— Feria Secunda post Dominicam Quartam in Quadragesima — Statio ad Ss. Quatuor Coronatos —
Tradition holds the first church on the site was begun by Pope Miltiades, in the 4th century on the north side of the Coelian Hill. One of the first churches of Rome, it bore the Titulus Aemilianae from the name of the foundress, who probably owned the elaborate Roman villa, whose structure is evident under the church. The church was completed by the end of the 6th century, and because of its proximity to the medieval papal residence of the Lateran Palace, it became prominent in its day. The first renovations occurred under Pope Leo IV (847-855), who built the crypt under the nave, added to side aisles, enclosed the courtyard before the facade, and built the belltower and the chapels of Saints Barbara and Nicholas. The new remarkable basilica, Carolingian architecture in style, was 95 m long and 50 m wide.
This church, however, was burned to the ground by Robert Guiscard’s troops during the Norman Sack of Rome (1084). Instead of rebuilding the original basilica to scale, Pope Paschal II built a smaller basilica with a two courtyards, one in front of the other; the first corresponding to the original 9th century courtyard, while the second was sited over the initial part of the nave. The two aisles were included in the Cardinal Palace (on the right) and in the Benedictine monastery founded by Paschal himself (on the left). The original apse of the basilica, however, was preserved, and seems oversized for the new church, whose nave was divided into three parts by means of columns. The new church was consecrated on January 20, 1116. In 1338 it was a possession of the Sassovivo Abbey.
In the 13th century a Cosmatesque cloister was added. The Cardinal Palace was enlarged by cardinal Stefano Conti, a nephew of Pope Innocent III. Cardinal Conti also transformed the palace into a fortress, to shelter Popes in the Lateran during the conflict with the Hohenstaufen emperors. In 1247, the chapel of St Sylvester, on the ground floor of the fortress, was consecrated; it contains frescoes depicting the stories of Pope Silvester I and Emperor Constantine I, among which the baptism of the emperor, as well as a depiction of the Donation of Constantine. Painted in the backdrop of political struggles between Pope Innocent IV and the freshly excommunicated holy Roman emperor Frederick II, the frescoes are meant to underscore the desired sovereignty of the Church (Pope Silvester) over the Empire (Constantine).
When the Popes moved to Avignon (14th century), the Cardinal Palace fell into ruin. Thus, upon the return of the Popes to Rome with Pope Martin V, a restoration was necessary. However, when the Papal residence moved from the Lateran to the Vatican palace, this basilica lost importance. In 1564, Pope Pius IV entrusted the basilica and the surrounding buildings to the Augustinians, who still serve it.
Once the building became an orphanage, the Augustinian nuns put a revolving drum by its entrance which was used as a deposit “box” for unwanted babies.
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