Santa Maria in Trastevere - History and Facts | History Hit

Santa Maria in Trastevere

Rome, Lazio, Italy

Santa Maria in Trastevere is thought to have been the first Christian church in Rome.

Peta Stamper

01 Jun 2021

About Santa Maria in Trastevere

Santa Maria in Trastevere is thought to have been one of the first – if not actually the first – of the Christian churches in Italy’s capital, Rome.

Whilst most of the building and works contained in Santa Maria in Trastevere date back to the 12th and 13th centuries, the church itself may date back as far as the 3rd century, when it is thought to have been founded by Pope Callixtus. Others believe it was established in mid-4th century by Pope Julius I.

Legend has it that an oil fountain miraculously appeared on the site of Santa Maria in Trastevere on the date of the birth of Christ. Today, Santa Maria in Trastevere houses a series of colourful medieval frescos.

Santa Maria in Trastevere history

An inscription on the episcopal throne states that Santa Maria in Trastevere was the first church dedicated to Mary in Rome, although whether it was this church or the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is unknown. Nevertheless, in 220 AD Pope Saint Callixtus I founded a Christian house-church on the site of a refuge for soldiers. The Roman Emperor Alexander Severus allowed Christians the area.

During the 5th and 8th centuries, the church underwent restorations and in 1140 was rebuilt on its original foundations by Pope Innocent II, who in the process razed a tomb to his rival, Antipope Anaceltus II. Innocent arranged for his own tomb to replace that of Anaceltus.

The beautifully carved arches were taken from the ruined Baths of Caracella, although in 1870 when the faces carved into the arches were decided to be the Egyptian deities Isis, Serapis and Harpocrates, Pius IX had them hammered off.

Santa Maria in Trastevere today

Open every day each week between 7.30am and 9pm, Santa Maria in Trastevere remains an ancient Christian monument, with its beautiful Romanesque bell tower and working clock, as well as a mosaic depicting Mary with other women dating back to the 12th century.

Inside, the mysterious Pietro Cavallini mosaics tell the story of Mary, featuring the birth of Jesus and the Annunciation. See the spot where the legendary spout of oil was seen gushing from the ground, highlighted on the stairs to the presbyterium. You can also look for a small niche filled with instruments of torture used against martyrs, such as chains and stones.

Getting to Santa Maria in Trastevere

To reach Santa Maria in Trastevere, buses 115 or 23, 280 and n3s stop within 5 minutes walking distance of the church, along the Via Garbaldi and by the Ponte Garibaldi respectively. Tram 8 stops at Belli, just next to the Ponte Garibaldi, also 5 minutes walk away.