Santa Sabina

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Basilica of Saint Sabina at the Aventine
  • Basilica di Santa Sabina all'Aventino  (Italian)
  • Basilica Sanctae Sabinae  (Latin)
Rom, Basilika Santa Sabina, Außenansicht.jpg
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41°53′04″N 12°28′47″E / 41.884444444444°N 12.479722222222°E / 41.884444444444; 12.479722222222Coordinates: 41°53′04″N 12°28′47″E / 41.884444444444°N 12.479722222222°E / 41.884444444444; 12.479722222222
LocationPiazza Pietro d’Illiria 1
WebsiteGeneral Curia of the Order of the Preachers
StatusMinor basilica, titular church
DedicationSaint Sabina
StylePaleochristian, Baroque, Neoclassical
Length60 m (200 ft)
Width30 m (98 ft)
Nave width17 metres (56 ft)
Cardinal protectorJozef Tomko

The Basilica of Saint Sabina (Latin: Basilica Sanctae Sabinae, Italian: Basilica di Santa Sabina all'Aventino) is a historic church on the Aventine Hill in Rome, Italy. It is a titular minor basilica and mother church of the Roman Catholic Order of Preachers, better known as the Dominicans.

Santa Sabina is the oldest extant Roman basilica in Rome that preserves its original colonnaded rectangular plan and architectural style. Its decorations have been restored to their original restrained design. Other basilicas, such as Santa Maria Maggiore, are often heavily and ornately decorated. Because of its simplicity, the Santa Sabina represents the crossover from a roofed Roman forum to the churches of Christendom. It is especially famous for its 5th-century carved wood doors, with a cycle of Christian scenes (18 now remaining) that is one of the earliest to survive.

Santa Sabina is perched high above the Tiber to the north and the Circus Maximus to the east. It is next to the small public park of Giardino degli Aranci ("Garden of Oranges"), which has a scenic terrace overlooking Rome. It is a short distance from the headquarters of the Knights of Malta.

Its cardinal priest is Jozef Tomko. It is the stational church for Ash Wednesday.


Santa Sabina was built by Peter of Illyria, a Dalmatian priest, between 422 and 432[1] near a temple of Juno on the Aventine Hill in Rome. The church was built on the site of early Imperial houses, one of which is said to be of Sabina, a Roman matron originally from Avezzano in the Abruzzo region of Italy. Sabina was beheaded under the Emperor Vespasian, or perhaps Hadrian, because she had been converted to Christianity by her servant Seraphia, who was stoned to death. She was later declared a Christian saint.

In the 9th century, it was enclosed in a fortification area. The interior was largely renovated by Domenico Fontana in 1587 and by Francesco Borromini in 1643. Italian architect and art historian Antonio Muñoz restored the original medieval appearance of the church (which had served as a lazaretto since 1870). The bell tower was built in the 10th century and remade in the Baroque period.

The church was the seat of a papal conclave in 1287, although the prelates left the church after an epidemic had killed six of them. They returned to the church only on 1288 February, electing Nicholas IV as pope.[2]


Apse and triumphal arch.


The exterior of the church, with its large windows made of selenite, not glass, looks much as it did when it was built in the 5th century.

The wooden door of the basilica is generally agreed to be the original door from 430 to 432, although it was apparently not constructed for this doorway. Eighteen of its wooden panels survive — all but one depicting scenes from the Bible. Most famous among these is one of the earliest certain depictions of Christ's crucifixion, although other panels have also been the subjects of extensive analysis because of their importance for the study of Christian iconography.

Above the doorway, the interior preserves an original dedication in Latin hexameters.

The campanile (bell tower) dates from the 10th century.


The original fifth-century apse mosaic was replaced in 1559 by a very similar fresco by Taddeo Zuccari. The composition probably remained unchanged: Christ is flanked by a good thief and a bad thief, seated on a hill while lambs drink from a stream at its base. The iconography of the mosaic was very similar to another 5th-century mosaic, destroyed in the 17th century, in Sant'Andrea in Catabarbara. An interesting feature of the interior is a framed hole in the floor, exposing a Roman era temple column that pre-dates Santa Sabina. This appears to be the remnant of the Temple of Juno erected on the hilltop site during Roman times, which was likely razed to allow construction of the basilica. The tall, spacious nave has twenty four columns of Proconnesian marble with perfectly matched Corinthian capitals and bases, which were reused from the Temple of Juno.

