|Santa Maria in Domnica|
|English name:||Our Lady in the House-Church|
|Dedication:||Blessed Virgin Mary|
|Titular church||Cardinal Levada|
|Artists:||Pierino del Vaga, Giulio Romano|
|Address:|| 10 Piazza Navicella|
|Phone:||06 77 07 67 94|
Santa Maria in Domnica is a basilica built in the Dark Ages and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is a parish and titular church as well as having the dignity of a minor basilica. The postal address is Via della Navicella 10 in the rione Celio. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons. . There is an English Wikipedia article. 
Historically the church has also been known as Santa Maria alla Navicella, and the official diocesan web-page and the parish web-site now combine these two names as Santa Maria in Domnica alla Navicella.
Fifth Cohort of the VigilesEdit
In ancient times, when the Caelian hill was completely built up, there were several sets of barracks in the neighbourhood. The site of the church was over the north-eastern wing of the barracks of the so-called "Fifth Cohort of the Vigiles", the main part of which was on the other side of the driveway to the Villa Celimontana. There are two inscriptions confirming the identification preserved at the villa, although no remains of the buildings are now visible.
The vigiles were a para-military outfit the main function of which was in fire-fighting. They also provided a first-call police service in response to burglary and individual acts of violence, although major crimes and civil disorder were dealt with by other law-enforcement agencies.
Foundation of the churchEdit
The church is believed to have originated in the 3rd century as a meeting-place for some of the first Christians of Rome, and as a diaconia or institution for aiding poor people. There was a large population of plebs living in multi-storey tenaments down the slope towards the Colosseum, although the crest of the hill had patrician villas as well as the barracks. If this theory is correct, then the original house church must have been elsewhere nearby, possibly located in the home of a Greek lady named Cyriaca and possibly next to the barracks. This is because the Greek Kuriaka, meaning 'belonging to the Lord', translates into Latin as dominica, which could be why the church has its name. Alternatively domnica could be a corruption of dominicum, a common Latin word for 'church', but the actual meaning of the term isn't clear because there is no early documentary evidence.
By tradition, Cyriaca's family catacomb cemetery was where the basilica San Lorenzo fuori le Mura now stands, and it was she who arranged the burial of St Lawrence, deacon and martyr. The legend of St Lawrence described him as handing out alms to the poor at the diaconia here.
The first firm documentary reference to the church is in 799, when Pope Leo III (795-816) is recorded as establishing the cardinalate title and also giving tapestries and altar decorations to the church.
By 817 the church had fallen into serious disrepair, so Pope Paschal I had it rebuilt in the early Christian revival style of the Carolingian Renaissance. Like another church of the same period, Santa Prassede, the architecture of Santa Maria in Domnica was meant to hark back to the early days of the Christian church in the form of the classic basilica such as Old St. Peter's. However, one feature which dates the church is the presence of subsidiary apses at the ends of the side aisles, as by the 9th century the former strict restriction of one altar per church was being relaxed. Churches were now being provided with side chapels.
In 1340 a small monastery of the Olivetan Benedictines was established here, although they had their main establishment at Santa Francesca Romana. Back then, few people lived on the Caelian Hill apart from monastics, but the main road from St John Lateran to the Tiber quays passed by here before running down the Clivo di Scauro. As a result, the church saw a steady flow of pilgrims. (Via Claudia was only built after 1870.)
The only major additions to the church in its history were in 1514 by its titular Giovanni Cardinal de Medici, who later became Pope Leo X (1513-1521). The architect was Andrea Sansovino. The most noticeable results of this restoration were the creation of a portico for the façade of the church and the insertion of a carved interior ceiling.
The restoration also involved the siting of a stone sculpture of a small boat or navicella, that is now located as part of the fountain in front of the church. It is this sculpture that lends its name not only to the street and piazza that the church is located on, but also to the alternative name of the church itself: Santa Maria alla Navicella, or "St. Mary by the Boat."
