Month: November 2018

The Mistery of The Statue of Marcus Aurelius

The Mistery of The Statue of Marcus Aurelius

A Spasso con Sara to discover the famous legend of “Marc’Urelio discovers in gold”.


At the center of the complex interweaving of lines designed by the genius of Michelangelo (but made only in 1940), the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius dominates the Piazza del Campidoglio and is among the symbols of the City of Rome.


The Marcus Aurelius in the centre of Piazza del Campidoglio. View from above (Credits:


As many of you know, the statue we can admire today in the square is a bronze copy made in 1997. The original monument, after a long and careful restoration, is in fact inside the Capitoline Museums (exactly in the Roman Garden on the first floor of the Palazzo dei Conservatori, whose entrance is right on Piazza del Campidoglio).

The original statue of Marcus Aurelius photographed inside the Roman Garden of the Capitoline Museums.

Rivers of ink have been spent on this emperor on horseback, whose solemnity seems to echo until today. To get an idea of its exceptionality, you need only know that it is the only equestrian statue among those of the Forum that was saved from destruction to be transferred to the Lateran to represent Constantine. This bronze, in fact, in the wake of that new trend of “recycling” that was establishing itself in the art of the time (think of the arch of Constantine that assembles parts and decorations from monuments of previous emperors), was considered suitable to represent the first Christian emperor who had built the current church of St. John, the Cathedral of Rome, in the area of the Lateran.


Small representation of the Lateran Patraiarch with the statue of Marcus Aurelius / Constantine (Credits:


Marcus Aurelius / Constantine was “parked” at the Lateran until the sixteenth century, when he was transferred to the Capitol. And so, that wonderful gilded bronze statue and that tuft of horse hair, similar to an owl perched between the ears of the animal, became the subject of a famous legend that would link the Marcus Aurelius to the Apocalypse.

It is said, in fact, that the statue will gradually return golden and that when this happens, the “owl” will sing and fly away, announcing the end of the world. From this popular rumour derives the expression, no longer used, “discovered in gold as Marcurelius”, which would mean “to be at the end”.
Truth or lie, this simple story shows us how Rome over the centuries, and in part still today, continues to be the most mysterious city in the world!


The famous “owl” placed between the ears of the horse of Marcus Aurelius (Credits:


Posted by Sara Pandozzi, 0 comments
1074- 2018. The Cathedral of Terracina: on the occasion of the 944th year of its dedication.

1074- 2018. The Cathedral of Terracina: on the occasion of the 944th year of its dedication.

It is the symbol of the Christian Terracina. Today marks the 944th anniversary of the dedication of our Cathedral. Consecrated to St. Caesar, patron saint of the city, by Bishop Ambrose on 24 November 1074 AD, the Cathedral of Terracina was the scene of some important historical events. Among them we remember in particular the election of Urban II (March 12, 1088), auctioneer of the First Crusade and first pope elected in a conclave outside Rome.


Brief architectural history

The Cathedral of San Cesareo was built on the remains of the so-called “Tempio Maggiore”, the largest of the temples built around the ancient Forum Emiliano (now Piazza Municipio).


Three main construction/architectural phases can be identified:


1. CAROLINGIA PHASE: this is the oldest phase and the existence of the Cathedral in this period, corresponding to the ninth century AD, is indirectly testified by the Liber Pontificalis, a precious written source that reports all the donations made by the Popes in favor of the churches. Leo IV (847-855 A.D.) donated some liturgical furnishings to our Cathedral. Little survives of this first artistic phase, except for some decorative fragments with the classic braid motif, of Roman origin and particularly fashionable in that historical period.


2. FROM ROMANIC TO THE XIII CENTURY: in the XI century, the Cathedral underwent a strong restructuring that ended only between the XII and XIII centuries A.D., a period to which we can date the bell tower and the external portico that are affected by the Cistercian influences of the nearby Abbey of Fossanova.


3. BETWEEN THE 18th AND 19th CENTURIES: this is the third and final phase of construction that involved the Cathedral and that gave it a large part of its current appearance. The work carried out, which led to the modification of the high altar, the choir, the side chapels, the sacristy, the construction of barrel vaults for the aisles in place of the old wooden trusses, are evidenced by two inscriptions placed near the portal access to the church. One of them recalls the restoration work carried out by Benedict XIII in 1729, the other, those commissioned by Pius VI in 1785.


