Thursday, August 9, 2012
And, as an added bonus......
To practise Italian, and meet people here in Rome, I've joined an online organization called Conversation Exchange, which matches people by language skills.
For the most part, it's worked out well. I've connected with several native Italians who want to speak better English while helping me with Italian.
An added bonus has come with my new friend Laura, a native Roman who wants to be an English-language tour guide to supplement her teaching income.
So, our weekly get-togethers generally involve a private tour for me, in English, of some fascinating site, followed by a long coffee in Italian.
Last week, we explored Rome's fascinating Santi Quattro Coronati, a basilica that dates from as early as the 4th century and is devoted to four martyrs who became saints.
Although the church is a stone's-throw from the Colosseum, I hadn't yet gotten around to visiting it.
It's really gorgeous - lovely cloister, beautiful frescoes (especially if you ring the bell to get inside the St. Sylvester chapel) and an interesting history.
The church was built like a fortress - which was one of its original jobs, to protect the pope of the day who was living nearby in the Lateran Palace.
One of the first churches of Rome, construction was completed the end of the 6th century, then expanded under Pope Leo IV (847-855) in Carolingian style.
However, in the Norman Sack of Rome in 1084, a sizable chunk of the basilica was destroyed and a subsequent pope rebuilt only what was left. (Laura, an excellent tour guide, pointed out bits of evidence of this. For example, there are now two courtyards - the original plus the “new” courtyard established after the sack, over what had been a long stretch of the nave of the church. So now, the church looks strangely square.)
Anyway, in 1247, the chapel of St Sylvester, on the ground floor of the fortress, was consecrated; and decorated with frescoes telling the false tale of how Constantine gave the Catholic church sovereignty over the Roman Empire.
Inside the basilica are frescoes explaining the story of the four martyrs to whom the church was dedicated, and whose remains supposedly rest here.
The Four Crowned Martyrs - Santi Quattro Coronati - were reportedly four soldiers who became Christians at the time of Emperor Diocletian (284-305). The emperor ordered their execution when they refused to worship a god he chose.
By the way, a nun we met in the cloister said that later this year, the church is going to open the doors on a Gothic hall that is apparently filled with frescoes that are only now being made public.
The 13th century frescoes had been so well hidden that it actually served to preserve them in apparently fantastic condition.
Can't wait to see that!