The church of S. Maria in Aracoeli, Rome : from the earliest times to circa 1400
This thesis aims to reconstruct the history, building phases, original appearance and role in mediaeval Rome of the church of S. Maria in Aracoeli, from its origins to c. 1400. The introduction describes the topographical setting of the church and traces its historiography . The first chapter investigates previous churches, their documentary sources, archaeological evidence and surviving components of church furniture. Patronage, date and original appearance of the so-called ‘ara coeli’, the extant main altar of the former church, are discussed. The second chapter concerns the present church, constructed by the Franciscans after their arrival on the hill in the mid-thirteenth century. The first section covers the building history from a documentary point of view, while the second provides a formal analysis, dedicating a subsection to each surviving part (nave and aisles, transept and adjacent chapel, facade). Archaeological research, together with graphic, epigraphic, literary and documentary sources, establishes the transformations of the building as well as the original plan and elevation of its lost parts (apse and eastern chapels). The third section critically reconsiders the lost decoration of the original apse, its iconography and the reasons for its success. The fourth section focuses on the workshop: analysis of the building technique is combined with the information on the architect gathered from his surviving sepulchral epitaph; the use of spolia and the adoption of gothic window-tracery are also discussed. The final chapter places Aracoeli in its context: the first section examines the civic role of the church as a setting for communal assemblies and a privileged site for judgement, the second considers its role as a favourite site for burial chapels of important Roman families. This thesis clarifies the history and appearance of the Christian site before the Franciscans, and provides a reconstruction of the building stages and original aspect of the present church (as well as of the function of some annexed structures) which differs radically from previous hypotheses, thus situating Aracoeli in a different architectural and cultural framework.