The church of Santa Maria degli Angeli is housed in the former Baths of Diocletian that was built between 298 and 305. The Baths of Diocletian were the largest and most impressive of all the bath complexes in Rome. They occupy 27 acres of land and could accommodate 3000 bathers. The remains of the cold room “frigidarium” contain the entire church.
The exterior of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs is the original brick wall of a niche of the calidarium with two doorways. In 2006, Polish-born sculptor Igor Mitoraj created new bronze doors as well as a statue of John the Baptist for the basilica.
Pope Pius V commissioned Michelangelo to convert the central hall called the tepidarium and the adjoining ruins into the church in 1561 when the artist was 86 years old. He died the following year and the work was completed by his student Giacomo del Duca.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Pope Clement XI commissioned the astronomer, mathematician, archaeologist, historian and philosopher Francesco Bianchini to build a meridian line, a sort of sundial, within the basilica. This Linea Clementina was completed in 1702. It had three objectives: the pope wanted to check the accuracy of the Gregorian reformation of the calendar; to produce a tool to predict Easter exactly and to give Rome a meridian line as important as the one Giovanni Domenico Cassini had recently built in Bologna‘s cathedral, San Petronio. Since the church was set in the former baths of Diocletian, it would symbolically represent a victory of the Christian calendar over the earlier pagan calendar.
The main altar dates from 1762 with a painting on the apse wall of “St. Mary of the Angels” by a Venetian artist. It was commimissioned by Antonio Del Duca, a Sicilian priest.
Dr. EveAnn Lovero writes Travel Guides @ www.vino-con-vista.com