The Cathedral was then affected by an important restoration in the first half of the twentieth century. On that occasion work was carried out on the portico, the bell tower and the façade. The last restoration dates back, as you will remember, to a few years ago and has restored to our church the splendid appearance of today. Since 1893 it has been a National Monument of the State.



The Cathedral of Terracina in a photo of the beginning of the twentieth century (Credits:



A beautiful staircase leads to the porch where, through a few steps, you then have access to the main entrance. In the portico, on the right, there is an eighteenth-century basin that recalls the martyrdom of the Christians before the freedom of worship given by Constantine in 313 AD. On the left side of the portico, the triumph of the Faith contrasts with it.

The facade is characterized by six columns from older buildings. Their different heights are compensated for by the base plinths.


The Cathedral of Terracina in a recent photo.


The columns support a mosaic frieze. The decoration is preserved only on the right side that would represent the eternal struggle between good and evil. On the left side, no longer visible, were represented saints and local martyrs. The message transmitted resounded loud and clear: the world is characterized by an eternal struggle between good and evil, but only through faith, witnessed by the blood shed by the martyrs, man can achieve salvation and eternal life.


Detail of the frieze that decorates the exterior of the Cathedral of Terracina.


The facade is completed by the bell tower on the left and Palazzo Pironti (formerly Venditti) on the right.


View of the bell tower of the Cathedral of Terracina.



The interior of the church is characterized by the typical basilica plan with three naves, separated by a row of six columns and concluded by a raised presbytery and three semicircular apses.


Interior of the Cathedral of Terracina (Credits:


Along each of the aisles, there are three chapels (for a total of six) in late Baroque style: the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, that of St. Caesar and that of Our Lady of Sorrows; the Chapel of the Baptistery, that of St. Joseph and that of the Immaculate Conception.

The central nave, raised at the beginning of the eighteenth century and covered with a barrel vault, decorated in the centre with a fresco representing Saint Caesareus, is distinguished by its original Cosmatesque floor. The precious marbles have been skillfully composed and intertwine to create splendid decorative motifs up to the presbytery.


The glory of St. Caesar painted on the barrel vault of the central nave (Credits: Francesco Petrilli).

The presbytery houses three altars dedicated to the local martyrs and saints. The central altar is dedicated to St. Caesar and is surmounted by a beautiful wooden canopy supported by four columns from the disappeared church of Santa Maria in Posterula. The two side altars are dedicated to S. Eleuterio (right) and S. Silviano (left) and are surmounted by two stone ciboriums of the thirteenth century.

The choir that opens behind the presbytery is also noteworthy. It was extensively modified during the eighteenth century, a period to which the Neapolitan majolicas on the floor date. It houses, on the back wall, the chair (the bishop’s chair) episcopal of the thirteenth century (reassembled) which is surmounted by a wooden statue depicting St. Peter, Bishop of Rome.
The paintings that decorate this space are of interest. Those on the side walls date back to the eighteenth century and represent a series of popes, saints and bishops. Those of the vault of the choir, however, are attributable to the early twentieth century and represent Urban II: his election, his ascension to heaven, the call of the First Crusade.

Finally, we recall the beautiful pulpit, in the form of a box and in polychrome tesserae. It is flanked by the twisted column of the Easter candle. Finely decorated, it bears the name of the artist and the date of its creation (1245).

Detail of the column of the Easter candle and the pulpit of the Cathedral of Terracina (Credits:


Posted by Sara Pandozzi in CHURCHES & HOLY SITES, 0 comments
The Roman Theatre of Terracina: why discover and promote it?

The Roman Theatre of Terracina: why discover and promote it?

A little in-depth analysis on the theatre of Terracina dedicated to my fellow citizens. The opinion of A Spasso con Sara.


When I decided to be an archaeologist I was four years old. I was running in the farmyard of the farmhouse built by my grandfather Battista on the remains of a mighty ancient cistern. I brought my books and, under the watchful eye of my uncle Michele, I went down between the arches of a large Roman substructure and dreamed of being the Indiana Jones of 2000. I imagined statues, treasures and mysteries to discover. Yes, because that’s how films and documentaries make us believe that it’s archaeology. But when at the age of 20 you’re catapulted onto a construction site and surrounded by fragments of pottery and archaeological layers that intertwine in every way possible and imaginable, you realize that Indiana Jones is very little.


Indiana Jones in the year 2000. A Spasso con Sara working with her colleague Stefania in a geophysical exploration in the Corvaro Plain during the Cicolano Survey 2009.


