Living in Rome
Nothing in Rome is left to chance, but it is not always obvious at first glance. At any time in history, when emperors and popes built palaces, temples or churches, they had a grand plan. Beyond the symbolism inherent to every individual work of art, they made sure the urban design of the city had its share of hidden meaning.
The three churches of St John Latran, Santa Maria Maggiore and the Holy Cross in Jerusalem (Santa Croce in Gerusalemme), are some of the most important churches in Rome. Santa Maria Maggiore on the Esquiline hill, famous for its rare 5th century mosaics, and St John Latran, the cathedral of Rome at the start of the via Appia, are two of the four Papal basilicas (together with St Peter’s and St Paul-outside-the-walls). On the other hand, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme is said to hold the true relic of the cross, supposedly brought back to Rome by Emperor Constantine’s mother Helena, a great believer in Christianity. Her son Constantine, who ruled from 306 to 337, was the first Christian emperor of Rome.
However, the three churches are also linked by the symbolic triangle of the Trinity, the basis of Christian Faith. Seen on a map of the city, they actually form a triangle, that of the Trinity, but they also symbolize three major moments in the life of Jesus: the nativity (Santa Maria maggiore), the passion (Santa Croce) and the ascension (St John Lateran). The main arteries to connect the three churches were opened in the 18th century under Pope Benedict XIV. He was himself in charge of Santa Croce before being elected to St Peter’s throne. At that time, towards the end of the Baroque era, Rome had become the set of a great urban theatre, where prospective views and plays on optical illusions came to distort the truth.