Friday, February 22, 2008

Stational Church: San Vitale


The full name of the church is Santi Vitale, Valeria, Gervasio e Protasio, or alternatively Santi Vitale e Compagni Martiri in Fovea.

It was built about 400, and consecrated by Pope Innocent I in 401/2. The dedication to St Vitalis and his family was given in 412.

The church has been rebuilt several times,of which the most comprehensive rebuilding was that of Pope Sixtus IV before the 1475 Jubilee. It was then granted to Clerics Regular.

The church was granted to the Jesuits in 1598 by Pope Clement VIII. They carried out a complete restoration, and used it mainly for the novitiate.

It has been served by diocesan clergy since 1873, and was made a parochial church by Pope Leo XIII in 1884.

The church was renovated in 1937-38, and restored in 1960.

The first cardinal priest of the church was Gennaro Cardinal Celio, appointed in 494 by Pope St Gelasius I. St John Cardinal Fisher, who was martyred by Henry VIII, was the titular of St Vitale in 1535. The current titular is H.E. Adam Joseph Cardinal Maida, Archbishop of Detroit.

The portico is the most ancient part of the church, possibly dating back to the 5th century. It was altered at the end of the 16th century. The inscription on the portico, with the arms of Pope Sixtus IV, dates from this time.

The staircase was constructed on order from Pope Pius IX in 1859.

The church has a single nave. The apse has been preserved from the original building. The painting in the apse depicts The Ascent to Calvary, and was painted by Andrea Commodi.

The high altar is decorated with the arms of the Della Rovere family and a painting of the saints to whom the church is dedicated.

The walls are painted with scenes of martyrdoms, which when you first see them appear to be merely landscapes. There are inscriptions on each, explaining whose martyrdom is depicted. An amusing anachronism can be seen in the Martyrdom of St Ignatius of Antioch - he faces the lions in a meadow, with the Colosseum in ruins in the background.

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