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San Teodoro is a 15th century rebuilding of a 7th century circular church at Via San Teodoro 7 on the western slope of the Palatine, in the rione Campitelli. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia page here.
Nevertheless, it remains consecrated as a Catholic church and the Diocese lists it as such.
However, the title was suppressed in 2004 (it used to be a cardinal diaconate).
The site of the church in ancient times was just south of the Horrea Agrippiana, built by Agrippa as a public amenity in the reign of the emperor Augustus. This was a kind of ancient Roman business park, and was a large two-storey structure including chambers for wholesale, retail and manufacturing activities arranged around a central courtyard. It continued to function as such for at least a thousand years.
Archaeological investigations under the church have revealed what seem to be ancillary edifices dependent on the activities going on here.
Antiquarians since the Middle Ages have puzzled over the roundness of the church. One plausible suggestion was that the church was built on the foundations of a ruined temple, and the theory is still being repeated online. The archaeological evidence has demonstrated this to be false.
In the 4th century, a small rectangular building with an apse and a mosaic floor was erected here. This has been interpreted as a possible early Christian oratory, but (as is unfortunately usual for such remains) no demonstrable evidence of Christian cultic activity was found associated with it.
The foundation of the church is unrecorded. An unreliable tradition asserts that it was founded as a diaconia or centre for social services and assistance by Pope Gregory the Great at the end of the 6th century. This might be close to the truth, as the apse fresco is dated on stylistic grounds to the mid 7th century.
A perhaps more reliable tradition is that the diaconia was founded by Pope Agatho in about 680.
The dedication to an Eastern soldier saint is significant. As with San Giorgio in Velabro nearby, dedicated to another soldier saint, it is thought that this church was founded for (and perhaps by) the Greek colony established in the area. This consisted of merchants around the river port by the present Boca della Verità, and the imperial military garrison in the old palace on the Palatine. Up to the late 8th century, the emperor in Constantinople had his representative in Italy living at Ravenna but Rome had a governor with a retinue who was responsible for keeping public order.
Traditionally, the relics (or part of them) of St Theodore are enshrined here.
Why was it round?Edit
The round shape is unusual, and since it wasn't built in the ruins of a temple the shape must have been chosen by the founders. This is a puzzle, shared by San Stefano Rotondo al Celio. The obvious model would have been the Anastasis or rotunda built by the emperor Constantine at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, but a round church more familiar to 7th century expatriates from Constantinople would have been that of the Holy Apostles which was focused on the rotunda-tomb of the emperor.
Rebuilding and restorationsEdit
It seems that the church was parochial in the Middle Ages, as it had a graveyard attached. It was administered by a small chapter of secular clergy, numbering four when the church was rebuilt in the 15th century.
The church was perhaps most famous as the original home of the famous Capitoline Wolf, until this was moved to the Campodoglio in 1471 and the twin babies Romulus and Remus added. There is still debate as to where this originally came from, since the shocking discovery that it is 11th century and not Etruscan as has been believed for centuries.
The church renovated on the orders of Francesco Cardinal Barberini in 1643, as part of his enormous patronage of the fabric of Rome's churches. The major problem here was water getting into the walls, which was blamed on the river but might have been springs breaking out of the slope of the Palatine hill. It is on record that the restoration did not work, and depictions of the church at this period show it resembling the ancient ruins around it and having bushes growing out of its dome.
Pope Clement XI hired Carlo Fontana to have another go, 1703–1705. He provided the present portico, and also the attractive little piazza in front which took over the ancient graveyard. Apparently, the latter had become a small marsh and so was destroying the church foundations. Fontana's intervention solved the problem. However the pope stopped him intervening in the church itself, where he had proposed replacing the dome.
Like San Giorgio down the road, this church has been struggling to justify its existence pastorally for centuries. However, here a popular custom grew up of bringing sick babies and their mothers to ask the intercession of San Toto, as St Theodore had come to be known in the city. Babies with throat and chest infections were apparently specially favoured.
