Basilica of St. Stephen
The Basilica of St. Stephen in the Round on the Celian Hill is an ancient basilica and titular church in Rome.
Basilica of St. Stephen (sometimes called Basilica di Santo Stefano) in Rome is one of the largest and oldest round churches in existence. Dating from the 5th century, it is a fascinating church that reflects both local and foreign influences.
Basilica of St. Stephen was built by Pope Simplicius I (468-83) and dedicated to St. Stephen , the first martyr (Acts 6-7).
St. Stephen's relics were reportedly found in Jerusalem in 415 and the cult of the proto-martyr had come to Rome by the mid-5th century. Pope Leo I (440-61) had already dedicated two churches to Stephen in Rome by the time this one was built.
Stefano Rotondo (Basilica of St. Stephen) was built on the former site of a Roman military barracks for non-Italian soldiers called the Castra Pergrinorum. The barracks were abandoned in the 4th century and destroyed in the 5th century in order to build the church.
The church was renovated in the 6th and 7th centuries, when Pope Theodore I (642-49) transferred the relics of Sts. Primus and Felicianus here from their catacomb on Via Nomentana.
It was later restored by Pope Hadrian I (772-95) and again in the 12th century, when the Lateran Palace tried to attract people back to the area. The entrance portico was added under Pope Innocent II (1130 43).
Sadly the design was radically altered in 1450, when the outer wall and three arms of its Greek cross plan were pulled down. Nevertheless, the core of the original church remains fully intact.
The church is currently undergoing extensive restoration (or at least it was when this author visited in July 2006).
The walls of the church are decorated with numerous frescoes, including those of Niccolo Circignani and Antonio Tempesta portraying 34 scenes of martyrdom, commissioned by Gregory XIII in the 16th century. All painting has an inscription explaing the scene and the name of the emperor who ordered the executions, as well as quotations from the Bible. The paintings are somewhat morbid, if not gruesome and naturalistic depictions of torture and execution.