Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere Interesting Facts

According to legend, the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere raises on the site where in 38 B.C. a gush of oil sprung from the ground, the sacre “fons olei”. Many among the early Christians saw in the event the annunciation of the birth of Jesus. This exact spot is highlighted on the stair leading to the presbyterium. Watch that step! At the end of the right nave there’s a small niche with some instruments of torture, such as chains and stones, used against many martyrs. According to legend, one of these stones was used for the martyrdom of St. Callixtus, who was drowned in the well that is still preserved in the nearby Church of St. Callixtus. The 22 granite columns enclosing the 3 naves of the Basilica were probably built using materials from the Terme di Caracalla or Baths of Caracalla.

Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere
Credits: image by @Roma_Wonder
Opening Hours: Monday-Sunday: 7.30 - 9.00 pm
Mass Schedule: Monday-Friday: 9.00 am, 5.30 pm and 8.30 pm / Saturday: 9.00 am, 5.30 and 8.00 pm; Sunday: 8.30 am, 10.00 am, 11.30 am, 5.30 pm and 6.45 pm;
Location: Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere in Trastevere Area
Tickets: Not Needed
Accessibility: Accessible

The First Church ever built in Rome

Even more interesting, the Church of St Mary in Trastevere probably marked the building of the first Christian worship place ever in Rome. According to some sources, a first sanctuary was built by Pope Callixtus I, and later completed by Pope Julius I in 340s. The Church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and was restored in both the 4th and the 8th centuries.
Eventually, in 1140 under the Papacy of Innocent II the church was completely rebuilt in a Romanesque style, although its original plan was preserved.

The Facade of Church in Santa Maria in Trastevere

Looking at the facade, the first things to capture one’s attention are the Romanesque bell tower from the 12th century (called “campanile” in Italian) with the clock, which is still working today, and a mosaic dating back to the 12th-13th century depicting Virgin Mary with 10 other women. The eight women holding burning lamps probably symbolize virginity, while the other two are probably widows. On the top of the bell tower there’s another mosaic of the Madonna with Child inside a niche

Inside the Church, “Stories of the Holy Virgin”

Inside, the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere features impressive mosaics by Pietro Cavallini. Actually, very little is still known about this Roman painter and mosaic artist who lived between 1240 and 1330. Certainly he had a long life!
The apse of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere houses Cavallini’s wonderful, colorful mosaic “Stories of the Holy Virgin”, featuring details of the Annunciation, the Birth of Jesus, the presentation of Jesus at the Temple, and the saints Peter and Paul.

Stories of the Holy Virgin, Mosaic by Cavallini
Credits: image by @Roma_Wonder

The Avila Chapel

The fifth chapel to the left is the Avila Chapel designed by Antonio Gherardini, featuring a painting of San Girolamo. Observing the painting from the back of the nave it looks huge. Start walking till you reach the chapel. You’ll discover that the painting is actually really small. Your first impression is just the result of a false perspective!

Moses Painting, Avila Chapel Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere
Credits: image by @Roma_Wonder

The Avila Chapel is a real masterpiece of art and is also the most interesting Chapel in the Church.
At the top of the tympanum there’s an Eagle holding two palm branches, emblem of the Avila’s family. However, the most incredible invention is undoubtedly the small dome at the centre of the vault, supported by four angels. The vault itself was used by Gherardini as an expedient to obtain a wonderful light effect due to the contrast between the shadow of the chapel and the natural light coming from outside, thus it looks like the angels are holding burning lamps.

Vault with the Angels Avila Chapel Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere
Credits: image by @Roma_Wonder