Sant'Adriano is a former 7th century church in an early 4th century edifice in the Roman Forum, better known now as the Senate House or Curia Julia. Pictures of the building on Wikimedia Commons are here.

The dedication was to St Hadrian of Nicomedia.

Curia JuliaEdit


The Curia Julia, the official seat of the Senate of Rome, was originally begun by Julius Caesar in 44 BC to replace the earlier Curia Hostilia which had burned down in 52 BC. However it was completed by Augustus, and inaugurated in 29 BC. There was a restoration under Domitian (81-96), in the course of which the famous bronze doors were provided.

The building was gutted in a fire in 283, during the reign of the emperor Carinus, and was rebuilt by his successor Diocletian (284-305) who provided the extant floor. It was restored again by Annius Eucharius Epiphanius, prefect of the city, in 412.

Original AppearanceEdit

The plan was straightforwardly rectangular. There are four broad buttesses aligned with the façades at front and rear, and both of the latter have triangular pediments. The fabric is concrete clad with brickwork, which itself was originally clad on the principal entrance façade. Here the lower half of the walls had marble revetting, and above was stucco laid down to imitate marble ashlar. All this is long gone. There was a single principal entrance, but two doors at the rear. Above the main entrance were three large windows in a row, matched in the modern reconstruction although there was no continuity of fenestration.

The interior is 27 metres long, 18 metres wide and 21 metres high. Vitruvius wrote that a well-proportioned senatorial building should have its height at half the sum of its width and length for the sake of the acoustics, and this seems to be an approximate example of this. The layout was divided into three longitudinal sections running the length of the building, the central one being a circulating area and the two on either side holding the seating of the senators. The seats numbered about three hundred, in five rows on each side on three wide steps. The side walls had three niches each framed by small columns supported by brackets and intended for statues; the central pair were semicircular and the other four, rectangular.

There was a wide podium between the two rear doors, reserved for the chairman, and behind it was a statue of Victory on a pedestal. This was the presiding deity.

The floor was opus sectile, to a sumptuous and intricate design which combines geometricity with curlicued scrollwork. Much of it survives in the modern floor, although not as much as people pretend. The background is yellow-veined Numidian marble from Algeria, giallo antico. The purple motifs are in imperial porphyry (a very rare form of granite) from one place in the Eastern Desert of Egypt, and the green ones are lapis lacedaemonius from Krokees south of Sparta in Greece, hence the name. This is a serpentine ; it is often misnamed "green porphyry", even though "porphyry" means "purple".

History of the ChurchEdit


The Senate was still functioning as a political institution in 603, when it dedicated statues to the emperor Phocas and his wife. This is its last recorded act, and it is thought that it was disbanded very shortly afterwards. However, there is no documentary record.

In 630, according to Anastasius Bibliothecarius (who wrote in the 9th century), Pope Honorius I turned the building into a church dedicated to the martyr St Hadrian, whose relics had been brought from Nicomedia in what is now Turkey. The text is: Fecit ecclesiam beato Hadriano martyri in Tribus Fatis, quam et dedicavit et dona multa obtulit.

According to the architectural evidence, there was little substantial alteration to the structure. The seats of the senators were left alone, although a schola cantorum was erected between them. The podium became the high altar, and the schola took up the entire central space between the seats in front of it. The walls were embellished with frescoes in the Byzantine style.

An epigraph threatening anathema to those disturbing the martyr's relics has been found, and read: S[anctus] Adrian[us], quicumque ea traxerint vel fregerint anathema sit. This would have been on his shrine, and dates to the period of its foundation or the following century.

Pope Adrian I (772-95) made the church a titular diaconia, and enriched it with many gifts in honour of his patron saint.

In 1213 the relics of SS Nereus and Achilleus were enshrined here, and remained until transferred to Santi Nereo e Achilleo by Cardinal Baronius. The church was known then in the catalogues as in Tribus Fatis or in Tribus Foris.


In 1228 there was a major restoration ordered by Pope Gregory IX, which gave the church a basilical plan. The roof was removed and the side walls were pulled down to half their height. The back wall between the doors was removed. The floor was substantially raised, burying the senators' seats and establishing the main entrance in what is now the central window. (This is useful evidence that the ground level of the Forum had risen by then, to the level it had before the modern archaeological excavations.) Then ten antique columns were used to make arcades for a nave and aisles of six bays, an apse was added and a Romanesque campanile built at the back. The latter was at the end of the right hand aisle.