It used to be thought that this sculpture was an ancient votive offering, but it is now claimed that it is 16th century and so would have been carved when the fountain was erected. The pretty pebble mosaic inside is certainly of that period. If so, somebody back then had a sense of humour. If it is actually ancient, it would probably be an allusion to the expatriate status of the legionary soldiers who would have commissioned it, in the barracks of the Castra Peregrina across the road now under the church of Santo Stefano Rotondo al Celio.
The boat was rotated in the 1930's, so that it is now parallel to the church façade instead of perpendicular to it.
Summary of restorationsEdit
Over the next 500 years the church has had several renovations. Although none of these altered the form of the structure, they mean that much of the interior decoration is modern:
|1686||Restorations are documented, but what these were is not known.|
|1700-1721||Pope Clement XI decorates the portico, and restores the apse mosaics|
|1881||Renovation of altars, and the portico.|
|1935||Restoration of the apse mosaic again.|
|1957||Underpinning of the church, and the construction of a new crypt.|
|1997-1998||Restoration of stone sculpture, architectural elements and church furnishings for the Jubilee of 2000|
As an ancient building the church was lucky to escape the ideologically motivated 'restorers' of the next fifty years, unlike Santa Maria in Cosmedin for example, and so has kept its late Renaissance façade. In 1932 it was made into a parish church for the Caelian, and so has responsibility for all the other historical churches on the hill including San Clemente. At present, the rather small parish community is trying to offset the cost of maintaining the building by making it available to the weekend 'centro storico' church marriage industry, which means that trying to visit on a Saturday is often not a good idea.
Among the church's titulars were Popes Stephen IX, Gregory VII and Clement VII; Tommaso and Giovanni Battista of the Orsini family, Innocenzo Cardinal Cybo, Federico Borromeo senior (died 1589) and Tommaso Riario Sforza. At the present time, the titular priest of the church is H.E. William Joseph Levada.
The parish is administered by the Priestly Fraternity of the Missionaries of St Charles Borromeo (FSCB).
The plan of the church is very straightforward, being a rectangular basilica with aisles and a wide external segmental main apse with conch. The aisles have apses, too. There is no structurally distinct presbyterium apart from the main apse.
The exterior walls are rendered in a pale yellowish grey, and the roofs are pitched and tiled. There is no campanile, but a small marble belfry is perched on the near end of the right hand aisle and this has a triangular pediment. It contains one bell, with an inscription giving the year of manufacture as 1288.
The flat-roofed external portico was added by Sansovino in 1513. He was inspired by the work of Bramante, and provided a work of high enough quality for it to have been erroneously attributed to Raphael in the past.
It has a sober and dignified row of five identical arches with two more on the sides, and these have Doric imposts. In between the arches and on the portico's corners are six Doric pilasters which support an entablature, and arch piers and pilasters are in travertine. Above the entablature the flat roof sits on an additional plinth. Behind the portico, the gabled nave façade rises to a triangular pediment. It has a row of three windows, the central one being circular in a dished frame and with geometric fenestration involving a circle and two squares. The other two windows are vertical rectangles with stone frames, and identical windows are provided in the aisle and upper nave walls. The frieze below the pediment bears a dedicatory inscription, and the pediment itself contains the coat-of-arms of Pope Innocent VIII in the middle and those of Cardinals Giovanni de' Medici (the future Pope Leo X) and Ferdinando de' Medici to each side.
To the right of the church is the small, originally Olivetan monastery, which contains a mediaeval brick tower. However, the street frontage and much of the rest of it looks as if it were rebuilt in modern times, and is ugly and functional.
The church has a triple apse in the Eastern style, the central one being proportionally rather wide. Unusually, the nave arcades run right up to the back wall of the church containing these apses, and so there is no triumphal arch into the presbyterium. The arcades have eighteen ancient grey granite columns, all with ancient white marble Corinthian capitals of which most are spolia from ancient buildings. The capitals differ in design, and repay close inspection. The granite of the columns probably came from the quarry of Mons Claudianus in the Eastern Desert of Egypt.
