Christian Rome

Popes, Churches, and the Demolition
of the Ancient City

“Christian Rome” is a useful label for getting started, but it is inadequate to identify adequately a city that endured for some 1,500 years. The list just below introduces some of the main changes that Rome underwent during this extensive period. I divide it as follows:

Map of Vatican Necropolis

Almost 2,000 years old, a burial place was excavated under St. Peter’s Basilica as World War II raged in Europe. Many believe it to have included the grave of St. Peter, and it includes some of the finest examples of early Christian art. (Above is a map of this “Vatican Necropolis,” thanks to Mogadir / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0).

The Arch of Constantine

The Arch of Constantine honors the victor of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, who would soon thereafter promote Christianity and name a new capital of the Roman Empire after himself. How much the triumph of Christianity owes to political decisions is a fascinating question. (Photo by Blake Buchannan.)

New Art for the New God

Pantheon with view from under the Oculus

The Pantheon is a stunning ancient building, but it has been a Christian church since the early seventh century. As such, it required new art, we can seen in this Christian altar set within an apse and decorated with mosaics. (Photo Blake Buchannan.)

Now a major tourist attraction, the Castel Sant’Angelo is the Rome’s best example of an ancient site converted to military use after the Fall of Rome. It was used for well over a thousand years by troops trying sometimes to defend Rome and other times to oppress it (even if oppressors always say and sometimes think they are on hand to help). (Photo by Blake Buchannan.)

The Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo’s stunning representation of the creation of Adam represents well the emerging emphasis on nature in the Renaissance, and neither halos nor clothes are strictly natural, but beauty is. (Photo by Charlie Wheeler)

The Return of the Martyrs

Painting of St. Sebastian by Guido Reni

Counter-reformation artists may have had their own reasons for painting martyrs, and Guido Reni seemed especially drawn to representing St. Sebastian. Young, beautiful, and pierced by an arrow, another St. Sebastian by Reni is in the Capitoline Museums. (Photo in public domain. Wikimedia.)