In Rome, a Morning Walk to Explore the Churches of the Forum

The church of SS Luca e Martina. Photo: Michael J. Waters

“They have in effect been written out of the Forum’s history.” So writes David Watkin of the churches of the Roman Forum. Difficult of access to various degrees, but sharing many threads of the same historical narrative, the Forum’s churches seemed like a natural subject for an American Academy Fellows’ walk on a brilliant Friday morning in mid- February.

Many churches in the Forum area are no longer extant, including two destroyed in just the last century: S. Maria Liberatrice, demolished and finally dynamited in 1900-1902, to allow investigation of the remains of S. Maria Antiqua; and S. Adriano, built into the Senate House, but eradicated after its deconsecration in 1935.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Veduta di Campo Vaccino (ca. 1760). Churches visible from left, clockwise: S. Lorenzo in Miranda, SS. Cosmas and Damian, Oratory of the Lovers of Jesus and Mary on Mount Calvary (demolished 1877), S. Francesca Romana. At right, S. Maria Liberatrice (demolished 1900-1902).

Still five churches survive on the north side of the Forum alone. In rough order of seniority, there are SS. Cosmas and Damian, formed out of an audience hall of the fourth century AD; S. Francesca Romana, originally a ninth century foundation occasioned by the earthquake that fatally damaged S. Maria Antiqua; S. Lorenzo in Miranda, built into the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina; the Carpenters’ Guild church of S. Giuseppe dei Falegnami, built over the old Roman Tullianum prison; and SS. Luca e Martina, a Baroque masterpiece designed by Pietro da Cortona which, in Watkins’ view “can claim to be the most sophisticated building in the entire Forum”.

Here is a photographic glimpse of the Academy community’s investigation of four of these highly visible but in a sense unfamiliar monuments.

SS Cosmas and Damian, incorporating 4th century “Temple of Romulus” as entrance vestibule

Above: detail from sixth century (!) mosaic in SS. Cosmas and Damian. Photo: Michael J. Waters. Below: SS. Cosmas and Damian, lower level, with group looking into “Temple of Romulus”.

S. Francesca Romana. Top: at left on pediment, statue of S. Francesca Romana, with guardian angel. She is venerated each 9 March as patron of motorists. Upper middle: detail of 17th century ceiling with organ. Lower middle: basalt stones venerated as preserving knee marks of SS Peter and Paul. Bottom: view of Arch of Titus from church side door.

S. Lorenzo in Miranda on medal (1835) of Gregory XVI (above), and on plaque of the guild of apothecaries that has occupied the church since the 15th century.

S Lorenzo in Miranda. View  from upper level of Atrium of the Vestals; 17th century interior by Orazio Torriani

S. Lorenzo in Miranda: views from former main entrance, since the late 19th century stranded some 20 feet above the floor level of the excavated Forum. Photos 1 and 3: Michael J. Waters. Photo 2, with hand of Mellon Professor Corey Brennan FAAR’88, who led the tour: Wendy Richmond.

S. Lorenzo in Miranda interior. Above: symbols of the martyrdom of S. Lorenzo. Below: Domenichino’s “Madonna con i SS. Filippo e Giacomo”.

S. Lorenzo in Miranda: view of the Museum of the Nobile Collegio Chimico Farmaceutico, in the church’s lower level

SS. Luca e Martina. Photo: Michael J. Waters

SS. Luca e Martina. Photos 1 and 3: Michael J. Waters

The breathtaking polychromatic crypt of SS. Luca e Martina, with tomb of S. Martina.Upper photo: Michael J. Waters.

SS. Luca e Martina crypt: tomb memorial to the church’s architect, Pietro da Cortona (died 1669)

SS. Luca e Martina

Special thanks to Donald and Maria Cox Pre-Doctoral Rome Prize recipient Michael J. Waters and AAR Visiting Artist Wendy Richmond for images, AAR Programs Assistant Giulia Barra for organizing the visits, and the administration of all four churches pictured above for special permissions.


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