The last internal visit on this trip. This church (properly known as Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri),another building which has been sculpted out of the remains of the Baths of Diocletian, dominates one side of the Piazza della Repubblica. The basilica was designed by Michelangelo, with work beginning just a year before his death in 1564, and is a stunning blend of old and new, ancient and modern.
The church was originally dedicated to the Carthusian order, who owned a monastery next door until the unification of Italy when the site became the official state church of the Italian Kingdom. The original 16th Century façade was also removed at around this time to expose the original walls of the Baths complex. The bronze doors are a rather more recent addition, having been designed in 2006 by sculptor Igor Mitoraj. Here’s a detail from one of the doors.
Mitoraj also designed this sculpture of the head of John the Baptist, situated within one of the side chapels, and atmospherically lit – this contrasted with the rest of the church as sunset was fast approaching during our visit.
Internally, it was possible to appreciate the scale of Diocletian’s baths complex – even more than our visit to the museum complex had enabled – with the part below being the walking area between the hot, and tepid baths.
The basilica is known for its meridian line, which according to the accompanying plaque, was used to regulate the time across Rome between 1702 and 1846, when a midday cannon took its place. The meridian line, and its commissioning, show a growing appreciation of science by the church, or at least its ability to make a statement over pagan timekeeping! Every day, at solar noon the sun shines through a hole in the wall to cast its light on this line.
If you’d like to see how the meridian works, there’s a quite long video (in Italian) below showing how the last Winter solstice (in December 2013) was marked.
There’s also a nod to astronomy in the work on the dome, seen below.
Unlike the other presepi we saw in our few days in the city, this abstract one was designed by Carlo Lorenzetti, and brings the basilica right up to date.