Magnanimous Raphael

Isn’t it joyful thought to see this exception that confirm the rule. The stereotype of an artist is weird, depressed, anxious, if not schizophrenic. His creation is the ‘relief valve’ of his malaise which brings to light his talent and genius.

What about Raphael? I am browsing through pages and pages that describe his life and his character but I can’t find the typical tortured mind and soul of an artist. I perceive a happy life. Short but happy.

A sublime image of beauty throughout his works. Smart flattering towards his employer, talent-scouting his own workshop, layers of interpretation in one work. His generosity of mind is also reflected in the “Rooms”. He asked some of the fired artists to be part of his team and they were (Sodoma, Bramantino i.e.) and he kept Perugino’s vault decoration in the Stanza Fire in Borgo, which Giulio II authorised to destroy.

Pietro Perugino
Jesus between Mercy and Justice

The Underground of S. John Lateran

Walking through the underground of Saint John Lateran, while crossing  the middle ship” of the church above, means walking through 2000 years of History. You discover the foundations of Septimius Severus’ barracks and reach ruins of domus’ of the I, II and the III century. Mosaic pavements, rests of frescos and the wall preparation is what remains of an opus sectile decoration. All this leads to the immagination of wealthy owners: this area indeed is also known for its rich residents: The Valeri, the Pisoni, the Laterani, even Domitia Lucilla, Marc Aurel’s mother lived in this aerea, and other very wealthy Romans lived here. People who took part of the public life of the City.
San Giovanni esempio castra

The barracks were built by Septimius Severus in 193, it took 4 years to finish these huge Castra for his horsemen body guards. Septimius indeed doubled the Imperial Guard, he wanted a guard to control the already exsisting guard which should  protect the life and position of the Emperor, but in those times of Civil War, Septimius was very careful.



The Lateran family lost the properties in this area in 65 , after the conspiracy against Nero was revealed Plauzio Lateran took part in it, he was killed and his ownings were confiscated.

With Septimius Severus (128 years later) who was friends with Sextus Lateranus, returned a part of the confiscated properties to Sextus when he built his barracks of the Nova Equites Singulares on the Campus Lateranus: the reason might be a reparation for him building on the confiscated properties. The area still today is called Lateran area, which means that this family had over centuries and centuries huges ownerships.


SG iscrizione

Another anecdot accompanies this place: the discovery of an turned capital, used ad altar, containing an inscription which dates the existance of the barracks: the Capital has 2 dates: 197 and 203. Very interesting is the fact that the contents of this capital was subjected to the damnatio memoriae: Dedicated to Septimius, Caracalla and Geta – after Caracalla killed Geta and after he decreed the damnatio memoriae, Geta’s name was cancelled on this inscription, most probably in 203,when the second inscription was placed.


SG Parete affresco


Though the history of the Campus Lateranus has another turn: When Constantine defeated Maxentius at Ponte Milvio / Saxa Rubra in 312 and after the passed the Edict of Toleration in 313, he razed the barracks to the ground and built the first official church of Rome above it. A political choice.

The Nova Equites Singulares took the side of Maxentius – which lead to their abolition and to the disctruction of the barracks after Constantine’s victory.



Constantine built the first church outside the centre, and in this area which was part of the defeated party. Moreover his wife, Fausta, Maxentius’ sister seemed to have her domus around the same area as well.

Disegno SG 1580

History and legend are melting here – while the Church of the Saviour (and later of St.John) becoming the church of the Bishop of Rome, the domus Faustae is given by Faustae to the Pope Miltiades – these donations lead in the middle ages to the false donation of Constantine – The Church claimed that Constantine had given the earthly power to the Church, justifying Church to rule Rome.

The Mithraic Temple of S.Prisca

The church of Santa Prisca on the Aventine Hill is the titular church of  Aquila e Priscilla / Prisca is in the hands of the Augustinian Order since the XVI century and conserves a baptismal fons (a modified corinthian capital) in which the legend says, St. Peter had baptized Aquila, Priscilla and Prisca .Battistero S.Prisca

The same central apse is decorated with frescoes of Fontebuoni, a painter from the circle of the Zuccari, which tells the stories of Prisca’s  baptism, martyrdom and the translation of her relics by Pope Eutychian. The altarpiece of the Pessignano instead describes the baptism of Priscilla done by Peter. Other curiosities of the church are the columns of the eighth century that were incorporated into pillars, when the church was almost completely rebuilt and restored in the twelfth century. A fire in ‘400 damaged  irretrievably  3 bays, so that the church itself was shortened stepping back the facade. Only much later, due to the restoration of the sacristy which is located on the right side of the little square and of the façade, the remains of a fresco inside the arches in the sacristy, frescoes of the eighth century, because these arches represent the ancient division naves of the original church. Inside the church you can see the continuation of the wall of the sacristy with the arches of the nave right.

