Church Santa Cecilia – early Middle Ages in a Baroque and rococo sauce

Façade of the Basilica of Santa Cecilia and monastery buildings on both sides

Façade of the Basilica of Santa Cecilia and monastery buildings on both sides

If somebody decides to visit this church, he will have to go through some trouble to find it among the winding streets of the Trastevere. Not because, as it usually the case, it is squeezed in between a number of tenement houses. It is just the opposite in fact. Its body is hidden behind a truly monumental palace façade which gives off the impression of being a city residence. It was created during the first half of the XVIII century at the initiative of a significant titular cardinal of this church Troiano Acquaviva d’Aragona, which is proudly proclaimed by the inscription found below the cornice and the gigantic coat of arms of the cardinal.

Façade of the Basilica of Santa Cecilia and monastery buildings on both sides
Basilica Santa Cecilia, enterance tract from the XVIII century  leading to the church atrium
Façade of the Basilica of Santa Cecilia from the XVIII century and bell tower from the XII century
Fountain in front of the Basilica of Santa Cecilia, arrangements from the XX century
Basilica Santa Cecilia, gate leading to the church atrium
Portico of the Basilica of Santa Cecilia, tombstone of Cardinal Paolo Sfondrati
Interior of the Basilica of Santa Cecilia, in the background apse from the times of Pope Paschalis I
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, mosaics from the beginning of the IX century in the church apse
Church of Santa Cecilia, mosaics – in the middle Christ surrounded by SS. Peter and Paul, Valerian and Cecilia, Agatha, and Pope Paschalis I
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, apse mosaics – Pope Paschalis I with a model of the church and St. Cecilia putting her arm around him
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, ciborium, Arnolfo di Cambio
Church of Santa Cecilia, ciborium in the church apse – Arnolfo di Cambio, end of the XIII century
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, lying figure of St. Cecilia, Stefano Maderno
Church of Santa Cecilia, figure of St. Cecilia, Stefano Maderno
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, fresco of the church vault, The Apotheosis of St. Cecilia, Sebastiano Conca
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, bust of Pope Innocent XII in the apse
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, Altar of SS. Peter and Paul, Giovanni Baglione
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, The Martyrdom of St. Agatha, painting by an unknown author
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, funerary monument of bishop Magalotti attributed to Giacomo della Porta
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, side altar – St. Lawrence and St. Stephen, Giuseppe Ghezzi
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, tombstone of cardinal Forteguerri, partially completed by Mino da Fiesole
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, tombstone of Adam Easton, frescoes of the church vestibule in the background
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, fresco, The Crucifixion in the left nave of the church
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, corridor leading to the so-called Chapel of the Bath of St. Cecilia, paintings by Paul Brill, figure of St. Sebastian – Stefano Maderno
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, The Martyrdom of St. Cecilia, Guido Reni
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, Ponziani Chapel, main altar – Antonio del Massaro
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, vault of the Ponziani Chapel, Antonio del Massaro
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, St. Benedict, Giuseppe Ghezzi, church side altar
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, Chapel of Relics, The Angel Appearing to SS. Cecilia and Valerian, Luigi Vanvitelli
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, chapel with the tombstone of Cardinal Mariano Rampolli del Tindaro
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, fresco depicting the miraculous discovery of the remains of St. Cecilia, XIII century
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, ancient balneum – the site of the legendary suffering of St. Cecilia, church catacombs, XX century
Santa Cecilia, basilica underground, crypt – Altar of St. Cecilia, XX century
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, view of the apse
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, mosaic frieze in the portico of the church façade with image of St. Cecilia
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, image of cardinal Sfondrati, fragment of the tombstone in the church vestibule
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, Chapel of St. Cecilia, statue of St. Sebastian – Stefano Maderno
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, Chapel of Relics, vault painting, Luigi Vanvitelli
Church of Santa Cecilia, tombstone of Cardinal Mariano Rampolli
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, Angels – top of the statue of St. Cecilia, Stefano Maderno
Church of Santa Cecilia, reliefs decorating the statue of St. Cecilia with images of Cecilia, Valerian, Tiburtius, Stefano Maderno
Church of Santa Cecilia, reliefs decorating the statue of St. Cecilia, including pope Urban, Stefano Maderno
Church of Santa Cecilia, ciborium in the apse, Arnolfo di Cambio, at the base figure of St. Cecilia and Valerian
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, bust of Pope Clement XI, church apse
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, left nave of the church
Underground of the Basilica of Santa Cecilia
Underground of the Basilica of Santa Cecilia, floor from ancient times
Underground of the Basilica of Santa Cecilia, relief depicting Minerva – guardian of the home
Underground of the Basilica of Santa Cecilia, room with remains of sarcophaguses
Underground of the Basilica of Santa Cecilia, most likely a silos to store gold
Underground of the Basilica of Santa Cecilia
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, underground – Chapel of St. Cecilia and Altar of St. Agatha
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, fountain with kantharos in the atrium
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, coat of arms of Cardinal Acquaviva d’Aragon in the enterance portal of the church atrium
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, frescoes in the vestibule representing the saints with a landscape in the background, XVI century
Basilica of Santa Cecilia, ancient balneum – the site of the legendary torture of St. Cecilia (church underground)

