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Basilica of Santi Quattro Coronati

When approaching the Basilica of Santi Quattro Coronati (“Four Crowned Martyrs”) on the Caelian Hill in Rome, a bulky, thick-walled structure emerges on the way to the Lateran that looks more like a fortress than a church. Its history has indeed been tumultuous yet it’s miraculously preserved some of Rome’s most secret and impressive treasures: Saint Sylvester’s Chapel, the Gothic Hall, and a meditative, secret cloister that you might very likely have all to yourself.

The basilica’s name in itself is something of a hagiographical mystery. Were its four crowned martyrs four soldiers in the age of Diocletian who refused to sacrifice to Asclepius, the god of medicine? Or were they the five stonemasons (what happened to the fifth?) from Pannonia who refused to carve a statue of the god? Or were they four less exotic and more local martyrs from nearby Albano? In any case, what we know for certain is their crown was that of martyrdom, reason enough for their relics to be venerated in a private site known as Titulus Aemiliane that dates back to the age of Pope Miltiades in the 4th century.

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