Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Chruch of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, Rome

Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri

This image of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri in Rome is part of one of the panoramic images found on the Tour of Rome. There are over 100 images taken from around Rome linked to an interactive map.

Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri is on the Piazza della Republica., Like so many of the churches in Rome, it is built upon a supernatural event. In 1541 a Sicilian priest, Fr. Antonio Lo Duca, had a vision of angels in the ruins of the Diocletian Baths, and in the 1560’s Pope Pius IV ordered a church to be built there. The resulting church was not only built on the site of the Baths of Diocletian, but also recycled some of the building materials, adapting the Baths for the new use. Michelangelo provided the original design for the church.

Major alterations to the church were carried out in 1749 by Luigi Vanvitelli in preparation for the Holy Year of 1750. The interior of S Maria delgi Angeli still follows the layout of the Baths, however he installed a new front entrance in the long southwest side of the church thereby converting the nave into a huge transept. This transept is 100m long, 27m wide and 28m high. There are 8 huge red granite, 14m high columns which are original. On the right near the entrance to the transept is a large statue of St Bruno.

The Meridian Line
The Basilica also contains an unusual astronomical installation. In the right hand side of the transept is a meridian line, a sort of sundial. It was built on the order of Pope Clement XI by Francesco Bianchini. The meridian line had a 3-fold purpose:
(1) the pope wanted to check the accuracy of the Gregorian reformation of the calendar,
(2) to produce a tool to exactly predict Easter,
(3) to give Rome a meridian line as important as the one Bianchini had recently built in Bologna's cathedral, San Petronio.

There were several reasons for choosing Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri as the location for this project:
(1) The church was orientated to the south and received unobstructed exposure to the sun
(2) The high walls allowed for a longer line resulting in more accurate measurements.
(3) The walls are ancient, and were thus unlikely to settle of move any further]. This meant that carefully calibrated observational instruments set in them would not move out of alignment.
(4) Because it was set in former pagan site, it would represent a victory of the Christian calendar over the earlier pagan calendar.

Bianchini also added holes in the ceiling to allowing one to observe not only the sun but also to mark the passage of stars. Polaris, Arcturus and Sirius are visible through these holes even during the day. The meridian line was restored in 2002 for the tricentenary of its construction.

This Picture:
The view in this image is taken from near the centre of the transept looking towards the north end. The volume of space and size of the pillars dwarfs the people in the picture. The painting above the altar is The Apparition of the Virgin Mary to St Bruno by Giovanni Odazzi. The organ to the left of the altar was built in the 1990’s. The whole image is found on the Rome tour by

For more articles on Rome see the Rome Index or select one of the labels at the bottom.

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