The Basilica dei Santi Apostoli in Rome

One could be forgiven if they happened to walk past the Basilica dei Santi Apostoli in Rome and failed to notice it was even a church. This is in large part due to its rather distinctive, two storey portico -- not to mention the fact that there is not much of a street view of the basilica as it sits on a piazza that amounts to little more than a glorified, widened street. Because of this, the bell-tower and the portion of the facade that are recognizably a church are not that easy to see compared to other churches in Rome.  But it is a basilica you should really make a point to visit, for it contains the relics of the apostles Ss. Philip and James the Lesser. 

From looking at the basilica, one would think that it counter-reformation in origins, but in point of fact the basilica, at least in its foundations, goes back to the fourth century: the Basilica Iulia - Titulus Apostolorum (so named because it was built by Pope Julius I.)  

So what happened, you might ask? There are many such churches in Rome that still at least retain some of their earlier Roman character even if counter-reformation and baroque accoutrements were later added on. The answer is that the basilica was destroyed by an earthquake in the year 1348 and then sat derelict until the 1400's. It was at this time that the great portico was erected. Then, in the early 1700's, a total renovation of the basilica was ordered by Pope Clement XI which brings with it its distinctive baroque character. 

The interior of the basilica is thoroughly baroque in its style, however the building's more antique origins  might still be intimated by the presence of a confessio before the altar and sanctuary -- a feature that was typical for earlier Roman churches but not typically seen in counter-reformation foundations. This confessio is modern, constructed in 1837 and it was during the course of the excavations of this ancient crypt that the relics of St. Philip and St. James were rediscovered, having originally been brought to this location in the tenth century from one of the outlying catacombs for their safety and protection.  

The high altar

The confessio

View from within the confessio

If the baroque is not to your own tastes -- architecturally and artistically speaking -- then at very least while you are visiting the relics of Ss. James and Philip, you might find the crypt's decoration to be of some interest. As noted, the crypt was excavated in the nineteenth century and painted works were added in a paleochristian revival style around 1870 by Luigi Caramini, taking their direct inspiration from those found in the catacombs of San Callisto and Domitilla. One will no doubt recognize the style. While the decor is contemporary, peppered throughout the crypt are some ancient sarcophagi, including that of the apostles -- and thus as is so often the case in Rome, if you go into any one church you will find art and archeological objects that span the course of the ages of Christendom (if not also before). 

The tomb of the apostles

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