Skip to comments.Lenten Station Churches: 3rd Sunday of Lent - San Lorenzo fuori le Mura
Posted on 03/27/2011 1:34:47 PM PDT by NYer
Located on the east side of Rome beyond Termini Station, San Lorenzo fuori le Mura (St. Lawrence outside the Walls) is an ancient basilica with a wealth of early Christian artifacts. Built over the grave of St. Lawrence (d.258), San Lorenzo is one of the five patriarchal basilicas and one of the seven pilgrimage churches of Rome.
Saint Lawrence was a deacon in the Roman church, responsible for the treasury. According to tradition, when Roman officials demanded Lawrence hand over the wealth of the church, he instead brought the poor and sick, declaring that they were the Church's true treasure. He was executed by being roasted to death on a gridiron, in 258 AD.
In Roman times, this area outside the city walls hosted the country estates of noble families. The estate of the emperor Lucius Verus (161-69) was located nearby, and is now covered with the municipal cemetery of Campo Verano. Another estate belonged to a noble Christian woman named Cyriaca, whose estate was confiscated by the city during persecution.
The Liber Pontificalis, an early church document, records that St. Lawrence was buried on "Via Tiburtina in Crypta in agro Verano III id. Aug" and, in a later entry, "in cymiterio Cyriaces." Thus his grave was associated with the two estates mentioned above, belonging to Lucius Verus and Cyriaca.
When Constantine the Great became emperor, he inherited the imperial estate as well as the estate taken from Cyriaca. After he converted to Christianity in 312 AD, he gave the land to the Church, and between 314 and 335, he commissioned a large funerary hall next to the hill containing the catacombs, with stairs leading down into Lawrence's grave. He built a shrine with a small apse at the grave itself, and donated silver furnishings including lamps and candelabra for its decoration.
The Constantinian funerary hall was a large U-shaped building built next to the small hill that contained the catacomb. It primarily served as a covered cemetery for the many Christians who wished to be buried next to the martyr, but also hosted funerary banquets and services in honor of the saint. When the funerary hall was excavated in 1957, three layers of tombs were discovered below the floor and numerous mausolea and chapels were found attached to its sides. Several surviving epitaphs attest to the desire to be buried next to the holy martyr.
The Basilica of St. Lawrence continued to be exceptionally popular in the following centuries, not only as a burial site but as a place of worship and pilgrimage. It attracted the attention and funding of virtually every successive pope, transforming the shrine into a large religious complex outside the walls of Rome.
Pope Sixtus III (432-440) built a church which was later remodeled into the present nave, redecorated the shrine in the catacomb and was buried there. In addition:
By the 6th century, therefore, San Lorenzo was the center of a busy suburb that hosted pilgrims, priests, artisans, traders and beggars. The catacomb around Lawrence's grave received so much traffic that it was becoming worn down and in danger of collapsing. And in addition to local devotees, increasing numbers of pilgrims were flooding into Rome from far away, all demanding direct access to the city's great martyrs.
In response, Pope Pelagius II (579-90) built an entirely new church. Whereas Constantine's hall was built next to the hill that contained the catacomb shrine, Pelagius II cut a rectangular area out of the hill and removed some catacombs entirely to isolate the martyr's grave.
The new Byzantine church was then built directly on top of the grave, nestled inside the hill. The hill covered most of the walls on the north, east and west sides of the church, so the main entrance was through an arch on the south side.
The basilica had a central nave, side aisles with galleries above, a small apse at the west end, and a narthex at the east end. The grave of St. Lawrence, still unmoved from its original position in the catacomb, rose up at the front of the nave. The two galleries were accessible from an entrance at the top of the hill. The galleries allowed hundreds of pilgrims to look directly down onto the tomb of St. Lawrence. Both the galleries and narthex are features adopted from the Byzantine east.
Pope Pelagius II brought the relics of St. Stephen from Constantinople to enshrine in the new basilica with Lawrence, as well as various other relics. A pilgrim guide surviving from the 7th century describes the attractions for the faithful:
Near the Via Tiburtina is the greater church of St. Lawrence [built by Constantine]... and there is also the new basilica of admirable beauty where he now rests; there too, under the same altar, lies Abundus and outside in the porticus is the stone once tied to his neck when he was thrown into the well.
This Byzantine basilica still stands today, as the chancel of the present church.
