Minor Roman Basilicas: San Saba

Continuing on with our considerations of some of the lesser seen minor basilicas in Rome -- lesser seen but really should be seen in other words -- we turn today to the basilica of San Saba which is situated close to the Aurelian Walls next to the Aventine and Caelian Hills. 

The explanation for the rather Eastern sounding name is explained by the fact that the site -- formerly a noble estate in what had by then become a depopulated area of the city of Rome -- was settled in the year 645 by a group of Palestinian monks who were fleeing Islamic persecution and who had come to Rome to attend the Lateran council. It would become one of the leading monastic communities in Rome around the eighth and ninth centuries. Eventually, however, it would transfer out of their hands and into those of the Benedictines, Cistercians, Jesuits and would eventually come to be in the possession of the German-Hungarian College.

The basilica itself, it underwent a complete renovation in the thirteenth century and another in the early twentieth -- the latter of which removed baroque elements which had been added in an attempt to reconstruct a more medieval appearance (a trend that was observed in other Roman churches around this same time). 

The facade of the basilica is quite unassuming because of the fifteenth century porch found in front of it.

Various spoila can be found in the narthex and throughout the basilica and the fabric that forms the front of the basilica is actually the remnants of a fourth century "aula" (or meeting hall) from the original Roman estate -- which was then converted by the Palestinian monks to serve as the first monastic chapel. 

The restorations of the early twentieth century saw attempts to reconstruct the interior appearance of the basilica according to an early sixteenth century description of it. This included the re-installation of the ciborium magnum, schola cantorum with its ambone and episcopal throne in the apse in an arrangement similar to that seen in San Clememte or Santa Sabina. Ironically the schola cantorum would then be demolished again only a few decades later in the mid-twentieth century.

The re-installed and eventually again demolished schola cantorum

In many ways it was a very fine arrangement, one which the historian in me is personally quite fond of, but it was apparently determined these elements didn't lend themselves well in practice to the liturgical life of a functioning parish church. This raises an interesting point of speculation that perhaps the reasons some of these elements disappeared or were modified in many of our parish churches in the first place was because of practical considerations as these -- much like how the form of the chasuble was reduced for similarly practical reasons. 

Regardless, here is the state of the interior of San Saba as it looks today with the restored schola cantorum once again removed:

One will take note in these photos of the beautiful, restored ciborium magnum over top the high altar, as well as the cosmatesque floors from the early thirteenth century. 

The columns along the nave are spoila ranging in style, colour and materials taken from across the Roman emptire, ranging from pink and grey Egyptian granite to other stone taken from Greece and Algeria. 

The roof of the nave, in very typical basilica fashion, features and open timber roof with its typical trusses.

Located above the arch is a painting that was done in the mid-fifteenth century depicting the Annunciation. Beneath is see the great apse fresco, done in 1575, depicting Christ in glory, beside him St. Andrew and St. Sabas whom the basilica is named after.  Beneath this is depiction of twelve sheep representing the apostles. 

Beneath these are further frescoes, dated to the fourteenth century, showing the Madonna and Child, the Apostles, a crucifixion scene, and various saints. 

Typical to basilica form, there are to side aisles. On one side may be seen a fragrment and the remains of the original schola cantorum from the middle ages with its cosmatesque decoration:

Also to be found within the basilica are a series of damaged medieval frescoes:

Finally, I would make mention of the crypt of the basilica which shows us the remains of some of the original monastic oratory of the seventh century. 

The basilica is classed as a "diaconae" with a titular cardinal-deacon assigned to it. 

Tradition holds that originally this property belonged to the mother of St. Gregory the Great, though there is some question about the authenticity of this. 

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