Santa Maria in Domnica

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Basilica di Santa Maria in Domnica
Basilica Minore di Santa Maria in Domnica alla Navicella (in Italian)
Facade of Santa Maria in Domnica
AffiliationRoman Catholic
Ecclesiastical or organizational statusMinor Basilica
LeadershipWilliam Joseph Levada
LocationItaly Rome, Italy
Geographic coordinatesCoordinates: 41°53′4.8″N 12°29′44.1″E / 41.884667°N 12.495583°E / 41.884667; 12.495583
StyleEarly Christian, Renaissance, and Baroque
GroundbreakingAD 5th century

The Minor Basilica of St. Mary in Domnica alla Navicella (Basilica Minore di Santa Maria in Domnica alla Navicella), or simply Santa Maria in Domnica or Santa Maria alla Navicella, is a Roman Catholic basilica in Rome, Italy, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and active in local charity according to its long tradition. The current Cardinal Deacon of the Titulus S. Mariae in Domnica is William Joseph Levada.


Fontana della Navicella

The appellation "in Domnica" has been differently explained. One interpretation is the derivation from "dominicum" ("of the Lord"), and by extension "church".[1] Another interpretation is that it refers to the name of Cyriaca, a Christian woman who resided nearby and whose name denotes "belonging to the Lord": "Dominica" in Latin.[2] A third interpretation is that the name derives from the Latin phrase in dominica (praedia) ("on Imperial property").[3] One other possible explanation is that it is almost the only one from the lesser Churches in Rome that serves as station Church on a Sunday, namely the second Sunday of Lent (dominica means "Sunday" in Latin; the other such Church is San Pancrazio which serves as station for Low Sunday), so given the huge number of Churches dedicated to the Blessed Virgin this might have been chosen as identifier. - The appellation "alla Navicella" denotes "near the little ship", and refers to the sculpture of a Roman ship that has been in this location since ancient times, possibly as a votive offering to an ancient temple, and which Pope Leo X turned into a fountain (Fontana della Navicella) in front of the church.


The basilica was built in ancient times, close to the barracks of the Fifth Cohort of the Roman Vigiles on the Caelian Hill. The basilica is mentioned in the records of a synod of Pope Symmachus in AD 499. In 678, it was one of seven churches assigned to deacons by Pope Agatho.

The basilica was rebuilt from 818-22 by Pope Paschal I, and included mosaic decoration. Pope Paschal I is credited with Rome's early 9th century age of renovation and artistic splendor.

The Medici family extensively modified the interior in the 16th century, because some of them were the cardinal holders of the archdiaconate through much of that century.

In 1513, Cardinal Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici, shortly before he became Pope Leo X, in conjunction with Andrea Sansovino added the facade portico with Tuscan columns and the fountain. He was followed by Giulio di Giuliano de 'Medici, the future Pope Clement VII from 1513-7. Giovanni de' Medici became cardinal-deacon at the age of 17 in 1560, but died in 1562. He was followed by his brother Ferdinando I de' Medici, who also became Grand Duke of Tuscany. He added the coffered ceiling.



The facade of the basilica is in the Renaissance style, and has a porch with five arches separated by travertine pilasters, with two square and one round window. The tympanum has the coat of arms of Pope Innocent VIII in the center, and that of cardinals Giovanni and Ferdinando de' Medici on the sides. The inconspicuous bell tower houses a bell from 1288. The design of the facade (1512-3) has been attributed to Andrea Sansovino.

View of the nave towards apse
Apse mosaic (9th century) commissioned by Pope Paschal I


The interior of the basilica retains its 9th century plan, and consists of a nave and two lateral aisles of equal length and separated by 18 granite columns which were spolia from an ancient temple and crowned with Corinthian capitals. The wall above the windows was frescoed by Perin del Vaga, based on designs of Giulio Romano.

The nave has frescos by Lazzaro Baldi.[4] The coffered ceiling has the Medici coat of arms in the center, with symbolic representations of Noah’s Ark and Solomon’s Temple.

The triumphal arch at the apse is flanked by two porphyry columns. The mosaics of the apse from the 9th century depict Christ with two angels, and the twelve Apostles, with Moses and Elias depicted underneath. In the semi-dome, Pope Paschal (with a square halo) kissing the foot of the Blessed Virgin Mary, vested as a Byzantine noblewoman, seated on a throne with the Christ Child, and surrounded by a multitude of angels.


  1. ^ Armellini.[page needed]
  2. ^ Thayer
  3. ^ Tyler Lansford , The Latin Inscriptions of Rome: A Walking Guide (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011).
  4. ^ entry on Santa Maria in Dominica[better source needed] Archived 9 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine


  • Armellini, Mariano, Le chiese di Roma dal secolo IV al XIX [1]
  • Thayer, Bill, "S. Maria in Domnica", Gazetteer
  • Richard Krautheimer, Corpus basilicarum Christianarum Romae. The early Christian basilicas of Rome (IV-IX cent.) (Città del Vaticano, Pontificio istituto di archeologia cristiana, 1937), pp. 309 ff.
  • Guglielmo Matthiae, S. Maria in Domnica (Roma: Marietti, 1965) [Chiese di Roma illustrate, 56].
  • Macadam, Alta. Blue Guide Rome. London: A & C Black, 1994. ISBN 07136-3939-3.
  • Alia Englen, Caelius I: Santa Maria in Domnica, San Tommaso in Formis e il Clivus Scauri (Roma: Bretschneider, 2003).
  • Giselle de Nie, Karl Frederick Morrison, Marco Mostert, Seeing the Invisible in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages: Papers from "Verbal and Pictorial Imaging: Representing and Accessing Experience of the Invisible, 400-1000": (Utrecht, 11-13 December 2003) (Turnhout: Brepols, 2005).
  • Erik Thunø, "Materializing the Invisible in Early Medieval Art: The Mosaic of Santa Maria in Domnica in Rome," Seeing the Invisible ..., 265-89.
  • Michael G. Sundell, Mosaics in the Eternal City (Tempe, AZ, USA: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2007), pp. 43 ff.
  • Caroline Goodson, The Rome of Pope Paschal I: Papal Power, Urban Renovation, Church Rebuilding and Relic Translation, 817-24 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

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