View Article: Santa Maria in Aracoeli
University of Washington Honors Program in Rome

Santa Maria in Aracoeli
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  Site Location

Santa Maria in Aracoeli is the city church of Rome; One may find it on the Northern side of the Capitol Hill.
The address is:
4 Piazza del Campidoglio

  Site History

In the 4th century, the Emperor Augustus feared being honored as a god by the senate. Immediately after consulting the Tiburtine Sibyl, he was visited by the Blessed Virgin. She told him that this (capitoline hill) was an altar to the lord; forever linking the site to the Virgin Mary. The earliest Church was buit in the 6th century by Byzantine Monks. It was built on an exisitng pagan temple for the goddess Juno. The Greek monks were replaced by Benedictine monks, who in turn were replaced by Franciscan monks in 1249. The present church is still controlled by Franciscans.
Executions took place at the foot of the steps during the middle ages.

  Elements of Interest

At one time frescoes by Pietro Cavallini decorated the interior but were replaced during a redecorating. One fresco that is attributed to him remains on the 4th column on the left when coming through the entrance.

The first chapel on the right house a series of frescoes by Pinturicchio. They are from the 15th century and deppict the life of Saint Bernadine of Siena.

Cardinals and other important figures are buried in the floor, while wealthy families own the private chapels.

The three aisles are lined with 22 columns which came out of various buildings in Rome. The third column on the left (when counting from the entrance) has the words IN CUBICULO AUGUSTORUM carved on it and it may or may not be from the emporer's bedrooms on Palatine Hill.

The windows facing Piazza del Campidoglio are Gothic, but they are the only Gothic elelment found on the church.

In the Cappella del Santo Bambino there is a wooden likeness of the baby Jesus. The original was made in the 15th century with olive wood from the garden of Gethsemane and stolen in 1994. The statue is attributed with many miracles. But maybe not so much anymore since its a copy...

  Analyze Image
Looking the stairs

Rome's topography appears so well suited to its position in the world. At one time an enormous empire was ruled from atop the hills, both secularly and religously. Santa Maria in Aracoeli is a perfect example of a church perched on a hill to better watch its flock. The wide staircase hints at the chuch's popularity, and preserves its prestige by keeping pieces of the modern world--like cars--far from its sanctified doors. A panoramic shot may indicate that Rome has in fact encroached on its own city church. It is most likely surrounded with its cars and tourists, which are only kept at bay through creative photography.

  Site Questions

This site is a mutt of hundreds of both art and structure from around Rome, are most of the churches like this?
Being dedicated to the Mary, Aracoeli sees a lot of action around Christmas, but how do people choose which church to go to the rest of year?