The interior cells of the Dominican convent are little changed since the earliest days of the Order of Preachers. The cell of St. Dominic is still identified, though it has since been enlarged and converted to a chapel. Also, the original dining room still remains, in which St. Thomas Aquinas would dine when he lived in Rome.

Side portico.


The doors.
Depiction of the crucifixion on the wooden door of Santa Sabina. This is one of the earliest surviving depictions of the crucifixion of Christ.

The doors on the exterior of Santa Sabina are made of cypress wood, and originally had a layout of twenty-eight panels. Out of these panels, ten of the original have been lost, and are left without ornamentation.[3]

Seventeen out of the original remaining eighteen panels depict a scene from the Old Testament or the New Testament, leaving one panel that does not directly correlate to a Biblical story[3] This panel, found near the bottom of the door, depicts an homage to a man wearing a chlamys, and is thought to depict a historical event relating to a powerful ruler, though the exact story depicted is unknown.[4] One of the smaller top panels depicts the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and two other figures in front of a building that alludes to the architecture of a Roman mausoleum;[5] this panel is the first known publicly displayed image of the crucifixion of Christ.[6] The panels are carved in two distinct styles, one including more detail and adherence to the style of classical art, and one adopting a simpler style, indicating that several artists may have worked on the doors. The abstract vegetal designs on the panels' frames are consistent with a Mesopotamian style, suggesting the origin of at least one of the artists was from this region.[3]

Due to the cramped composition of the panels and the thin outer frame, it is likely that the door was originally bigger, then cut down to fit into the frame of Santa Sabina. This makes it unclear as to whether the door was initially intended to be used for this specific structure; it may have been designed for a different Roman building with larger doorway dimensions, but then been transferred to Santa Sabina for unknown reasons. However, the door was most likely constructed near the same time as the erection of the Church of Santa Sabina in 432, as the powerful figure in the chlamys scene carving shares stylistic similarities with depictions of Theodosius II, the emperor at the time of the consecration of Santa Sabina.[3] Dendrochronologic and radiocarbon dating confirmed that the wood used for the door panels is from the beginning of the 5th century, therefore the carvings could date from the reigns of Celestine I (421–431) or Sixtus III (431–440).[7]

Convent and Studium of the Dominican Order[edit]

Saint Dominic, Pope Pius V, Blessed Ceslaus, Saint Hyacinth and St Thomas Aquinas are among those who have lived in the convent adjacent to the basilica of Santa Sabina.

Pope Honorius III approved in 1216 the Order of Preachers, now commonly known as the Dominicans, which was "the first order instituted by the Church with an academic mission".[8] Honorius III invited Saint Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers, to take up residence at the church of Santa Sabina in 1220.[9] The official foundation of the Dominican convent at Santa Sabina with its studium conventuale, the first Dominican studium in Rome, occurred with the legal transfer of property from Honorius III to the Order of Preachers on June 5, 1222 though the brethren had taken up residence there already in 1220.[10]

Some scholars have written that Honorius III was a member of the Savelli family and that the church and associated buildings formed part of the holdings of the Savelli, thereby explaining why Honorius III donated Santa Sabina to the Dominicans.[11] In fact, Honorius III was not a Savelli. These scholars may have confused later Pope Honorius IV, who was a Savelli, and Honorius III.[12] In any case, the church was given over to the Dominicans and it has since then served as their headquarters in Rome.

In 1265 in accordance with the injunction of the Chapter of the Roman province of the Order of Preachers at Anagni, Thomas Aquinas was assigned as regent master at the studium conventuale at Santa Sabina: “Fr. Thome de Aquino iniungimus in remissionem peccatorum quod teneat studium Rome, et volumus quod fratribus qui stant secum ad studendum provideatur in necessariis vestimentis a conventibus de quorum predicatione traxerunt originem. Si autem illi studentes inventi fuerint negligentes in studio, damus potestatem fr. Thome quod ad conventus suos possit eos remittere”.[13] At this time the existing studium conventuale at Santa Sabina was transformed into the Order's first studium provinciale, an intermediate school between the studium conventuale and the studium generale. "Prior to this time the Roman Province had offered no specialized education of any sort, no arts, no philosophy; only simple convent schools, with their basic courses in theology for resident friars, were functioning in Tuscany and the meridionale during the first several decades of the order's life. But the new studium at Santa Sabina was to be a school for the province," a studium provinciale.[14] Tolomeo da Lucca, an associate and early biographer of Aquinas, tells us that at the Santa Sabina studium Aquinas taught the full range of philosophical subjects, both moral and natural.[15]