Pope Clement apparently gave some thought about what to do with the newly restored church, and decided to grant it to a confraternity of expatriates from Urbino. However, in 1729 the church was granted instead to the Arcionfraternita del Sacro Cuore di Gesù, founded in 1709 to promote the cult of the Sacred Heart. These were nicknamed the Sacconi Bianchi, after the white robes that they wore for their penitential processions.
There is confusion between these two confraternities in the sources. According to the church website, the Urbino expatriates recovered the church in 1738 which is why one of the side altars is dedicated to the patron saint of the city, St Crescentian. These side altars were restored in 1779.
On the other hand, the Sacconi had possession by the late 19th century and so presumably got the church back at some stage. They moved to Santa Maria della Pace at the start of the 20th century.
The church was restored in 1825, and again in 1852. However, Fascist demolitions in the locality seriously reduced the local population and the church became undervisited. The situation grew worse when the Via del Foro Romano was closed in the mid 20th century on the behest of the archaeological establishment. This road linked the Bocca del Verità with the Via dei Fori Imperiali, and its loss made the neighbourhood a very quiet backwater.
In November 2000, Pope John Paul II announced that he was granting use of the church to the Ecumenical Patriarcate of Constantinople. The intention was to convert it for use by the expatriate Greek community of Rome, and in the process there was a thorough restoration.
On 1 July 2004, the church was officially inaugurated into its new rôle by His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew. It will remain in use by the Greek Orthodox for the foreseeable future. If it proves too small then the Greeks might build their own church (as the Russians already have) and so move away, but there are no signs of this happening yet.
According to the undocumented tradition, the church was one of the seven original diaconiae in Rome and was first assigned to a cardinal-deacon by Pope Pope Agatho in about 680. The first titular deacon known by name is Roberto, (c. 1073, died before 1099).
The title was suppressed by Pope Sixtus V (1585–1590), and reestablished on 2 December 1959 by Pope St John XXIII. The first titular deacon after the restoration of the title was William Theodore Heard (1959–1970, then pro hac vice presbyterial titular 1970–1973). The last titular of the church was Vincenzo Fagiolo, who died 22 September 2000.
The present status of the church as lent to the Orthodox means that the title will remain vacant indefinitely.
Layout and fabricEdit
The church's layout and fabric could not be simpler. It is a circular brick cylinder, with a U-shaped external sanctuary apse and two little side chapel apses. At the diagonal directions are four round-headed windows (the original lower right hand one is now obscured by the
priest's house), and over the apse is a rectangular window.
The roofline has a molded projecting cornice, separated from the dome by a ring of tiled roof. The dome itself is very unassuming (Fontana wanted to replace it with something more eye-catching). It has a low octagonal drum, rendered in a cream colour, with a horizontal elliptical window in each face. The dome itself is formed from eight triangular tiled pitches, with no lantern.
There is no decorative façade as such. Fontana added the portico, which consists of a thick, solid brick wall stuck to the front of the church and topped with a gable. It contains an enormous brick arch with a limestone keystone, within which is the entrance. The keys of St Peter are shown in relief on either side, apparently commemorating the building of the church by Pope Nicholas.
Over the right hand side of the portico, end-on to the viewer, is a little campanile or bellcote with a triangular pediment on a strongly projecting cornice. Fontana was not responsible for this, as it was added in 1769.
The doorcase is in marble of two different kinds. The posts are in a light grey streaked version, but the lintel has dark grey veins. Above the floating horizontal cornice of the doorcase is a Gothic arched recessed tympanum, containing a (15th century?) fresco of the Nativity. Over this in turn is a relieving archivolt in the brickwork.
In front of the church is Fontana's attractive atrium or entrance courtyard. Since it is well below street level, it is approached by a pair of curving staircases from a terrace onto which the iron railing street gate gives. This terrace is over an ossuary, where Fontana put the bones that he collected when he turned the old cemetery into the courtyard. To make this clear, over the grilled doorway is the word coemeterium, above which is a decorative device with a six-petalled flower defacing a hexagon with incurved sides. Apparently you can see stacked skulls and bones through the grille.