If somebody decides to visit this church, he will have to go through some trouble to find it among the winding streets of the Trastevere. Not because, as it usually the case, it is squeezed in between a number of tenement houses. It is just the opposite in fact. Its body is hidden behind a truly monumental palace façade which gives off the impression of being a city residence. It was created during the first half of the XVIII century at the initiative of a significant titular cardinal of this church Troiano Acquaviva d’Aragona, which is proudly proclaimed by the inscription found below the cornice and the gigantic coat of arms of the cardinal.

At the same time it is the gate leading to the broad atrium, around which there are the buildings of the monastery, and the designer of which was the well-known at that time architect Ferdinando Fuga. It must be added that the nuns who have lived here since the Middle Ages came from the most renowned Roman families, while the position of titular cardinal of this church for centuries was considered as a privilege and an honor. After passing through the gate the traveler is greeted by a pleasant feeling of peace and harmony, which is amplified by the rustling of water spouting from the fountain located in the middle in the form of a majestic kantharos, while the picturesque greenness and blooming flowers further intensify the feeling of peace. It is almost impossible to believe that the fountain was only created during the times of Benito Mussolini, although the beautiful bowl was already here during the Middle Ages.

 

On both sides, the buildings of the monastery of the nuns who live here, stretch (on the right side the Franciscans, on the left the Benedictines), which are connected as if with a clasp by the colonnade of the church portico. It is obvious that it also underwent modernization funded by another member of the Acquaviva family, this time Francesco (Troiano’s uncle), which is proclaimed by the inscription on the entablature. If we take a closer look on the batten found below said inscription, we will notice delicate mosaics, including the images of St. Cecilia and her husband Valerian or the enigmatic pope Urban, all from the XII century. Remains of the XII-century structure are , also the Ionian columns of the portico. In it there are also a few interesting objects. A tombstone (initially found in the church interior) draws special attention. It is of another titular cardinal meritorious to the church, who lived on at the turn of the XVI and XVII centuries, Paolo Sfondrati, created by Girolamo Rainaldi, perhaps with the help of Pietro Bernini (the father of Gian Lorenzo Bernini) and Angelo Pellegrino, in the first half of the XVII century.

