Rome, S Sabina, mosaic on west wall

Era 5AD
Location Piazza Pietro D'Illiria, 1, 00153 Roma RM, Italy
Placement On the west wall

The large (53 metres long) basilical church of S Sabina on the Aventine, an aristocratic area of Rome was founded not by an emperor but, according to the mosaic dedicatory inscription, by the presbyter Peter from Illyricum, in the reign of Celestine I (422-32). Peter must have been a man of considerable wealth and standing and in his church, built presumably for the local community, he seems to have spared no expense. A great deal of marble was used inside, including twenty-four matched columns, capitals and bases of white Proconnesian marble that, new or re-used, would not have come cheap. There seems to have been mosaics on all four walls, including in the apse. The painting now there may reproduce the original mosaic scheme, but we don't know.

Only the dominant dedicatory inscription (gold mosaic letters on a blue background) on the west wall survives . Such inscriptions would have formed an eye-catching signpost to the patron; dedications in this colour scheme were increasingly used in Roman mosaics, mainly in apses, literally highlighting the donor as well as underlining the brilliance of divine light within the building. As well as the text, two rather grim-looking females, labelled as ‘the Church of the Jews’ and ‘the Church of the Gentiles’, are depicted at either end of the inscription. This theme of the two churches brought together and of the Jews superseded by the Christians (especially the Roman Christians) as God’s Chosen People is one that was popular in fifth-century Rome. It was used to emphasise the importance of the Roman church, and thus its leaders (see Sta Maria Maggiore, Rome) .


From the gardens just to the east of Sta Sabina, you get a cracking view across Rome to St Peter's. Also, check out the sixth-century wooden doors at the west end of the church - go round to the west door on the outside of the church.

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