It was reported that the relics of St Hadrian were re-enshrined, also that the bodies of two putative saints called Marius and Martha were discovered.


In the 16th century the building was reported derelict, with grass growing on the floor inside. As a result Pope Sixtus V granted it to the Mercedarian Order from Spain in 1589, which began the necessary restoration as well as building a convent next to the church to the north-east. They paid for it by enforcing a levy on all their convents in Spain and Latin America, which certainly focused the interest of the ordinary Spanish friars on "their church in Rome".

The building of the convent entailed the demolition of the Romanesque campanile, and a new one was placed over the near end of the right hand aisle.

When the money was finally got together, in 1653-6 the interior was remodelled in the Baroque style by Martino Longhi the Younger , who was also responsible for the church of Santi Vincenzo ed Anastasio near the Trevi fountain. The ancient columns of the arcade were encased in pillars, the ceiling was vaulted and a cupola was provided over the main altar (the design of the last has been ascribed to Luca Berettini). The floor was further raised. On the negative side, the ancient bronze doors were removed and re-installed at the Lateran Basilica. The doors here now are copies.

Oratory of the Distillers and TobacconistsEdit

The Compagna degli Acquavitari was founded in 1690 to represent the interests of city's distillers, and attached itself to this church. It also had a membership from the box-makers (cassettanti), and from 1711 took over the Università dei Tabaccai or tobacconists' guild. To have a meeting-place of their own they built a small oratory attached to the right hand side of the church's façade, where there used to be a small courtyard leading to the sacristy block. Part of the courtyard remained as a tiny open space between the back of the oratory and the sacristy entrance. The plan of the oratory was a simple transverse rectangle.

There was a separate dedication, to Santa Maria del Riscatto or "Our Lady of Ransom". This was a title of hers fostered by the Mercedarians, since they were founded to ransom Christians taken captive as slaves by North African Muslims.

Modern timesEdit

There was another restoration by the Mercedarians in 1703. The convent had become one of the most famous in Rome, with many of the friars resident deriving from Spanish-ruled Latin America. The church was also a minor place of pilgrimage, not just because of St Hadrian but because it contained a venerated icon of Our Lady of Graces (the original one was at Santa Maria delle Grazie al Foro Romano nearby).

A major re-ordering of the parishes of the Centro Storico took place in 1824, under the bull Super Universam issued by Pope Leo XII. Rather oddly, in this the church was made parochial for the first time in its very long history.


The church was only identified as the ancient Curia in 1860, and from that time on there was pressure by certain members of the Italian archaeological establishment to conduct destructive investigations. The Mercedarian friars were able to resist such claims for sixty years. The campaign went as far as having a gang trying to break into the church at night to dig up the floor, which attempt was foiled when the friar on night watch called the police.

After the Italian government took power in Rome in 1870 the area in front of the church was excavated, leaving the main door hanging in thin air. Visitors had to enter via the side door at the end of the left hand aisle. The oratory was also destroyed, and the friars lost their garden.

The power of secular ideological interest in ancient Roman remains became overwhelming when Mussolini took power in 1922. His obsession with past imperial splendours led the Fascist government to purchase the church and monastery in the following year, although the church was not finally deconsecrated until 1932. The money for the purchase went to the Collegio di Spagna in Bologna.

Between 1935 and 1939, the church was then gutted and evidence of Christian occupation was removed, including most of the ancient frescoes. The side and back walls were rebuilt, the vault replaced by the present modern wooden one and the floor dug out. The 16th century Mercedarian convent next door was demolished.

Since then the building has functioned as an ancient monument only, and contains a selection of ancient sculptures.


Layout and fabricEdit

The church had a nave and aisles, with no entrance porch or loggia (there had been one before the 17th century restoration). Structurally the nave had six bays separated by six arcade pilasters on each side, although the last bay had the Baroque cupola over it and was the presbyterium. At the end of the left hand aisle was a side entrance leading into a street called the Strada Bonella, now lost but formerly separating the church from Santi Luca e Martina next door. Over this door on the exterior was decorative scrollwork of the 17th century.