It is time to enter the church, but before we do that, we should say a few words about its patron, since the history of the picturesque place starts, as is the case with many churches of this city, with a miraculous legend, of which the heroine is a young virgin, martyr – St Cecilia. We do not know much about her, or perhaps it is more appropriate to say we know next to nothing, besides the information found in the Passio Santae Cecilae, from the V   century, a story about her life and death filled with miracles and her martyrdom, which gave the assumption to the creation of her cult. It was so prolific, that at the beginning of the IX century Pope Paschalis I decided to take advantage of the devotion to the legendary Cecilia existing among the Roman populace and funded an exquisite basilica on the foundations of the buildings which had existed here before, and which were thought to be the house and the place of her martyrdom. Works carried out in the XX century did not confirm the existence of an aristocratic residence in this location, only foundations of one of the insula, meaning a Roman apartment building, of which there were many in the area of the old Trastevere. We also do not know why it is here that the legend placed Cecilia, hypothetically the descendant of the well-known Caecilli family. Perhaps in one of the apartment buildings which they owned, Christians gathered in the III century, since it is during that time that Cecilia most likely lived. Nevertheless, first mentions of the so-called titulus Caecilae come from the V and VI centuries. However, contradicting them, the legend proclaims that the last will of the saint was to give Urban (a pope that is hard to identify) her property and he was to have sworn to build a church in the place of her home. It is exactly what this Urban did as soon as he buried Cecilia in the Catacombs of Callixtus at via Appia.




The dramatic and heart-wrenching story of the life and death of Cecilia appealed so much to the aforementioned Pope Paschalis I, that he began looking for her earthly remains, which – as we recall from the Church of Santa Prassede – he did very vigorously, brining into the city the remains of thousands of human bodies and granting them the status of holy relics (cult of the martyrs). Relics were at that time, more valuable than gold, they were treated with the highest esteem, and believed to possess miraculous powers, while even the tiniest part or even their close proximity gave off miraculous power. In an equally miraculous way, with the help of the saint herself, her remains were discovered, as she appeared to Paschalis in a dream. Discovery of the saint’s body was especially important to the pope, since its translation was to enrich the newly built church, but not only. It was to become one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Rome. The monastery buildings which were built around the church, were designated for monks and nuns who aided in servicing the throngs of arriving pilgrims. It is with them in mind that sleeping quarters and hospice were created.

The church itself funded by Paschalis I, similarly to other foundations of this pope (Santa Maria in Domnica, Santa Prassede), had three naves separated by a row of columns supporting the arcades, above which a row of windows was found. The grand basilica was topped off by a broad apse of which the face, similarly to the triumphal arch was decorated by magnificent mosaics (preserved only in the apse). Today not much is left from the medieval interior reconstructed and modernized in subsequent centuries and in different styles – apart from the aforementioned apse, which teleports us to the distant times of the pontificate of Paschalis I, meaning the IX century.

  • Apse

The mosaics found in the apse although they imitate the patterns known from other churches funded by this pope, bring great joy to the eyes and heart due to their simplicity, sincerity and beauty. We will see Paschalis himself, with a model of the church he funded in the square nimbus (devoted to the living aspiring towards sainthood), on the left side. Above him is a phoenix – a mythical bird, the symbol of immortality, often found in the structures of this funder, while next to him stands – attention! – of same height, which in medieval art meant of equal importance, St. Cecilia hugging him in a gesture of adoration. Next we will see the eternal adulators of Christ – SS. Paul and Peter in iconography generally assisting him directly on both sides. On the right side the group is completed by Cecilia’s husband – also a martyr Valerian as well as St. Agatha, the patron of the monastery erected next to the church. The lower row of the mosaic with sheep and the Lamb of God (in the middle) is of course a direct reference to the twelve disciples of Christ and to his sacrifice. On both ends of the composition there had to be room for typical for that type of representations of the two most important towns for Christians – Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The inscription found on the very bottom tells of the miraculous discovery of the relics of St. Cecilia and glorifies the work of Paschalis I, which is marked as if with a stamp at the base of the apse, placing there a monogram with the name of the funder. The rest of the mosaics stretching outside the apse, was unfortunately destroyed during church modernizations.

  • Ciborium

A true pearl, this time of late medieval art, is the baldachin found in the apse above the main altar, which fortunately was not damaged in later times, which is not often the case with this type of objects. It is a subtle yet refined masterpiece of the sculpting art, from the end of the XIII century, made by the outstanding Arnolfo di Cambio, who had spent a few years in Rome, completing the commissions for significant churches and influential clients. If we take a closer look at the figures topping off the columns of the ciborium, we will notice the four principal heroes of the legend of St. Cecilia: the saint herself, her husband Valerian, her brother-in-law Tiburtius also murdered for his faith, as well as the pope Urban presented on a horse, who was to have baptized all three of the martyrs. However, that is not all; we will also see a wonderful wealth of content and form contained within images of prophets evangelists, Wise Virgins with torches (only two), who were placed on the background of the mosaic ornaments. This work was created at the initiative of the pope living at the end of the XIII century, Nicholas IV, whom the church can also thank for another significant work of art – the frescos of Pietro Cavallini. As we know from Lorenzo Ghiberti, a Florentine sculptor visiting the church in the middle of the XV century, they covered the whole of the church interior. Today, their small part is found in the nearby monastery (more on that at the end of the text).

  • Niche with the figure of St. Cecilia

Looking downwards it impossible not to see the seemingly glowing with whiteness marble figure of a lying woman. Here we once again return to St. Cecilia, this time in an early-Baroque version. In order to understand it properly we must go all the way back to 1599. Then, the aforementioned ambitious Paolo Sfondrati the titular cardinal of the church, and at the same time the nephew of Pope Gregory XIV decided to carry out a renovation of the church. In order to provide it with new splendor, but not only in the material dimension, the cardinal decided to open the tomb of the martyr found under the floor and  created a new more representative location for it. And once again a miracle occurred. The body of Cecilia was found in impeccable state, untouched by the hands of time or decomposition, just as the decorative robe, in which she was buried. If that was not enough, the sword marks on her neck were preserved as well. In order to commemorate this fact, the cardinal called a little-known young sculptor Stefano Maderno and ordered him to accurately sculpt the body of the saint. He did so, surprisingly quickly and in the span of one month the figure of Cecilia was ready. The news of the miracle spread like wildfire in the city and outside its borders and brought such crowds of the faithful to the church that papal forces had to intervene. Those who were skeptical and assumed some kind of mystification were quickly silenced when the cardinal ordered an inscription to be placed below the figure, in which speaking to the Creator, he ensured that it is a true image of the saint, whom he himself saw lying untouched in her grave and whom he ordered to be sculpted in marble. Why did the cardinal go so far as to use this argument, if he had to be aware of the information found in the Liber Pontificalis, regarding the discovery of Cecilia’s body by Paschalis at the beginning of the IX century, which said that even at that time the body was incomplete (most likely the head was missing) and its parts strewn about? The question shall remain unanswered. We can only assume that this dignitary desired to have the event appear as a miracle, creating himself as the one who carried out a prestigious mission and at the same time an intermediary between Heaven and Earth, granted special benevolence of divine providence. We cannot forget that right before another Jubilee Year (1600), the need for religious exaltation in times which were exceptionally difficult for the Romans, was strong indeed. The city was besieged by a flood and a deadly epidemic, which were considered a sort of act of God. The execution of a beautiful, young patricide Beatrice Cenci along with her family, which also occurred at this time, brought about a wave of sympathy for the accused from Romans who gathered in crowds to watch her walk towards her beheading, while also diminishing the ranks of supporters of the strict Pope Clement VIII who pronounced this uncompromising sentence. When more than a month after the execution of Beatrice (21st October 1599) another beautiful girl of unquestionable morality appeared, the Roman populace once again took to the streets and directed its eyes to the slight and delicate body of the saint, which was so skillfully made by Maderno. His sculpture was different than any other seen in churches before, since it seemed that the body of Cecilia had just been deprived of life. It was shrouded in a mysterious aura and dramatic overtone. By turning Cecilia’s head away from the onlooker the artist left him to contemplate her delicate limbs and the marks of the brutal strikes with the sword to the neck. This implicity, suspension, and at the same time awakening of emotions, will be a path followed by subsequent artists of the XVII century. However, Maderno himself will not be at the forefront. The sculpture completed for cardinal Sfondrati was most likely his greatest work, others were simply  average. It was Maderno’s hand that sculpted the bronze angels topping off Cecilia’s figure laid to rest in a shelf reminiscent of a niche in the catacombs. On both of its sides the artist placed bronze reliefs depicting the main protagonists of the legend of St. Cecilia

