Minor Roman Churches: Chiesa dei Santi Nereo e Achilleo

The church of Santi Nereo e Achilleo is a fourth century basilica located near the entrance of the baths of Caracalla dedicated to two Roman martyrs: Nereo and Achilleo. The form of the church is, of course, the classic basilica model. The church was rebuilt in the early ninth century by Pope Leo III and the relics, taken from the catacomb of Domitilla, of the two saints were transferred to this church by historian, antiquarian and scholar, Cardinal Cesare Baronio (Baronius) -- who also funded the last major restoration of the church in the 1600's and commissioned the frescoes found in the church. 

From the outside, the church is rather unassuming -- as pre-Renaissance Roman facades often tend to be -- nestled charmingly beneath the famed 'pigna' (umbrella pines) of Rome. 

But do not let the simple facade fool you for one minute, for the interior presents us with yet another beautiful example of a Roman church with its various layers of compiled history. 

The altar with its ciborium is of wonderfully 'antique' proportions -- perfectly suited to the scale of this particular church -- though the ciborium itself is dated to the 16th or 17th century.

Not to be missed are the beautiful cosmatesque panel decorations that are to be found on the altar and balustrade. 

Keeping our attention on sanctuary, located behind the altar and ciborium is a lovely throne that incorporates two lions into the base of the design.

One very unique aspect to this throne is that if one looks into the niche of it, one will see words. This contains the Latin text of St. Gregory the Great's XVIIII homily related to the patronal martyrs of this church.

The scene of this homily being delivered is, in point of fact, one of the frescoes shown directly above the chair on the apse wall. 

Above it, within the apse itself, is depicted a bejewelled cross along with various Roman martyrs to either side holding their palms of victory.

And above the apse itself is a ninth century mosaic that depicts Christ transfigured, to either side Moses and Elijah, along with the Peter, James and John prostrate -- all of whom are wearing senatorial togas. The either side of these are depicted scenes of the Annunciation and Nativity. 

The floor of the sanctuary is likewise comprised of beautiful coloured, patterned marbles which cannot be missed.

Turning our attention now to the nave, as we look down it, one will see the various frescoes that have been added to the church by Cardinal Baronius. These frescoes depict various scenes taken from the Roman Martyrology -- a wonderful and rather unique inclusion to my mind. 

Found throughout the church are various Roman 'spoila' ranging from Roman vases which sit between the columns of the nave to the great candelabrum magnum as well as an ambo set upon an urn of red porphyry that was taken from the Baths of Caracalla. 

A truly beautiful and very Roman church in most every regard, from its formal architecture down to its spoila and scenes taken from the martyrology. 

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