Basilica of Saint Sabina at the Aventine
  • Basilica di Santa Sabina all'Aventino (Italian)
  • Basilica Sanctae Sabinae (Latin)
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41°53′04″N 12°28′47″E / 41.884444444444°N 12.479722222222°E / 41.884444444444; 12.479722222222
LocationPiazza Pietro d’Illiria 1
WebsiteGeneral Curia of the Order of the Preachers
StatusMinor basilica, titular church
DedicationSaint Sabina
StylePaleochristian, Baroque, Neoclassical
Length60 m (200 ft)
Width30 m (98 ft)
Nave width17 metres (56 ft)
Cardinal protectorVacant

The Basilica of Saint Sabina (Latin: Basilica Sanctae Sabinae, Italian: Basilica di Santa Sabina all'Aventino) is a historic church on the Aventine Hill in Rome, Italy. It is a titular minor basilica and mother church of the Roman Catholic Order of Preachers, better known as the Dominicans.

Santa Sabina is the oldest extant ecclesiastical basilica in Rome that preserves its original colonnaded rectangular plan with apse and architectural style. Its decorations have been restored to their original restrained design. Other basilicas, such as Santa Maria Maggiore, have been ornately decorated in later centuries. Because of its simplicity, the Santa Sabina represents the adaptation of the architecture of the roofed Roman forum or basilica to the basilica churches of Christendom. It is especially well-known for its cypress wood doors carved in AD 430-432 with Biblical scenes, the most famous being the first known publicly displayed depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the two thieves.

Santa Sabina is perched high above the Tiber to the north and the Circus Maximus to the east. It is next to the small public park of Giardino degli Aranci ("Garden of Oranges"), which has a scenic terrace overlooking Rome. It is a short distance from the headquarters of the Knights of Malta.

Its last cardinal priest was Jozef Tomko until his death on 8 August 2022. It is the stational church for Ash Wednesday.


The church was built on the site of early Imperial houses, one of which is said to be of Sabina, a Roman matron originally from Avezzano in the Abruzzo region of Italy. Sabina was beheaded in AD 126 under Emperor Hadrian, because she had been converted to Christianity by her servant Serapia, who also had been beheaded in AD 119. Sabina and Serapia were later declared Catholic saints.

Santa Sabina was built by Peter of Illyria, a Dalmatian priest, between 422 and 432[1] near a temple of Juno on the Aventine Hill in Rome.

Pope Celestine I established the cardinal title of Santa Sabina with its seat here in 423 AD.

In the 9th century, it was enclosed in a fortification area as a result of war.

in 1216 Pope Honorius III approved the Order of Preachers, now commonly known as the Dominicans, which was "the first order instituted by the Church with an academic mission".[2] Honorius III invited Saint Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers, to take up residence at the church of Santa Sabina in 1220.[3] The official foundation of the Dominican convent at Santa Sabina with its studium conventuale, the first Dominican studium in Rome, occurred with the legal transfer of property from Honorius III to the Order of Preachers on 5 June 1222 though the brethren had taken up residence there already in 1220.[4]

The church was the seat of a papal conclave in 1287, although the prelates left the church after an epidemic killed six of them. They later returned to the church, and elected Nicholas IV as pope on 22 February 1288.[5]

Its interior was renovated by Domenico Fontana in 1587 (after being commissioned by Pope Sixtus V in 1586) and Francesco Borromini in 1643.

The Kingdom of Italy conquered Rome in 1870; expelled the Dominicans; and converted the church into a lazaretto (quarantine station for maritime travelers).

Italian architect and art historian Antonio Muñoz (1884-1960) restored the original simplistic medieval appearance of the church in 1914-1919. French architect P. Berthier completed its restoration in 1936-1938.

Among those who have lived in its adjacent convent were Saint Dominic (1220-1221), St Thomas Aquinas (1265-1268), Blessed Ceslaus, Saint Hyacinth, and Pope Pius V.


The interior.
The apse and triumphal arch.


The Minor Basilica of Santa Sabina is built in the manner of an Ancient Roman secular basilica, or covered forum. The characteristics are a long central nave with a lower aisle on each side. Above the aisles, the walls of the nave are pierced by a row of large clerestory windows. The brick walls are mostly unrendered, and the windows are made of selenite, not glass, making the building look much as it did when it was built in the 5th century.