At the end of the right hand aisle was the entrance to the convent, which was behind the apse. A wing of the convent extended down the right hand side of the church, and the sacristy was here.

The side aisles were lower than the central nave, and when Longhi built a ceiling vault for the latter he supported it by providing external buttresses over the aisles in the shape of gigantic volutes. The campanile was in the form of a brick slab with three arched apertures for bells at the top, a pair of large and tall ones with a little one over them reaching into the crowning gable.

The dome of the cupola had a lantern in the form of a little circular temple with cupola.

The apse was incorporated into a wing of the convent, which was built against the altar end of the church. The main entrance of the convent was on the Strada Bonella just beyond the far left hand corner of the church, and this led into a square cloister behind the church. This was arcaded on three side, but not on the far fourth side where the convent abutted onto a separate building on the Strada della Salaria Vecchia (another lost street). Opposite the entrance, at the other end of the cloister walkway behind the church, was a passage leading into the friars' garden which was over the west end of the ancient Basilica Aemiliana.


The ancient entrance façade was left as an unadorned brick cliff for all of the church's lifetime. In the 13th century restoration, the ancient row of three large windows were bricked up (leaving the shallow brickwork archivolts visible), and a new entrance provided where the central window was. The old entrance was blocked up, and the stairs or ramp that led down to it was mostly filled in. This left the lower part of the ancient façade buried.

The following is the appearance of the façade at the end of the church's existence:

There were three doorways, all with simple marble doorcases. The aisles had a pair of smaller entrance doorways, and above these was a pair of rectangular windows of about the same size as the doors. This pair was in turn topped by another pair of slightly smaller rectangular windows, about where the top outer corners of the present left and right windows now are. In the centre of the façade was a trapezoidal window with a curved top, and above was the triangular pediment with a projecting cornice -part of the ancient fabric.

The top corners of the façade, including the ends of the pediment, were false -that is, there was nothing behind them. This was because the side walls were cut down in the 13th century to make the side aisles.

However the Renaissance façade, of which depictions survive, was different. There were no side doors before the Baroque restoration, and the doorway was lower than the one provided in that restoration. It was in a shallow sunken area approached by steps, and had a graceful propylaeum with a pair of Doric columns supporting a raised segmental pediment containing a relief. Above this was a round-headed window also with a pair of Doric columns, and a pair of unadorned rectangular windows flanking it.

It is very unusual in Rome for a Baroque restoration actually to reduce the amount of decoration on a church's façade!

The little confraternity oratory just to the right of the main church had its own façade, with a triangular pediment.



The description is as the church was after its remodelling by Longhi and before its deconsecration and gutting.

The columns of the nave arcades were encased in pilasters by Longhi, each of which had a shallow ribbed Corinthian pilasters which went up to a deep entablature running above the arches. This was topped by a cornice with modillions, which ran all around the church. Above these in turn were round-headed windows, one above each arcade arch, and then came the barrel vault of the ceiling into which the arched tops of the windows intruded as lunettes. There was no stylistic connection between the arcade pilasters and the vault springers, which was a weakness in Longhi's design.

The entrance was two holy water stoups with angels in the style of Bernini. These were by Antonio Raggi.

Sanctuary Edit

Longhi also turned the sixth bay of the nave into a sanctuary with an elliptical dome lit by a lantern. This he did by inserting a triumphal arch. A pair of gigantic free-standing ribbed Composite columns supported the molded semi-circular archivolt, above which was a screen wall displaying a coat of arms supported by cherubs in stucco relief.

This apse was provided with a conch framed with an archivolt of similar design, enclosing diagonal coffering imitating that in the Temple of Venus and Roma in the Forum.

The high altar was placed against the wall of the apse, and had a pair of porphyry Corinthian columns supporting a segmental pediment on which sat a pair of angels. The altar was by Longhi, but the stucco angels were by Antonio Raggi. The altarpiece was by Cesare Torelli, and showed SS Nereus, Achilleus, Domitilla, Papias, Simeon and Justin.

Side chapels Edit

As well as the main altar there were nine side chapels, four in each aisle and a ninth next to the sacristy entrance to the right of the high altar. These were sumptuously decorated with polychrome marble work. The description is anticlockwise from the right side of the entrance.