 
  • Main nave

Turning away from the altar, we can see the interior created in the XVIII century, the work of Cardinal Francesco Acquaviva, more reminiscent of a ballroom in a palace than of a church. During the reconstruction conducted at his initiative, the shape and number of windows was changed, while the whole was covered with rich in rococo moldings baldachin ceiling, with an imposing painting in the middle, the Apotheosis of St. Cecilia – pastel and glowing in color, typical for the rococo period, but overall a rather average work of Sebastiano Conci (1725). The arcades were partially closed off, the medieval columns were walled up   (in the XIX century), while the floor in the Cosmati style, was replaced. The strange crated cage-windows visible under the windows, were covered up with internal tunnels which allowed the nuns to take part in mass unseen by the faithful. Moving away from the altar we can also take a look at two busts from the same time as the painting. They are found in the niches on both sides of the apse. They represent two popes - Innocent XII and Clement XI and are an expression of the gratitude of Cardinal Francesco Acquaviva, the founder of the sculptures towards his benefactors.  

  • Right nave (looking from the altar)

In the farthest part of the right nave we can see an altar devoted to SS. Peter and Paul with a painting depicting the two most important Roman martyrs made by Giovanni Baglione. This painter, rather than an artist, is more known as the biographer of Caravaggio, by whom he was publicly ridiculed and accused of not having any painting talent. The painting  truly is not the greatest, as it seems that the artist focused on the robes rather than on the figures themselves, but it must be said that the topic itself was artistically ambitious.

Another altar is devoted to St. Agatha, worshipped in the church along with Cecilia. The work of an unknown artist from the end of the XVI century is characterized by a skillfully built narration. Its main feature is the act of preparing the woman with an uncovered chest for the humiliating and cruel death, in which the leading role is played by her breasts crushed with pincers.   They will become the attribute of this saint. The painter did not go as far as showing the moment of the suffering itself, leaving the viewer with the pleasure of looking at an attractive woman.

Moving on further, by the grated Choir chapel, designated for the nuns, we will encounter a wall tombstone created in the middle of the XIX century for Cardinal Giacomo Luigi Brignole, whose direct wish it was to be laid to rest in this very church.

Another altar, this time devoted to St. Andrew (Sant’Andrea) is decorated with the painting once again  by Giovanni Baglione. In it we will see the artist’s effort to create a full of drama scene with a rather unusual representation of the saint bent under the cross, on which he will soon be martyred. This mood was balanced out by the artist with a figure of an angel carrying a crown of  martyrdom for the saint, which is also a prediction of immortality.

Another tombstone – of Bishop Gregorio Magalotti – strikes us with its extensive form. Currently it is believed that it was done by Guglielmo della Porta – the apprentice and associate of Michelangelo; it was made while he was in Rome after the death of the clergyman in 1538.

In the last altar of this nave is another painting of a XVII-century artist - Giuseppe Ghezzi. It represents two young martyr deacons, often connected with each other, whose martyrdom does not raise any objections from historians – St. Stephen, the first to give up his life for faith, and St. Lawrence (San Lorenzo), who died during the persecutions of Christians in Rome, in the II century.

 
  • At the enterance

At the enterance there are two interesting examples of funerary art from the beginning and end of the XV century. It is believed that the figure of the prostrate Cardinal Niccolò Forteguerri, as well as the relief which accompanies it with the representation of Madonna and Child, were created by Mino da Fiesole, who was called to Rome in order to complete numerous tombstones, including the statue of Pope Paul II in St. Peter’s Basilica (San Pietro in Vaticano). Another interesting tombstone belongs to Cardinal Adam Easton, who during the pontificate of Urban VI along with other cardinals was part of an anti-papal conspiracy (1385). His companions were killed, he however was spared, since the pope feared the reaction of the King of England – Richard II, who was related to him. As we know fate can be fickle. The relations between the King of England and the English cardinal later worsened to such a degree, that the latter decided not to go back to England, especially since after the death Urban VI, the following pope, Boniface IX, entrusted him with the glorious custody over the Church of Santa Cecilia.