The building has a colonnaded porch opening propped onto a cloister, and at the other end, a semi-circular apse.

The campanile (bell tower) was originally built in the 10th century; but was rebuilt in the 17th century in the Baroque style.

The wooden door of the basilica is generally agreed to be the original door from 430 to 432, although it was apparently not constructed for this doorway. Eighteen of its wooden panels survive — all but one depicting scenes from the Bible. Most famous among these is one of the earliest certain depictions of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the 2 thieves. Other panels have also been the subjects of extensive analysis because of their importance to the study of Christian iconography.

Above the doorway, the interior preserves an original dedication in Latin hexameters.


The interior has basilical form, with a central nave divided from the side aisle by two rows of columns,on which rests an arcade. Above the arcade is a row of large clerestory windows. The twenty four columns of Proconnesian marble with perfectly matched Corinthian capitals and bases, were reused from the Temple of Juno. A framed hole in the floor exposes a Roman era temple column that pre-dates Santa Sabina. This appears to be the remnant of the Temple of Juno erected on the hilltop site during Roman times, which was likely razed to allow construction of the basilica.

There is an apse at the eastern end. The original fifth-century apse mosaic was replaced in 1559 by a fresco by Taddeo Zuccari. The composition probably remained unchanged: Christ is flanked by a good thief and a bad thief, seated on a hill while lambs drink from a stream at its base. The iconography of the mosaic was very similar to another 5th-century mosaic, destroyed in the 17th century, in Sant'Andrea in Catabarbara.


The interior cells of the Dominican convent are little changed since the earliest days of the Order of Preachers. The cell of St. Dominic is still identified, though it has since been enlarged and converted to a chapel. Also, the original dining room still remains, in which St. Thomas Aquinas would dine when he lived in Rome.

The side portico.


The doors.
A depiction of the crucifixion on the wooden door of Santa Sabina. This is one of the earliest surviving depictions of the crucifixion of Christ.

The doors on the exterior of Santa Sabina are made of cypress wood, and originally had a layout of twenty-eight panels. Out of these panels, ten of the original have been lost, and are left without ornamentation.[6]

Seventeen out of the original remaining eighteen panels depict a scene from the Old Testament or the New Testament, leaving one panel that does not directly correlate to a Biblical story.[6] This panel, found near the bottom of the door, depicts an homage to a man wearing a chlamys, and is thought to depict a historical event relating to a powerful ruler, though the exact story depicted is unknown.[7]

One of the smaller top panels depicts the crucifixion of Jesus and two other figures in front of a building that alludes to the architecture of a Roman mausoleum.[8] This panel is the first known publicly displayed image of the crucifixion of Christ.[9] The panels are carved in two distinct styles, one including more detail and adherence to the style of classical art, and one adopting a simpler style, indicating that several artists may have worked on the doors. The abstract vegetal designs on the panels' frames are consistent with a Mesopotamian style, suggesting the origin of at least one of the artists was from this region.[6]

Due to the cramped composition of the panels and the thin outer frame, it is likely that the door was originally bigger, then cut down to fit into the frame of Santa Sabina. This makes it unclear as to whether the door was initially intended to be used for this specific structure. It may have been designed for a different Roman building with larger doorway dimensions, but then been transferred to Santa Sabina for unknown reasons.[6]

However, the door was most likely constructed near the same time as the erection of the Church of Santa Sabina in 432, as the powerful figure in the chlamys scene carving shares stylistic similarities with depictions of Theodosius II, the emperor at the time of the consecration of Santa Sabina.[6] Dendrochronologic and radiocarbon dating confirmed that the wood used for the door panels is from the beginning of the 5th century, therefore the carvings could date from the reigns of Celestine I (421–431) or Sixtus III (431–440).[10]

Convent and Studium of the Dominican Order

In 1216 the Order of Preachers, now commonly known as the Dominicans, was approved by Pope Honorius as "the first order instituted by the Church with an academic mission".[2] Honorius III invited Saint Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers, to take up residence at the church of Santa Sabina in 1220.[3] The official foundation of the Dominican convent at Santa Sabina with its studium conventuale, the first Dominican studium in Rome, occurred with the legal transfer of property from Honorius III to the Order of Preachers on 5 June 1222, though the brethren had taken up residence there already in 1220.