With the departure of Aquinas for Paris in 1268 and the passage of time the pedagogical activities of the studium provinciale at Santa Sabina were divided between two campuses. A new convent of the Order at the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva had a modest beginning in 1255 as a community for women converts, but grew rapidly in size and importance after being given to the Dominicans in 1275.[16] In 1288 the theology component of the provincial curriculum was relocated from the Santa Sabina studium provinciale to the studium conventuale at Santa Maria sopra Minerva which was redesignated as a studium particularis theologiae.[17] Thus, the studium at Santa Sabina was the forerunner of the studium generale at Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

Following the curriculum of studies laid out in the capitular acts of 1291 the Santa Sabina studium was redesignated as one of three studia nove logice intended to offer courses of advanced logic covering the logica nova, the Aristotelian texts recovered in the West only in the second half of the 12th century, the Topics, Sophistical Refutations, and the Prior and Second Analytics of Aristotle. This was an advance over the logica antiqua, which treated the Isagoge of Porphyry, Divisions and Topics of Boethius, the Categories and On Interpretation of Aristotle, and the Summule logicales of Peter of Spain.[18] Milone da Velletri was lector at the Santa Sabina studium in 1293[19] In 1310 the Florentine Giovanni dei Tornaquinci was lector at Santa Sabina.[20] In 1331 at the Santa Sabina studium Nerius de Tertia was lector,[21] and Giovanni Zocco da Spoleto was a student of logic.[22]

