Trastevere means “over the Tiber”. In the early days, across the river was the beginning of Etruscan country. The Etruscans taught the Romans construction methods, which the Romans perfected with engineering. Trastevere has always taken pride in being different from Rome. It has been artistic, avant-garde, and devout. Throughout Rome, we see shrines, frescoes, bas-relief sculptures, plaques, and paintings usually of the Blessed Virgin Mary and child Jesus and frequently with a light or lantern so that they can be seen at night as well as during the day. They are on private buildings, most often at a street corner. It seems that there is a higher concentration of these shrines in Trastevere than in other parts of Rome.
Our tour started with a tower erected by one of the powerful families in the 13th century. In the same block, we saw the Church of Saint Chrysogonus. It contained an underground church – ruins of the original 5th century church and 8th century additions. As in many other places in Rome, new construction is frequently built on top of older structures without completely destroying or removing the older building. The present building at ground level was built in the 12th century and modified in the 16th and 17th centuries. The underground church was about as large as the present church. Below are photos of one of the passage ways and a long side aisle from the original church (a supporting wall has been added).
The next stop on our Trastevere tour was Santa Cecilia in Trastevere. We first heard of Saint Cecilia when we visited the Catacombs of San Callisto, since she had been buried there. She was born and lived in Rome and was martyred in about 230 AD. Her home had been a church and is the site of the present church. Cecilia converted her husband and brother-in-law to Christianity. They were martyred. Officials then attempted to smother Cecilia in a steam room, but cool dew miraculously appeared. They attempted to chop her head off, but three blows by the executioner did not remove her head. Cecilia survived another three days. Her remains had been transferred to this church from the catacombs during the first barbarian invasions. The sculpture by Stefano Maderno (1599) shows the agony of her final days. On one hand, she is holding three fingers extended for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and on the other hand she is holding one finger extended because we believe in one God. Also visible is Cecilia’s wounded neck.
The present Church of Saint Cecilia was built in 822 (Pope Paschal I appears in the mosaic in the apse) over the home church that existed in the 3rd century. In the crypt beneath the church there were excavations of the original home church (Titulus Santa Cecilia), several ancient Roman houses, and a sarcophagus with inscriptions from the 2nd century BC. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Cecilia_in_Trastevere.
We also visited the Chiesa San Francesco a Ripa. This church held one of Bernini’s masterpieces, the Ecstacy of Blessed Ludovica Albertoni, done in 1674. Ludovica Albertoni was a Franciscan Tertiary and is buried beneath the altar. Later, we saw the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere. The present church was built in 1140, but previous churches on this location were built during the time of Pope Julius I (337-352) and Pope Calixtus (217-222). Mosaics date from the 12th century.
To return home, we walked across Ponte Sisto, a bridge built at the urging of Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484). This bridge was modernized in the 19th century. This bridge and two others in our neighborhood are for pedestrians, only.