Santi Quattro Coronati

Santi Quattro Coronati

Santi Quattro Coronati is an ancient basilica in Rome. The church dates back to the 4th (or 5th) century, and is devoted to four anonymous saints and martyrs. The complex of the basilica with its two courtyards, the fortified Cardinal Palace with the St. Silvester chapel, and the Monastery with its cosmatesque cloister is built in a silent and green part of Rome, between the Colosseum and San Giovanni in Laterano, in an out-of-time setting.

The "Santi Quattro Coronati"

"Santi Quattro Coronati" means the Four Holy Crowned Ones [i.e. martyrs] , and refers to the fact that the saints' names are not known, and therefore referred to with their number, and that they were martyrs, since the crown, together to the branches of palm, is an ancient symbol of martyrdom. According to the "Passion of St. Sebastian", the four saints were soldiers who refused to sacrifice to Aesculapius, and therefore were killed by order of Emperor Diocletian (284-305). The bodies of the martyrs were buried in the cemetery of Santi Marcellino e Pietro, on the fourth mile of via Labicana, by Pope Miltiades and St Sebastian (whose skull is preserved in the church). Miltiades decided that the martyrs should be venerated with the names of Claudius, Nicostratus, Simpronianus and Castorius; these names — together to a fifth, Simplicius — were those of five Pannonian martyr stonemasons. These martyrs were later identified with the four martyrs from Albano, Secundus (or Severus), Severianus, Carpoforus (Carpophorus) and Victorinus (Vittorinus). The bodies of the martyrs are kept in four ancient sarcophagi in the crypt. According to a lapid dated 1123, the head of one of the four martyrs is buried in Santa Maria in Cosmedin.


Tradition holds the first church was begun by Pope Miltiades, in the 4th century on the north side of the Coelian Hill. One of the first churches of Rome, it bore the "Titulus Aemilianae" from the name of the foundress, who probably owned the elaborate Roman villa, whose structure is evident under the church. The church was completed the end of the 6th century, and because of its proximity to the medieval papal residence of the Lateran Palace, it became prominent in its day. The first renovations occurred under Pope Leo IV (847-855), who built the crypt under the nave, added to side aisles, enclosed the coutyard before the facade, and built the belltower and the chapels of St. Barbara and St. Nicholas. The new remarkable basilica, Carolingian in style, was 95 m long and 50 m wide.

This church, however, was burned to the ground by Robert Guiscard's troops during the Norman Sack of Rome (1084). Instead of rebuilding the original basilica to scale, Pope Paschal II built a smaller basilica with a two courtyards, one in front of the other; the first corresponding to the original 9th century courtyard, while the second was sited over the initial part of the nave. The two aisles were included in the Cardinal Palace (right) and in the Benedictine Monastery founded by Paschal himself (left). The original apse of the basilica, however, was preserved, and seems oversized for the new church, whose nave was divided into three parts by means of columns. The new church was consecrated on 20 January 1116. In 1338 it was a possession of the Sassovivo Abbey.

In the 13th century a Cosmatesque cloister was added. The Cardinal Palace was enlarged by cardinal Stefano Conti, a nephew of Pope Innocent III. Cardinal Conti also transformed the palace into a fortress, to shelter Popes in the Lateran during the conflict with the Hohenstaufen emperors. In 1247, the chapel of St Sylvester, on the ground floor of the fortress, was consecrated; it contains frescoes depicting the stories of Pope Silvester I and Emperor Constantine I, among which the un-historical baptism of the emperor. Painted in the backdrop of political struggles between Pope Innocent IV and the freshly excommunicated holy Roman emperor Frederick II, the frescoes are meant underscore the desired sovereignty of the Church (Pope Silvester) over the Empire (Constantine).

When the Popes moved to Avignon (14th century), the Cardinal Palace fell into ruin. Thus, upon the return of the Popes to Rome with Pope Martin V, a restoration was necessary. However, when the Papal residence moved from the Lateran to the Vatican palace, this basilica lost importance. In 1564, Pope Pius IV entrusted the basilica and the surrounding buildings to the Augustinians, who still serve it.

The interest in the history of this complex renewed in 1913, thanks to the work of the Fine Arts Superintendent Antonio Muñoz. Once the building became an orphanage, the Augustinian nuns put a revolving drum by its entrance which was used as a deposit "box" for unwanted babies.

Interior decoration

The apse containts the frescoes (1630) by Giovanni da San Giovanni of the four patron martyr saints, Severo, Severiano, Carpoforo e Vittorino. The altarpiece on the left nave of "S.Sebastiano curato da Lucina e Irene" was painted by Giovanni Baglione. The second courtyard holds the entrance to the "Oratorio di San Silvestro", with frescoes of medieval origin, as well as others by Raffaellino da Reggio.


Santi Quattro Coronati was the first church in Rome to have a non-Italian titular; Dietrich of Trier was appointed titular in 975 by Pope Benedict VII. The current Cardinal Priest of the "Titulus Ss. Quattuor Coronatorum" is Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles. Among the previous titulars are: Pope Leo IV (847), King Henry of Portugal, who, in 1580, donated the magnificent wooden ceiling, and Pope Benedict XV (1914).

Discovered frescoes

In 2002 art historian Andreina Draghi discovered an amazing display of frescoes, dating back to 13th century, while restoring the Gothic Hall of the monastery. Most of the scenes were well preserved under a thick layer of plaster, and represented the Twelve Months, the Liberal Arts, the Four Seasons and the Zodiac. The image of King Solomon, a pious and a judge, painted on the northern wall led scholars to argue the room was meant to be a Hall of Justice. Plaster was possibly laid after 1348 Black Death for hygienical reasons, or perhaps in the 15th century, when the Camaldolese left the monastery.


* Giovanni Sicari, "Reliquie Insigni e "Corpi Santi" a Roma", Alma Roma, 1998. Through [ I santi] web site.
* [ "Santi Quattro Coronati"] article on Nyborg site.
* [ The Basilica of the Santi Quattro Coronati]

External links

* [] , Ss. Quattro Coronati Monastery official website.
* [ Four Crowned Martyrs] - Catholic Encyclopedia article
* [ Patron Saints: Claudius]
* [ Images]

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