In the 8th century, Constantine's funerary hall was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the complex suffered damage during a series of Lombard raids. Major repairs were carried out by Pope Hadrian I (772-95) in an effort to re-attract pilgrims to the shrine. Pope Leo III (795-816) donated many gifts to San Lorenzo and its churches.
Around 1200, the religious complex was enclosed inside crennelated walls and towers, forming a suburb known as Laurentiopolis. The walls stood until the 16th century. Pilgrims continued to visit the tomb of St. Lawrence and the lesser saints enshrined in the churches, following an established medieval pilgrim route from the city center that led from the Forum past Santa Maria Maggiore, through the city walls, and along Via Tiburtina. The present cloisters were built in the 12th century.
The Basilica of St. Lawrence owes its present appearance to a major renovation carried out under Pope Honorius III (1216-27). He retained the Byzantine basilica, but destroyed the apse and joined it with the 5th-century church of Pope Sixtus to create a new nave, aisles, and narthex extending to the west.
The original church thus became the chancel of the new basilica, leaving the grave of St. Lawrence undisturbed. The floor level of the 6th-century basilica was raised to form a platform for the chancel that was higher than the nave; a crypt was constructed around the martyr's tomb.
San Lorenzo fuori le Mura has been periodically restored and redecorated since the 13th century. The most significant restoration project was commissioned by Pope Pius IX (1855-64) and directed by Virginio Vespignani. Various Baroque decorations were removed, the Byzantine basilica was excavated down to its original floor level, and the remainder of the hill was cut away from the sides. Most of the catacombs were destroyed in this period, due to expansion of the Campo Verano cemetery.
The west (13th-century) end of the basilica suffered significant damage from a bombing raid on July 16, 1943, but was faithfully restored in less than a decade. Archaeological excavations were also carried out in this period, as well as further work to restore the 6th-century section to its original appearance.
Visitors approach San Lorenzo fuori le Mura from the west, where an open plaza flanks a busy road. The west facade is a 20th-century reconstruction of the 13th-century, bomb-damaged original. A large municipal cemetery (Cimitero Monumentale del Verano or Campo Verano) extends alongside and behind the basilica, continuing the ancient tradition of burial near St. Lawrence.
It is possible to walk along the right (south) side of the church to view the two distinct parts of San Lorenzo: the 13th-century nave at the west end and the 6th-century basilica on the east end, which now supports the chancel. A Romanesque campanile (12th century) rises on the south side where the two parts join together. On the north side of the church is a hill containing five levels of catacombs, which was cut back about 10 meters from the church in the 19th century.
Entrance is through the west narthex, which was built c.1220 and rebuilt after bomb damage. It is decorated with colorful frescoes of St. Lawrence and St. Stephen, which have been extensively restored. The narthex also displays some Early Christian sarcophagi.
Inside, the nave reflects the simple Byzantine style of the 5th-century church it encompasses, with solid brick walls supported on monolithic marble columns, Ionic capitals, and a fine Cosmati pavement. Round-headed windows in the side aisles, west facade and clerestory provide dim lighting.
Near the entrance is the 6th-century sarcophagus of Cardinal Guglielmo Fieschi, richly decorated with sculptures of classical themes.
Near the front of the nave is a 13th-century marble ambo, inlaid with porphyry and green marble disks, and a twisted Paschal candlestick, both decorated with Cosmati mosaic. The capital behind the ambo is carved with a tiny frog and a tiny lizard, which some think reflect the names of classical sculptors.
The tomb of St. Lawrence is beneath the altar in an accessible crypt under the chancel. Relics of St. Stephen and St. Justin Martyr are also enshrined here. An altar has been built on the west side of the tomb, which is surrounded by a grate.
Near the tomb, below the steps leading up to the chancel, is a room housing some 6th-century ruins that were excavated in 1947-49. These include part of the apse and the Shrine of the Unknown Martyr, which early pilgrims visited after the tomb of St. Lawrence. In the 9th century it was expanded into an underground chapel with an apse. The shrine is decorated with frescoes that probably date from the time of Pope John VII (705-07), depicting Maria Regina surrounded by saints holding up crowns. More frescoes were added in the 9th century, depicting the Virgin and Child Enthroned accompanied by angels, St. Lawrence, St. Andrew, St. John the Evangelist, and St. Catherine.