To the right is the priest's house, which curves attractively to meet the church. The wall on the left hand side has a matching curve.
An ancient pagan altar is in the middle of the courtary. Apparently it used to support the altar table of the church.
The interior is simple, "cool" Baroque, in pale blue with the architectural details in white. This was imposed in the recent restoration, and is thought to replicate the 16th century scheme. Previously, the 18th century decoration involved vegetative and geometric designs in yellow and brown.
The dome itself is divided by eight simple white ribs, and each sector contains a blank ring tondo. On the cornice of the dome is an unusual carved wooden "crown", which contains eight little portraits of prophets: David, Elijah, Isaiah, Daniel, Jeremiah, Solomon, Joel and Nahum. The Orthodox have put a circular icon of Christ Pantocrator as an oculus at the apex.
To left and right are little apsidal side chapels with conchs, and at the diagonals are large round-headed windows. In between these features are eight blind pilasters which support the entablature on which the dome rests. A further frame is added around each wall compartment, along the pilaster sides and the underside of the entablature with a pair of bosses at the upper corners.
"Traditionalist" Orthodox be warned -this church has pews! (Information for non-Orthodox: In Orthodox churches the old rule is that you only sit during liturgical celebrations if you are infirm. Otherwise, you stand. Hence, no pews.)
The original terracotta tile floor has been replaced with a polychrome marble one in a geometric pattern based on the church fabric.
The sanctuary now has a simple but traditional solid screen iconostasis in white. There is only one register of four icons, the absolute minimum, depicting St Theodore, Our Lady, Christ and St John the Baptist.
The 18th century polychrome marble high altar has been brought forward out of the apse, and is now free-standing. It has alabaster panels on its frontal. Behind, the yellow marble frame of the original altarpiece remains, supported by a pair of stucco angels. However, the original altarpiece of St Theodore by Zuccari (which one?) has been replaced by an icon of Our Lady of the Sign (Platytera or Blachernitissa).
The side walls have a pair of monochrome frescoes, depicting The Risen Christ Appears to St Thomas and The Supper at Emmaus.
The apse mosaic, which is from the 6th century albeit heavily restored, is very nice, but can be difficult to see on a dull day. It shows Christ seated on an orb representing the heavens, flanked by SS Peter and Paul and two martyrs, SS Theodore and Cleonicus. St Theodore is a later addition, from Pope Nicholas V's restoration. Christ's clothes are black and have gold lati clavi, stripes indicating high rank on Roman garments of the period. Above is the hand of God the Father.
Over the apse is a rectangular window embellished with a stucco wreath on top.
The side chapels are very similarly designed, with polychrome marble altar frontals. The altarpieces are in frames of yellow Sienese marble, topped by tondi in the same material which are embellished with curlicues and palm fronds and which have a star on top. The epigraphs in the tondi proclaim the dedications of the altars, but be careful! One of them is wrong.
However, the left hand chapel proclaims a dedication to St Julian the Hospitaller, following the theme of healing for which the chuch used to be noted. This is not the subject of the altarpiece, and the original painting by Baciccio has been lost. The Sacconi put an 18th century work here in its place, depicting SS Rainerius of Pisa and Hyacintha Mariscotti venerating the Sacred Heart.
The church is open (unofficial source) from 9:30 to 12:30 daily, except Saturdays when it should open from about 17:30 to about 19:00.
The Orthodox are more relaxed than the Catholics about people entering and leaving the church during liturgical celebrations (see below), but do not even think about taking photos. It is polite to light a candle on entering, and not to talk, stare or point during the celebrations.
The regular liturgical celebrations held here are:
Saturday at 18:00: Esperinos (Vespers).
Sunday at 9:00: Orthros (Lauds); 10:30: Eucharistic Liturgy (Mass).
Non-Orthodox Christians, including Catholics, should not receive Communion at the Eucharist. The Orthodox take this seriously.