The Martyrology as Seen in the Frescoes of Ss. Nereo e Achilleo

In the past we've discussed the person of Cardinal Baronius and some of his activities in relation to undertaking a revised edition of the Martyrologium Romanum in the sixteenth century to bring it into alignment with the then new Gregorian calendar reform. At that time we had also mentioned that his titular church was that of Ss. Nereo e Achilleo and we briefly noted that amongst the works of restoration and renovation he did in his title was to ornament it with various frescoes showing scenes taken from the martyrology -- no doubt inspired by his work on the same. 

I thought it might be of interest to take a slightly deeper dive into this aspect of the church's decorative scheme more specifically as it is one of those subjects that is surprisingly rare -- at least as a condensed subject -- for while there are many churches and basilicas which might showcase this or that scene of martyrdom for this or that saint, to find them so condensed into one building in this is quite rare by comparison (though there is another such church in Rome too which we will feature at another time). 

The cycle of frescoes are by the sixteenth century Italian Mannerist painter, Niccolò Pomarancio (Circignani) and date to around 1597.  They extend around the entirety of the lower register of the church, many of them depicting the martydom of the various apostles. (The upper tier of frescoes show scenes from the life of Ss. Nereo, Achilleo, Domitilla and so on, as well as early pontiffs.) 

Here is a slightly closer look at some of these frescoes (many of which were taken by our own Fra Lawrence Lew, OP). 

The Martyrdom of St. Paul

Martyrdom of St. Jude Thaddeus

Martyrdom of St. Andrew

Martyrdoms of Ss. Bartholomew and Philip

Martyrdom of St. Simon the Zealot

The martyrdoms of Ss. James the Lesser, Thomas and Matthew

Martyrdom of St. Peter

Martyrdom of St. John the Evangelist (left) and another view of the martyrdom of St. Bartholomew (right)

Of course, if these frescoes weren't enough to serve as a powerful "memento mori," there is also the opus sectile inlaid marble work that can be found on the floor of the nave immediately before the main altar:

Definitely a basilica worth a visit. 

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