Mappa S.Prisca

On the right there is a small altar of Santa Rita that comes from the church of Santa Rita, which was under the Aracoeli staircase. It was moved into here, after the dismantling of the church of Santa Rita with the Pick of the Duce. (Here a link with little information about the Church of S.Rita 🙂  ) 

One of the cardinal holders of Santa Prisca was Angelo Roncalli, for 5 years, before becoming Pope.

In 1934 the Augustinian fathers did start excavations under the present churche to find the Domus Ecclesiae of the Saints Aquila and Prisca. Remains were found instead of two domus of the I and II century, which over the decades have undergone many changes over the course of the third century and were turned into a mithraeum. These underground structures can be accessed from the garden of the church. The entrance leads to an apsidal, ancient nymphaeum which was transformed over the centuries into the mill, still containing  majolicas inside the pools.

Mitreo S Prisca corridoio

You walk  through a short hallway  passing huge columns drums (Ø 90cm) representing a retaining wall of the church in the surface. These columns  probably come from the near and ancient Temple of Diana. After passing several doors you arrive at the crypt of the twelfth completely frescoed by Fontebuoni, whose altar contains the relics of the martyr Prisca and in which you can find the above mentioned  the baptistery.

Behind the altar on the right, a staircase in a  narrow corridor leads you to additional areas of the imperial domus and eventually to the vestibule of the mithraeum – this vestibule was obtain  in 220 from the same mithraeum apparently an entrance area was necessary, before the temple itself, the sanctuary where the sacred banquet was held. It is assumed that a fenced area of the vestibule, which contains the remains of a statue depicting a giant anguipede perhaps, was used as trench of blood – for sacrifices of small animals, it is almost certain that no bull had ever been sacrified in this mithraum, due to the small size this vestibule.

VestiboloThe sanctuary, the holiest place of all environments within a mithraeum , is unique not only in Rome , but among all discovered mithraea: for both the frescoes and for the graffiti that are located inside. In this room the sacred banquet took place after the tauroctony (even if only symbolic sacrfices with smaller animals ). Only the initiates of the cult of Mithras had access to this room and only men , because women were not admitted to this cult . The inziates were semi- reclined on the podia , and were served water and bread by inziates of lower degrees of initiation . Above the podia you can find the frescoes that make this so special mithraeum : You can see the characters depicting the inziati of all levels and above all the character of the words that give its degree and the planet – protector divinity. Moreover you see a procession of initiates of Leones , the fourth degree of initiation that proceeds towards the banquet between Mithras and the Sun. At the entrance to the temple you pass two niches , one right and one left , which contained the two torch-bearers, inseparable companions in the Mithraic iconography . Quite well conversed  is the torch-bearer Cautes – depiction of Lucifer, the morning star, announcement of the day.

Affresco S.Prisca

The other unique in this mithraeum is the graffiti that allows us to give an exact date of when this temple existed. We are talking about the  20th novembre 202 e.v.: “Born first light, in the consulship of Severus and Antoninus (Septimius Severus and Caracalla)  i.e. in 202 ev, the twelfth day of the Kalends of December, Saturday eighteenth after the new moon, id.e. the 20th of november “. There are two hypotheses: either the same mithraeum was consecrated on that date, or most likely, an initiate is reborn first ligh, i.e. he has become adept of the cult of Mithras, so to say he is reborn and he wrote it down.

Nato prima luce

The niche at the end of the podia normally depicts the focus moment of the worship, i.e. the tauroctony in this mithraeum indicates the moment before instead: God Mithras dragging the primordial bull in the cave, accompanied by his dog (animal symbol of the degree of the lion) in order to proceed with the sacrifice, the killing of the bull. The killing itself is perhaps shown in the cave under the arch, but  is almost unreadable.

Nicchia Mitreo S.PriscaThe other three environments in the mithraeum were taken from the portico of one of the domus, one is the hall of initiation, the hall of purification that retains an interesting niche  (quite run down), but archaeologists state that this niche contained a decoration with seven concentric circles  representing the planetary spheres, in the center the head of the sun god, with the twelve zodiac signs. The last room is the apparatorium, a room dedicated to clothes the liturgical furnishings.

During the fourth century and with the rise of Christianity, probably when  the first church was built, the mithraeum was violently destroyed. Nevertheless, we are able to admire the wonderful tracks to reconstruct the footsteps of this mystery religion.

