Santi Quattro Coronati
Herman van Swanevelt ‘View Santi Quattro Cordonati’
We head back up and leave the San Clemente through the courtyard and the sophisticated portal with four old classical Ionian columns. We take a right turn and cross the Via de Giovanni Laterano to arrive at the Via dei Querceti. You will immediately notice the high defensive walls of the church and the monastery of the Santi Quattro Coronati.
Santi Quattro Coronati facade Plaquette Facade detail Open work
And the map church and monastery of the Santi Quattro Coronati The right side holds the entrance to the monastery complex and the church. As previously mentioned, the church was named after four saints. Following the Renaissance, the monks no longer knew after what four saints the church was named after. In the 17th century, the decision was made to depict four soldiers and four sculptors in a fresco. These eight Christians, serving under Diocletianus, refused to worship the heathen God Aesculapius. This insult could not go unpunished. The Christians were beaten with whips that had scorpions attached to the ends. After the fatal bites, the bodies were placed in lead coffins and tossed into the sea. The church was built in the 4th century. After the 11th century destruction by the Nords, a more secure establishment comes as no surprise. The popes in the Middle Ages had good reason to use the Santi Quattro Coronati as a shelter when danger loomed.
Entrance to the courtyards and facade
Silvester chapel Other side of the chapel The floor
When we arrive at the courtyard, we first ask the nuns for a key to view the nice chapel devoted to the holy Silvester.
The fresco cycle dates back to the 13th century. The unknown painters of these fresco were by no means real masters. Still, the manner in which they conveyed the tale of the holy Sylvester and emperor Constantine deserves some merit because of its directness and simplicity. When we arrive in the barrel vault chapel, the story begins right above the entrance door.
Under the Enthroned Christ in the lunette, the story about Saint Silvester begins. It is based on the Legenda Aurea by Jacobus de Voragine (Wikipedia) and can be read here in English (just scroll down).
The beginning of the story
Christ between the apostles, Mary, John the Baptist and two angels
You will see the poor emperor Constantine, bed-ridden. He was punished with leprosy by the Lord for prosecuting Christians. Heathen advisors stand gathered around his deathbed. They urge him to not be gentle with the medicine. They recommend the emperor to slay three thousand children to bathe in their curing blood. Left of the centre you will see mothers begging the emperor to spare their children (entrance wall on the left).
The apostles Peter and Paul appear to Constantine in his dream
Before Constantine made his decision, he dreamt about the apostles, Peter and Paul, who advise the emperor to visit pope Sylvester for counsel. This pope knew of a source that could cure leprosy.(entrance wall in the middle).
Scene 3 A
Constantine’s envoys arrive at the mountain of Soratte
(entrance wall on the right)
.Right of the centre, you see three horsemen who search for Sylvester, who at the time lived as a hermit on the Monte Socrate. The story continues on the right wall
Envoys invite the hermit Sylvester (adjacent left wall).
Sylvester shows the portraits of Peter and Paul (left wall).
Here, on the Monte Socrate, Syilvester shows the emperor two portraits of Paul and Peter. Constantine was left flabbergasted, they were the same figures from his dream.
Sylvester baptizes Emperor Constantine (left wall)
The emperor of course began to listen to Sylvester, he was baptised and, of course, cured.
Constantine hands the papal tiara to Sylvester after his healing (left wall)
“[…] the Emperor Constantine was cured of leprosy by the virtue of the baptismal water administered by Sylvester.
The Emperor, abjectly grateful, not only confirmed the bishop of Rome as the primate above all other bishops, he resigned his imperial insignia and walked before Sylvester’s horse holding the Pope’s bridle as the papal groom. The Pope, in return, offered the crown of his own good will to Constantine, who abandoned Rome to the pope and took up residence in Constantinople. “The doctrine behind this charming story is a radical one,” Norman F. Cantor observes: “The pope is supreme over all rulers, even the Roman emperor, who owes his crown to the pope and therefore may be deposed by papal decree”. The legend gained wide circulation […]”
Source: Wikipedia Legacy
A great ending to this story, you might think, but no, the artists had some room to fill on the left wall. It depicts the holy Silvester when he disputes with a Jew. The Jew utters some words into the ear of a bull, and the poor animal falls to the ground, lifeless. Yahweh seems to have won the fight, but Sylvester then crouches down near the bull, whispers the name of the Lord in his ear and the bull is revived.
Saint Sylvester brings a bull to life and convinces the rabbi (right wall).
The adjacent fresco depicts the story of the holy Helena. Helena was Constantine’s mother. She found the cross of Christ on the mountain of Calvarie and moved it to Rome.You can still admire the relics of the cross in the chapel of the holy Helena in the S. Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome.
Empress Helena finds the cross of Christ (right wall).
View of the entrance of the church
As we leave the chapel of Silvester and return the key, we leave behind a small tip for the nuns of this monastery. We quickly visit the church itself, host to splendid cosmati work on the floors.
Santi Quattro Coronato church and apse Aisle
As we stand in the left side-aisle, we see a chord with a bell at one of the doors. The door is opened when we pull it. It reveals a special little monastery court from the 13th century that is still fully intact. It was built by the sculptors and masons to commemorate the four saints to whom this church is devoted. The well in the middle dates back to the 12th century.
Courtyard Santi Quattro Coronati Other side
Fountain Courtyard of the Santi Quattro Cornato