Santi Sette Dormienti is a deconsecrated late 11th century church, re-using ancient fabric, at Via di Porta San Sebastiano 7 in the rione Celio. The premises are known as the Casale Pallavicini after the family that has owned them for some time.
The dedication was to the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus.
It is now thought that the church was constructed from the ruins of the house some time in the later 11th century, but as to why is unknown.
It was first mentioned in the Catalogue of Turin in 1320, as dedicated to the Holy Archangels. The entry reads Ecclesia sancti Archangeli non habet servitorem ("The church of the holy archangels does not have an incumbent"), which is taken to indicate that it was abandoned at the time.
However, it was not forgotten. Pope Clement XI ordered a restoration in 1710, and re-dedicated it to the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. This is taken as evidence that a fresco of them was visible back then, especially since the pope set up a trust fund to provide a votive lamp to burn in their honour.
However it had no pastoral function as the area was entirely rural, and the church of San Cesareo in Palatio is nearby. It was possibly desecrated again in the early 19th century.
Finally the edifice was identified by Mariano Armellini , the foremost scholar on old Roman churches, as a desecrated place of worship in 1875. At that time, it was a cellar of a farmhouse, and was being used as a cheese store -the farmhouse had been built on top.
A restoration was carried out in 1962 by the owning Pallavicini family, when archaeological investigations were carried out. These revealed the full layout as comprising four rooms of the ancient house, as well as evidence of its second storey (the fabric of the farmhouse is early 19th century).
There is no external profile, and there is no indication at the street gateway that there is anything interesting here.
The entrance doorway to the church has a marble frame, on which are several incised graffiti crosses. The room measures six by four metres and is rectangular, in brick with its original ancient barrel vault.
The side walls near the entrance have a pair of square recesses, thought to be lamp-holders. From about midway to the far end they each have an inset masonry bench.
The sanctuary end has a round-headed niche containing a fresco of St Gabriel the Archangel, and above this is a fresco of Christ in glory being adored by two rows of angels. At the far ends of the rows are two figures, a man (to the left) and a woman who were almost certainly the patrons of the fresco. The man's name has survived as Beno. Below the angels are, to the left, three male saints tentatively identified as the Eastern Doctors SS Athanasius, Basil and John Chrysostom. To the right seem to be three female saints, but the preservation here is bad.
The right hand wall has fragments of figures. Discernible in 1962 were a white-bearded monk, two angels and evidence of some others. The location of the putative fresco of the Seven Sleepers can only be guessed at as being the left hand wall.
Ancillary rooms Edit
A doorway in the left hand wall leads to three other rooms, also barrel-vaulted. They are part of the original ancient house, and were used as sacristy accommodation for the church.
The first one contains an ancient well in one corner, and has its own entrance with a small window over the door. Some assorted fragments of ancient masonry have been left here.
The second one contains re-laid fragments of a black and white mosaic that the archaeologists found over the vault of the church -that is, on surviving masonry of the ancient floor of the second storey of the original house. It depicts a wrestling contest.
The third room now has a passage, excavated by the archaeologists, that leads to a small columbarium (a repository for cremation ashes) and the stone wall of a large chamber tomb. These are early 1st century AD. There is another mosaic in the columbarium, showing stars and rosettes along with geometric designs in square boxes. The walls were decorated with stucco, showing landscape reliefs and candelabra.
The church is not open to the public, and regular guided tours seem not to be available.
A pair calling themselves I due sarchiaponi were able to visit the ancillary rooms and have left an interesting web-page with a gallery (see links, below), but it is obvious that they were not allowed into the church itself. Worries about the conservation of the frescoes are probably the reason.
M. Armellini: The Churches of Rome from the 4th to the 19th Century, Rome 1891, p. 597.