From Roman Temple to Christian church

The temple as it appeared in the Roman period

Last month I was in Rome and one theme of my trip was looking at pagan temples of the Roman period that were then converted into Christian churches during the Middle Ages. Here we see how the Temple to Faustina became a church to Saint Lawrence.

The Roman Forum in Rome is an incredible place to walk around. You have to use your imagination to picture the grandeur of the imperial city. But there are enough architectural clues. Some of the best preserved ancient Roman buildings were temples later converted into a church. Then in the 20th century – the later additions were stripped away to reveal the original structure.

From the pagan temple to Faustina to a Christian baroque church

In the middle of the Roman Forum are the pillared remains of a temple built by the emperor Antoninus Pius and dedicated to his dead wife, Faustina. The building took twenty years to complete between 141CE and 161CE. Antoninus Pius was ruler of the Roman empire during a period of relative stability and enormous wealth. When the emperor died, it was dedicated to both him and his wife.

150 years later – after a long period of chaos – Rome became Christian and the temple fell out of use. As so often happened during the late empire, the temple began to be recycled as it fell into disuse. However the outer ring of columns and walls survived. This was in spite of one attempt to pull down the pillars, evidenced by cut marks at the top of the columns.

During the Byzantine period, the temple was converted into the church of San Lorenzo in Miranda – possibly based on the belief that Saint Lawrence was martyred there. You can still see steps leading up to the door of the church built in the Middle Ages. However, the main door of the church is now stranded in mid-air, high above ground level. Repeated excavations over the centuries have removed so much earth and debris that it’s impossible to enter San Lorenzo.

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