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Within the extraordinary and striking reality offered to us by the meeting of the Palatine and Caelian Hills, no more than three hundred metres from the Colosseum on the one side and the Circus Maximum on the other, rises near the Basilica of Saint Gregory the Great the ancient Chapel of Saint Andrew with its two splendid Oratories of Saint Barbara and Saint Silvia on the Caelian Hill. As an ancient possession of the Patriarchal Basilica of Saint Mary Major, it represents a magnificent monumental complex that constitutes a historical entity, rich in elements which, beyond raising the spirit and the attention of history connoisseurs and art lovers, leaves the visitor in a condition of serene and peaceful contemplation, removing him from the frantic and frenetic life of the city.

In this panorama, which has been preserved until the present time thanks to the efficacious determination of famous figures of the past such as Cardinals Cesare Baronio and Scipione Borghese, just to name a few, unquestionably dominates the fascinating and paternal presence of Pope Gregory the Great. Everything here on the Caelian Hill belongs to a dimension, which, almost under a spell, diverges from the hectic and frenetic daily way of life in Rome. The visitor, who crosses the threshold of the entrance gate, unexpectedly finds himself surrounded and immersed in a reality that, due to the strikingness of the place and an almost unthinkable contact with nature in the centre of the city, induces one to unconsciously remove oneself from the events of the world.

The unitarian organization of the whole is the work of the great architect Flaminio Ponzio. Despite the difficulties encountered in order to render the pre-existent structures uniform, Ponzio was able to plan with masterly skill that complex, which with good reason, was defined by the 17th century chronicler Father Mini the “beautiful harmonic theatre” (Historia del Sacro Eremo). In this context, of masterminded intelligence is the harmonization of the elements composed by two lateral oratories connected to the central Chapel by a small characteristic portico supported by four columns made of “cipollino” marble, completely recovered from the Oratory of Saint Barbara. The Triclinium is the most ancient of the Oratories. Cardinal Baronio dedicated it to Saint Barbara. On the wall in the background stands the sculpture attributed to Nicolas Cordier, which depicts Pope Gregory the Great blessing. In the centre of the hall is visible the table of white marble upon which St Gregory and his mother Saint Silvia provided lunch every day for twelve poor people.

The Church of St Andrew the Apostle is the second site that composes the beautiful harmonic theatre. According to an ancient tradition, based also on findings and architectonic testimonies, this would be the first place of worship created by St Gregory in his father’s house. There still remain some frescoes (not visible) from the Medieval period located between the sloping of the roof and ceiling. The interior of the church is a simple rectangular room, lacking an apse, adorned by a lacunar ceiling made of wood at the centre of which stands out the heraldic coat-of-arms of the Borghese Family. The lateral walls are covered by two frescoes of Guido Reni and Domenichino, both representing some moments of the martyrdom of Saint Andrew the Apostle. The altar-piece is a work realized by Pomarancio, while the figures drawn on both sides of the entrance door were designed by Giovanni Lanfranco. Tradition tells us that one day there appeared here a thirteenth table-companion in the figure of an Angel. This event was re-proposed as a predominant theme by the painter Antonio Viviani (called the Deaf Man of Urbino) in the cycle of frescoes which are painted in the Oratory.

The last structure to be built, symmetrical to the building of Saint Barbara, is the Oratory of Saint Silvia. In its interior, positioned in a classical shaped niche, there stands a statue of Saint Silvia in prayer, sculpted by Cordier. The apsidal curve is frescoed, by the magnificent hand of Guido Reni, with a Choir and Concert of Angels underneath the appearance of God the Father. Just a little further behind the Church of Saint Andrew, with a side on the Clivus Scauri, one can admire the archeological ruins, which all the major scholars and experts in the field recognize as the apsidal Hall of the Library of Pope Agapitus I (535-536) designed with a basilical plan. Recent excavations have brought to light an area used as a burial place in exact correspondence with a groove that runs along the floor of the Hall. Exiting from the 17th century doorway of the Library, after having walked down a descent for about fifty metres along the Clivus Scauri, one enters the archeological area beneath the three Oratories.

This structure is perfectly preserved and allows one to visit two particular places of Imperial Rome constituted by “Taberne” dating back to between the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. with an entrance on the Trium Ararum, an ancient road which is no longer visible today and which lead onto the Clivus Scauri. Perhaps it may appear unusual, but the artistic complex of the three Oratories and the archeological areas attached to them, even though located on the grounds of the Monastery of Saint Gregory on the Caelian Hill, were given to the Chapter of the Patriarchal Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome by Pope Leo XII in 1828.


Rettoria di Sant'Andrea al Celio
Piazza San Gregorio n. 2
00184 ROME
Telephone +39 06-7049-4966


© 2006 Basilica Papale Santa Maria Maggiore.