The Santo Stefano Rotondo Church is located in the Celio district in Rome. Its main attraction is a rather gory cycle of frescoes by Pomarancio depicting torture scenes. Although in theory always open, it can be hard to visit the interior since it is an extremely popular church for weddings.
Santo Stefano Rotondo Church Rome
Address: Via di Santo Stefano Rotondo, 7 – Rome. Phone: +39 06 42119130. Opening hours: From the last Sunday of October till the Saturday before the las Sunday of March: Tuesday till Sunday from 10.00 till 13.00 and 14.00 till 17.00; from the last Sunday of March till the Saturday before the last Sunday of October: Tuesday till Sunday from 10.00 till 13.00 and from 15.30 till 18.00. Closed: Mondays; January 1st, January 7th till 21st, Easter Sunday, three weeks in August, starting from the week before Ferragosto (August 15th), December 25th. Admission: Free.
History and description
The Chiesa di Santo Stefano Rotondo al Celio was consecrated in the 2nd half of the 5th century by Pope Simplicius. It is dedicated to Saint Stefano, the first martyr of the Christian church, whose remains had been transported to Rome from the Holy land.
Construction of the church is thought to have been paid for by the extremely wealthy Valerius family, who owned a huge part of the ground on the Celio hill.
Santo Stefano Rotondo is characterized by a rather unusual round shape (hence the name rotondo), with 4 chapels along the side walls, which make its floor plan into a perfect cross. The design was based on that of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (or Church of the Resurrection) in Jerusalem.
The most interesting work of art in the church consists of a series of 34 frescoes painted by Niccolò Pomarancio and Antonio Tempesta and showing the inhuman ways in which the martyrs were made into martyrs. Inscriptions detail the nature of the torture and the name of the Emperors who had ordered it.
In one of the chapels a 7th century Byzantine mosaic can be seen, depicting two martyrs who were buried inside the church.
Donaugh O’Brien, an Irish King who died in Rome in 1064, is buried in Santo Stefano Rotondo.
During recent excavations a 2nd century mithraeum was discovered underneath the floor of the church. The building, dedicated to the worship of Mithra, originally an eastern deity of Persian origin, was probably connected with the nearby Castra Peregrina barracks. It consists of a rectangular space with benches on each side and a small shrine in the back. There are frescoes on its walls, most notably a personification of the moon. It is thought that both the space itself and the shrine were enlarged in the 3rd century. At the moment the mithraeum is closed to visitors.