Santa Maria in Cosmedin
|Basilica of Saint Mary in Cosmedin
Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin (Italian)
Medieval façade of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, with the bell tower.
|Rite||Greek-Melkite Rite, Latin Rite|
|Ecclesiastical or organizational status||Minor basilica|
|Leadership||Msgr. Antonio Riccardo Menegaldo|
|Direction of façade||NW|
|Length||40 metres (130 ft)|
|Width||20 metres (66 ft)|
|Width (nave)||10 metres (33 ft)|
The church was built in the 8th century during the Byzantine Papacy over the remains of the Templum Herculis Pompeiani in the Forum Boarium and of the Statio annonae, one of the food distribution centres of ancient Rome (another is to be found at theatre of Balbus). A deaconry was a place where charity distributions were given to the poor, and it looks likely that such an institution would have been built near the Roman annona.
Since it was located near many Byzantine structures, in 7th century this church was called de Schola Graeca, and a close street is still called della Greca. Greek monks escaping iconoclastic persecutions decorated the church around 782, when pope Adrian I promoted its reconstruction; the church was built with a nave and two aisles and a portico. Because of its beauty, the church received the adjective cosmedin (from Greek kosmidion), ornate. A sacristy and an oratory dedicated to St. Nicholas were added in the 9th century, by order of Pope Nicholas I, who also built a papal residence, but they were removed in 1085 by Robert Guiscard's Norman troops. It was in Santa Maria in Cosmedin that Popes Gelasius II (who had been Cardinal Deacon of Titulus S. Mariae in Cosmedin), Celestine III, and Antipope Benedict XIII (Cardinal Deacon of this church) were elected.
A substantial restoration was accomplished in 1118–1124 under Alfanus, camerarius of Pope Callixtus II. After being acquired by Benedictines and a period of decay, in 1718 the church was brought up to a Baroque style, mainly expressed by a new façade, by Giuseppe Sardi in 1718. The Baroque additions, however, were removed in the restoration of 1894–1899 together with the coat-of-arms of Pope Clement XI.
Among the former titular cardinal deacons of the church was Reginald Pole, the last Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury.
A scene from the 1953 romantic comedy movie Roman Holiday was filmed in Santa Maria in Cosmedin. In the scene, "Joe" played by Gregory Peck shocks the "Anya/Princess Ann" played by Audrey Hepburn by pretending to lose his hand in the Bocca della Verità.
The church is home to the la Bocca della Verità, an ancient sculpture thought to be a drain covering, located in its portico; but it is worth visiting primarily for its exceptionally well preserved early medieval choir enclosure and its very fine Cosmatesque pavement. Its bell tower is the tallest medieval belfry in Rome.
The current interior has a nave with two aisles: these are divided by four pilasters and eighteen ancient columns. In the side walls some of the old columns of the Statio Annonae are included. Other fragments of the ancient building can be seen in the crypt. Paintings from the 8th-12th centuries, in three layers, are preserved in the upper part of the nave and in the triumphal arch. The schola cantorum is from the 13th century, while the main altar is a red granite piece from 1123. The Easter candelabrum is also from the 13th century.
The sacristy houses a precious 8th-century mosaic fragment brought here from the Old St. Peter's Basilica. Of the 18th-century restoration, the Crucifix Chapel and the Baptistry can be seen today.
In a side altar on the left of the church is kept the flower crowned skull of St Valentine.
- O'Connor, Joanne. "On location: Roman Holiday". Financial Times.
- Webb, Matilda (2001). "Santa Maria in Cosmedin". The Churches and Catacombs of Early Christian Rome. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press. pp. 175–177. ISBN 1-902210-58-1.
- "S. Maria in Cosmedin", in Mariano Armellini, Le chiese di Roma dal secolo IV al XIX.
- Federico Gizzi, Le chiese medievali di Roma, Newton Compton.
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