The San Lorenzo in Lucina Basilica is a church in the Colonna district of Rome. It is one of the oldest Christian churches in the city and contains works of art by o.a. Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Michelangelo and Guido Reni.
San Lorenzo in Lucina Basilica Rome
Address, opening hours and admission
Address: Via in Lucina 16/A – Rome (tel. +39 06 6871494). Opening hours: 08.00 till 20.00. Admission: Free. There is a guided tour of the archeological excavations on every first Saturday of the month at 16.30. The cost is 2 Euros. (Times may change, so it is recommended to call first.)
History and description
The origins of the name of the church are not completely clear. Until 30 years ago it was believed that Lucina was the name of a wealthy woman, who owned several properties in the area. She had turned one of her houses into a sort of private place of worship for Christians and later donated it to the Roman church.
At the moment the prevailing theory that there used to be a temple dedicated to the Goddess Giunone Lucina at the site of the present church. Roman women visited this church because it was believed that water from its well could heal the sick and make barren women pregnant. This temple was then adapted to its use as a Christian church.
This version was confirmed when, during excavations underneath the Sala Capitolare a well was found with well-preserved decorations (wall paintings, a mosaic and marble steps) that a temple dedicated to the goddess has indeed stood here.
The Basilica of Saint Lawrence’s at Lucina itself was built in the 5th century by Pope Sixtus III. At the time it consisted of three naves and its floor was no less than 2 meters below its actual level.
What to see
In the 12th century, under Pope Pasquale II the church was restored and several features were added, including the main entrance flanked by the marble lions, part of the outer walls and the apse, which is hidden by the surrounding buildings.
The 5-floor bell-tower was also constructed in this period. It is situated between the facade and the former convent (which is now a barracks for the carabinieri police force). The bell-tower has two bells; there was an earlier one that fell down and killed a priest.
In front of the entrance there is a wide portico with six Ionic pillars, which is unfortunately slightly hidden by an iron gate.
An extensive restoration in the 17th century completely changed the interior of the church. The two side naves were replaced by a number of chapels, so there is only one nave left. The floor was also raised, which had been deemed necessary because of the Tiber’s frequent floods.
Underneath the altar of the first chapel on the right, you can see the gridiron on which Saint Lawrence himself was burnt during the persecutions ordered by te Emperor Valeriano in the middle of the 3rd century.
A chapel on the left contains a 16th century crucifix made by Michelangelo.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini created the Fonseca chapel.
The painting above the main altar is Guido Reni‘s “Crucifix”, which is framed by 4 black marble pillars.
Underneath the sacristy fragments were found of the Horologium Augusti, a clock made by Augustus, with the aid of Maecenas and others. This sundial had a diameter of around 180 meters.