Thursday, December 3, 2020

Basilica of Santa Maria Antiqua, Rome -- Roman-Byzantine Treasure and Principal Seat of the Archfather


The Most Holy Patriarchal Basilica of Santa Maria Antiqua dates to the 5th century A.D. and is the principle church and seat of His Holy Eminence the Archfather.  (The Archfather's other titular seat is at the Church of San Stefano al Ponte in Florence.) The Deaconry of Santa Maria Antiqua functions as the principle charitable office of the Patriarchal Household. The physical church itself is located in the Roman Forum at the foot of the Palatine Hill. It is the oldest Christian monument in the Forum and contains the earliest known Roman depiction of the Blessed Virgin as Queen. The Basilica was likely established around A.D. 600 by Pope St. Gregory I the Great (590-604), last imperial Roman Pope and second-great-grandson of Pope St. Felix III. 

In the early 8th century, the basilica was used by Pope John VII as the seat of the Bishop of Rome. In 847, however, the church building was partially destroyed by an earthquake. A new church, Santa Maria Nova, was built on part of the ruins of the temple of Venus and Roma. During the Norman Sack of Rome in 1084, Santa Maria Antiqua suffered further destruction. In 1617, the church of Santa Maria Liberatrice was built on its ruins. It was not until that church was demolished in 1900 that the ruins of Santa Maria Antiqua were again brought to light.

H.H.E. the Archfather earlier
as Cardinal Deacon during
an official visit to the 
Basilica of Santa Maria
Antiqua in Rome.

The church is a fine representation of Byzantine Roman architecture. Its walls are covered with one of the most important collections of pre-iconoclastic Roman and Byzantine frescoes in the world.

John VII was one of the Byzantine Popes and was ethnically Greek, being a native of Calabria in what was the Byzantine Empire at the time. His father served as Curator of the Palatine Hill for the Byzantine Emperor. Despite his Byzantine heritage and social position, his pontificate did not have good relations with Emperor Justinian II. He did, however, have good relations with the Lombards, who ruled Italy at the time.  

In addition to his relationship with the Basilica of Santa Maria Antiqua as the seat of the Bishop of Rome, he constructed an oratory dedicated to Mary the Theotokos in the Old St. Peter’s Basilica. It is also believed that an icon known as the Madonna della Clemenza, housed in the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, was commissioned by John VII. As a Patriarchal Basilica, it has the special right to use "Sacrosancta," or "Most Holy" before its title. 

List of Popes from John VII until
the destruction of the basilica in 847:

John VII



St Gregory II

St Gregory III

St Zachary


Stephen II

St Paul I

Stephen III

Adrian I

St Leo III (crowned Charlemagne Emperor)

Stephen IV

St Paschal I

Eugene II


Gregory IV

Sergius II