The Santa Maria in Trastevere is a basilica in Rome, Italy originally commissioned by Pope Callistus I during the third century. Its name translates to “Our Lady in Trastevere” in English and is said to be the first church dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus. As stated in its name, the
Santa Maria in Trastevere is located in the charming Trastevere neighborhood, in which the church is a central feature.
History and Restorations
While the church was commissioned under Pope Callistus I, it was likely built under Pope Julius I around 350 AD. The particular location in Trastevere was chosen because it was believed to be the site of a legend where a stream of pure oil flowed from the earth, announcing Christ’s
arrival. In 410, the church was partially destroyed by a fire during the sack of Rome. However, it was rebuilt under Pope Celestine and rededicated to the Virgin Mary sometime between 422 and 432. The church was again restored by Pope Hadrian in the late 700s, followed by Pope Gregory IV in the early 800s who added a crypt to hold the bodies of popes Callistus, Julius I, and Cornelius after their exhumations. Pope Leo IV and Benedict III in the mid 800s also renovated the apse. In the 12th century, Pope Innocent II totally rebuilt the church using materials from the Baths of Caracalla.
Highlights of the Church
One of the most notable features of the church include its golden mosaics on the facade and apse vault, which date to the 12th century. The apse vault also shows the Coronation of the Virgin with Pope Innocent II holding a model of the church. A triumphal arch depicts the Four Evangelists, prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, caged birds representing sin, seven candlesticks, and a Christogram.
There is also a portico inside from the 19th century that boasts fragments from earlier churches dating between the 4th and 9th centuries, found during the excavations of the church’s floor. In addition to the church’s bell tower, the church also has the Chapel of Altemps, home to the Madonna della Clemenza, a life-size image of the Virgin. One of the frescoes also depicts the Council of Nicea.
The church also houses a sculpture of San Antonio which is known to grant wishes. A score of 22 granite columns from the Baths of Caracalla divide the church into three naves. An octagonal fountain outside the church in the piazza is an original ancient Roman fountain restored and embellished in the seventeenth century.
Works Consulted “Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere,” Rome.Net, Civitatis, n.d. “Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome,” Sacred Destinations, Sacred Destinations, n.d.