In-Depth, details about the Mithras Cult

The Mithras Cult

The god Mithras was part of the polytheistic firmament in ancient Iran and India. Mentioned in the ancient Vedas (1400 p.e.v.) and later Zarathustra wrote down the dogma of his religion including Mithras  (ca.800-600 BCE)

Mithras has always represented as covenant, friendship, loyalty to a contract, fidelity through a handshake, and all connected  gestures.

During Hellenism  mithraic current developped which had the tauroctony as the most significant moments of Mithraism.

The mithraism, which spread in the Roman Empire in the first century BCE is different from the Indo-Iranian cult – has created a mystery, cosmogonic and saving religion and above all a secret one. The core of this religion is the creation of the cosmos through the tauroctony.

Mithras makes a pact with the Sun and is notified by a messenger (the raven) that it is time to kill the primoridal bull. This sacrifice of the bull gives life to the world and to life. After the killing of the bull, Mithras and the sun  participate in the sacred banquet. The iconography of this scene is almost always represented the same way:

TauroctoniaMitra takes the bull by its nostrils and sticking a dagger into the jugular, looking toward the sun. From the bull’s flooding blood grows life, it fertilizes the soil. From the bull’s tail comes a spike, another symbol of growth in the world. A dog and a snake are trying to lick the wound, a scorpion grabs the testicles of the bull with its pincers to get the semen (another symbol that gives life). On the right, you can seet the moon, which ascends the bull after his death. In the scene we also find the two torch bearers, inseparable companions of Mithras, Cautes with the raised torch and Cautopates with the lowered torch.

The Mithraic cult is made of a pater and his followers. The community is governed by a rigid structure divided into degrees of initiation, the last degree represents the Father, the spiritual leader of the community.

Here below the seven degrees of initiation which also correspond to the seven planets(known at that time) , as well as to the seven protective deities, from the lowest to the highest degree:

  • Corax – the degree of the raven under the protection of Mercury
  • Nymphus – the degree of the chrysalis under the protection of Venus
  • Miles – the degree of the soldier under the protection of Mars
  • Leo – the lion’s degree, under the protection of Jupiter
  • Perses – the degree of the Persian under the protection of the Moon
  • Heliodromus – the degree of the courier of the sun under the protection of the Sun
  • Pater – Mithras himself  is under the protection of Saturn
in order to become part of the community and to pass various degrees of initiation, the adepts were to overcome several proofs. There is no certainty of this, only despicable descriptions by Christians, therefore, perhaps not quite reliable.:-) Other details will follow!

San Clemente – The Time Machine


Masolino da Panicale - S.Caterina

The  Basilica of San Clemente with its mosaic and frescos is a jewel of middle age, renaissance and baroque artworks.

Then you walk down the first staircase, and you “travel” into the 4th century CE.
san clemente paleocristiano

It is just amazing how you can see and touch a period between the IV and the XI century. Through the frescos you discover the importance of Cirillo and Metodio and the change from Byzantine to Roman style.

Inscriptions and tombstones of the Roman Empire – and a copy of  a Mithraic Altar in the southern aisle… which leads you to the next layer – another staircSan Clemente affresco messa e sisinnioase and  to the I as well art to the  III century CE – were the real mithreum with its altar was hidden. Implanted in a Roman Insula of the I century.  The religion that lost the competition again Christianity.
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In depth

In Depth- San Clemente

This area near to the Colosseum had most probably Republican buildings which were included in Nero’s huge Villa, his Domus Aurea. The whole area was destroyed with the terrible fire of 64 CE. After Nero’s death, the Flavian Family gave back to the Roman Citizens most of the territory by building a public building for spectacles: The Flavian Amphiteatre, aka the Colosseum.

During the first century CE the area next to the Colosseum became an area with Insulas, lofts, and Domitian moved the mint after the fire of 80 CE to this location.

Therefore we have the Eastern side which is most probably either a mint or a warehouse, because the building consists in little rooms with no window or other than one entrance towards the center, where either a courtyard or a central atrium was located.

piantina3 fine I secoloThe western part shows a structure that might have been a villa or an insula, i.e. an apartment building with more floors.


Later some of the rooms of this insula turned into a sanctuary for the worship of

Mithras. The cult of Mithras was a very old pagan religion brought to Rome by the legionaries who came back home from Persia. It was a secret and “saving” religion. The then 3000 years old religion was transformed into a Greek-Roman cult in which its main message was through Mithra who created the Cosmos by tauroctony, slaying a bull.


Location: Via San Giovanni in Laterano / corner Piazza San Clemente

Opening Hours: Mon-Sat 9-12:30, 15-18 |Sun, Holidays: 12-18

Entrance to Excavations: €5, reduced €3.50