The side aisles of the basilica have been uncovered down to original floor level (2.15m lower than the nave) and can be entered via stairs at the front of the nave aisles. The 6th-century aisles provide access to the inner narthex of the same date, which now houses the Chapel of Pope Pius IX and is decorated with 19th-century mosaics. The pope's preserved body is on display against the east wall. On the opposite wall, against the structure housing the tomb of St. Lawrence, is the "Stone of St. Lawrence," a marble slab with a large stain. According to tradition, Lawrence's body was laid on this stone after his execution, staining it with blood.
The triumphal arch at the front of the nave marks the connection with the 6th-century basilica. The springing of the apse that was destroyed can be seen adjoining the piers and in the spandrels of the arch are two original windows.
The east side of the arch still has its original Byzantine mosaic, although it was heavily restored in the 16th and 17th centuries. It depicts Christ seated on a blue globe, flanked on one side by Pope Pelagius II holding a model of the church and St. Lawrence holding a book with the words DISPERSIT DEDIT PAVPERIBVS ("He scattered and gave to the poor"). The other side depicts St. Paul, St. Hippolytus holding a martyr's crown, and St. Stephen holding a book with the words he spoke at his martyrdom: A DE[SC AD DEUM?] SIT ANIMA MEA ("In the Hand of God be my spirit.")
Along the rim of the arch is the 6th-century dedicatory inscription:
MARTYRIVM FLAMMIS OLIM LEVVITA SVBISTI IVRE TVIS TEMPLIS LVX BENERANDA REDIT
You once submitted, Deacon, to martyrdom by flames; the sublime light duly returns to your sanctuary.
A much longer inscription of the same date, which was probably originally in the apse, was placed over the triumphal arch in the 19th century. It explains the reasons for building the basilica and makes reference to a recent Lombard raid:
DEMOVIT DOMINVS TENEBRAS VT LVCE CREATA
HIS QVONDAM LATEBRIS SIC MODO FVLGOR INEST
ANGVSTOS ADITVS VENERABILE CORPUS HABEBAT
HVC VBI NVNC POVLVM LARGIOR AVLA CAPIT
ERVTA PLANITIES PATVIT SVB MONTE RECISO
ESTQVE REMOTA GRAVI MOLE RVINA MINAX
PRAESVLE PELAGIO MARTYR LAVRENTIVS OLIM
TEMPLA SIBI STATVIT PRETIOSA DARI
MIRA FIDES GLADIOS HOSTILES INTER ET IRAS
PONTIFICEM MERITAS HAEC CELEBRASSE SVIS
TV MODO SANCTORVM CVI CRESCERE CONSTAT HONORES
FAC SVB PACE COLI TECTA DICATA TIBI
As the Lord removed the darkness and created light,
so here there is splendor now in what was once a dim crypt.
Where now a more extensive hall encloses the people,
the worshipped body was before approached from narrow galleries.
A plain was excavated and exposed beneath the mountain's hallowed core,
and the ruin menacing with its bulk has been removed.
Under Pelagius' prelateship it was once decided that this sanctuary,
so precious, should be set up to him the martyr Lawrence.
A wonderful faith that the Pope by his merits would complete
the church despite the weapons and the passions of his enemies.
Now, Lawrence, make the building that is dedicated to your name
subject to the peace of heaven, since it is decreed that you
will share in the communion of the saints.
The twenty-four pavonazzetto columns around the chancel are part of the original aisles and galleries of the Byzantine basilica. The lower columns support an entablature decorated with Roman spoils, including friezes and door jambs from the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The capitals nearest to the triumphal arch are also decorated with victories and spoils.
The columns at the east end of the chancel are made of green granite and rest on 5th-century pedestals decorated with crosses, rosettes and birds. The brick side walls are original from the Byzantine nave, including the windows with small circular openings.
The chancel itself contains a 13th-century episcopal throne and marble screen decorated with mosaic, as well as the 12th-century high altar.
The two-story brick cloister on the south side of the church was built in the 12th century. Entrance is via a door in the south nave aisle, which leads through the sacristy (where postcards are for sale) to another door labeled "choistro."
The cloister contains a fascinating display of ancient inscriptions and other artifacts excavated at San Lorenzo. There is also a thoroughly modern artifact - part of a bomb that hit the basilica in 1943. There is a tempting door to the Catacomb of Cyriaca in the north gallery, but it is rarely opened to visitors.
The Catacomb of Cyriaca was once very extensive, but little survives today. Each of the three areas that remain has its own entrance. One of these is in the north aisle of the 6th-century basilica at the original floor level (under the chancel) and another is in the cloister.
