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San Giorgio in Velabro

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San Giorgio in Velabro

English name: St George at Velabrum
Dedication: St George
Denomination: Roman Catholic
Type: Titular church
Clergy: Order of the Holy Cross
Titular church Cardinal Stickler
Built: 7th century
Contact data
Address: 19 Via del Velabro
00186 Roma
Phone: 06 68 32 930
41° 53.381' N 12° 28.989' E
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San Giorgio in Velabro is a church dedicated to St George, the 'Great Martyr'.


Located in the Velabrum, on the Via del Velabro in the Rione Ripa, San Giorgio in Velabro is situated at the south end of the street, in the square near the ancient Forum Boarium. Its axis runs exactly from S. to N. It is next to the third century arch that is believed to have marked the entrance to the Forum Boarium, and is also near the Arch of Janus. San Giorgio in Velabro was originally located in the Greek quarter of Rome surrounded by many Greek merchants.

Pope St Gregory established a diaconia, an institution that cared for the poor, at the site of this church. The area has a special place in the history of Rome, as an ancient tradition claims that it was here that Romulus killed his brother Remus before founding the city.

According to a 10th century copy of an older document, the first church here was built in the 7th century or earlier, possibly under Pope Leo II (682-683), originally as the San Sebastiano. There is a hint of an even older church or chapel at the site in an inscription from 482 in the Catacombs of Callixtus; it mentions a lector named Augustus as "lectoris de bela bru". San Giorgio in Velabro, founded by Pope Leo II, is believed to have been built in the 7th century. The Liber Ponificalis, a 10th century explanation of Leo II’s life, explains the origins of the church and confirms Leo II’s role in its construction. The verb “aedificare” in the Liber Ponificalis’, “huius …iussu aecclesia iuxta velum aureum in honore beati Sebastiani edificata est, necnon in honore martyris Georgi” ensures new building work being done in Leo II’s life. Scholars suggest that it was a privately funded work as the word “iussu” which implies that Leo’s role was to grant the permit for construction. Pope Leo dedicated the church to both St. Sebastian, the saint believed to have saved Italy from the plague of 680, and St. George of Capadoccia. St. George was considered an Eastern military saint and his remains are believed to be still in the church. In 741, Pope Zacharias I (741-752) ordered relics of S. Giorgio, including the head, from the Lateran to S. Giorgio in Velabro. Every year on his feast day, April 23rd, the Major Litany was announced at the church.

The present dedication is unusual for an early church in the West, as there was little devotion to St George in the West until the Crusaders brought it with them from the East.

Though this church was built in the 7th century, many sources attribute it to the 13th century because of the amount of work and additions made to San Giorgio in Velabro during this time period. San Giorgio in Velabro has had the least altering of the other early churches. The most significant amount of restoration was done to the church under Antonio Munoz between 1923 and 1926 because he wanted to reestablish its medieval association. Munoz eliminated many of the elaborate decorations that had been added since the original construction of the church and transformed it back to its original simple construction. The church we see today is highly representative of Munoz’s reconstruction.

Some important restoration dates of the church are as follow:

682-83 -Construction of a church of SS. Sebastian and St. George under Leo II

741-52 Discovery of the head of St. George in the Lateran. Pope Zacharias I ordered

relics of S. Giorgio from the Lateran to S. Giorgio in Velabro.

784-91 Mention of a mass “to the saint George” in the second version of the codified

under Hadrian I.

827-44 Complete restoration under Gregory IV. Created apse and the three aisles

which still exist today. Construction of a new sacristy decorated with frescoes of the aisles; gifts of curtains.

741-52 Discovery of the head of St. George in the Lateran. Pope Zacharias I ordered

relics of S. Giorgio from the Lateran to S. Giorgio in Velabro.

784-91 Mention of a mass “to the saint George” in the second version of the codified

under Hadrian I.

