Santa Maria in Aracoeli, Rome

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  • Roman Columns
    Roman Columns
    by MM212
  • Santa Maria in Aracoeli.
    Santa Maria in Aracoeli.
    by breughel
  • Regina Coeli high altar.
    Regina Coeli high altar.
    by breughel
  • breughel's Profile Photo

    The tombs and the "Santa Bambino".

    by breughel Updated Feb 15, 2014

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    Tomb of an
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    When entering one of these old churches I'm careful not to step on the tomb slabs especially on those showing below the usual D.O.M. (Deo Optimo Maximo) a skull and crossbones. That goes back to my childhood; somebody had told me that these tombs belonged to pirates! Why not, there is a similarity with the "Jolly Roger" flag!
    Later when I started learning Latin I could read that these tombs often belonged to Cardinals or other high dignitaries of the Church (don't see a relation between the two even if some cardinals were not saints).

    Here in Santa Maria in Aracoeli I found better with this medieval tomb slab of a knight with his sword (photo 1). I had liked to learn who he was but the inscriptions have been erased by those less respectful of tombs than I.

    The High Altar is dedicated to the Regina Coeli. Somewhat special is the fact that the organ from 1848, replaced in 1926, is installed behind this high altar (photo 2).
    On the left is an interesting octagonal chapel with St Helena's relics altar. She was the mother of Emperor Constantine, the first to convert to Christianity. She is traditionally credited with finding the relics of the True Cross, and is therefore invariably represented with a cross (photo 3).

    I found more interesting the fate of that wooden statue of the infant Jesus called Santo Bambino and famous with the Roman people because considered as miraculous. It was carved by a Franciscan monk in the 15th c. from olive wood from the Garden of Gethsemane. By itself it had not a great artistic value but it was covered with valuable ex-votos so that in 1994 it was stolen and never recovered (there is now a copy; photo 4).
    This theft by two men made a great uproar in Rome even in the prisons. Steeling the purse from a tourist is a peccadillo but steeling the Santo Bambino that was steeling God. The prisoners donated money for the copy.
    My search in the Italian press of 1994 about this theft made me find this:
    Here the translation of the article in La Repubblica http://ricerca.repubblica.it/repubblica/archivio/repubblica/1994/02/02/rubato-il-bambinello-dell-ara-coeli.html : "And here, incredibly, they would find the open armored cabinet where is stored the cradle. In the evening, in fact, for security reasons, the brothers "hide" the statue of baby Jesus. During the day it is exposed to the faithful. But according to a different version from one of the religious, at the time of the theft the statue was still exposed in the nativity scene all inside of the church because it had to be dismantled next day."

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    Stairway to Heaven

    by goodfish Updated Feb 5, 2014

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    Not the oldest, prettiest or most important but if you're going to haul yourself all the way up Capitoline Hill, it's worth a stop-by. The legend behind the location is also more interesting than the thing itself; involving Augustus, an oracle and the prediction of a king descending from the heavens. Gus was said to have had himself a vision, and built an altar (ara) in the sky (coeli) on the spot - which provided prime opportunity for a later church to capitalize on a good story. Perched atop a 124-step stairway, the basilica does appear to scrape the clouds. Ascend those steps on your knees and you can unload a bunch of sins but I don't recommend it; take the sissy way up Michelangelo's less-punishing Cordonata - to the right of the staircase - instead. Roman goddess Juno Moneta had a temple up here along with the Roman mint, spawning the theory that she lent her name to the English word for money, although the jury is out on that one too.

    It's a familiar theme among Roman chapels: 13th century church morphs from 6th century church built upon who-knows-what-century monastery whose foundation was pre-BC rubble from a domus, temple or bath. It probably looked a bit more impressive before it lost the mosaics and other bric-a-brac that used to cover the facade, and the giant pile of the Vittorio Emanuele took over a chunk of the hill's real estate.

    Santa Maria in Aracoeli's (pronounced ah-ra-CHAY-li) highights for the faithful include relics of St. Helena, a minor, glass-coffined 18th-century saint, and 'Santo Bambino': a figure of the Christ Child carved of wood from Gethsemane and thought to have miraculous powers - or did, anyway, until the original was lifted some years back. The current icon is a copy, abet of the same material. Art is limited to a few nice Pinturicchio frescoes, a Donatello tomb and a Bernini memorial to Pope Urban VIII; look for the stained glass window with Barberini bees. My favorite? A lot of funky medieval tomb slabs, badly worn but that's why I like 'em. Entrance is free - see this site for hours:

    http://060608.it/en/cultura-e-svago/luoghi-di-culto-di-interesse-storico-artistico/chiese-cattoliche/santa-maria-in-aracoeli.html

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  • breughel's Profile Photo

    Enter the basilica di Santa Maria in Aracoeli.

    by breughel Updated Sep 4, 2013

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    Santa Maria in Aracoeli - nave and ceiling.
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    On all our trips to Rome we had never been inside this church because the façade is not really inviting to a visit and the 124 steep stairs do not add to the attractiveness (euphemism) of the church.
    We were revisiting the Vittoriano to see the views from the lower terrace and it started raining so that we pushed the first door we met and were inside the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli!

