John and I recently visited the ancient church of Santo Stefano Rotondo situated just at the bottom of the Celian Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome.
Santo Stefano is apparently the largest circular church in the world and one of the oldest in Italy, built by Pope Simplicius (462-482 AD).
It certainly oozes age and magic.
Excavations in the 1970's revealed a temple of Mithras below the church floor. I believe the worship of Mithras often took place in underground temples and was popular with the Roman military so sites have been found throughout the Roman Empire.
The later Christian church featured three rings of marble columns. In 1453 the outer ring was torn down and the next ring filled-in and covered with frescoes depicting the martyrdom of saints.
When we entered, John needed to rest from our walk, so he sat against the frescoed wall and posted a recent photo to his Instagram site.
I wandered around the amazing interior. Apparently the building has long needed restoration so I was pleased to find restorers hard at work.
This chapel features one of the building's treasures -- a beautful 7th century mosaic cupula featuring Christ above a cross flanked by saints.
The graphic 15th century frescoes are horrifying in their gruesome detail of the torture of Christian martyrs.
Here John finds me editing photos on my camera surrounded by said depictions.
The Seven Sorrows of Mary -- each image a sword in her heart!
Despite the frescos, the architecture is airy and filled with light.
Eventually we headed back onto the Via Santo Stefano Rotondo
through the evocative old gate
and headed towards the 16th century Villa Celimontana to wander towards the Colosseum and our lunch destination. The layers of history in this town are quite overwhelming!