Visiting the chapel of S. Silvestro in Santi Quattro Coronati in Rome

The facade of the monastery

Visiting Rome is an incredible experience! I got the chance to explore some lesser known churches with Marina Giorgini an art historian and language teacher at Scud’It. She led us down via dei Santi Quattro discover a gem if a church nestled into the Coelian Hill.

History reveals to us that the basilica of Santi Quattro Coronati was begun by Pope Miltiades in the 4th century, and was probably originally an elaborate Roman villa. The remains of the Romans basilica are still evident under the church. The church was completed by the end of the 6th century was important due to its proximity to the medieval papal reside of the Lateran Palace at the end of the street.

Santi Quattro Coronati means the Four Holy Crowned Ones or martyrs. Legend according to the Passion of St. Sebastian, says that the four saints were soldiers who refused to sacrifice to a the pagan God Aesculapius the god of medicine and therefore were killed by order by Emperor Diocletian who ruled Rome from 284 to 305. Diocletian was a fierce emperor and during his empire the largest, and bloodiest “official” persecution of Christianity came to pass. But, in the end he didn’t destroy empire’s Christian community; indeed, after 324 Christianity became the empire’s preferred religion under its first Christian emperor, Constantine. Santi Quattro Coronati once upon a time it served as a cardinal palace and also was transformed into a fortress to shelter popes in the Lateran during conflicts with foreign emperors. Now it is a cloister and monastero Agostiniano.

In 1247 a chapel dedicated to St. Sylvester on the ground floor of the fortress was consecrated. It contains the frescos depicting stories from the life of Pope Silvester I and Emperor Constanti I. The chapel was painted during a time of political struggles between Pope Innocent IV and the freshly excommunicated holy Roman emperor Federick II, so the frescos are meant to underscore the desired sovereignty of the Church represented by Pope Silvester, over the Empire represented by Constantine.

Let’s listen as Marina explains some aspects of the chapel of S. Silvestro…see if you can pick up information about the the columns in front of the building, the design of the floor of the chapel – the style is called cosmatesco, and some of the stories behind the frescos.

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