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Bill Thayer

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Pagan and Christian Inscriptions
in the Church of S. Maria in Trastevere

[image ALT: Most of a large interior wall, some 5 meters tall and maybe 7 meters long. Into its lower half have been set should be told three dozen stone inscriptions, some of them a meter long or more, others the size of a person's hand; beneath them, four large fragments of decorative panels bearing geometric designs or arabesques. It is a wall of the narthex of the church of S. Maria in Trastevere in Rome.]

Part of the N wall of the porch. The other walls are like it, only more so.

Many of the older churches in Rome have a lapidary collection by the entrance: the mix of stone you see above is very typical. We can recognize on the far left the center of the front of a Roman strigil sarcophagus, bits of mostly Late Antique tombstones on either side of Pope Clement XI's framed commemorative plaque, part of a monumental inscription from the Macellum Liviae below that, with a long piece of architectural ornament from something equally large, and at the bottom the characteristic knotwork of the high Middle Ages. Most of these fragments of stone were taken up from the floor inside the church in the late 19c: the older paleochristian inscriptions, however, originally come from various catacombs outside the City, and were brought to that floor in the Renaissance.

Also, in the upper left corner, a video camera to keep us behaving properly: the porch of another Roman church, after all, was bombed by the Mafia and severely damaged as recently as 1993.

Here are a pair of inscriptions from one of the other walls. Once you turn that Latin into English, there's always a story:

[image ALT: A close‑up of a bit of ancient Roman stone, showing a rudely drawn bird on the viewer's left, followed by the first letters of a late antique Roman inscription.]

The tombstone of Brumasia, a Christian couple's baby girl.

[image ALT: A Roman inscription on stone, occupying nine lines of somewhat crude lettering, enclosed in a square border.]

The pagan tombstone of Aulus Larcius, a minor functionary who seems to have had it rough in life.

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Page updated: 28 Aug 01