I still remember my first lesson in methodology of archaeological research at the University of Roma Tre. Daniele Manacorda, the first to carry out an urban stratigraphic excavation inside the Balbi Crypt in Rome, a stone’s throw from the most famous sacred area of Largo Argentina, in Italy (back in the 1980s), was in the chair. The first thing he taught us was that excavation is a destructive operation. On the train home, I read that phrase more than once: “but how destructive? With the excavation we give new life to the rubble and that stuff we find… but what does that say?”


Daniele Manacorda (


Now, as the years go by, I fully understand what that professor meant with his checkered jacket and glasses resting on his nose. In fact, digging for example the theater, has caused Terracina to open a “wound” in the heart of the historic center, characterized, at that point, by a kind of large void, which will be further magnified with the demolition of the last house in progress these days.


 The excavation of the theatre of Terracina.


The first excavation tests, carried out more than 20 years ago, then led to the imposition of a constraint by the Superintendence and, as a result, prevented the contemporary city from advancing in that area with its new buildings.

But if therefore the excavation seems, at least at first glance, even a negative thing, a kind of enemy of progress and modernity, why should we in Terracina invest in the discovery of the theater? Why spend money on its cleanliness, maintenance and enhancement and not use that money to “pile up the holes” as the people of Terracina would so much like?


Marbles from all over the ancient world, statues and paintings of singular value, are not enough, in themselves, to justify the undertaking that, from this point of view, would seem to satisfy only archaeologists, resemble, that is, more to their whim than to something of public utility.

Portion of painted plaster found in the theatre of Terraina (photo Giuseppe Moscarello).


The discovery of the past has, in reality, a deeper value and meaning. We choose to look for our roots to understand who we have been, to find a point of reference. Without the past, we cannot understand the present or build our future.

Archaeology, then, is configured as a powerful educational tool, the basis of the formation of the good citizen of tomorrow. Respect only what you know. For this reason, on more and more occasions, school children participate in trips and excursions to discover the most beautiful corners of our Italy. With these “explorations”, they discover the value and importance of the place and time in which they wake up every day, study, eat and spend their days. This is the only way to create a sense of belonging to a place, take root there, defend and respect it, get involved in its reconstruction, even when a tornado takes away its most beautiful face.


Children during an educational visit (Credits: GATC on Facebook).


And so it is necessary that archaeology leaves the academic classrooms, or rather, that it stops being the exclusive prerogative of experts in the field and of the superintendencies that exercise an absolute monopoly on archaeological excavations and that organize conferences understandable only to a few elected!


The theatre of Terracina, but in general the monuments, the churches and the historical sites that we know, belong to all of us and, as such, must be discovered, managed and conceived!


Unfortunately, this conquest is still a long way off. The “greats” of archaeology continue to treat certain situations as the garden of their own home. Yet, something is changing and I think that we Terrakineses should take our cue from these virtuous examples if we really want to turn our “treasures” into our true fortune!


To give you an idea of what I mean, I will bring you what, in my opinion, should be considered a paradigmatic example: the excavation of the Roman colony of Castrum Novum in the territory of Santa Marinella, not far from Rome.

A red thread links us to this city. The first excavations in the area were, in fact, started by Pius VI Braschi with the aim of finding statues and treasures to embellish the Vatican Museums. Beyond this casual link, what interests us most is the fact that children, young people, citizens of Santa Marinella, actively participate in the excavation through the GATC, the Archaeological Group of the Cerite Territory, led by the energetic Paolo Marini. In this way, all those who wish can dig together with the archaeologists (I saw it with my own eyes)! These operations take place under the supervision of the Superintendence of Southern Etruria and Dr. Flavio Enei, archaeologist and scientific director of the Museum of the Sea and Ancient Navigation of Santa Marinella.


GATC volunteers involved in the archaeological excavation of Castrum Novum (Credits: GATC on Facebook).


This is an extraordinary initiative that has generated, over time, a virtuous triangle that is leading to incredible results. It is excavated every year and done with the latest technologies.

The participation of foreign universities is also fundamental (three in total: the French Universities of Lille and Amiens and the West Bohemian University), which has given Castrum Novum an international resonance and a significant return of image. More and more people find, in essence, a further reason to visit Santa Marinella, determining, in turn, a significant increase in demand for tourism with consequent repercussions on all the induced (more and more accommodation is required, more restaurants, bathing establishments etc etc …).


On the other side of the world: students from Tajikistan working on the archaeological excavation of Castrum Novum (Credits: GATC on Facebook).