  • Left nave (looking from the altar)

The left nave of the church is not an ideal reflection of the opposite nave, since larger and smaller chapels were added to it, sometimes constituting stand-alone sanctuaries. Generally they are closed off and can only be admired through grates.

The first of these, immediately on the right of the enterance is the smallest and it contains an altar with a representation of the crucified Christ accompanied by Mary and St. John the Evangelist. The work has the form of a modest, yet moving fresco from the XIV century. On the other hand the altar reredos was made out of majolica and is a true rarity.

The following chapel (so-called Chapel of the Bath) is a true delicacy of art created thanks to the aforementioned cardinal Sfondrati and is of course devoted to St. Cecilia. Generally it is closed, however if someone is lucky enough to take a peek inside, he will see not only the narrow corridor visible through the grate at the end of which there is a figure of St. Sebastian, an early work of Stefano Maderno, but also exquisite wall paintings with a landscape theme, on which figures of saints appear. The man responsible for their painting was the Flanders-born and very popular in Rome thanks to his abilities, active at the turn of the XVI and XVII centuries, Paul Brill. The decoration of the main chamber is a paiting of the valued Baroque painter - Guido Reni. He caught the cardinal’s eye as soon as he came to Rome in the year 1600. The canvas depicts Cecilia, spreading her hands in a gesture of submitting to God’s will, and the muscular executioner who had just swung the sword to behead the future saint. Brutal strength was presented opposite peaceful serenity of Cecilia. The figures step out of the depths of the dark background, creating a concentrated, although for the contemporary viewer rather artificial and devotionally over-sweetened scene. Nevertheless, these were the first attempts of Reni at the style of Caravaggio, whom he had met in Rome, and who was not too happy about this fact. However, for Reni this work brought admiration and fame among Roman clients. The whole chapel is covered with mannerist paintings showing scenes from the life of Cecilia and her husband, created by the well-known in Rome decorator of these types of places – Pomarancio (Cristoforo Roncalli). Leaving the chapel we can direct our attention to another one of Reni’s paintings found in the corridor, however a lot less interesting – a tondo showing a representation of kneeling Valerian and Cecilia with an angel put wreaths on their heads – a symbol of mystical marriage.

 

Another, third, very large chapel was built for the aristocratic Ponziani family, which is famous for bringing a very popular and respected by Romans saint into this world – Saint Frances of Rome. At Forum Romanum, there is a church consecrated to her, here however she is immortalized on a fresco of the main altar. Along with St. Stephen (the first martyr) she is adoring Our Lady. The remaining, unfortunately badly preserved frescos represent other saints – Jerome, Catherine of Alexandria, Sebastian, and George. The vault was decorated with the figure of the Eternal Father in a wreath of cherubs and images of the four evangelists along with their attributes. This truly interesting painting work comes from the XV century and is the work of Antonio del Massaro from Viterbo, an associate of Pinturicchio, along with whom he decorated the apartments of Pope Alexander VI Borgia, at the Vatican Palace.

Before we direct our steps to the next chapel, our attention is caught by the altar found in the nave along with a painting devoted to St. Benedict, who directs his gaze from above a book, as if interested and at the same time surprised by our presence. It was painted by the skilled Baroque artist, whose other painting we have seen previously, on the opposite side – Giuseppe Ghezzi (1676).

The following, fourth, very large chapel was named the Chapel of the Relics, since until the thirties of the XX century, reliquaries belonging to the Vatican Library were found within. It is for them that the proper painting setting was created here in the XVIII century. As opposed to the previous chapels, here an atmosphere of freedom prevails, while the musical angels on the vault and the rather joyful scene of the marriage of Cecilia and Valerian on one of the walls put us in a rather frivolous mood. The man responsible for these painting decorations is Luigi Vanvitelli, who generally occupied himself with sculpting, but here he created a painting work.

