Site hosted by Build your free website today!





Trastevere is a rioni (district) of Rome and has been since the time of the empire when it was called Transtiberium (from whence its present name derives).  It encompasses the area between the Janiculum Hill and the river south of the Vatican Hill on the west bank of the Tiber.  In imperial times as today it was a working class residential neighborhood.  The population was heavily immigrant, primarily people from Judea and Syria.  In 38 BC an unusual event occurred on a hillside in Trastevere:  a fountain of oil spontaneously erupted from the ground and flowed over the landscape down to the Tiber.  The Jewish inhabitants studied it and pronounced that it was a sign of the impending birth of the Messiah of Israel.  Early Christians seized onto the event as a prediction of the birth of Jesus in Judea.  In 217 AD, Pope St. Callixtus became the 15th successor to St. Peter.  He was aware of this history since he was a native of Trastevere.  With the permission of the emperor Alexander Severus, he established a Christian worship house at the site of the oil flow.  A hundred years later, Pope St. Julius I commenced construction of a basilica.  In 1130 AD Pope Innocent II, another native of Trastevere decided to rebuild it and produced essentially the building we have today.  This was the first church in Rome to be dedicated to Mary.




The basilica is located on a quiet relatively well-kept piazza.  The fountain was restored and installed here in 1498.



The campanile was added in 1145.  There seems to have been a flurry of construction of bell towers in Rome around that time.  Note the Madonna and Child mosaic at the top.



The most prominent feature of the facade is the 13th century mosaic showing Mary breast feeding Jesus flanked by 10 maidens with oil lamps.  Art historians have a wide range of interpretations of the meaning.  One thing is certain:  this is one of the few depictions anywhere of Mary breast feeding.  Below is a blow up of the center mosaic image.  There are four  statues across the front (right one out of picture).  The one on the far left shaded is Pope St. Callixtus.  The fresco covering the open parts of the facade was restored in the 1800s but was many centuries older.  Unfortunately weather has taken it's toll and the palm trees are about all that is left visible.



Mary breast feeding the infant Jesus in the mosaic.  The symbol for the Agnus Dei is above her.



The main doorway into the basilica.  The oval plaques on the top on either side of the doorway are a ubiquitous presence in Roman basilicas and churches.  The one on the left has the crest of the current Pope and the one on the right is the crest of the current Titular Cardinal or priest of the building.  The round mosaic in the middle is Greek and stands for "Mother of God," indicating the basilica's dedication to Mary.




The portico of the basilica was built in the 18th century AD.  The walls are decorated with miscellaneous tombstone inscriptions gathered from the Catacombs of Callixtus.  The panels along the bottom of the walls and the ornate scrolling around  the doors was taken from the Baths of Caracalla.  Rome did recycling before it was fashionable. The fresco between the doors is of 15th century origin.




The left end of the portico with another 15th century fresco above the door.  The lion on the sarcophagus on the right was adopted by the citizens of Trastevere as their municipal symbol.  More tombstone inscriptions from the Catacombs of Callixtus and frieze fragments from the Baths of Caracalla on this wall.




I've been unable to identify or date the picture between the doors.  To the right of the main doorway are more tombstone decorations from the Catacombs of Callixtus.  I have a book which translates some of the inscriptions.  They are interesting because they're all that the common people left behind about themselves.





The central nave of the basilica.



The gold coffered ceiling including the center painting The Assumption was done by Domenichino in 1616.




The hand-carved wooden pulpit with canopy attached to the marble column was built in the 18th century.




The apse and triumphal arch are liberally covered with mosaics.




The lineup in the apse is (l. to r.) Pope Innocent II, Deacon St. Lawrence, Pope St. Callixtus, Mary, Jesus, St. Peter, Pope St. Cornelius, Fr St. Calepodius, and Pope St. Julius I.  Below the figures is the formulaic six sheep on either side of the Agnus Dei, representing the 12 Apostles.  On the left outer face of the arch is Isaiah and on the right is Jeremiah.  At the extreme top are the standard symbols of the Evangelists, Mark (the lion), Matthew (the angel), John (the eagle), and Luke (the bull).  The mosaics were created in the 12th and 13th centuries AD and are the best preserved in Rome.




The ceiling of the Altemps Chapel has scenes from the life of the Virgin.  The center oval depicts the Assumption.




The tomb of Pope Innocent II (d. 1143) who ordered the rebuilding of the basilica.



The figure on the center pane of stained glass is Pope Saint Callixtus I, who built the first chapel at this site.



One of the two large frescoes in the Altemps Chapel by Pasquale Cati in the 17th century.  This one depicts the representatives to the Council of Trent presenting the Pope with the Acts of the Council.  The figure in the lower left is a Swiss Guard.




Covering the entire right wall of the right transept is an enormous funeral monument to Cardinal Armellini, a titular head of the basilica in 1524.  The center section depicts St. Lawrence on the left and St. Francis of Assisi on the right.  God the Father is depicted above them.



This left side of the Armellini monument shows the cardinal on his death bed.  There is a mirror image of this on the right showing his father, Benvenuto Armellini in the same pose and containing his remains.



The piazza in front of the basilica is a frequent gathering spot in the evenings for youth from Trastevere and around the world.