Minor Roman Basilicas: Santa Maria in Domnica

Located just down the Via Claudia from the Colosseum is the basilica of Santa Maria in Domnica. The facade of this basilica is noble, simple and easily missed given the confluence of architecture and art that can be found in Rome. What perhaps might most catch one's attention is the "fontana della navicella" located just out front of the basilica -- a fountain designed in the form of a Roman ship,

The basilica itself is dated to ancient times and is mentioned by Pope Syammachus at the end of the fifth century in the year 499 and was also one of the seven churches assigned to one of the seven deacons of Rome in the 7th century. 

If that isn't a good enough start, the real star of this show are the mosaics located in and above the apse which were commissioned by Pope Paschal I in the early ninth century. 

The central image is of course the Virgin and Child seated -- considered one of the earliest extant examples of the Virgin taking such a central place in the decorative scheme -- surrounded by a heavenly host of angels. The Virgin is dressed in Byzantine-Roman dress of Byzantine nobility and below her kneels Pope Paschal himself, still alive when this was designed/executed as indicated by the square shaped halo found upon his head. To either side of the apse itself are images interpreted to possibly depict Moses and Elijah.

Above the apse itself is perhaps the most striking portion of the mosaic scheme, depicting Christ enthroned, surrounded to either side by seven figures depicting archangels and the twelve apostles, all dressed in senatorial togas -- with Ss. Peter and Paul taking the first place to each side after the angels. Interspersed between these are beautiful flowers of white and red which no doubt had some kind of symbolic value at the time. 

One of the elements of this basilica that can seem a little anti-climactic today is the current altar arrangement -- which is likely the reason you seldom if ever see featured. To my mind this is because the present altar cries out for a ciborium or at very least tall altar candles and cross in order to scale it properly to the rest of the church. 

To demonstrate the difference, here is a visual approximation of what something like that would look like:

At one time, a more counter-reformation altar arrangement had been installed which, with its proportionately tall altar candlesticks and candles, helped to offset this problem nicely -- thus making for a very readily achievable solution even today. 

Originally there was a schola cantorum found before the altar, similar to those seen in San Clemente or Santa Maria in Cosmedin, but this was removed in the 16th century by the future Pope Leo X, Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici. It was around this time a number of changes were made to the interior of the basilica, including the addition of the coffered ceiling. 

The Corinthian columns which line the nave of this basilica are all spoila which were taken from an ancient Roman temple -- as are, no doubt, the beautiful red porphyry columns found to either side of the apsidal arch in the sanctuary. 

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