The first chapel on the right was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. Side paintings showed St Peter Nolasco Receiving the Mercedarian Habit from Our Lady, and King James I of Aragon Receiving the Mercedarian Scapular from Our Lady. Both these events relate to the foundation legend of the Order, which alleged that these two had separate visions of Our Lady instructing them to found it in her honour.

The second chapel on the right was dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows (Pietà).

The third chapel on the right was dedicated to Our Lady of Mercy.

The fourth chapel on the right was dedicated to St Charles Borromeo, and had an altarpiece of the saint by Orazio Borgianni. He was shown praying during a plague epidemic.

The fifth chapel on the right (next to the sacristy entrance) was dedicated to SS Sergius and Bacchus. The reason for this odd dedication was that it kept alive the memory of the nearby demolished church of Santi Sergio e Bacco al Foro Romano.

The fourth chapel on the left was dedicated to St Peter Pascual, who had been a Mercedarian at Rome.

The third chapel on the left was dedicated to St Peter Nolasco, with an altarpiece by Carlo Saraceni.

The second chapel on the left was dedicated to St Raymund Nonnatus, and had an altarpiece of him from the school of Carlo Maratta. The saint was shown receiving his cardinal's hat.

The first chapel on the left was dedicated to Our Lady of Graces, and held the miraculous icon as well as a a painting of The Holy Family allegedly by Raphael (but not). The polychrome marble decoration was especially rich. The icon had been painted in 1677 as a copy of the original at Santa Maria delle Grazie al Foro Romano. The side walls had depictions of The Presentation (right) and The Visitation (left).

Sant'Adriano, by entrance

The major fresco fragment, to the right of the entrance (more behind info board on left).

As it is nowEdit

The restored Curia looks impressive, but don't be fooled. An alarming amount of the exterior brickwork is actually modern, and if all the 1930's fabric were removed you would be left with a complete ruin with the façade full of holes, half the height of the side walls standing and a big gap in the back wall.

2011 Adriano 1

Damaged fresco in a niche.

When the interior walls were being stripped after the deconsecration, the 7th century frescoes came to light. These were mostly removed, without proper record apparently. Three fragments of frescoes were allowed to remain in three of the side niches and a fourth, larger one is on the counterfaçade just to the right of the entrance door. Rather typically, this last example is obscured by a large information board.

Other fragments were preserved after removal, and are kept in the Antica (museum of archaeological finds) in the Roman Forum. This is located in the former monastery of Santa Francesca Romana, but is not often open. A strong contemporary rumour suggests that much of the fresco work was simply thrown away.

The opus sectile floor is impressive, but is also not what it seems. Photographic evidence exists of the floor in the state in which it was found, and there were substantial patches missing. The Fascist archaeologists gathered together supplies of the required porphyry, serpentine and giallo antico "from elsewhere" (does anyone know now which archaeological monuments or demolished churches they looted?), and restored the floor with them.
2011 Adriano 2

Another fresco fragment.

It would also be interesting to know what they did with the set of ten ancient columns encased in the pilasters.
2011 Adriano 3

The third fresco fragment.


After the destruction, some salvaged artworks were put into store until the building of Santa Maria della Mercede e Sant'Adriano, which is regarded as the church's successor and where they are now to be seen.

Especially, the venerated image of Our Lady of Graces has been enshrined there, in a separate chapel off the main church. The other salvaged items are:

The pair of holy water stoups by Raggi.

Three of the Baroque side altars.

The Holy Family of the school of Raphael.


To visit this former church, you need to pay the entrance fee for the Forum and Palatine archaeological site. If you do, you can also visit the former entrance vestibule of Santi Cosma e Damiano which is now the "Temple of Romulus".

There are obviously a lot of ancient Roman bits about also (but beware of the "Temple of Vesta" and the "Arch of Titus", both of which are also fraudulent restorations engineered by the same nationalist ideology which destroyed Sant'Adriano).

External linksEdit

Italian WIkipedia page

De Alvariis gallery on Flickr

Skyscrapercity forum thread with old photos

Nolli map (look for 94 church, 95 oratory)

"Architettiroma" article with photo of side of church

"Romeartlover" web-page

Good picture of floor

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