Mediaeval church in Roman Forum reopens

Rome's “mediaeval Sistine Chapel” reopens after 36-year restoration.

The sixth-century S. Maria Antiqua church in the Roman Forum, one of Rome’s earliest surviving Christian monuments, reopened to visitors on 24 March following a 36-year restoration.

Located on the north-western slopes of the Palatine hill, the basilica contains 250-sqm of frescoes from the sixth to the late eighth century which have led it to become known as the “mediaeval Sistine Chapel”.

The church, which was adapted from a first-century Roman building, was buried for a millennium following an earthquake in 847. Italian archaeologist Giacomo Boni rediscovered it in 1900 and it was subsequently restored but it has been closed to the general public since 1980.

Visitors can now see a rare collection of early Christian art thanks to an exhibition titled Santa Maria Antiqua. Tra Roma e Bisanzio, which runs until 11 September.

The medieval frescoes were restored as part of a €2.7 million scheme funded by Italy and the World Monuments Fund, while digital reconstructions reveal how the images of saints, emperors and popes were modified by various artists over the centuries.

madonna del conforto

A highlight of the exhibition is a depiction of the Madonna del Conforto, one of the world's oldest known Christian icons, which has been returned to S. Maria Antiqua after being held in safe-keeping at the nearby Basilica di S. Francesca Romana since the earthquake in 847.