The Santa Sabina all’Aventino Church in Rome was founded between 422 and 432 by a priest called Pietro di Illiria. It is considered to be the city‘s best examples of a 5th century Christian basilica.
Santa Sabina all’Aventino Church Rome
Address, opening hours and admission
Address: Santa Sabina at the Aventine Hill Church – Piazza Pietro d’Illiria, 1 – Rome (tel. +39 06 579401 or 06 57940600). Opening hours: From 08.15 till 12.30 and from 15.30 till 18.00. Admission: Free.
It is thought that the site of the church corresponds to the house of a matron called Sabina who mistakenly came to be identified with the Umbrian saint of the same name.
In 824 Pope Eugenio II had the Schola Cantorum (a school or choir for young people supposed to accompany religious services in the Catholic church) added.
In 1222 the church was given to San Dominico, in order to accommodate the Dominican order. The bell-tower and the courtyard stem from this period.
In 1587 Domenico Fontana completely restored the church interior.
The church was last restored in 1936, returning it to its original early Christian state as much as possible.
The facade is characterized by arches that are supported by four marble and four granite columns. The latter are decorated with fragments of old Roman ruins, especially tombstones.
Recent restoration work in the atrium preceding the faÃ§ade have uncovered a wall painting of the Virgin and Child, flanked by, on the one side Rome’s patron saints Pietro and Paolo, and on the other side the saints Santa Sabina and Santa Serafia.
The central entrance, framed by a marble jamb, has a beautiful wooden door, with scenes of the Old and the New testament cut in its wood.
The interior of the basilica has three naves divided by a total of 24 Corinthian columns.
Of the original 5th century decorations only a band of mosaic is left, with the names of Pietro di Illiria and the then Pope, Celestino I, in gold lettering on a blue background.
Santa Sabina all’Aventino used to be the only church with the privilege of having a baptismal font.
The almost perfectly preserved cypress portal dates from the 5th century and is decorated with one of the oldest depictions of the crucifixion of Jesus between the two thieves. The other images show scenes from the Old and New Testaments. The decorations between the different scenes were added later.
An 8th century fresco depicting the “Madonna with Child and Saints”.
Above the arches that connect the columns are “intarsia” (inlaid work) decorations, which represent the triumphs of the Christians on the Roman pagan idols. (Intarsia decorations are usually made of wood, but in this case marble is used).
The fresco “Christ, Saints and Apostles” was painted by Taddeo Zuccari and is located in the right nave.
The 14th century mosaic floor tomb in the central nave is from Munoz de Zamora.
The Lapis Diabuli (“Stone of the Devil”) can be seen on a small white column on the left side of the basilica. This almost round stone has claw-shaped notches. According to legend, in the year 1220, San Domenico was repeatedly harassed by a devil who tried to seduce him. One day this demon became so angry after another failed attempt that he threw a basalt rock at the saint. However, he missed his goal and the stone is now kept in the church.
The first orange tree in Italy is said to have been planted in the garden of the basilica by San Domenico himself. This took place in 1219, after Pope Honorius III had donated the Santa Sabina monastery to Domenico di Guzman and his order. The saint immediately made it the headquarters of the Domenican Order, a function that it still holds today. The tree can be seen through a hole on the left side of the porch.