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Italy: Santa Susanna - 01

The Church of Saint Susanna at the baths of Diocletian (in Italian: Chiesa di Santa Susanna alle Terme di Diocleziano) is a Roman Catholic parish church on the Quirinal hill in Rome, with the first church of that name on that site dating back to about the year 280. The current church on that site dedicated to Saint Susanna was rebuilt in 1585–1603.

Images (below): The Church of Santa Susanna as drawn in 1771 and as photographed in colour today. This facade by Carlo Maderno was added sixteen years after the Augustinians were withdrawn. Maderno subsequently was responsible for the façade of St Peter’s Basilica.

The church in the centre of the top picture is the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria. The convent between it and the church at the right of the top picture was demolished in the 1920s to make way for the road connecting Piazza Barberini with Termini, Rome's central railway station.

St Augustine : Italy: Santa Susanna - 01

The site is of Augustinian interest because members of the Order of St Augustine ministered and lived there for 140 years before the remodelling of the church into its present architectural design.

But, to begin at the beginning, this church site dates back to the third century. Saint Susanna was a Roman virgin-martyr who died in the persecution of Diocletian. Her name was given to the titulus Caii, the church established in the house of her uncle Pope Caius. The church was later to become a parish church within Rome. Remains of a third-century house have been found in the crypt of the existing church.

The current Church of Santa Susanna displays little evidence of its former early Christian and medieval incarnations. The church as seen there today is not of early medieval style, but rather is a splendid showcase of late Renaissance art and architecture.

In comparison with most Roman churches, Santa Susanna seems broad and spacious, filled with light and awash with pastel colours. The nave is richly frescoed with huge figures, classical vistas and luminous green gardens, and speckled with light golden stucco-work throughout.

This was the work of Rome's most important artists of the late sixteenth century. Their style was a bridge between Renaissance classicism and Baroque exuberance, called Mannerism (emphasis on style rather than on representations of reality), and characterized by a light palette, distorted figures, and unorthodox perspectives.

(Continued on the next page.)


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