Some scholars have written that Honorius III was a member of the Savelli family and that the church and associated buildings formed part of the holdings of the Savelli, thereby explaining why Honorius III donated Santa Sabina to the Dominicans.[11] In fact, Honorius III was not a Savelli. These scholars may have confused later Pope Honorius IV, who was a Savelli, and Honorius III.[12] In any case, the church was given over to the Dominicans and it has since then served as their headquarters in Rome.

In 1265 in accordance with the injunction of the Chapter of the Roman province of the Order of Preachers at Anagni, Thomas Aquinas was assigned as regent master at the studium conventuale at Santa Sabina: “Fr. Thome de Aquino iniungimus in remissionem peccatorum quod teneat studium Rome, et volumus quod fratribus qui stant secum ad studendum provideatur in necessariis vestimentis a conventibus de quorum predicatione traxerunt originem. Si autem illi studentes inventi fuerint negligentes in studio, damus potestatem fr. Thome quod ad conventus suos possit eos remittere”.[13]

At this time the existing studium conventuale at Santa Sabina was transformed into the Order's first studium provinciale, an intermediate school between the studium conventuale and the studium generale. "Prior to this time the Roman Province had offered no specialized education of any sort, no arts, no philosophy; only simple convent schools, with their basic courses in theology for resident friars, were functioning in Tuscany and the meridionale during the first several decades of the order's life. But the new studium at Santa Sabina was to be a school for the province," a studium provinciale.[14] Tolomeo da Lucca, an associate and early biographer of Aquinas, tells us that at the Santa Sabina studium Aquinas taught the full range of philosophical subjects, both moral and natural.[15]

With the departure of Aquinas for Paris in 1268 and the passage of time the pedagogical activities of the studium provinciale at Santa Sabina were divided between two campuses. A new convent of the Order at the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva had a modest beginning in 1255 as a community for women converts, but grew rapidly in size and importance after being given to the Dominicans in 1275.[16]

In 1288 the theology component of the provincial curriculum was relocated from the Santa Sabina studium provinciale to the studium conventuale at Santa Maria sopra Minerva which was redesignated as a studium particularis theologiae.[17] Thus, the studium at Santa Sabina was the forerunner of the studium generale at Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

Following the curriculum of studies laid out in the capitular acts of 1291 the Santa Sabina studium was redesignated as one of three studia nove logice intended to offer courses of advanced logic covering the logica nova, the Aristotelian texts recovered in the West only in the second half of the 12th century, the Topics, Sophistical Refutations, and the Prior and Second Analytics of Aristotle. This was an advance over the logica antiqua, which treated the Isagoge of Porphyry, Divisions and Topics of Boethius, the Categories and On Interpretation of Aristotle, and the Summule logicales of Peter of Spain.[17]

Milone da Velletri was the lector at the Santa Sabina studium in 1293.[18] In 1310 the Florentine Giovanni dei Tornaquinci was the lector at Santa Sabina.[19] In 1331 at the Santa Sabina studium Nerius de Tertia was the lector,[20] and Giovanni Zocco da Spoleto was a student of logic.[21]

