After 30 years and millions of dollars of restoration, 1500-year-old Santa Maria Antiqua, buried beneath the Roman Forum by an earthquake in 847, has finally reopened to the public, and it is stunning:
“This church is the Sistine Chapel of the early Middle Ages,” Maria Andaloro, an art historian involved in the project, told Reuters.
“It collected the very best of figurative culture of the Christian world between Rome and Byzantium.”
Being buried by the earthquake saved the church from being altered in later centuries, particularly during the Counter-Reformation, said Prof Andaloro.
Among the most significant frescoes is a depiction of the Virgin Mary with child – one of the oldest known Christian icons in the world.
After the ninth century earthquake it was moved to another church in Rome but it has now been returned to Santa Maria Antiqua.
Christian iconography was often superimposed on earlier Byzantine art – a depiction of the angel Gabriel telling Mary she had been chosen to be the mother of Christ was painted on top of a Byzantine queen, for instance.
The church was built inside a vast complex of Roman buildings which were constructed in the first century AD under the rule of the Emperor Domitian.
“It is unique, not just among the hundreds of churches in Rome but also in the whole of Italy,” said Francesco Prosperetti, Rome’s superintendent of archaeology.
“It represents a forgotten period in the history of the Forum because of the earthquake that buried it.”
I found this line unintentionally amusing: “Being buried by the earthquake saved the church from being altered in later centuries, particularly during the Counter-Reformation…” Let’s be honest – the real dodged bullet here was the relentless aggiornamento of the 60s and 70s.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children. You can find more of his writing at his Substack, The Skojec File.