 and 357 as a joint mausoleum for Constantina, a daughter of the emperor, and Fausta, who was resident at Rome at the time but who died at Bithynia in Asia Minor in 354. However, her body was brought back and interred here in a sarcophagus of imperial porphyry quarried at Mons Porphyrites in the Eastern Desert of Egypt. She was later joined by her sister Helena, who died in 360 and who had been the wife of Emperor Julian the Apostate. Another, smaller sarcophagus was duly provided for Helena. The excavation revealed an earlier building on the site, in the form of a small (ten metres wide) triconch (clover-leaf shaped) edifice attached to the Basilica Constantina and entered from it. Hence, the present mausoleum cannot have been built as part of the original funerary complex but the triconch was, as its fabric was integral with that of the basilica. The revisionist thesis is that Constantina had been buried within this triconch, in the smaller sarcophagus that used to be ascribed to Helena. After the latter empress died, the present building and the larger sarcophagus were then provided for her by Emperor Julian. This would push the date of the structure back to after 360, when Helena's body was brought back from Gaul where she had died. A tentative terminus ad quem for construction is the late 370's, based on stylistic evidence provided by the mosaics. The building survived the collapse of ancient Roman civilization intact. It first appears in mediaeval history when Pope Nicholas I celebrated Mass here in 865, and this occasion was also the first time that the erroneous name Sanctae Constantiae appeared. So, by this time a legend had grown up identifying Constantina as a saint called Constantia, who was an alleged (non-existent) daughter of Constantine and a hermit at the catacombs of St Agnes. Flavia Julia Constantia was actually the half-sister of the emperor. Although the Roman martyrology never listed this St Constantia, who is the source of the English name Constance, she was to be celebrated at the church with a feast-day on February 25th. The mausoleum was only formally converted into a church in 1256 by Pope Alexander IV, when he consecrated it. In the process he took the alleged relics of "St Constantia" from the larger sarcophagus and installed them under the central altar; unfortunately, these are very likely to belong to the empress Helena wife of Julian!
Julie Sawitzke (3 years ago)
Very beautiful place
Romayn Germanotta (3 years ago)
Open everyday from 9.00 to 12.00 and 15.00 to 18.00, except sunday mornings
Gad Flex (3 years ago)
Beautiful roman/romanic church
Stephen Meatheringham (3 years ago)
There are remains of the great funerary basilica built by Constantine near the Church of St Agnes Outside the Wall. The only part that is well-preserved is the mausoleum of Costantina, Constantine's daugther, and this is now the church of Santa Costanza. It can be accessed by a short path from the garden of the aforementioned church. The circular building has beautifully preserved 4th century mosaics. Her porphyry sarcophagus has been moved to the Vatican Museums, and a copy is in place now. Very peaceful and contemplative space.
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