    The first amazing view was the coffered wooden ceiling sustaining comparison with those of the great Basilicas of Rome like Santa Maria Maggiore and San Paolo fuori le Mura. The ceiling was a gift of Marcantonio Colonna who fought against the Turks at the victorious battle of Lepante in 1571.
    The second was the beautiful inlaid cosmatesque floor. The Cosmati were marble craftsmen in Rome (12 - 13th c.) who created such geometrical decorations based on glass mosaic in combination with marble.
    Third surprising view are the columns all different coming from Roman ruins. The church is indeed built as a nave and two aisles that are divided by these columns
    After this overview we thought that thanks to the rain we were visiting one of the very fine churches of Rome and made the tour.
    For the history of this church you will find more information at the other reviews from VT members hereafter.
    I ignored that in 1797, under the Roman Republic, the basilica was deconsecrated and turned into a stable!

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  • croisbeauty's Profile Photo

    Basilica di Santa Maria in Aracoeli

    by croisbeauty Updated Sep 12, 2011

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    Santa Maria in Aracoeli
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    Let me be honest and say it, I was just too tired and lazy to climb up by this stairs because from the bottom it looks miles away.
    Santa Maria in Aracoeli originally belonged to the Greek monks, passed then to the Benedictines in 883 and finaly to the Franciscans in 1250. The stairway to the church has 124 steps which was built around middle of 14th century. It brick facade is in Romanesque style, from the late 13th century and was never finished.
    The church is also known as Capitoline Basilica and is noted for its religuaries, tombs, frescoes and ancient relics.

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    Santa Maria in Aracoeli

    by mindcrime Written Mar 20, 2011

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    scala d���Aracoeli

    Santa Maria in Aracoeli (St. Mary of the Altar of Heaven ) was built in 12th century in Romanesque style at the same spot where the ancient temple of Zeus was since the 6th century BC. Unfortunately, it’s closed at noon so we couldn’t see some of its famous frescoes, sculptures, tombs or other items that made by Pinturicchio, Cavallini, Donatelly, Michelangelo (visiting a church in Rome is like visiting a small museum every time). There used to be a statue of baby Jesus that was stolen and now they have a replica there. The original one supposed to have miracle powers.

    So, we just took a picture of the stairway (scala d’Aracoeli) with the church at the top (pic 1 shows the simple bare brick façade of the church). The stairway was built in 1348 and there are 124 steps. According to the local legend if you climb up the stairway on your knees you will be forgiven for your sins although we liked the other local legend that claims that you will win the lotary!!! Of course, we didn’t even think to try going up this way :)

    It’s open daily 7.00-12.00 and 15.30-18.00

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    Santa Maria in Aracoeli

    by MM212 Updated Jul 6, 2009

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    Thought to have been built on the site of the Roman Temple of Juno Moneta, the Basilica di Santa Maria in Aracoeli occupies the summit of the Capitoline Hill (Campidoglio). Although the transition from a pagan temple to a church is rather unknown, the Basilica traces its roots to as early as 574 AD when a Byzantine abbey occupied the site. Likely the abbey was expanded and renovated over the centuries to become what we see today, particularly in the 13th century when the Franciscans occupied it and gave it Romanesque features. The interior contains a wide nave with an aisle on either side. The arches between the nave and the isles are supported by Roman columns taken from various ruins and no two are alike. The side chapels are beautifully decorated, especially Cappella Bufalini which boasts stunning 15th century frescoes by Pintoricchio depicting the life of Saint Bernardino. Other artists such as Michelangelo and Donatello have also contributed works to the church. Santa Maria in Aracoeli is also famous for containing the relics of Saint Helena, mother of Constantine.

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  • von.otter's Profile Photo

    Our Lady of the Altar of Heaven

    by von.otter Updated Nov 30, 2007

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    Steps to Santa Maria in Aracoeli, Roam, Dec. 2000
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    “The grandest loafing place of mankind”
    — Henry James (1843-1916) his assessment of the 137 steps leading to Santa Maria in Aracoeli

    Because it sits on the highest summit of the Capitoline Hill this basilica-styled church was first called Santa Maria in Capitolo. By the 14th century, the Church of the Italian Senate and the Roman people (Senatus Populusque Romanus), had been renamed Santa Maria in Aracoeli (Our Lady of the Altar of Heaven).

    A Byzantine abbey, dating from as early as AD 574, forms the foundation of the church. By the 9th century the church had been given to the Benedictines, then by order of the pope to the Franciscans, who operate it today. During the Middle Ages this church was the center of Rome’s religious and civil community. Condemned criminals met their end at the foot of the church’s steps during that period.

    Today's stark façade contrasts to the rich mosaics, and later frescoes, that originally decorated it. The relics of Saint Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, are housed here; and Pope Honorius IV is buried in the church.

