The church of Sant' Urbano alla Caffarella is situated well off the beaten track, hidden away in the Parco alla Caffarella, in the south-east of Rome.
The church was originally an ancient temple, which, in the 9th century, was converted into an oratory dedicated to St Urban, a bishop martyred at the time of the emperor Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-80).
The temple, which may have been dedicated to the goddesses Ceres and Faustina (wife of the emperor Antoninus Pius, whom he deified), stood on the vast agricultural estate of Herodes Atticus, a 2nd century CE Greek philosopher and politician.
Small in size, the temple stood on a high podium and was made entirely of brick, apart from the four marble columns at the front. It has been dated to the third or fourth decade of the 2nd century CE.
The current appearance of the building is the result of a radical restoration undertaken in 1634 by Pope Urban VIII (r. 1623-44), who had the spaces between the four columns of the temple's pronaos bricked in. He also added buttresses to the corners.
The church contains an interesting cycle of medieval frescoes, signed and dated by one Fratel Bonizzo (1011). The frescoes were retouched in 1634 as part of the restoration.
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 walking tours of Rome.
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