The clerestory of the nave is lit by five rectangular windows on each side, and its walls have 19th century fresco work (now badly faded) executed to resemble marble and stucco.
High up on the nave walls, just below the ceiling, is a painted frieze in the Renaissance style made by Pierino del Vaga to a design by Giulio Romano, a student of Raphael. The coffered, carved and painted flat wooden ceiling was provided by Cardinal Ferdinand de Medici in 1566 and has the coat-of-arms of the Medici family in the centre. Pierino del Baga was also the artist, and again took the design from Giulio Romano. The symbols are taken from the Litany of Our Lady. It was repainted in the 19th century.
At the end of the right aisle is the tomb of Antonia of Luxembourg (died 1954), last crown princess of Bavaria . The tomb is marked by a marble tablet with an inscription and the arms of the Wittelsbachs, the Royal House of Bavaria (which she married into) and the Grand Ducal House of Luxembourg (of which she was a princess).
Both side apses have angels in fresco represented as holding drapery (the technical term for this is reggicortina). They are 20th century, by Gisberto Ceracchini. The left hand apse has a modern statue of Christ by Giovani Prini, and the right hand one an angel by the same artist.
The baptistery is at the near end of the left hand aisle, and has a modern fresco of the Baptism of Christ by Luca Brandi.
The main apse is flanked by a pair of porphyry columns with Ionic capitals which support the triumphal arch. These, with the arcade columns, are possibly from the first church and were reused in the 9th century rebuilding.
The apse mosaics are from the 9th century, commissioned by Pope Paschal I (817-824) and known to have been restored on the orders of Pope Clement XI . In the vault of the conch of the central apse Pope Paschal is shown kneeling at the feet of the Blessed Virgin, and this is one of the earliest examples of a mosaic where the Madonna is in the centre of the composition. The choice of motif should be seen as a protest against iconoclasm, which was still rampant in the Byzantine Empire at the time, and both the Byzantine style of the mosaics and the Eastern elements in the architecture indicates the Greek exiles were involved when the church was built and decorated. Notice that the Holy Father has a square halo, which tells us that he was still alive when the mosaic was made.
Our Lady is depicted seated on a throne with a scarlet cushion, and with her feet on a yellow rug with a crimson line along its border. She is dressed in a blue robe, and is holding the Christ Child. The latter is represented as a miniature adult, which is a typical motif of the Byzantine style, and also typical is the napkin that Our Lady is holding as if she were a Byzantine princess. She is flanked on either side by hosts of angels, and throne and angels stand on a flowery meadow. Below the composition is a dedicatory inscription, and in the intrados of the arch is a monogram that spells out PASCHAL.
The inscription reads: Istituita Domus pridem fuerat confracta ruinis nunc rutilat iugiter variis decorata metallis et deux. Ecce suus splendet ceu Phoebus in orbe qui post furva fugans tetrae velamina noctis. Virgo Maria tibi Paschalis praesul honestus condidit hanc aulam laetus saecla manendam.
Above the apse the triumphal arch has a mosaic with Christ sitting on a rainbow in a mandorla and being venerated by a pair of angels, with the twelve Apostles approaching from the sides. Below, flanking the conch of the apse are two figures thought to be Moses and Elijah. The identification of the latter two is difficult, and on a notice outside the church they are said to be SS Peter and Paul. This is very unlikely, as they do not resemble the Apostles who are already depicted above. One alternative is that they are meant to be SS John the Baptist and John the Evangelist. Scenes from the life of the latter are depicted in the fresco on the apse wall below, which has three panels separated by trompe-l'oeil columns matching those of the arch. This work is by Lazzaro Baldi, of the late 17th century.
In the crypt are ancient Roman sarcophagi, fragments of 9th century plutei (reading desks) and a 17th century altar.
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