All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in July 2010.
SS. Pietro e Marcellino (Book 3) (Map A3) (Day 1) (View C9) (Rione Monti) and (Rione Campitelli)
Giuseppe Vasi dedicated his 1753 book of etchings showing the greatest churches of Rome to Pope Benedict XIV, the reigning pope and he felt compelled to include in it a view of SS. Pietro e Marcellino, a church which the pope had just completely rebuilt.
Today the intersection between Via Labicana and Via Merulana is very busy (the photo was taken on an early Sunday morning); when Vasi drew his etching the nunnery adjoining the church was yet to be built; it now obstructs (together with later constructions) the view of SS. Quattro Coronati, of which only a roof is still visible. The small map shows that the section of Via Merulana leading to S. Giovanni in Laterano was very steep; in order to adapt it to modern traffic requirements the level of the ground near the church was raised so that today SS. Pietro e Marcellino is in a sort of a hole. The street was also enlarged and S. Matteo a Via Merulana, a small church which Vasi showed in his Map of Rome, was pulled down.
This church is the only major work by Girolamo Theodoli and it is indicative of the transition from baroque to simpler patterns; the dome echoes that of Borromini's S. Ivo alla Sapienza, while the fašade has a neat design. SS. Pietro e Marcellino was built on the site of a previous church by the same name which was founded in the IVth century and then modified several times.
Sts. Peter and Marcellinus were two martyrs of the early IVth century; a church was dedicated to them on the site where they were beheaded, three miles from Porta Maggiore; according to an inscription dictated by Pope Alexander IV in 1256 their bodies were relocated to their church inside Rome.
While SS. Pietro e Marcellino is today immersed in the noise and pollution caused by cars and buses, at a few hundred yards SS. Quattro Coronati still lives in its medieval past. Similar to S. Saba it is protected by walls and its bell tower (the first of Rome) clearly had a defensive purpose.
Because two sides of the complex are built on the edge of a small elevation, the northern wall and the apse are supported by impressive substructures; the wall of the apse in particular retains masonry elements which indicate that the church made use of a previous Late Roman basilica which probably belonged to a private house; a reference to titulus Sanctorum Quattuor Coronatorum has been found in the records of a 595 synod.
In 1084 Robert Guiscard sacked Rome and set fire to SS. Quattro Coronati; Pope Paschal II reconsecrated the church in 1116, but its size was reduced to the final part of the nave and the apse; the initial part of the nave was not rebuilt and it became the current second courtyard of the complex; the aisles of the original basilica were included into a Benedictine monastery.
According to the prevailing tradition the saints to whom the church was dedicated were four sculptors who refused to work at a statue of Aesculapius and who for this reason were put to death at the time of Emperor Diocletian; the reference to Coronati (crowned) is probably due to the fact that they were portrayed wearing laurel wreaths symbolizing their martyrdom.
In 1562 Pope Pius IV assigned the complex to Augustinian nuns, who still reside there.
You may wish to see the church as it appeared in a 1588 Guide to Rome).
At the foot of the slope leading to S. Quattro Coronati there is what is likely the most ancient sacred image of Rome. The image is located along the itinerary followed by the procession which accompanied the newly elected pope to S. Giovanni in Laterano for the formal ceremony during which he took possession of his charge. According to the legend at this spot in the IXth century a female pope (Pope Joan) was caught by labour pains, her sex was discovered and she was stoned to death. The madonnella is most likely a XVth century painting, but the existence of a sacred image located at this site is documented since the year 1000.
A madonnella in much better shape is located on an elegant XVIIIth century building opposite Sacello della Madonna.
Next plate in Book 3: Ruine
dell'antico Tempio dei SS. Pietro e Marcellino