The San Crisogono Church is located in the Trastevere district in Rome. Underneath this church the ruins of an early Christian church can be visited. Other highlights include Cavallini‘s mosaics in the apse and a baldachin by Bernini.
San Crisogono Church Rome
Address: Piazza Sidney Sonnino, 44 – Rome (tel. +39 06 5810076 or 06 5897192). Opening hours: Weekdays from 07.00 till 11.30 and from 16.00 till 19.30; Sundays and holidays from 08.00 till 13.00 and from 16.00 till 19.30. Admission: Free. Visit to the excavations of the underground church: 3 Euros.
History and description
The church is dedicated to the martyr Saint Chrysogonos, who was supposedly kept prisoner for two years in San Rufo‘s house and ended up converting the good man. Officially Chrysogonos was a military officer beheaded under Diocletian. It is however more likely that he was a wealthy benefactor who maintained the first version of the church. This was a so-called ecclesia domestica, a normal house where secret church services were held.
The San Crisogono Basilica already existed in the 5th century. It was renovated in 1129 by Giovanni Da Crema and completely rebuilt in 1626. Cardinal Scipione Borghese commissioned Gian Battista Soria to perform this reconstruction. Building the new church had been deemed necessary after the Tiber’s frequent inundations had caused serious damage.
The bell-tower is a result of a 12th century reconstruction. The pyramid-shaped top of this tower was added in the 17th century.
The interior of the church was reconstructed in the years after 1620. The granite columns were reused, being originally ancient Roman. Its capitals are 17th century, however.
The most recent restoration took place in 1866.
In 1907 remnants of the first San Crisogono were found and new excavations were ordered. These ruins can now be seen underneath the present church.
The 12th side wall of the church, in the Largo San Giovanni de Matha, is just as beautiful as its façade. The doorway was added in the 17th century. Only the slit windows are original.
What to see
The Cosmatesque mosaics on the floor are typically Roman, named for the Cosmati family who specialized in this geometric style.
The High Altar (1127) with a 17th century baldachin by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The chapel to the right of the altar is also by Bernini, but the busts were made y his pupils.
The triumphal arch is flanked by two enormous ancient red marble columns.
The painting “The Triumph of Saint Chrysogonos” in the center of the 17th century baroque ceiling is a copy of Guercino.
The 10th century frescoes in the church are one of the first references to Saint Benedict. This founder of the Benedictine order was supposed to have lived in Trastevere in the 6th century.
What is left of the frescoes in the right nave was made by Paolo Guidotti. Originally these embellished the Church of the Saints Barbara and Katarina.
The shrine of the Blessed Anna Maria Taigi, to the left of the nave: Anna Maria could see the future in a globe and was beatified in 1906.
The square mosaic in the apse depicts the Madonna and Child with the Saints Chrysogonos and James.
A plaque to the right of the door to the excavations downstairs refers to the 1123 consecration of the present church. The cosmatesque wall shrine to its left was also made in the 12th century.
Ancient church and Roman houses
Downstairs you can visit ruins of the ancient church as well as parts of even more ancient Roman houses. Since the architecture is rather atypical for a western church, it is suspected that the building began its existence as a laundromat (fullonica) and that the basins that are present only later started being used for baptisms.
The first space you enter used to consist of two floors, the lower one being the crypt of the original church. The upper one was the apse of that church, ow hich some geometrical decorations are still visible. A groove indicates where the division used to be. An 8th century fresco in the centre of the former crypt depicts three saints.
A modern arch gives access to a space with a 2nd century sarcophagus. The space opposite used to be the sacristy. Its floor decorations date back to the 10th century.
The frescoes on the wall behind the sarcophagus depict events from the life of St. Benedict. The best preserved one shows the saint healing a leper.
On the other side of the crypt area there are more wall paintings and sarcophagi. In one of them skeletons of a man and a child were found, with a bust and a depiction of the “Good Shepherd”.
There are also several tombstones from different periods.
The former baptistery is now split in half by a modern wall. This wall also splits the original “baptism by immersion” tub in half.
At the moment the church is run by the Mendicant Order of the Trinitarians. A Mendicant Order lives of begging and charity and its members are not allowed any possessions.