picture: Roma ieri, Roma oggi di Alvaro de Alvariis
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.
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.
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.
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. 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. 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. Here, Syilvester shows the emperor two portraits of Paul and Peter. Constantine was left flabbergasted, they were the same figures from his dream. The emperor of course began to listen to Sylvester, he was baptised and, of course, cured. 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. 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, these being: thorns of the crown, nails of the cross , three wood fragments and the phalanx bone of the holy Thomas, the critical apostle. A fragment of the inscription I.N.R.T, three fragments of the column to which Christ was tied when he was being flogged, and finally, a piece of Jesus’ crib as a new-born. In addition, this church has an impressive relic belonging to the holy Gregory. As we leave the chapel of Silvester and return the key, we leave behind a small tip for the nuns of this monastery. They can really use the money for their school for the mute. We quickly visit the church itself, host to splendid cosmati work on the floors.
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.