Santa Maria in Ara Coeli/Basilica of St. Mary of the Altar of Heaven, Rome

Roma-Interno della Chiese di S. Maria in Aracoeli
Publisher: Ernesto Richter, Roma

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The Basilica of St. Mary of the Altar of Heaven (Latin: Basilica Sanctae Mariae de Ara coeli in Capitolio, Italian: Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara coeli al Campidoglio) is a titular basilica in Rome, located on the highest summit of the Campidoglio. It is still the designated Church of the city council of Rome, which uses the ancient title of Senatus Populusque Romanus. . . . Many buildings were built around the first church; in the upper part they gave rise to a cloister, while on the slopes of the hill a little quarter and a market grew up. Remains of these buildings–such as the little church of San Biagio de Mercato and the underlying “Insula Romana”) were discovered in the 1930s. At first the church followed the Greek rite, a sign of the power of the Byzantine exarch. Taken over by the papacy by the 9th century, the church was given first to the Benedictines, then, by papal bull to the Franciscans in 1249–1250; under the Franciscans it received its Romanesque-Gothic aspect. The arches that divide the nave from the aisles are supported on columns, no two precisely alike, scavenged from Roman ruins.
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The original unfinished façade has lost the mosaics and subsequent frescoes that originally decorated it, save a mosaic in the tympanum of the main door, one of three doors that are later additions. The Gothic window is the main detail that tourists can see from the bottom of the stairs, but it is the sole truly Gothic detail of the church. The church is built as a nave and two aisles that are divided by Roman columns, all different, taken from diverse antique monuments. Among its numerous treasures are Pinturicchio’s 15th-century frescoes depicting the life of Saint Bernardino of Siena in the Bufalini Chapel, the first chapel on the right. Other features are the wooden ceiling, the inlaid cosmatesque floor, a Transfiguration painted on wood by Girolamo Siciolante da Sermoneta, and works by other artists like Pietro Cavallini (of his frescoes only one survives), Benozzo Gozzoli and Giulio Romano.

Santa Maria in Aracoeli 1768, from Wikimedia Commons.

Located south of the Capitoline Hill, Santa Maria in Aracoeli was built during the sixth century on the site of an ancient Byzantine abbey. During the ninth century the church was given to the Benedictines, and a few centuries later, was given to the Franciscans. These restored the church giving it a more Gothic aspect. In 1797, during the Republic, the church was deconsecrated and transformed into a stable. Nowadays, the basilica has been fully reconstructed and is one of the most visited in Rome.

Millions of tourists and locals visit the church to see the Santo Bambino of Aracoeli, a wooden image of the Christ Child, who is believed to resurrect the dead. The statue, made out of olive wood during the fifteenth century, was stolen in 1994 and was never recovered. A replica was made to substitute it. The temple has 22 columns, none exactly alike, which were taken from Roman ruins. It is also worth seeing various burials and frescoes from the fifteenth century. The wooden ceiling is decorated with paintings representing the Battle of Lepanto, where the Holy League defeated the fleet of the Ottoman Empire.
Civitatis Rome

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