Sunday, February 9, 2014

Basilica of Saint Sabina

I suspect Garry Wills, U.S. historian, practicing Catholic, and relentless and eloquent critic of the Catholic Church as it functions now, would probably love Saint Sabina, one of the most beautiful early churches I have seen.  I think Wills would love it because it beckons back to the early church, before much of the overlay of hierarchy and judgment that he has criticized.  Spare, humble, dark -- it is such a contrast to some of the excessiveness one sometimes feels in much later churches.  As a preservation issue, it is complicated.  The Church was largely brought back to its 9th century feeling (which already represents a big enlargement on the first, 5th century church) in the 1930s.  Much of that work was about revealing what was beneath later additions.  But certainly, it was also much changed.  And the Renaissance chapel and apse, with elaborate frescoes remained in the renovations. Figuring out what is "original" (like the doors, which are some of the very oldest carved wooden doors anywhere) and what has been changed by previous generations, or by the restorers in the 20th century, can be maddening.  I will note that the columns are original and were not pillaged from other buildings, as was so common for major buildings after the fall of the empire.

But after all is sad and done, it is a beautiful place.  In addition, this dark, quiet interior, is balanced by a neighboring terrace, lined with orange trees, and culmination in a panoramic view of the city.

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