Rome, S Peter in vincoli

Also known as S Pietro in vincoli (in chains)
Era 7AD
Location Piazza di San Pietro in Vincoli, 4/a, 00184 Roma RM, Italy

Many people go to the church of S Peter ad vinculi for a very dull sculpture by Michelangelo. Much more interesting is a detached mosaic panel in a frame, displayed about halfway down the aisle on the north side of the church.

It shows St Sebastian. He’s depicted at about half-size, carrying a martyrs’ crown and wearing elegant blue-grey military robes, ornamented and bordered in gold. He stands in a green and flowery plain, against a blue background. He's a grey-haired older man, not the naked, lithe young thing of so many later fantasies. The panel is not in its original setting, and we have no idea of where it originally came from. Its scale and the nature of its decorative border suggests that it did not form part of an apse mosaic. It may have been on an arch wall; it is conceivable that the panel was on a pier or some other flat surface, like those in S Demetrios in Thessaloniki. It may even have been a votive panel like those of St Demetrios; the image has been associated with a special veneration of Sebastian, after an epidemic of the plague in 680 was ended by a procession carrying his relics – and this is the best guess made for a date. The Church of S Sebastiano, built over the Catacomb of St Sebastian outside the city walls, was one of the major pilgrimage churches of Rome: the saint’s relics were housed there until their transfer to St Peter’s in 826, which might offer an alternative scenario and date.

Love him; ignore Moses.

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