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Bill Thayer

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Tucked Away Amidst the Aqueducts

[image ALT: A small narrow garden with a two-story building in the background. Along the right, an ancient brick wall. It is a view of the church of S. Tommaso in Formis and the ruins of part of the Aqua Claudia, a Roman aqueduct, in Rome.]

The church appears to be enclosed in a walled garden.

Usually, one of the most prominent features of a church is its façade, with a door fronting right on the street, or even its own square. The church of S. Tommaso in Formis is an exception: what fronts on the street is not the church itself but its hospital, and this is its front door, concealed between the hospital on our left and the old brick wall we see on our right. Clearly, the church's founder St. Giovanni de Matha was not aiming for show, but for public service.

And the wall? Well, I think he just found some cheap land. Back in the early 12c, this was an uninhabited area consisting mostly of vacant lots and ruins. Part of the remains of the so‑called Neronian Arches, a branch of the Aqua Claudia, one of the great aqueducts of ancient Rome, this wall was already over a thousand years old — and by providing one side of the church and hospital complex, made his order's headquarters that much cheaper to build. The aqueduct (forma in Latin) also shows up in the name of the church.

Below is a view of the street frontage. Our garden is behind the block of buildings; for the view above, we need to go thru the gate on the right (the so‑called Arch of Dolabella) and make a sharp left into the walled enclosure.

[image ALT: On the left, a brick building with a marble arch around the door, and a niche above the arch, with a circular mosaic in it. On the right, a small arched stone gateway with some brick superstructure. It is a view of the street frontage of the church of S. Tommaso in Formis and the adjacent ancient Roman Arch of Dolabella, in Rome.]

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Page updated: 9 Jun 03