San Michele Archangelo a Castel Giubileo is an ancient sacred site with two lost churches at the fortified farmstead known as Castel Giubileo, in the suburban zone of the same name -Castel Giubileo. The locality is on the Salita del Castel Giubileo.
One church is 4th century and is just buried foundations, and the other is 14th century and is derelict.
The dedication of both was to St Michael the Archangel,
The conical hill on which Castel Giubileo stands is one of a group of hills close to the left bank of the Tiber, from about the fifth milestone on the Via Salaria up to the seventh where the farmstead stands. This is the site of the ancient Etruscan settlement of Fidenae, which was an outpost of theirs on the wrong side of the river -the accepted ancient boundary between the Etruscans and Latins was the Tiber. As a result, the archaic Romans viewed it with enmity and it features as such in their annals up to the 5th century BC, until they managed to capture and annex it in 435 BC. Nothing survives of its buildings.
Apart from the deadly collapse of a wooden amphitheatre in the year 27, nothing of note then happened here until the last period of imperial rule in the West.
Basilica dei Beati Arcangeli in Septimo
A basilica dedicated to St Michael was built on the hill towards the end of the 4th century. The important thing about this is that it is the earliest church known to have been dedicated to him in the West, antedating the more famous sanctuary of Monte Gargano which was thought to have been the oldest. Thus, this little hill is the progenitor of the tradition in western Europe of building churches to St Michael on top of prominent hills.
The first mention of the basilica is in the so-called Martyrology of Jerome of the mid 5th century, and again in the Liber Pontificalis where Pope Symmachus was described as improving access arrangements. Pope Leo III gave a benefaction to the church at the end of the 8th century, but it seems to have been abandoned subsequently. It was the pilgrimage shrine associated with Rome furthest from the city, and hence especially vulnerable to the breakdown of law and order.
During building work at the Generalate of the Clarissan Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament at Salita del Castel Giubileo 11, foundations of the basilica were discovered and excavated in the season 1996-7. These are south of the farmstead.
The basilica is often referred to as Beati Arcangeli in Septimo, "The Blessed Angels at the Seventh Milestone", but it is clear that the dedication was to St Michael (Arcangelo in Italian).
The major contemporary importance of this church is that its dedication day was selected as the feast-day of St Michael on 29 September, which has been kept unchanged through the centuries.
Cappella di San Michele
The castle or fortified farmstead came into existence possibly in the 9th century, and was orginally known as Mons Sancti Michaeli or "Mount St Michael" after the lost shrine.
In 1286 it was recorded as being in the possession of the nunnery of San Ciriaco on the Corso, and the surviving fabric is of this century. The nunnery was a disgraceful institution in the later Middle Ages and it was finally suppressed as a result, but in the meantime the noble family of Giubileo gained possession of the estate in about 1300 and gave it their name. It passed to the Chapter of St Peter's in 1458.
A chapel or little church was built next to the entrance to the complex in the 14th century, which is recorded as having a vaulted ceiling.
By the early 19th century, the defensive aspect of the little castle had been forgotten and it is recorded as being merely a working farmstead.
Up to the conquest of Rome by Italy in 1870, Mass was said in the chapel in summer only for the benefit of shepherds -and also for women who are recorded as coming from the city to make hay in the river meadows nearby.
More erudite tourists used to visit in order to view the site of the ancient city of Fidenae, and they have left descriptions of the spectacular view. Although there were trees around the foot of the hill in the mid 19th century, there were very few elsewhere in the surrounding countryside which was being viciously overgrazed by flocks of sheep. As a result, one could see all the way back to the city, where the domes and towers appeared on the horizon, as well as all the way to the mountains to the east and north.
The chapel seems to have been abandoned for worship in the late 19th century, and it is now (2017) derelict. Very unfortunately, suburban development has been allowed on the hill itself as well as all around and so the view has mostly been ruined.
The location of the basilica was completely forgotten until it was fortuitously discovered in 1996, and then excavated.
The foundations discovered are of a central nave with side aisles, and a semi-circular apse. There was no transept. The nave was 26.5 metres long, excluding the apse, and 12 metres wide. The side aisles were each 4.3 metres wide. Square slab bases for the colonnades separating the aisles were in situ, four metres apart.
One interesting observation about the measurements was that the church was built using the so-called "Byzantine foot", not the old Roman one. This hints that the building was the responsibility of expatriates from Constantinople. The same oddity appears at San Giovanni a Porta Latina.
The archaeologists found a rectangular foundation in the middle of the central nave, interpreted as a possible altar (a known example was, for example, at San Pancrazio).
The date of construction was established as late 4th century, after 380. A few decorative elements were found, notably a marble tile with an incised chi-rho symbol, a fragment of mosaic in the central nave showing grey and white squares with black borders -late 4th century, and an Ionic column capital of the same period.
The site is private, and there is nothing to see.
The farmstead of Castel Giubileo is about a hundred metres up the slope. Presently (February 2017) the complex, which contains mediaeval fabric, is abandoned and derelict.
The chapel is invisible from the street. The farm buildings are arranged around three sides of a long rectangular courtyard, with the entrance at a short end next to some low concrete silos. The chapel stands in this courtyard, hiding from the entrance behind some trees and abutting the range on the right.
It is a simple building on a short rectangular plan, rendered in white. The gabled and tiled roof is continued as a short cat-slide over the adjacent range. A little bell-cote or campanile is on the gable over the single entrance, which is a round-headed portal offset to the right in the façade. There are no windows in the façade or side walls, the left hand one of which is party with the range next door.
The chapel is wholly derelict, and although the roof is still mostly in place it seems to have a tree growing out of it.