The Romanesque Basilicas of San Pietro and Santa Maria Maggiore in Toscanella (Tuscania)

Romanesque churches are always a favourite topic of mine for in general they tend to combine the strength of paleochristian features with later medieval ones and two such examples exist in Tuscania, both of which are located in sight of one another on the Colle di San Pietro in Viterbo -- the one at the foot of the hill, the other at the top. The churches in question are San Pietro and Santa Maria Maggiore.  Both basilicas fall into the classic Roman basilica model. Both have open timber, trussed ceilings. Both have an altar consonant in size with the earlier medieval and paleochristian model, inclusive of their ciboria.  Let's take a look.


San Pietro was the cathedral of the Bishop of Tuscania until the fifteenth century. Its precise date of origin is disputed, with some dating is as early as the eighth century, while others put it as late as the eleventh.  Like most churches of this age, however, it has seen numerous architectural and artistic interventions over the centuries. The impressive facade, with its striking rose window, itself dates to the thirteenth century.

Within one will see all of the typical features of a Romanesque church. Of interest, however, are the low walls and benches that separate the central nave from the outermost one's. This is a unique feature that has led to speculation that the central nave may have liturgically functioned as the schola cantorum, reserved for clerics, while the laity might have taken up station in the outermost one's, possibly separated between men and women. One will also note the thirteenth century ciborium located within the right aisle. 

The columns are Roman era spoila and beneath the church is a crypt which is thought to have originally been a Roman bath.

The bishop's throne/cathedra seen behind the altar. Take note of the apse above and compare to the next image of the apse below.

The great apsidal mosaic of Christ Pantocrator was sadly lost in an earthquake in 1971. This is one of the few modern photographs that captured it before it was lost.

The basilica also boasts impressive cosmatesque floors


The first church on this site was of the same name, dated to the ninth century, but the present structure dates to the early 1200's, having been consecrated in the year 1206. Our focus here is the interior of the church, which is particularly impressive. One will note the clear similarities in the core liturgical ordering of this basilica with the former one. Fortunately Santa Maria Maggiore has still retained its key frescoes, but it likewise boasts and impressive altar, ciborium, ambo and baptismal font. 

Visible behind the altar is the bishop's throne/cathedra

A scene of the Last Judgement decorates the triumphal arch

The full immersion, octagonal baptismal font, located at the rear of the church in the right nave

The ambo

Impressive churches that can certainly still serve as a template and model for new church architecture within our own time. 

Do you like Liturgical Arts Journal's original content? You can help support LAJ in its mission and vision to promote beauty in Catholic worship either by: 

You choose the amount! Your support makes all the difference.

Join in the conversation on our Facebook page.