List of cardinal priests[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Roth, Leland M. (1993). Understanding Architecture: Its Elements, History and Meaning (First ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press. pp. 245. ISBN 978-0-06-430158-9.
  2. ^ Rendina, Claudio (2002). La grande guida dei monumenti di Roma: storia, arte, segreti, leggende, curiosità. Rome: Newton Compton. p. 546. ISBN 978-88-541-1981-9.
  3. ^ a b c d Delbrueck, Richard (June 1952). "Notes on the Wooden Doors of Santa Sabina". The Art Bulletin. 34 (2): 139–145. doi:10.2307/3047407. ISSN 0004-3079. JSTOR 3047407.
  4. ^ Kantorowicz, Ernst H. (December 1944). "The "King's Advent": And The Enigmatic Panels in the Doors of Santa Sabina". The Art Bulletin. 26 (4): 207–231. doi:10.2307/3046963. ISSN 0004-3079. JSTOR 3046963.
  5. ^ Coon, Lynda (2016-04-01). "Gendering Dark Age Jesus". Gender & History. 28 (1): 8–33. doi:10.1111/1468-0424.12175. ISSN 1468-0424.
  6. ^ Leith, Mary Joan Winn; Sheckler, Allyson Everingham (January 2010). "The Crucifixion Conundrum and the Santa Sabina Doors*". Harvard Theological Review. 103 (1): 67–88. doi:10.1017/S0017816009990319. ISSN 0017-8160.
  7. ^ Foletti, Ivan; Romagnoli, Manuela; Liccioli, Lucia; Fedi, Mariaelena; Saccuman, Roberto (31 January 2019). "Wiggle Matching Analysis of the Doors of Santa Sabina in Rome". RIHA Journal.
  8. ^ Pirerre Mandonnet, "Order of Preachers" Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913; "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-05-06. Retrieved 2012-08-19.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ The Order of the Preachers. "General Curia". Retrieved 2009-01-29.
  10. ^ Pierre Mandonnet, O.P., St. Dominic and His Work, Translated by Sister Mary Benedicta Larkin, O.P., B. Herder Book Co., St. Louis/London, 1948, Chapt. III,[page needed] note 50: "If the installation at Santa Sabina does not date from 1220, at least it is from 1221. The official grant was made only in June, 1222 (Bullarium O.P., I, 15). But the terms of the bull show that there had been a concession earlier. Before that concession the Pope said that the friars had no hospitium in Rome. At that time St. Sixtus was no longer theirs; Conrad of Metz could not have alluded to St. Sixtus, therefore, when he said in 1221: "the Pope has conferred on them a house in Rome" (Laurent no. 136). It is possible that the Pope was waiting for the completion of the building that he was having done at Santa Sabina, before giving the title to the property, on June 5, 1222, to the new Master of the Order, elected not many days before." Accessed 2016-2-27.
  11. ^ J. J. Berthier, L'Eglise de Sainte-Sabine a Rome (Rome: M. Bretschneider, 1910)[page needed].
  12. ^ Joan Barclay Lloyd, "Medieval Dominican Architecture at Santa Sabina in Rome, c. 1219 – c. 1320." Papers of the British School at Rome. 2004. v. 72, pp. 231–292, 379.
  13. ^ Acta Capitulorum Provincialium, Provinciae Romanae Ordinis Praedicatorum, 1265, n. 12, in Corpus Thomisticum, Accessed 4-8-2011
  14. ^ Marian Michèle Mulchahey, "First the bow is bent in study": Dominican education before 1350, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto, 1998, pp. 278–279. Accessed 6-30-2011
  15. ^ "Tenuit studium Rome, quasi totam Philosophiam, sive Moralem, sive Naturalem exposuit." Ptolomaei Lucensis historia ecclesiastica nova, xxii, c. 24, in In Gregorovius' History of the City of Rome In the Middle Ages, Vol V, part II, 617, note 2. Accessed 6-5-2011.
  16. ^ Compendium Historiae Ordinis Praedicatorum, A.M. Walz, Herder 1930, 214: Romanus conventus S. Mariae supra Minervam anno 1255 ex conditionibus parvis crevit. Tunc enim paenitentibus feminis in communi regulariter ibi 1252/53 viventibus ad S. Pancratium migratis fratres Praedicatores domum illam relictam a Summo Pontifice habendam petierunt et impetranint. Qua demum feliciter obtenda capellam hospitio circa annum 1255 adiecerunt. Huc evangelizandi causa fratres e conventu S. Sabinae descendebant. Accessed 5-17-2011
  17. ^ Marian Michèle Mulchahey, "First the bow is bent in study": Dominican education before 1350, 1998, p. 323. Accessed 5-26-2011
  18. ^ Marian Michèle Mulchahey, "First the bow is bent in study": Dominican education before 1350, 1998, pp. 236–237. Accessed 6-30-2011
  19. ^ Accessed 4-6-2012
  20. ^ Accessed 4-5-2012
  21. ^ Accessed 4-5-2012
  22. ^ Accessed 7-5-2011
  23. ^ Giovanni Domenico Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, vol. XII, Florence 1766, col. 265.


  • Krautheimer, Richard (1984). Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture. New Haven: Yale University Press. pp. 171–174. ISBN 978-0-300-05294-7.
  • Richard Delbrueck. "Notes on the Wooden Doors of Santa Sabina", The Art Bulletin, Vol. 34, No. 2. (Jun., 1952), pp. 139–145.
  • Ernst H. Kantorowicz, "The 'King's Advent': And The Enigmatic Panels in the Doors of Santa Sabina", The Art Bulletin, Vol. 26, No. 4. (Dec., 1944), pp. 207–231.
  • Alexander Coburn Soper. "The Italo-Gallic School of Early Christian Art", The Art Bulletin, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Jun., 1938), pp. 145–192.
  • Richard Delbrueck. "The Acclamation Scene on the Doors of Santa Sabina" (in Notes), The Art Bulletin, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Sep., 1949), pp. 215–217.
  • Allyson E. Sheckler and Mary Joan Winn Leith, “The Crucifixion Conundrum and the Santa Sabina Doors,” Harvard Theological Review 103 (January 2010), pp. 67–88.
  • Weitzmann, Kurt, ed., Age of spirituality: late antique and early Christian art, third to seventh century, nos. 247, 438 & 586, 1979, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, ISBN 9780870991790; full text available online from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries

External links[edit]

External video
video icon Santa Sabina, Smarthistory