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Santi Quattro Coronati

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

First courtyard with the guard tower.
First courtyard with the guard tower.

Santi Quattro Coronati is an ancient basilica in Rome, Italy. 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 Saint 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 stone dated 1123, the head of one of the four martyrs is buried in Santa Maria in Cosmedin.


Tradition holds the first church on the site 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 by 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 courtyard before the facade, and built the belltower and the chapels of Saints Barbara and Nicholas. The new remarkable basilica, Carolingian architecture in style, was 95 m long and 50 m wide.

Apse and Cardinal Palace.
Apse and Cardinal Palace.

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, as well as a depiction of the Donation of Constantine. Painted in the backdrop of political struggles between Pope Innocent IV and the freshly excommunicated holy Roman emperor Frederick II, the frescoes are meant to 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 contains 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.

Titular see

Cardinal Roger Mahony

Santi Quattro Coronati belongs to the titular churches of Rome from at least the end of 6th century. The title is now held by Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop emeritus of Los Angeles. Among those once assigned the title are: Pope Leo IV (847), King Henry of Portugal, who, in 1580, donated the magnificent wooden ceiling, and Pope Benedict XV (1914). The full list is known only from the pontificate of Pope Benedict XII (1334–1342):[1][2][3]

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.


  1. ^ Sources for the list: H.W. Klewitz, Reformpapsttum und Kardinalskolleg, Darmstadt 1957, p. 22 note 40, p. 75 and p. 130 no. 4 (11–12th centuries); S. Miranda, Titulus SS. IV Coronati (from 14th century until now). The names from 595 until 993 are based on examination of the documents of the Roman councils in: Giandomenico Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, except Leo (844-847, pope Leo IV 847-855), and Stefano (882-885, pope Stephen V 885-891) who are mentioned as cardinals of this title in their biographical entries in The Catholic Encyclopedia [1] [2]
  2. ^ The fourteenth-century cardinal priests are listed by Conradus Eubel, Hierarchia catholica medii aevi I, editio altera (Monasterii 1913), p. 41.
  3. ^ David M. Cheyney, Catholic-Hierarchy: Santi Quattro Coronati. Retrieved: 2016-03-15.
  4. ^ Mansi's text in fact does not name Fortunato: Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio Tomus X (Florence/Venice: Zatta 1764, pp. 175–178.
  5. ^ Johannes Dominicus Mansi (ed.), Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio Tomus 14 (Venice: Antonio Zatta 1769), p. 1021: Leo presbyter tituli SS. IV Coronatorum. The title Cardinal does not appear.
  6. ^ The text, in fact, calls him Theophilacto presbitero tituli sanctorum quattuor coronatorum; there is no mention of the title Cardinal: Monumenta Germaniae Historica, 2 Leges. 4 Constitutiones 01. Constitutiones Acta Publica AD 911–1197 (Hannover: Hahn, 1893), p. 533. In Liutprand of Cremona's De rebus gestis Ottonis Magni Imperatoris (in: J.-P. Migne Patrologiae Latinae Volume 136, p. 903) only the Archpriest and the Archdeacon are called Cardinalis, and the name of the priest tituli sanctorum quattuor coronatorum has dropped out of the text.
  7. ^ Johannes Dominicus Mansi (ed.), Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio Tomus 19 (Venice: Antonio Zatta 1774), p. 172: Joannes presbyter et cardinalis Ss. quattuor coronatorum consensi. (30 January 993).
  8. ^ Rudolf Hüls, Kardinäle, Klerus und Kirchen Roms, 1049–1130 (Tubingen: Max Niemeyer 1977), p. 202.
  9. ^ Hüls, p. 203.


  • Andreina Draghi, Gli affreschi dell'Aula gotica del Monastero dei Santi Quattro Coronati: una storia ritrovata (Milano: Skira 2006).
  • Maria Giulia Barberini, I Santi Quattro Coronati a Roma (Roma: Fratelli Palombi, 1989).
  • Bruno Maria Apollonj Ghetti, I Ss. Quattro Coronati (Roma : Marietti, 1964) [Le chiese di Roma illustrate, 81].
  • J. de Cederna, La Chiesa e il monastero dei Ss. Quattro Coronati (Roma 1950).
  • S Russell Forbes, Church of the Santi Quattro Coronati (No publisher: no place, 1914).

External links

This page was last edited on 18 February 2021, at 04:03
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