The members of the GATC are active all year round and are the real “guardians” of Castrum, because, as you well know, at some point the Superintendence lifts the anchors and part. GATC volunteers are, however, constantly present in the area and do not know breaks: they take care of cleaning the archaeological site, set up information panels, are available for guided tours, organize conferences and periodic initiatives that gather hundreds of people each time, publish scientific notebooks to spread the latest discoveries.


GATC volunteers setting up an information panel on the Castrum Novum excavation (Credits: GATC on Facebook).


Without the past there is no future. When will we also decide to be an active part of the discovery of our city? If you want, Flavio and Paolo will bring them to you! Just look them in the eye to understand how important it is to discover, protect and defend our past!


Posted by Sara Pandozzi in ART & CULTURE, 0 comments
Rome’s Hidden Name

Rome’s Hidden Name

A Spasso con Sara on the trail is one of the most fascinating mysteries of Rome, that of the secret name of the city!


The secret name of Rome

Rome. That’s what we’ve always called it. At most, we have used other synonyms: Urbe (the city par excellence), the Eternal City (because of its millenary history), the city of Romulus (in memory of its founder). But, according to Giulio Solino, a scholar and geographer of the third century AD, the real name of the most famous city of all time, would never be disclosed.

Rome’s name was different and no one knew about it, with the exception of the Pontiff Maximus and the Heads of State. A secret name, therefore, that was handed down with the utmost reserve, from generation to generation, among a few elected.

Each city entrusted itself to the hands of a protective deity. And Pliny, in his encyclopaedic Historia Naturalis, tells us that, before besieging an enemy city, the Romans invoked its tutelary divinity, promising her a greater cult in the City, if she favoured them. And it was thanks to this “stratagem” that, for example, Furio Camillo took possession of Veio and Scipione the African of Carthage.

Imagine, then, if the wrong mouth had pronounced the secret name of Rome! To say it out loud, to scan it well, meant to invoke the tutelary deity of the city, to recall the spirit itself, the essence … Such a secret could not be discovered by an enemy people, otherwise, who knows what curses could be hurled against Rome and its inhabitants.


Ancient Rome from above. Plastic in the Museum of Roman Civilization at EUR (Credits:


Ovid and the secret name of Rome

And a thin red thread would bind Ovid to the secret name of Rome. Known in the literary panorama for having written a famous poem on the art of loving, the life of this poet was irreparably marked by a condemnation to exile by Augustus, the first emperor. Related to Tomi (the current city of Constance in Romania), Ovid writes Tristia, a collection of about 50 poems in which he cries and commiserates his fate as an unfortunate man, relegated to a cold and unknown country, surrounded by barbarians who speak an incomprehensible language.

The reason for the condemnation is given to us by Ovid in person, who speaks of “a flesh and blood and a mistake”. Needless to say, scholars have been indulged in this: he discovered the love adventures of Augustus; he was involved in one of the feasts of Julia, the exuberant daughter of the emperor; he participated in court intrigues.


The Latin poet Ovid (Credits:


The reading key recently proposed by Felice Vinci and Arduino Maiuri is quite different, for whom the unfortunate poet was guilty of having discovered the secret name of Rome! Ovid, in fact, was also working on the Fasti, a poem composed with the intent to present and study the festivals, rites and traditions that marked the year.
In the last verses of the work, talking about the etymology of the month of May, he would touch the theme of the background of the founding of the city, calling into question the constellation of the Pleiades and their most important star, Maia.

The Constellation of the Pleaids (Credits:

To put it briefly: there would be a link between the disposition of the seven Pleiades and that of the Seven Hills of Rome. The heart of the Pleiades is Maia, which would coincide with the centrality of the Palatine, the hill on which Romulus founded his city. And so, the secret name of Rome is Maia and Ovid would have discovered it through his studies and made it known through the Musa Calliope dei Fasti, thus seriously jeopardizing the fate of the Eternal City.

Scheme of the Seven Hills of Rome (Credits:


Sending it to the ends of the world was the least Augustus could do, and perhaps poor Ovid did well if he did. One hundred years earlier, the tribune Valerio Sorano was instead sentenced to death, guilty of having revealed the secret name of Rome in his book “Misteri Svelati”.

That Ovid perhaps committed the same crime?


Not only Maia…the other hypotheses on the secret name of Rome

In reality, Maia is not the only secret name that tradition attributes to Rome.
In Saturnalia, Macrobius (4th and 5th centuries A.D.) tells us that this name, kept as a real state secret, was reported in ancient books that proposed, however, discordant versions: Jupiter, Luna, Angerona, Ope Consiva.