The next chapel (fifth) consists of a long corridor, at the end of which we will notice a majestic tombstone statue of Mariano Rampolli del Tindaro from 1929.

In the end part of the nave (nearest the apse), an interesting fragment of a fresco is found, in the past visible in the enterance portico. It depicts a scene, once again concerning St. Cecilia. She appears in the dream of Pope Paschalis I (on the right) in order to support him in his search for her own remains. On the left, on the other hand, we can see the scene in which the miraculously recovered body of the saint is laid in a wooden coffin with the assistance of church dignitaries. This coffin will be placed under the floor of the church funded by the pope. Unfortunately the other frescos from this cycle were destroyed, but from preserved drawings, we know that they depicted scenes of the martyrdom of SS. Vincent, Stephen and Lawrence. They were created in the XIII century, when a beautiful bell tower and the aforementioned portico were built next to the church.

  • Catacombs



Prior to leaving the church it is worth descending into the catacombs, in which the remains of the aforementioned Roman domus, can be found, dating back to the times of the Republic, but most of all the insula from the II century A.D. At that time, during the reigns of emperors Trajan and Hadrian, the area underwent particular development. At that point the multi-story apartments, which could fit a large number of tenants, started appearing as well. Here we will see preserved walls, columns, remains of floor mosaics, but also terracotta fragments of decorations with scenes of sacrificial ceremonies. However, the main reason for going down into the catacombs is only one chamber. It is the balneum, traditionally believed to be the place of the suffering of St. Cecilia. It is imposing indeed and this is most likely how the elegant interiors from the II century were imagined. It was built at the beginning of the XX century, inspired by cardinal Rampolli. In order to complete it, the original antique remains were destroyed and lowered. The newly made interior was decorated with colorful ornamental and figurative mosaics in secessionist style and supported by a row of columns. On either side of this rectangular chamber there are chapels devoted to St. Cecilia and another Roman virgin who enjoys particular reverence – St. Agnes. Here we will also find another marble statue of St. Cecilia, also created at the beginning of the XX century.

  • Monastery

If we still have any time and strength left, we can take a look at the nearby monastery where we will find the aforementioned frescos of Pietro Cavallini. Today they are found in the cloister of the Benedictine sisters (on the left side of the main enterance). It is necessary to ring the bell at the first door and wait for a nun to appear, who will lead us to this imposing work of late medieval art kept in the monastery choir. These are the remains or a huge, in the past measuring 840 square meters painting from the end of the XIII century, of which only a small part was saved – approximately 10 percent of the whole. It was funded by Pope Nicholas IV, and was located on the walls of the then church. It showed the Last Judgement – the enthroned Christ surrounded by a mandorla in the middle, as the judge, accompanied on both sides by regiments of angels, the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist, as well as the apostles seated upon thrones. In the lower part we can see figures of angels blowing trumpets, calling for the Last Judgement, while in the middle (directly under the figure of the enthroned Christ) there is a cross with the symbols of Passion. The frescos depicting the Annunciation and the Old Testament topic Jacob’s Dream, are much worse preserved. Yet even this small fragment of the frescos gives us outstanding insight into the paiting of the origins of Renaissance, which slowly freed itself from the dominant, static Byzantine style and searched for human emotions, plasticity of the body, depth of space and soft chiaroscuro. It is also a testimony to the dignified rank of Rome (prior to the Avignon Papacy), as a center of art. Cavallini came to the Eternal City, in order to decorate the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls (San Paolo fuori le mura) and the Vatican Basilica, but also other local churches, not only with frescos but also with mosaics. The grandest of these are found nearby, in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere.

Departing from the Church of Santa Cecilia, it is worth it to once again rest in the atrium, listening to the rustling of the fountain; it is also worth visiting this church in the evening hours, because then one can get lucky and be granted the joy of listening to the songs of the nuns, directing them to Mary and Christ, and ponder Cecilia – the patron of music.