Thursday, February 07, 2008

Stational Church: San Giorgio al Velabro

Today's Stational Church in Rome is San Giorgio Velabro, dedicated to St. George, the Great Martyr.

Pope St Gregory established a diaconia, an institution that cared for the poor, at the site of this church. The area has a special place in the history of Rome, as an ancient tradition claims that it was here that Romulus killed his brother Remus before founding the city.

According to a 10th century copy of an older document, the first church here was built in the 7th century or earlier, possibly under Pope Leo II (682-683), originally as the S Sebastiano. There is a hint of an even older church or chapel at the site in an inscription from 482 in the Catacombs of Callixtus; it mentions a lector named Augustus as "lectoris de bela bru".

The present dedication is unusual for an early church in the West, as there was little devotion to St George in the West until the Crusaders brought it with them from the East. The area was inhabited by many Greek merchants drawn to the Tiber's inlet, the Velabrum. Pope Zacharias (741-752) ordered the relics of St George to be moved here from the Lateran palace.

It was restored by Pope Gregory IV (827 - 844). A new apse was added, and the portico was added to the fa├žade. Pope Clement IX (1667 - 1669) also restored it.

In 1347, Cola di Rienzo posted his notice warning of the coming revolt on the architrave above the portico of the church.

Pope Pius VII (1800 - 1823) granted the church to the Congregation of S Maria del Pianto.It was later given to the Order of the Holy Cross (Crocigeri), who serve it today; their generalate is adjacent to the church.

The church was restored by A. Munoz in 1926. He was commissioned by Pope Pius XI. The object of the restoration was to as far as possible turn it back to its original state.

On July 27th 1993, the portico and the generalate were damaged by a bomb. One theory is that the location of the bombing was chosen because of the legend of Romulus and Remus mentioned above; in other words, it may have been a symbolic attack on Rome as the centre of the Italian government. It was restored in 1997.

Among the former titular deacons of the church is John Henry Cardinal Newman (died 1890), one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement. The current titular of the church is H.E. Alfons Maria Cardinal Stickler, S.D.B.

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