Fascinating and suggestive is the theory that identifies Amor as the unpronounceable name of the City. Amor, fruit of the word Rome written from right to left, would place the Eternal City under the tutelary deity of Venus, goddess of love. The temples of Venus and Rome are of the same size and the two gods were offered incense at the same time. It is no coincidence that Augustus was the first to become emperor at the time. As a member of the Gens Iulia, he was in fact a direct descendant of Venus.


Graffito found in Pompeii, all played on the words Roma and Amor (Credits:


We do not know the secret name of Rome and perhaps we will never know. But what does it matter after all? Its mysteries are infinite, just as its history is infinite.



Posted by Sara Pandozzi in ART & CULTURE, ROME, 0 comments
St. Caesareus. History of the Patron Saint of Terracina

St. Caesareus. History of the Patron Saint of Terracina

With the beginning of the Triduum in all the parishes of the city, yesterday, Wednesday, 7th November, in Terracina opened the celebrations in honor of St. Caesareus that will end on Monday 12th November (civil feast).
A Spasso con Sara to discover the history of the Patron Saint of the city.


Who was Cesareo?

Of African origin, he was born in Carthage around 85 A.D. to a mercenary and a woman of the glorious Gens Iulia, the family clan of Julius Caesar. Caesareus, in fact, would mean “devoted to Caesar”.

When the family converted to Christianity, he devoted his life to the deaconage, the care of the poor and the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus. He left with some of his companions for Rome and sank in Terracina, where he would stop to dedicate himself to his religious mission.


St Cesareus and his companions are shipwrecked in Terracina (Credits:


Caesareus, witness of faith in Terracina

According to the tradition, every year in Terracina a magnificent young man sacrificed himself in Apollo. Dressed in shiny weapons, the poor man was forced to throw himself from the cliff of Pisco Montano riding a horse. Founder of this rite, a certain Firmino, a pagan priest driven by the spirit of evil.

Caesareus, having arrived in Terracina, witnessed such a practice and was arrested for having protested vivaciously against this custom. Eight days later, Lussurius, one of the city’s notables, led him to Leonzio, the Consularis Campaniae. After questioning him, he ordered Caesareus to deny his Christian faith and to sacrifice to Apollo. When he arrived in front of the temple, the pagan sanctuary collapsed and killed the priest Firmino. Caesareus was imprisoned again.

After another year in prison, Leontius recalled Caesareus and, struck by the divine glow of the deacon, converted to Christianity. Baptized and, having received the body and blood of Jesus Christ from the presbyter Julian, he died. Julian and Caesarean were captured and, after being closed in a sack, were thrown from the cliff of the Pisco Montano. The notable Lussurius, who had signed their condemnation, died after being bitten by a snake.


St. Caesareus. Fresco decorating the vault of the central nave of the Cathedral of Terracina dedicated to him (Credits:


Not only Caesareus. The Martyrdom of Eusebius and Felix

The bodies of the martyrs Caesareus and Julian, brought back to shore by the waves of the sea, were recovered by Eusebius who buried them in Agro Varano, a place in the Valley of Terracina. The monk, who remained praying at their tomb for five days, was joined by many Terracinese who, baptized by Felix, converted to Christianity.


Finding the body of St. Caesareus on the beach of Terracina (Credits:


The situation bothered, however, Leontius II, the son of the Roman consul converted by Caesareus. Desiring to take revenge for his father’s death, he had Felix and Eusebius arrested and, after having captured them, ordered them to sacrifice to the gods. Felix and Eusebius confirmed, however, their Christian faith and their bodies, after being beheaded, were thrown into the river. Carried by water, they arrived near La Pineta where Quarto, priest of Capua, found them together with their heads miraculously intact. After recovering the remains, he gave them an adequate burial.


San Cesareo alle Prebende, the first church of Terracina

Quarto buried Felix and Eusebius near Caesareus and Julian in an area of the Valley called “Le Prebende”, an integral part of a larger complex known as “agro Varano”. This name was used to indicate the lands of the Varii, or rather the possessions of a wealthy terracinese family which, having converted to Catholicism, offered its own house for the meetings of the Christian community and the celebration of the Eucharist.

The house of Varo, which initially housed the only remains of Caesareus and Julian, soon became a real church, known by the name of S. Maria ad Martyres. However, it was abandoned following the martyrdom of Felix and Eusebius, arrested in that place, while officiating the Christian rites.


