Monday, September 4, 2017

Under San Chrisogono

This week I am departing a little from my "History in a Place" format.  The three sites I will cover were indeed all on the course of one walk but are not strictly speaking particularly close to each other.
One often overlooked place to hunt down Rome's ancient past is underneath modern day churches.  As we have seen many ancient structures were saved by being converted into churches.  And in other cases churches were intentionally built on top of pagan shrines.  A sort of architectural insult if you will.  And finally in the case of the oldest churches they may in fact have originated in Roman houses back in the days when public profession of the new faith would have been unwise.

San Chrisogono is a very ancient church right along the main street, Viale di Trastevere.  From the outside it is not very impressive. When we ducked in on a Sunday there was a service about to begin. The twin rows of columns are ancient, said to have been scavenged from a now vanished bath complex built in the area by Septiumus Severus.  The floor has ornate mosaics of 13th century date but made from bits and pieces taken from ancient structures.

Although we were prepared to simply pay our respects, perhaps drop a coin in the donation box, a sign directing us towards the archeological remains (I think they called them the Paleo Christian remains) tempted us.  Ducking through a side aisle we were smack in the middle of the altar boys and priest getting ready for show time. But a functionary sitting at a little table waved us through and for a small fee it was down the stairs to the mysterious stuff below.

The church is dedicated to the martyr Saint Chrysogonus.  The first church on the site dates to the early 300's, with frequent rebuilds since then.  It is frankly a very confusing site.  

As best I can tell, this is the apse of the original church, with the open space in the walls being where the bones of the saint were kept.

In a site of this sort any kind of basin provokes controversy.  Baptistery for full body immersion baptisms?  Or just a vat from previous industrial use?

Some stuff found during excavations is just lying around.  The brickwork to the right seems to be modern, some reinforcement of the structure was necessary to support the church above.  Note also the sturdy and very modern ceiling here.

Naturally in a church rebuilt so many times there are more recent things to catch the eye.  This painted fresco shows Saint Benedict healing a leper.  Note the leopard like spots.  Leper and leopard by the way have no common etymology.  The fresco is somewhere between 8th and 10th century AD.

Sixth century AD grave marker for somebody named Victor.  Was this another example of memorials being brought in from outlying catacomb sites?  The prohibition against burials inside the confines of the city would still have been quite strong at that point in history.

A very odd skull and cross bones with huge ears.  Another example of Ferengi First Contact?

Arches and walls, floors and pillars.  There is more of Rome under ground than above it.

No comments: