Santi Nereo e Achilleo

Rome, Italy

Santi Nereo e Achilleo is a fourth-century basilica church facing the main entrance to the Baths of Caracalla. This same building is recorded as titulus Sanctorum Nerei et Achillei in 595; therefore the dedications to Saints Nereus and Achilleus, two soldiers and martyrs of the 4th century, must date to the sixth century.

In 814, Pope Leo III rebuilt the old church. In the 13th century the relics of the two martyrs were transferred from the Catacomb of Domitilla to the Sant'Adriano, whence they were transferred to this church by Cardinal Baronius.

The church degradated with the time, and in 1320, according to the Catalogue of Turin, it was a presbyterial title with no priest serving. So Pope Sixtus IV restored the church in occasion of the Jubilee of 1475, while the Jubilee of 1600 was the occasion for the last major restoration, funded by the scholarly antiquarian Cardinal Cesare Baronio, who commissioned the frescoes.

Architecture and interior

Behind its unassuming facade the church is built according to the typical basilica plan, with a single nave and two side aisles. The original columns were replaced in the 15th century by octagonal pillars, and the nave is characterized by the large fresco decorations commissioned by Cardinal Baronio.

The cardinal in his iconographic scheme timed for the 1600 Jubilee emphasized the role of the Roman martyrs during the early centuries of Christianity. There are a lot of gruesome details and blood all over the walls, but the pastel colours soften somewhat a fearsome effect of the pictures.

The medieval ambo is set on a large, porphyry urn taken from the nearby Baths of Caracalla. The low screen separating the choir is faced with 13th-century Cosmatesque style inlays. A white marble candelabra has been brought here from San Paolo fuori le Mura. The ciborium, dating to the 16th century, is raised on African marble columns.

The spandrels of the arch at the end of the nave retains some of the former mosaics of the time of Leo III, with a central Transfiguration in a mandorla. The high altar, made of three Cosmatesque panels, houses the relics of Nereus, Achilleus, and of St Flavia Domitilla; all three of them where brought here from the Catacomb of Domitilla. Next to the altar there are two pagan stones depicting two winged spirits, taken from a nearby temple.

In the apse behind the altar is the episcopal throne assembled under the direction of the antiquary Cardinal Baronius, reusing lions, in the Cosmatesque style that is associated with the Vassalletto school, which support the armrests; on the backrest is inscribed the opening and closing words of the twenty-eighth homily of St. Gregory the Great, inscribed under the mistaken tradition that he preached them here, in front of the relics of Sts. Nereus and Achilleus on their feast day. When Cardinal Baronio ordered the inscription, he did not know that the relics were originally buried in the underground basilica of the Catacomb of Domitilla, so thought that this was the place St Gregory preached.

The arch of the apse has mosaics of the 9th century with the Annunciation, the Transfiguration, and the Theotokos (Madonna and child).

References:

Comments

Your name

Website (optional)



Details

Founded: c. 337 AD
Category: Religious sites in Italy

User Reviews

Powered by Google

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Eketorp Fort

Eketorp is an Iron Age fort in southeastern Öland, which was extensively reconstructed and enlarged in the Middle Ages. Throughout the ages the fortification has served a variety of somewhat differing uses: from defensive ringfort, to medieval safe haven and thence a cavalry garrison. In the 20th century it was further reconstructed to become a heavily visited tourist site and a location for re-enactment of medieval battles. Eketorp is the only one of the 19 known prehistoric fortifications on Öland that has been completely excavated, yielding a total of over 24,000 individual artifacts. The entirety of southern Öland has been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The Eketorp fortification is often referred to as Eketorp Castle.

The indigenous peoples of the Iron Age constructed the original fortification about 400 AD, a period known to have engendered contact between Öland natives with Romans and other Europeans. The ringfort in that era is thought to have been a gathering place for religious ceremonies and also a place of refuge for the local agricultural community when an outside enemy appeared. The circular design was believed to be chosen because the terrain is so level that attack from any side was equally likely. The original diameter of this circular stone fortification was about 57 metres. In the next century the stone was moved outward to construct a new circular structure of about 80 metres in diameter. At this juncture there were known to be about fifty individual cells or small structures within the fort as a whole. Some of these cells were in the center of the fortified ring, and some were actually built into the wall itself.

In the late 600s AD the ringfort was mysteriously abandoned, and it remained unused until the early 11th century. This 11th century work generally built upon the earlier fort, except that stone interior cells were replaced with timber structures, and a second outer defensive wall was erected.

Presently the fort is used as a tourist site for visitors to Öland to experience a medieval fortification for this region. A museum within the castle walls displays a few of the large number of artefacts retrieved by the National Heritage Board during the major decade long excavation ending in 1974. Inside the fort visitors are greeted by actors in medieval costumes who assume the roles of period artisans and merchants who might have lived there nine centuries earlier. There are also re-enactment scenes of skirmishes and other dramatic events of daily life from the Middle Ages.

Eketorp lies a few kilometers west of Route 136. There is an ample unpaved parking area situated approximately two kilometers west of the paved Öland perimeter highway. There is also a gift shop on site. During peak summer visitation, there are guided tours available. Visitors are assessed an admission charge.