Lugli reports that in 1879 some excavations were made between the church of Santa Maria ad Martyres and the road. The map, designed by Pio Capponi, shows some mosaics found randomly in a vineyard in the area (Credits: ACS, AA.BB.AA., I vers., Allegati, b.150).


This place of worship moved, then, at the bottom of the valley, in the pagus of St Silvianus, where the Christians, as well as a new church, also gave life to a cemetery of their own. The new sanctuary was called San Salvatore and the whole area in general was called Valley of the Saints. Contatore tells us that when the body of Silvianus was discovered, this sanctuary was called San Silviano, while that of Varo, from the Middle Ages was called San Cesareo alle Prebende.

The small church of San Cesareo alle Prebende was destroyed in 1892 by the owner of the land, but a column of white grooved marble was erected, surmounted by an iron cross that the local peasants called the Cross of S. Cesario to remember his burial place.

These events would therefore seem to confirm what has been said in other places: the first Christian places of worship in Terracina are born extra urbem, outside the town centre and, specifically, along the Appian Way and on the tombs of the first martyrs.



When was Saint Caesareus martyred?

The life and death of the patron saint of Terracina have been handed down from four different stories (passiones) that place the martyrdom of Caesareus in different historical periods.

The most discussed hypotheses are two.

One would place the story of the deacon of Terracina in the Trajan age (98-117 AD), since the saint appears in the Passio of Nereus and Achilleus, both killed under the empire of Trajan. Caesareus is remembered in this story as the one who buried the virgins Flavia Domitilla, Eufrosina and Teodora, martyred at the end of the first century AD.


The Emperor Trajan (Credits:


A second hypothesis is instead supported by Piero Longo who would move the martyrdom of Caesareus during the persecution of Decio and in the context of the Ludi Apollinares. Caesareus would have been sacrificed to Apollo in Terracina on July 13, 250 AD.


Caesareus is transferred to Rome

Soon, however, the remains of St. Caesareus took the road to Rome. It is said, in fact, that Galla Placidia was cured by the martyr of Terracina in his church of the Valley. The young woman, possessed by the devil, had been sent by her parents to the tomb of Sant’Isidoro, on the island of Chios, with the hope of a recovery. However, that trip was worthless. Back home, she arrived at Terracina, where Bishop Felix took her to the tomb of St. Caesareus. The deacon appeared to her in a dream and miraculously healed. After hearing the news, the emperor ordered the immediate transfer of the Saint’s remains to Rome and, with the assistance of Pope Damasus, between 375 and 379 A.D., they were placed in the Domus Augustana on the Palatine where the oratory of San Cesareo in Palatium was born.


Representation of Galla Placidia (Credits: chiamamicittà.it).


The relics of Terracina

The emperor, however, would have left some bones of the saint to the Church of Santa Maria ad Martyres of Terracina. Later they were moved to the Cathedral where two reliquaries are kept. Placed under the protection of the parish priest, they are exposed to popular veneration during the feast of the patron saint.

The silver reliquary arm, would keep two bone portions of the forearm of the saint and is carried in procession during the festivities in his honor.

The urn-shaped reliquary in silver-plated brass, on the other hand, dates back to the 19th century and is attributed to local craftsmen. It contains, according to the most accredited opinion, two bones of the deacon’s forearm, although recent studies would recognize such fragments as the tibia or a tibia and the saint’s femur.


I reliquiari di San Cesareo a Terracina (Credits:


As we have seen, the story of St Caesareus does not present, in some cases, precise historical and chronological references. But we don’t care much because in the end Christianity is nothing other than to surrender completely to the faith of God and that of the martyrs and saints who were witnesses to his message of love.


Posted by Sara Pandozzi in ART & CULTURE, 0 comments
The Chandeliers’ Basilica in Rome

The Chandeliers’ Basilica in Rome

A stone’s throw from the Colosseum, in a corner of Rome known since the founding of the city. A Spasso con Sara to discover the basilica of Saints John and Paul on the Celian Hill.


The Romans call it the “basilica of chandeliers”. This is the name with which the basilica of Saints John and Paul is known in the square of the same name on the western slope of the Celian Hill, one of the hills more than Rome.


The facade of the basilica of Saints John and Paul (Credits:


The church, with its sumptuous Baroque interior, is so called because of the large number of Bohemian crystal chandeliers that illuminate it.


The chandeliers that decorate the basilica of Saints John and Paul (Credits:


It was built on pre-existing Roman buildings that stood behind the Clivus Scauri, the ancient road that led to the top of the Celian Hill. Most of them were shops but also refined dwellings belonging to important families of the city.