List of cardinal priests

Notes and references

  1. ^ Roth, Leland M. (1993). Understanding Architecture: Its Elements, History and Meaning (First ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press. pp. 245. ISBN 978-0-06-430158-9.
  2. ^ a b Pirerre Mandonnet, "Order of Preachers" Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913; "Catholic Encyclopedia (1913):Order of Preachers, Part 1". Archived from the original on 2012-05-06. Retrieved 2012-08-19.
  3. ^ a b The Order of the Preachers. "General Curia". Retrieved 2009-01-29.
  4. ^ Pierre Mandonnet, O.P., St. Dominic and His Work, Translated by Sister Mary Benedicta Larkin, O.P., B. Herder Book Co., St. Louis/London, 1948, Chapt. III, [page needed] note 50: "If the installation at Santa Sabina does not date from 1220, at least it is from 1221. The official grant was made only in June, 1222 (Bullarium O.P., I, 15). But the terms of the bull show that there had been a concession earlier. Before that concession the Pope said that the friars had no hospitium in Rome. At that time St. Sixtus was no longer theirs; Conrad of Metz could not have alluded to St. Sixtus, therefore, when he said in 1221: "the Pope has conferred on them a house in Rome" (Laurent no. 136). It is possible that the Pope was waiting for the completion of the building that he was having done at Santa Sabina, before giving the title to the property, on June 5, 1222, to the new Master of the Order, elected not many days before." Accessed 2016-2-27.
  5. ^ Rendina, Claudio (2002). La grande guida dei monumenti di Roma: storia, arte, segreti, leggende, curiosità. Rome: Newton Compton. p. 546. ISBN 978-88-541-1981-9.
  6. ^ a b c d e Delbrueck, Richard (June 1952). "Notes on the Wooden Doors of Santa Sabina". The Art Bulletin. 34 (2): 139–145. doi:10.2307/3047407. ISSN 0004-3079. JSTOR 3047407.
  7. ^ Kantorowicz, Ernst H. (December 1944). "The "King's Advent": And The Enigmatic Panels in the Doors of Santa Sabina". The Art Bulletin. 26 (4): 207–231. doi:10.2307/3046963. ISSN 0004-3079. JSTOR 3046963.
  8. ^ Coon, Lynda (2016-04-01). "Gendering Dark Age Jesus". Gender & History. 28 (1): 8–33. doi:10.1111/1468-0424.12175. ISSN 1468-0424. S2CID 147252502.
  9. ^ Leith, Mary Joan Winn; Sheckler, Allyson Everingham (January 2010). "The Crucifixion Conundrum and the Santa Sabina Doors*". Harvard Theological Review. 103 (1): 67–88. doi:10.1017/S0017816009990319. ISSN 0017-8160. S2CID 162503435.
  10. ^ Foletti, Ivan; Romagnoli, Manuela; Liccioli, Lucia; Fedi, Mariaelena; Saccuman, Roberto (31 January 2019). "Wiggle Matching Analysis of the Doors of Santa Sabina in Rome". RIHA Journal.
  11. ^ J. J. Berthier, L'Eglise de Sainte-Sabine a Rome (Rome: M. Bretschneider, 1910) [page needed].
  12. ^ Joan Barclay Lloyd, "Medieval Dominican Architecture at Santa Sabina in Rome, c. 1219 – c. 1320." Papers of the British School at Rome. 2004. v. 72, pp. 231–292, 379.
  13. ^ Acta Capitulorum Provincialium, Provinciae Romanae Ordinis Praedicatorum, 1265, n. 12, in Corpus Thomisticum, Accessed 8 April 2011
  14. ^ Mulchahey, M. Michèle; Studies, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval (1998). "First the Bow is Bent in Study-- ": Dominican Education Before 1350. PIMS. ISBN 978-0-88844-132-4.
  15. ^ "Tenuit studium Rome, quasi totam Philosophiam, sive Moralem, sive Naturalem exposuit." Ptolomaei Lucensis historia ecclesiastica nova, xxii, c. 24, in In Gregorovius' History of the City of Rome In the Middle Ages, Vol V, part II, 617, note 2. Accessed 5 June 2011.
  16. ^ Walz, Angelus (1930). Compendium historiae Ordinis Praedicatorum [microform]. Internet Archive. Romae : Herder.
  17. ^ a b Mulchahey, M. Michèle; Studies, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval (1998). "First the Bow is Bent in Study-- ": Dominican Education Before 1350. PIMS. ISBN 978-0-88844-132-4.
  18. ^ "Cronologia remigiana 1302-1303". Retrieved 6 April 2012.
  19. ^ "Cronologia remigiana 1311". Retrieved 5 April 2012.
  20. ^ "(2006) CrOv, testo n° 148-193". Retrieved 5 April 2012.
  21. ^ "(1994) Arezzo1326 §5 le tribolazioni degli spoletini, Pieve San Fortunato di Montefalco". Retrieved 5 July 2011.
  22. ^ Giovanni Domenico Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, vol. XII, Florence 1766, col. 265.
  23. ^ Merola, Alberto (1964). "BARBERINI, Francesco". Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (in Italian). Vol. 6.


External videos
video icon Santa Sabina, Smarthistory

Media related to Santa Sabina (Rome) - Gallery at Wikimedia Commons
Media related to Santa Sabina (Rome) - Category at Wikimedia Commons

Preceded by
San Saba, Rome
Landmarks of Rome
Santa Sabina
Succeeded by
Sacro Cuore di Maria