The catacomb is rarely open to visitors, unfortunately, but for the lucky few to enter it provides a glimpse into how the basilica was originally built into the catacomb hill. The main area of the catacomb contains an arcosolium of Zosimianus, decorated with frescoes of Christ between two saints, Jonah, Moses, the Good Shepherd, and the Judgment of the Dead.
St. Lawrence outside the Walls can be considered the last of the shrines related to events in the life of the saint: while his condemnation traditionally took place at St. Lawrence in Miranda in the Forum, his imprisonment at St. Lawrence at the Fount, and his martyrdom at St. Lawrence in Panisperna, it was here that his charred remains were brought by the grieving Christian community for internment. At the time of his burial the surrounding landscape was far different. Catacombs had been dug into the hill which once stood on this site, and at the time of St. Lawrences death, their owner, the Christian matron St. Cyriaca, brought his remains here for burial. Just over fifty years later the Edict of Milan was issued, and the continuing popularity of the saint led to a basilica being built here in his honor, either by Constantine late in his reign, or possibly by one of his sons. This stood to the right of the current basilica and faced the opposite direction, being somewhat larger as well, and was connected to the tomb of the saint in the catacombs by two long ramps which projected from its side. At first this basilica, like that of St. Peter, was more a covered cemetery than a structure built for liturgical worship, though it soon became primarily used for such. The constant stream of pilgrims to the site led to the erection of another basilica over the tomb itself, with most of the construction taking place under Pope Pelagius II (r. 579-590). Although smaller than the other basilica, this provided a more fitting setting for the shrine around the saints tomb, which was further enlarged in the early ninth century. Pope Pelagius also brought here the relics of St. Stephen, the first martyr, and put them in the tomb where the relics of St. Lawrence were already kept. There is a legend that when the body of the protomartyr was brought here, the body of St. Lawrence moved to the side to make room for him in the tomb. Gradually the newer basilica became the primary one on the site, the older one being rededicated to the Blessed Virgin soon hereafter. Shortly after this it disappears from record, falling prey either to fire or to neglect.
The early medieval period saw a renewal of the complex. Around 1200 a wall was constructed around the basilica and its connected buildings, the resulting small city being called Laurentiopolis. The apse of the basilica itself was removed and a large addition was built by Pope Honorius III (r. 1216-1227), which in effect re-oriented the church so that the previous façade was now the back wall. The decoration of the church according to the style of the time followed, of which significant portions remain. Decoration was complete by 1254 with the addition of the screen at the back of the sanctuary, which possibly had previously been part of the chancel screen or schola. During this period the basilica had an important ceremonial function as well. The misdirected Fourth Crusade had taken Constantinople in 1204 and set up a Latin Empire there. While the pope was furious, in time the new emperors petitioned the pope for coronation. The site of this ceremony was set to take place here. With the Holy Roman Emperors traditionally crowned at St. Peters across town, the Cathedral of the Lateran would be in the center, symbolizing the pope as the center and highest authority of Christendom. While one coronation took place here in 1217, the Eastern Empire collapsed soon thereafter.
Various repairs were carried out throughout the Renaissance period, and this church like many was redecorated in this time. A first renovation took place from 1492 to 1503, followed by additional ones in 1619 and 1624. Finally, a decade-long restoration beginning in 1855 restored the basilica to the appearance it would have had in the thirteenth century. The last remains of the original hill were cleared away at this time, and soon after that the Campo Verano Cemetery was laid out behind the basilica. Several of these restorations took place under Pope Bl. Pius IX, later buried here at his death in 1878. World War II would leave its mark on the basilica, when it became the only major Roman church to be damaged. A bomb intended for the nearby rail yard missed and struck the front of the basilica, largely destroying it. Soon after this, Pope Pius XII visited the area to comfort the local populace. In remembrance of this, a statue of the pontiff stands in the square before the church. Rebuilding after the war returned the church to its previous state by 1950, and since then it has continued to stand as a visible reminder of the sacrifice of St. Lawrence.
Martyrdom of St. Lawrence
Dr. Timothy O’Donnell, President of Christendom College, is hosting the daily program on EWTN. It originally aired in 1999 and runs only 10 minutes but he packs so much information into that short segment. I just had to share these with the list. Glad you enjoyed it.
These are excellent. Thank you.
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