Geeking out about a 4th c. church

Stairs leading to the excavation site of the original basilica of San Crisogono in Rome. OSHA would never let this happen; Thank God I’m in Italy!

I’m staying in Trastevere, which derives its name from trans-Tiber, across the river from central Rome. It’s a wonderful neighborhood, much favored by American tourists and expats. I had a conversation with an Italian gentleman last night, and he said he calls Trastevere “the American consulate,” because my fellow countrymen like it so well. (What’s not to love? Great food, quaint streets…old churches.)

I spent this morning walking through the rain to reach one of the oldest churches in the city, the Basilica of San Crisogono. The current basilica isn’t so old…it’s from the 12th century. When the constructed the “new” basilica, they filled in the old one, and it wasn’t unearthed until an archeological dig in the early 20th century.

The ancient basilica (blue) doesn’t align exactly with the new (12th c.) one.

We don’t know very much about Saint Chysogonos (Crisogono), other than that he was martyred (in 304 or 305 AD) during the Diocletian Persecution up in Aquileia. As previously noted, Aquileia has a rich Christian heritage and was a key city until Attila arrived with the Huns.

After tracking down the sacristan of the church, I paid my €3 and he showed me the door to some dusty steps and just pointed the way. And eerily closed the door after me. It was incredible! In fact it was so good that I shot two five-minute videos to include here, just because I want to share what it is like to be in a place where our Christian forbears worshipped so long ago. (The brochure from the church said it may have been the “first parish church in Rome.” Maybe.) I was so excited, in fact, that I shot one video horizontally and the other vertically, and I kept referring to frescoes as mosaics, and even misspoke and said that Pope Sylvester baptized Jesus. (We know it was John the Baptizer, but I caught myself…Sylvester baptized Constantine.)

Many early churches in Rome had their start as the homes of Christians in which worship was conducted, and once the Edict of Milan was promulgated, some of them had purpose-built churches that grew from the domus or house. This site is different, because the early basilica may have been intentionally created as a Christian place of worship. (Scholars debate this issue.)

At any rate, I hope you enjoy these videos. I am very excited to share them with you!

The first part…wait until you see what I found in a starcophagus!
An English art historian and guide was leading a tour and asked how I knew to come here, and I said from Matilda Webb’s “Early Churches of Rome.” She said, “Well don’t tell anyone.” Shhhhh…