827-44 Complete restoration under Gregory IV. Apse and aisles and Construction of a new

sacristy decorated with frescoes of the aisles; gifts of curtains

872-82 Greek inscriptions of the time of John VIII reused in the rear floor

Early 13th century: façade, and bell tower, and portico added during reconstruction. Construction

of a porch

1259 Cardinal Pietro Capocci first offers a piece of land adjacent to the Bell Tower

1295-1343 Cardinal Giacomo Gaetano Stefaneschi is said to give the church a fresco in

the apse of which was attributed to Cavallini and his school

1347 Cola di Rienzo posted his notice warning of the coming revolt on the architrave above the portico of the church

1477-1521 Restoration of the roof; company of Cardinal Raffaele Riario

1601 Rise of the floor

1611 Restoration at the expense of Cardinal Jacopo Serra

1665-69 Restoration of the porch under Clement IX

1704 Restoration at the expense of Cardinal Giuseppe Renato Imperiali

1774 The ceiling of the nave was repainted by Benedict Fabiani

1787 Four columns raised by ciborium

1819- Pope Pius VII granted the church to Pius Union and the children

1828 Restoration of the church carried out by G. Valadier, completed under Leo XIII.

1837- Restoration under Gregory XVI, works at the Campanile, retaining wall length,

opening doors and windows, construction of stairs.

1869 - Restoration of Pius IX

1909 -1910 Restoration of the fresco in the apse, Rome, Ministry of Public Instruxione


1923-25 Reinforcement (1923) and very complete restoration of the church (1924-25),

directed by Antonio Munoz who was commissioned by Pope Pius XI. The object of the restoration was to restore it back to its original state.

On 27 July 1993, the portico and the generalate were damaged by a bomb. One theory is that the location of the bombing was chosen because of the legend of Romulus and Remus mentioned above; in other words, it may have been a symbolic attack on Rome as the centre of the Italian government. It was restored in 1997.

Among the former titular deacons of the church is John Henry Cardinal Newman (died 1890), one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement. The current titular of the church is H.E. Cardinal Alfons Maria Stickler, S.D.B.


San Giorgio in Velabro is considered one of the earliest Christian edifices in Rome. Its original construction was of a simple basilican plan consisting of a nave with one aisle on either side, which led to an apse. Leo II’s first construction measured 23 meters by 14.3 meters with and apse of 5 meters in diameter. Though it was simply structured it was, considered very noble.

The bell tower and the portico are the main body of the church. These were added in the early 13th century. The facade of the church is preceded by this portico. The floor of the portico is 0.15 meters below street level. The original portico floor was discovered in 1924 and was 0.25 meters under the current level and therefore was 0.55 meters above the level of the Roman road. A rectangular window to the right of the portico appears to date back to the 18th and 19th centuries, along with the upper part of the façade on the side of the portico.

The façade has a 16th century inscription, purporting to be from the 13th century. It dates the campanile and the façade, but since it is a much later inscription than it claims to be, the dates are uncertain. The five-storey campanile can be dated to the 12th or 13th century. The date of the portico and façade is more difficult to ascertain.

Adjacent to the church, actually built into it, is the Arco degli Argentari, or Arch of the Moneychangers. It was erected in AD 204 in honour of Emperor Septimius Severus and the imperial family.

Interior Edit

There is little decoration, but the church gives a feeling of antiquity and serenity that may be worth a little of your time.

The fresco in the apse depicts Christ, the Blessed Virgin and St George, St Peter and St Sebastian. They are from the 13th century, and have been attributed to both Cavallini and Giotto. They are heavily restored, and it is difficult to decide with certainty who the artist was, although there seems to be a majority in favour of Cavallini.

Evidence supports that the three side aisles, which exist today, are the same ones that were constructed by Pope Gregory IV when he reconstructed the church from 827 to 844. The spolia elements that exist in the church today dated from the 4th century and were also reused by Pope Gregory IV in his reconstructions.

Today, walking through the church one would see a modernized atrium and vestibules. Baseless Corinthian columns support plain round arches, and space lies between the arcades and the clerestory. This all leads up to a simple, flat, wooden roof. The apse opening by the arch is the same size of the nave. The apse mosaic was made by Pietro Cavallini and his school of art in the 12th century, and is displays Christ in the middle surrounded by St George with a white horse and the Virgin on one side and St Peter and St Sebastian on the other. The High Altar under the baldacchino has pillars supporting an entablature rather than arches. The colonnades are not trabeated, but arcaded. Today there still remains seven steps connecting the nave to the elevated apse from the reconstruction after 1924.

Parts of St George's skull is preserved in the confessio beneath the altar. The Cosmatesque baldachino, high altar and confessio are from the 12th or 13th century.

The church narrows towards the apse - you can see this by looking at the ceiling where there are fewer compartments over the altar than at the door. The central aisle is 9.15 metres at its widest and 7.30 at its narrowest; the right aisle goes from 7.50 metres to 3. The left aisle deviates very little.

Special notesEdit

The church is very popular for weddings, and one is held here almost every Saturday.

The feast of St George is celebrated on 23 April.

External linksEdit

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