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  • Sarita76's Profile Photo

    Santa Maria in Ara Coeli

    by Sarita76 Updated Oct 20, 2006

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    Santa Maria in Ara Coeli

    Start climbing those 124 steps...
    Santa Maria in Aracoeli was built on the site of the ancient Roman capital.
    It was once a temple for a pagan goddess and then transformed into a church dedicated to the Madonna.
    According to a legend, the Emperor Augustus consulted the Tiburtine Sibyl. While she was speaking, the Emperor had a vision: the Virgin was standing on an altar holding the baby Jesus in her arms. Augustsus heard a voice saying: "This is the altar of the Son of God." So the Emperor raised an altar on that place, the Ara Coeli, meaning altar of the heavens.

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  • Church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli

    by Ailis Written Jan 16, 2006

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    A 4th century legend in two versions claims that the Blessed Virgin appeared to the emperor Augustus at this site, on the northern side of the Capitol hill or alternatively that the birth of the Son of God was foretold to the emperor by an oracle here. The stairs leading up to the church are impressing - 124 wide steps steeply ascending the Capitol hill. One of the most interesting things you will find inside is a copy of the statue of Santo Bambino (the 15th century original was made from olive wood from the Garden of Gethsemane), that worked miracles down through the ages and has been known to bring about inexplicable cures. The church gets many letters addressed to the Holy Child, and these are placed before the statue unopened.

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  • no1birdlady's Profile Photo

    Climb the Arcoeli Staircase

    by no1birdlady Written Sep 6, 2005

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    Arcoeli Staircase

    Santa Maria in Aercoli is at the top of the Aracoeli Staricase. These 124 marble steps were completed in 1348 to prepare for the Holy Year when pilgrims came to Rome. Many pilgrims go up these stairs on their knees as a sign of pennance.

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  • Julius_Caesar's Profile Photo

    Santa Maria in Aracoeli

    by Julius_Caesar Written Feb 9, 2005

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    This church dates from the 6th century A.D., and it stands on the northern summit of the Capitoline, on the site of the ancient temple of Juno. The church of the Roman senators and people, Santa Maria in Aracoeli has been used to celebrate many triumphs over adversity. Its ceiling commemorates the Battle of Lepanto (1571), and was built under Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni, whose family crest, the dragon, can be seen towards the altar end. Look out for Pinturicchio’s magnificent frescoes in the first chapel on the right. Beautiful frescoes are also on the walls of the central nave, alternated with the windows.

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    Santa Maria in Aracoeli

    by Callavetta Written Apr 20, 2004

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    The interior of Santa Maria in Aracoeli

    Before descending into the Forum, take a peek at Stant Maria in Aracoeli. There is a hard way to get into the Church and a "less hard way". (Either way, you gotta climb some stairs!) From Via del Teatro di Marcello, you can climb the 124 steep stairs to the front door of the stairs. Alternately, walk up the Cordonata, leading to the Capitoline, and catch your breath while you walk across the Campidoglio to the back of Palazzo Nuovo. There you will find a second set of stairs that take you to a side door of the church.

    Considering the very stark facade of this 700 year old church, the interior is very very ornate. The 22 stone colonades are said to have been taken from various ancient buildings.

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  • american_tourister's Profile Photo

    Aracoeli Steps

    by american_tourister Written Jul 17, 2003

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    Hold on, gotta catch my breath.

    A long, long climb up steps placed in a severe angle. Tne payoff is that you get to enter a fabulous church located in a remarkable setting. It is worth the climb just to look at the faces of other out of shape tourists as they clinb up while you go down.

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    Santa Maria in Aracoeli

    by Frisbeeace Written Jun 16, 2003
    Sta. Maria in Aracoeli

    This nice church deserves a short visit while touring the Campidoglio area. According to the legend, the Emperor Augustus, had a vision of the Virgin standing on an altar and holding the baby Jesus in her arms. Then he raised an altar on the site, the Ara Coeli, or altar of the heavens.

    Around 1280 Franciscans priests were installed here and built this church in the place where Greek monks had built its own in the 6th century on the site of a temple of the pagan goddess Juno.

    Aracoeli's greatest treasure is a wooden statue of the child Jesus said to have been carved from an olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemene. One of the columns in the central nave has the inscription "a cubiculo Augustorum" (from the bedchamber of Augustus) and seems to have come from the Emperor's private palace.

    Every Christmas Eve the Aracoeli 's 124-step ramp is lit up by candles and thronged by the Roman people in what is Rome's best-loved Christmas ritual.

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  • paradisedreamer's Profile Photo

    Santa Maria in Ara

    by paradisedreamer Written May 23, 2003

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    Santa Maria in Aracoeli, built on the site of the ancient Roman capital, precisely where the ruins of a temple to Juno Moneta are. The temple was transformed into a church dedicated to the Madonna for a pagan goddess.
    According to legend, the Emperor Augustus had a vision of the Virgin standing on an altar in a dazzling light and holding the baby Jesus in her arms. He heard a voice which said: ‘This is the altar of the Son of God’. The Emperor had an altar built on the site, the Ara Coeli (altar of the heavens). Be prepared there are a lot of stairs to the church!
    .

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