Minor Roman Churches: San Cesareo de Appia

The Roman church San Cesareo de Appia (also known as San Cesario in Palatio) is -- as you might have guessed already -- located on the ancient Appian Way (Via Appia) on the site of what was around the second or third century, originally a Roman bath.  The patron saint of the church is St. Caesarius of Terracina, a third century deacon and martyr and patron saint of Roman emperors, whose relics were moved to Rome by the Emperor Valentinian after he was said to have been cured at his shrine in Terracina.   As far as the church itself is concerned, the original church on this site is thought to have originated in the eighth century, though there is little record of it; the present church, built upon the earlier fabric, dates to the very beginning of the sixteenth century as a project that put under the patronage of the Cardinal, antiquarian and scholar of the Roman church, Cesare Baronius.  

As a point of interest for our readers this was the titular church of one Cardinal Karol Wojtyla in the past -- the future Pope John Paul II. 

The altar and schola cantorum exhibit beautiful cosmatesque work whose origins are unknown. There is some speculation that they might have originally come from the Lateran archbasilica under the aegeis of Cardinal Baronius but this is purely speculation. Whatever the case it is beautiful and compelling work that adds a very Roman and Romanesque touch to a church that was built during the counter-reformation period. In that regard it is rather distinctive to other churches from this period, but certainly reflective of the Roman and antiquarian interests of Cardinal Baronius.

The facing of the altar is quite interesting, both for its beautiful coloured marbles, but also the rather unique inclusion of animal and bird designs, ranging from doves, sheep, horses and phoenixes.

Also of note are the walls, or transennae, that support the lecterns on each side (which are distinct from the ambo which we will show later). These too contain beautiful polychrome marbles and cosmatesque work.

The ciborium over the altar itself dates to the seventeenth century but fits in nicely with the medieval components that were imported in San Cesareo by Cardinal Baronius. The inner decoration appears to likely feature the four Latin Doctors of the Church, surmounted by a dome showing cherubs surrounding an image of the Holy Spirit. 

Beneath the main altar, at the level of the floor of the nave is what would normally be considered a confessio, with angels pulling back curtains and a grate visible in which one would expect to look and find relics. Apparently this has never been the case and at this time what is to be found there is an image of St. Cesarius. 

In the apse above is a unique image showing God the Father surrounded by angels painted by Francesco Zucchi. 

The ambo is located outside the sanctuary in the usual location and contains both red porphyry as well as further cosmatesque work, serpentine columns and various carvings depicting symbols of the Four Evangelists. 

The throne located behind the high altar similarly contains serpentine columns and cosmatesque work, and like the altar before it, likewise contains bird and animal motifs

Coffered ceilings from this period frequently contain the stemma of the pope(s) and/or cardinal patrons of the church, but San Cesareo's ceiling also includes an image of St. Caesarius himself. (The papal arms are those of Clement VIII.)

Finally, a view from the ambo back toward the narthex showing some of the fresco work. 

A very fine Roman church located off the beaten path -- at least the contemporary Roman one that is, if not the ancient Appian one.

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