The Basilica di Santo Stefano Rotondo al Celio (in English: Basilica of St. Stephen in the Round on the Celian Hill) is one of the most unique basilicas in Rome because of its unusual architectural design and gruesome frescoes that line the walls of the basilica. A Jesuit basilica, the main role of the church was to prepare and educate new initiates into the possible difficulties they may face in missionary responsibilities, as well as to remind them of the sacrifices made by their predecessors. This is reinforced by the the 32 frescoes, which depict gruesome martyr scenes, were painted by Niccolò Circignani (also known as Pomerancio) and Matteo da Siena. The scenes are quite horrific and gruesome, each with an inscription in Latin and Italian identifying the saint being martyred as well as the way in which they met their demise (in case you weren’t able to tell from the image, you could read a description of the act). The scenes begin with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and then proceed to Saint Peter, Paul among others. The frescoes alone make visiting the church a worthwhile experience and definitely will make for an interesting visit.
The church had a unique circular design with a Greek cross superimposed (click here to see a graphic representation of the plan) that is cut into by four large chapels. The inner-most circle is an ambulatory which features the frescoes of Circignani (also known as Pomerancio). The outer-most circle is divided into eight sections, four of which are the large chapels which help to form the Greek cross of the church’s plan. The church was consolidated and underwent extensive changes between 1100-1400 where it lost much of its original character, but many traces of the original design still remain.
The Church also serves as the national church of Hungary. The Hungarians lost their own national church in 1778 when it was torn down to make way for improvements to St. Peter’s. Since then, Santo Stefano Rotondo has served as the national church of Hungary. As a compensation to the Hungarians for losing their national church, Pope Pius VI constructed a chapel in Santo Stefano.
Santo Stefano Rotondo can be reached quite easily and is located at Via di Santo Stefano Rotondo (00184). The basilica is located just south of the Colosseum. It’s an easy walk and can be reached by taking the Metro either to Colosseo or Circo Massimo. See the map below for a map of the location. Try out Google Maps to get walking directions from wherever you are in Rome.
Below are a list of sources that were consulted in writing this post:
- Grundmann, Stefan, and Ulrich Fürst. The Architecture of Rome: An Architectural History in 402 Individual Presentations. Stuttgart: Edition Axel Menges, 2007.
- Degl’Innocenti, Cristina. 1997. Il Pomarancio: Nicolò Circignani. Collana “I Toscani”, 5. Fucecchio, Fi: Edizioni dell’Erba.
- Ceschi, Carlo. S. Stefano Rotondo. Atti della Pontificia accademia romana di archeologia, vol. 15. Roma: “L’Erma” di Bretschneider, 1982.
- Hall, Marcia B. Rome. Artistic centers of the Italian Renaissance. Cambridge [U.K.]: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
- Ritz, Sandor. The Church the Supreme Creation of the Past Present and Future: The Everlasting Temple of Santo Stefano Rotondo in Roma, the New Jerusalem of the Book of Revelation. Rome: [s.n, 1982.]
- Benedetti, Luigi. Santo Stefano Rotondo. Roma: Alma Roma, 1962.
- Santo Stefano Rotondo in Roma: archeologia, storia dell’arte, restauro ; atti del convegno internazionale, Roma 10-13 ottobre 1996 = Archäologie, Bauforschung, Geschichte : Akten der Internationalen Tagung, Rom 10.-13. Oktober 1996. Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2000.
- Caiola, Antonio Federico, Luciana Cassanelli, and Bruno Contardi. Roma sacra: guida alle chiese della città eterna. Napoli: Elio de Rosa, 1995. [specifically #34 which profiles the basilica and features excellent photographs of the frescoes]
View Larger Map