The Clivus of Scauro (Credits:


And the basilica was founded on one of these houses, to be exact on the one in which John and Paul, Roman officers converted to Christianity, were beheaded and buried in 362 AD, following the persecution of the Emperor Julian the Apostate.


Saints John and Paul (Credits:


The place immediately became a place of pilgrimage and, therefore, in 398 AD, Senator Bisante and his son Pammachius built the first nucleus of the future church (known by the name of titulus Byzantis or also Pammachi).

The church, however, was born only in the fifth century AD and, after being sacked and destroyed by the Barbarians and, after surviving even an earthquake, was completely rebuilt in the twelfth century.


The biggest surprises, however, occurred in 1887. On the occasion of new restoration work, the rector of the basilica, Father Germano di S. Stanislao dei Padri Passionisti (who still officiate the church) discovered the basement of the church.

Even the place where the Saints were executed was found. The small room, to be identified with the first “church” built by Bisante and Pammachio, had a small window that allowed the faithful to look out over a sort of well and contemplate the relics of the Saints.


Location of the Martyrion of Saints John and Paul under the basilica of the same name (Credits:


The room was richly frescoed with different scenes: the capture of the martyrs John and Paul and their execution (on the two side walls), one of the two martyrs, around which sprout roses and palms, with two faithful prostrate at his feet, and the torture of Saints Crispus, Crispius and Benda who were killed after the Saints John and Paul as they narrate their acts.


The niche from which the faithful could admire the relics of Saints John and Paul (Credits:


Worthy of note is also a luxurious nymphaeum decorated with a large fresco of marine setting. It represents Proserpina, Queen of the Underworld, surrounded by other gods and cherubs.


The fresco of the nymphaeum with the representation of Proserpine (Credits:


The set of decorations found in the underground rooms of the basilica of Saints John and Paul tell of a past in which Christianity and pagan cults still coexist, albeit between contrasts and difficulties.


Posted by Sara Pandozzi in CHURCHES & HOLY SITES, 0 comments
All Souls’ Day: November 2nd

All Souls’ Day: November 2nd

On this day the Christian Church remembers all the deceased.
A Spasso con Sara at the origins of this commemoration.


The Church has always been linked to the memory of the dead. In the Christian vision of existence, man’s destiny does not end with death. At the end of earthly life, the soul reaches the vision of God and, at the end of time, after the Last Judgment, it will rejoin its mortal remains resurrected. The faithful, therefore, pray to their loved ones who are extinct to ask for their intercession with God and to join them and the elect after death.


Michelangelo. Sistine Chapel. The Last Judgment (


Since the Middle Ages: Odilone of Cluny

The anniversary of November 2 has its roots in the tenth century, although already St. Augustine, between the fourth and fifth centuries AD, praised the custom of praying for the dead outside of their anniversaries.

In the seventh century AD, the monks devoted a full day to prayer for the dead. And Amalarius, theologian and liturgist of the age of Charlemagne (8th-9th century A.D.), already placed the memory of those who had passed away on the day after that of the Saints.

The first, however, to officially set the date of 2 November was the Benedictine abbot Saint Odilone of Cluny in 928 AD. Sources report that he was particularly devoted to the souls of Purgatory for whom he addressed all his prayers, penances and sufferings. One of his brethren, returning from the Holy Land, told him that he had been shipwrecked on the coasts of Sicily. On the island he met a hermit who told him that he had heard in a cave the voices and cries of purging souls who, together with those of the demons, cried out against Odyloon. Listened to the testimony, the abbot fixed November 2 as the commemoration of the dead and passed a law that required all the monasteries of his congregation to ring the bells with funeral tolls after vespers of November 1.


Abbot Odilone of Cluny (Credits:

Ancient roots

The liturgical celebration of the day of the deceased, dominated by the color purple, symbol of penance, expectation and pain (used, among other things, also in funerals) has, in fact, even older origins of the tenth century and the choice of the day of its recurrence, that of November 2, is not entirely random.

According to some interpretations, this date should in fact be referred to the Universal Flood which, according to Moses’ account, fell on the “seventeenth day of the second month”, to be identified with our November. The Feast of the Dead would therefore have been born to remember those people who God himself had annihilated, in order to exorcise the fear of new similar events.


