The ancient church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli stands on the spot where, according to a medieval legend, the Tiburtine Sibyl appeared to Augustus to announce the birth of the son of God, in whose honour, the emperor duly raised an altar on the Capitol; an altar (ara) to heaven (coeli).
Santa Maria in Aracoeli was founded before the 8th century when it was known as Sancta Maria in Capitolio. The current church dates back to the middle of the 13th century. The beautiful interior contains 22 diverse ancient Roman columns and a lovely Cosmatesque pavement.
The gilded wooden ceiling was created (1572-85) to mark the victory of the Christian fleets against the Ottomans at the Battle of Lepanto on October 7th, 1571. The papal fleet was commanded by Marcantonio Colonna, a Roman nobleman.
The ceiling bears the four letters ‘S. P. Q. R.’ (Senatus Populusque Romanus/Senate and the Roman people), for Santa Maria in Aracoeli has long been the designated church of the city of Rome.
A flight of 124 ancient marble steps leads up to the church.
Blogging about Rome,
its art, history and culture.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private and
small-group walking tours
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