The Roman Basilica of Santa Francesca Romana (Santa Maria Nova)

The Basilica of Santa Francesa Romana is not a Roman basilica one typically hears of and yet it sits in one of the most prominent and well-visited tourist attractions in all of Rome: the Roman Forum. 

Originally, in the eighth century, another oratory had been established on this site -- the location of a former pagan Roman temple. After this fell into ruin, the current structure was erected under the name of "Santa Maria Nova." The church was enlarged further still in the thirteenth century and in the sixteenth it was rededicated to the then newly canonized St. Frances of Rome (whose relics were placed here). 

One of the particularly noteworthy pieces of art in the basilica is the twelfth century apse mosaic that depicts the Virgin and Child enthroned (they are shown wearing imperial garb as is so often the case in the works of this period).  To either side are found St. John, St. James, St. Peter and St. Andrew (who wear typical Roman togas adorned with gammadiae). Above, proceeding from the heavens, we see the hand of God the Father holding a crown of laurels. Along the bottom is the inscription, "Continent in gremio coelum, te in domo, Sancta Dei Genitrix proceres comitantur erilem," while the Chi-Rho on the arch crowns it all. 

Below this is the Renaissance high altar of the basilica, above which we find a beautiful twelfth century icon of the Virgin and Child. To either side of this are seventeenth century frescoes by Canuti depicting the martyrdom of the martyrs Nemesius, Exuperia, Sempronius, Olympius, Lucilla and Theodulus (catacomb martyrs whose relics were enshrined here between A.D. 996-999).

It was during contemporary restoration work being done on this icon that it was discovered that the twelfth century icon actually covered over another, even older one; one thought to be from the sixth century (and thus also one of the oldest extant icons of the Virgin Mary in existence):

Of all the art treasures to be found within this church, this early Marian icon is undoubtedly the most valuable of them all.

Still, I'd be remiss to not at least make passing mention of the fact that the basilica also includes some of its original thirteenth century cosmatesque pavement as well as a beautiful coffered ceiling in which the Virgin and Child, St. Agnes and St. Cecilia prominently feature.

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