Lorenzo Lotto and Giovan-Battista Capoferri. The Universal Flood. Bergamo, church of Santa Maria Maggiore (Credits:


Remarkable is the echo of the Celtic culture and, in particular, of the night of Samhain, the Celtic New Year, a celebration halfway between death and rebirth and which fell between October 31 and November 1. The customs and traditions of this feast are lost in the world of myth and legend and the rituals concerned roughly the world of the dead through divination and storytelling.


Re-enactment of the Celtic New Year (Credits:


The commemoration of the dead also took place in ancient Rome with the feast of Parentalia, a nine-day period dedicated to the celebration of the dead of the family and which began on February 13 and ended on the 21st of that month, the day of the real feast of the dead.


Mosaic of the “Memento Mori”, Pompeii Officina Coriariorum – Tannery, now in the Archaeological Museum of Naples (Credits:


The Byzantine church also celebrated all the dead. This happened, however, at a different time of the year, namely on the Saturday before the Sunday of Sessagesima (about 60 days before Easter), in a period roughly between the end of January and the month of February.

And there are many connections that can be found between the Christian recurrence and very distant worlds, such as Mexico and Central and Latin America in general (Dia de los Muertos) and even China (festival of Qingming), countries that are teeming with rituals and customs in which the souls of the dead are consoled in favor of the living.


El dia de los Muertos (Credits:


The feast of the dead between Rome and Terracina

There are many celebrations between Rome and Terracina. As mentioned in one of my last articles, in Rome, for example, the Brotherhood of Sacconi Rossi holds on this day an impressive procession that, by candlelight, runs through the Tiber Island, throws in the Tiber a wreath of flowers in memory of the “dead of the water” and ends with the blessing of bones in the underground crypt of the brotherhood.


The night procession of the Sacconi Rossi on the Tiber Island (Credits:


In Terracina, the fulcrum of the commemoration of the dead is the Church of Purgatory in the Borgo of Cipollata, consecrated to the memory of the deceased, as recalled by the inscription inside the dome: “holy and just is the thought for the dead”. After the celebration of the Holy Mass at 6 am, from the church starts a procession directly to the city cemetery (this year the procession will not be held because of the events of these days). Another mass is celebrated at the cemetery.


The celebration of November 2 at the Church of Purgatory of Terracina (Credits:


The “sweets of the dead” and the many different Italian traditions

In many parts of Italy there is a widespread belief that on 2 November the dead come to visit their loved ones who have remained alive. The journey made is long and tiring. It is therefore necessary to prepare something to eat and/or drink that allows them to refresh themselves.

And, in fact, during this time of year, in different parts of our country, the so-called “cakes of the dead” are prepared. Based on simple ingredients, such as flour, eggs and sugar, but also almonds, candied fruit, jam and chocolate, these sweets, in consistency and shape, resemble, in some cases, to bones. They adorn the tables set for the dead and are consumed almost as if to soothe the sadness and emptiness left by the disappearance of loved ones.

In Umbria they prepare the “stinchetti”, sweets in the shape of broad beans (for this reason they are also called “broad beans of the dead”); in Naples, instead, the so-called “nougat of the dead”, which, different in consistency from the Christmas nougat, is given by the boy to the family of his girlfriend; in Sicily, however, protagonists are the children. If they have behaved well, the deceased will bring gifts that they will find in the morning under the bed. These are toys, but above all sweets, such as the so-called “pupi di zuccaro”, real dolls made of sugar. And still in Sicily, they prepare the “scardellini”, biscuits made of sugar and almonds in the shape of bones, or they use to eat (as in the area of Trapani) the “martorana fruit”, colorful, and made of sugar paste. In Veneto, lovers offer their brides a bag with “dead bones” inside, biscuits of coloured short pastry, flat and oval shaped. Finally, in Liguria, “bacilli” (dried broad beans) and “balletti” (boiled chestnuts) are prepared.


The so-called “fave dei morti”, typical sweets of Umbria prepared for November 2nd (Credits:


Neapolitan nougat prepared for 2 November (Credits:


The “sugar puppets” prepared in Sicily for November 2nd (Credits:



The “martorana fruit” prepared in Sicily for November 2 (Credits:


But the “sweet of the dead” is not the only ancient Italian tradition linked to the commemoration of the dead. In some regions, for example, it is customary to leave a jar of fresh water at home so that the dead can quench their thirst; in others, it is customary to leave a lit light, a bucket of water and bread. In Rome, tradition had it that on the day of the dead a meal was eaten next to the tomb of a relative to keep him company.


In some parts of Italy it is usual to leave a lit light for each deceased at the window (Credits:

Posted by Sara Pandozzi in ON THIS DAY, 0 comments