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Typology: Basilica


Address: Piazza di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, 12
Zone: Rione Esquilino (Termini-Via Nazionale) (Roma centro)


Telephone: 06 70613053

Opening times

For the timetable of the masses and visiting conditions, please consult the contacts.


The basilica, also known as the Eleniana or Sessoriana, stands on the area formerly occupied by the Sessorium, a residential complex of imperial property, begun in the first half of the 3rd century, including not only the palace proper but also the Circus Varianus and the Castrense amphitheatre later incorporated into the Aurelian walls. The palace would later become the residence of Helena, Constantine's mother.

The latter, around the middle of the 4th century, had a basilica built in the atrium of the palace to house the relics of the Holy Cross, which Helen had brought to Rome after a journey to Palestine.

The primitive basilica, a rectangular hall with three transverse naves, was renovated by Pope Lucius II, who in 1144 divided it into three longitudinal naves, provided it with a portico (narthex), erected the brick bell tower that still exists today, and built the cloister in the monastery that had sprung up next to the church since the 10th century. Major work on the nave ceilings and wall decorations was promoted at the end of the 15th century by the Spanish Cardinal Carlvajal, who entrusted them to a circle of artists including the names of Melozzo da Forlì and Antoniazzo Romano. The basilica assumed the appearance with which we know it today in the 18th century, when Benedict XIV Lambertini (1740-1758) commissioned architects Domenico Gregorini and Pietro Passalacqua to build a new façade and restore the interior.

The travertine façade, one of the masterpieces of the Roman Baroque, shows clear Borrominian ancestry in the dynamic alternation of concave and convex surfaces. Divided into three sectors by a single row of pilasters, it is surmounted by a curved tympanum with a balustrade and statues of the Evangelists, Helena and Constantine. On the right is the Romanesque bell tower, made of brick with paired mullioned windows, from the time of Lucius II (12th century). The central portal leads to the elliptical atrium, with a small dome, granite columns and an annular corridor, also by Gregorini and Passalacqua.

The interior is divided into three naves by twelve colossal ancient granite columns, four of which were incorporated into pillars in the 18th-century renovation. The pilasters, stucco decorations and wooden ceiling, in the centre of which is a large painting by Corrado Gianquinto (1744), also date back to this period. The Cosmatesque floor was restored in 1933. In the presbytery, 18th-century ciborium supported by the columns of the previous one (1148); under the high altar, basalt urn with the remains of Saints Caesar and Anastasius. In the centre of the apse, decorated with frescoes by Gianquinto (1744) and, in the semi-dome, paintings attributed to Antoniazzo Romano, Tomb of Cardinal Francesco Quiñones by Jacopo Sansovino (1536) and, above, marble and gilded bronze tabernacle by Carlo Maderno.

A staircase to the right of the ciborium leads down to the Chapel of St Helena, dating from the Constantinian era, where a magnificent mosaic is preserved on the vault, a remake of an original from the time of Valentinian III, variously attributed to Melozzo da Forlì (c. 1484) or Baldassarre Peruzzi (c. 1510). The statue on the altar is a Roman original found in Ostia and transformed into St Helena with the addition of the cross and replacement of the head. From the presbytery one can access the Chapel of Relics (1930), where fragments of the Holy Cross and other relics are kept. In a compartment adjacent to the Chapel is a life-size copy of the Shroud - a gift to the Basilica from the Diocesan Commission of the Shroud of the Archdiocese of Turin in 2003 - and the Shroud Crucifix made by Msgr. Giulio Ricci, after whom the Diocesan Centre of Sindonology, which is based here, is named. Also resting at the foot of the chapel since 1999 are the mortal remains of the Servant of God Antonietta Meo, known as 'Nennolina' (1930-'37), a little girl who lived a few hundred metres from the Basilica in the 1930s and died at the age of six and a half from osteosarcoma.
In the adjoining convent, the hall of the Sessorian Library with a vault frescoed by Giovanni Paolo Pannini (1724-1727) is remarkable.

The door by Kounellis
The iron and glass door of the kitchen garden of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, by Jannis Kounellis, was inaugurated on 28 November 2007. The kitchen garden cannot be visited.


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Last checked: 2022-06-13 12:13