Amazing 6th Century Church Uncovered in Rome


“A visitor looks at a fresco, Christ on throne with Saints, believed to date back to 757 A.D., in Santa Maria Antiqua monument” Description: Telegraph UK; Photo: AP

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.

Hit the link for the full story and more pictures. If you search for it, you’ll find more pictures around the web, including at the World Monuments Fund page for the project.

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