A church that is often missed when visitors head to Rome is the Basilica of Santa Sabina all’Aventino. Located, as the name states, on the Aventine, this unique church is well worth the visit and is a great place to see, especially in the early morning. Located next to the basilica is a luscious garden of orange blossoms, that, in the spring and summer, blossom and provided a much needed respite from the hectic environment of modern Rome. This garden, known as the Giardino d’Arance, provides some spectacular views of Rome and overlooks the Tiber and St Peters. It’s also one of my favorite gardens in Rome, and it’s a beautiful place to relax.
Sabina, the wife of a Roman official, was martyred because of her public conversion to Christianity, who was brought to the religion by her maid and slave, Seraphina, who was also canonized (originally, the church was named for both of them). According to legend, Seraphina, when forced to pay homage to the gods of Rome, had been given to two men to be used for sexual enjoyment. When the men’s advances were deflected by divine intervention, the slave girl was killed for being a witch. Sabina rescued her maid’s remains and attempted to inter them in her family’s mausoleum, however these acts of charity also revealed to the authorities Sabina’s conversion to Christianity, and she too was martyred.
One of the most fascinating features of this church are the wooden doors which features scenes from the Bible, with one of the earliest representations of Christ’s crucifixion. The depictions have been described as unusual and have been the subject of study because of their departure from established artistic precedents. It should be noted that these kind of artistic depictions helped to provide a visual reference for the Bible since the number of people who could have actually read the Bible was small.
The church is also the “station church” for Ash Wednesday.
To reach the church, I suggest taking the Metro to Circo Massimo and then walking the rest of the way. It’s an easy walk but somewhat hilly. The church is typically open in the mid-morning and then again after lunch, although it may be difficult to enter the church as it is often a popular site for weddings.
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