Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri - History and Facts | History Hit

Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri

Rome, Lazio, Italy

An impressive 16th century church in Rome, built by Michelangelo using the structural remains of the ancient Baths of Diocletian.

Peta Stamper

21 Jun 2021

About Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri

The Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri (St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs) in Rome is a large and impressive 16th century church constructed within the remains of the Baths of Diocletian and masterminded by renowned Renaissance artist Michelangelo.

Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri history

Though centuries had passed since the fall of the Roman Empire, the massive Baths of Diocletian were still standing in the 16th century. Taking advantage of the huge structural shell which faced the sun, the new Christian basilica was built inside the great hall and frigidarium. Dedicated to Christian martyrs known and unknown, using the baths as a foundation also provided an ironic and fitting reminder of early Christian persecution by the Romans.

The basilica was also to be the last great work of Michelangelo, who began the project in 1563 but died in 1564, before its completion by Jacopo Lo Duca, a pupil of Michelangelo’s. During the Kingdom of Italy from 1861 until 1941, the church was used for religious state occasions, and is home to the tombs of successful World War One commanders.

In the early 18th century, Pope Clement XI commissioned the astronomer and mathematicians Francesco Biachini to build a meridian line – a sort of sundial – in the basilica. Completed in 1702, the meridian line allowed the pope to check the accuracy of the new Gregorian calendar and predict Easter exactly, as well as giving Rome a line just like the one in San Petronio, Bologna.

Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri today

Today, the basilica is full of breathtaking statues and paintings, especially the magnificent vaulted transept by Michelangelo.

One of the most notable features for those visiting Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri is the meridian line: built into the basilica floor and gaps in the ceiling, the line was used to measure the passage of the stars and sun.

The sheer scale of the build is not only impressive in its own right, but also gives a good indication of the size of the original baths, of which the basilica is only one part. Those looking to find a more unaltered view of the original baths should visit the nearby Aula Ottagona.

Getting to Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri

The basilica is easily reached on foot at the busy intersection of Piazza della Repubblica, or by Rome’s public transport: catch the metro to Repubblica – Teatro dell-Opera only 4 minutes walk away, or to Termini only 6 minutes walk away.