The church of Santa Francesca Romana, once known as Santa Maria Nova, incorporates an oratory to St Peter and St Paul which was built by Pope Paul I (r. 757-67) in the ruins of the ancient Temple of Venus and Roma.
A church on this site was known by the tenth century. It was named Santa Maria Nova to distinguish it from the other church inside the Roman forum devoted to Mary, Santa Maria Antiqua.
The beautiful apse mosaics were added circa 1161. In the centre of the apse we see the Virgin and Child with St Peter and St Andrew to the right and St James and St John to the left. All of the figures are placed under an arcade of round arches, the pillars of which separate them as they do in ancient sarcophagi. Two of the pillars are twisted. Above the arcade is a representation of a brick structure, which is unique in Roman mosaics.
The facade, by Carlo Lombardi (1559-1620), dates back to a reconstruction of the church in 1615.
The church is dedicated to St Francesca Romana (1384-1440), a home-grown Roman saint. Born Francesca Bussa de' Leoni, she founded the Congregation of Oblates in 1421, and joined it herself after the death of her husband Lorenzo Ponziani in 1436. She was canonised in 1608 and is interred in the crypt of 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
Search Walks in Rome: