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The Basilica of Saint Mary of The Angels and Martyrs
was created by the will of Antonio Lo Duca (Duca or Del Duca), a Sicilian priest devoted to the cult of angels. Lo Duca, who was born in Cefalù in 1491 and died in Rome in 1564 expressed his passion from a young age when he was appointed choir-master of the Palermo Cathedral (1513 – 1515). During this time whilst teaching choir to a group of clerics, he discovered an antique painting of the Seven Princes of the Angels which had miraculously re-emerged after centuries of neglect in the small Church of Saint Angelo .
He went to Rome in 1527 and became chaplain to Cardinal A. Del Monte who was uncle of the future Pope Giulio III. He succeeded in securing recognition of the devotion to the Seven Princes of the Angels as well as composing a Mass for them.
After the death of the patron cardinal (1533), Antonio became chaplain to the Cardinal of the Count of Cifuentes who was ambassador to the Emperor Charles V. Since his arrival in Rome , Antonio had hoped that the Mass of the Seven Angels would be officially approved. But his attempts proved to be in vain even after the arrival of Pope Paul III Farnese. In fact, he was to receive appointments and prebends from the Pope which sent him back to Sicily .
After a few years he returned to Rome and became chaplain of Saint Mary of Loreto at Trajan's Forum. It was in this church that, during the summer of 1541, he saw a vision: a “light whiter than snow” emerging from the Diocletian Thermal Baths and at the centre were the seven martyrs (Saturnino, Ciriaco, Largo , Smaragdo, Sisinnio, Trasone and Pope Marcello). From this moment on, Antonio was convinced that a temple dedicated to the Seven Angels must be built in the middle of the majestic thermal ruins. He marked the columns of the great ancient tepidarium hall with the names of the seven angels (Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Jeudiele, Salatiele, Barachiele and Uriel). He began to entertain the idea of building a church dedicated to the Seven Angels and the Seven Martyrs. However, he did not have the support of the then Pope Paul III.
In 1543 he went to Venice to print the booklet for Mass, prayers and angelic images. At this time he commissioned a painting of the Virgin with the Seven Angels which was a copy of an existing mosaic in the Basilica of Saint Mark. Today the painting can be found in the centre of the apse, behind the high altar of the Basilica.
When he returned to Rome as rector of the Orphans of Saint Mary in Aquiro, he continued to frequent the Thermal Baths with two ideas in mind: to transform them into a Church and to create a college for Orphans. Once again Pope Paul III did not agree. Antonio had to wait for the arrival of Pope Giulio III del Monte, nephew of Cardinal A del Monte for whom he had previously been chaplain, to fulfil his dream. In fact, in 1550 the Pope ordered the Vicar of Rome, Monsignor Filippo Archinto, to sign the decree for consecration of the Church with the name of Saint Mary of the Seven Angels.
The enthusiasm in fulfilment of his dream was cut short by the Pope's nephews who drove Antonio out of the Thermal Baths and transformed them into hunting and riding grounds instead. After the short Pontificates of Marcello II (22 days) and Paul IV Carafa, the new Pope, Pius IV Medici finally fulfilled Antonio's dream in the most majestic and solemn way. With a Papal Bull dated 27 July 1561 the Pope ordered the construction of a church in the ancient Diocletian Thermal Baths. And, in a ‘Brief' (issued immediately after conceding office to the Carthusian monks of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem ) it was given the name “Beatissimae Virgini et omnium Angelorum et Martyrum.”
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Santa Maria degli Angeli Roma