Santa Maria in Domnica

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Template:Infobox religious building Santa Maria in Domnica — also known as Santa Maria alla Navicella — is a basilica church in Rome. The current Cardinal Deacon of the Titulus S. Mariae in Domnica is William Joseph Levada.


The attribute "in Domnica" has been differently explained. One interpretation is the derivation from dominicum, meaning "of the Lord", and by extension "church". Another interpretation refers to the name of Cyriaca, a woman who lived nearby, and whose name means "belonging to the Lord", Dominica in Latin. The attribute "alla Navicella" means "near the little ship", and refers to the Roman ship sculpture that has been in this location since Roman times, possibly as a votive offering to an ancient temple, which Pope Leo X had turned into a fountain.


The church was built in ancient times, close to the barracks of the 5th Cohort of the Roman Vigiles on the Caelian Hill. The church is mentioned in the records of a synod held by Pope Symmachus in 499. In the year 678, it was one of seven churches assigned to deacons by Pope Agatho.

The church was rebuilt from 818-822 by Pope Paschal I, who is credited with Rome's early 9th century age of renovation and artistic splendour, had the church rebuilt in 818-822, providing it with noteworthy mosaic decoration.

The interior of the church was extensively modified in the 16th century by the Medici family, who were the cardinal holders of the archdiaconate through much of this period.

In 1513, Cardinal Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici, shortly before he became Pope Leo X, with Andrea Sansovino added the façade portico with Tuscan columns and the fountain. He was followed by Giulio di Giuliano de 'Medici, the future Pope Clement VII from 1513-1517. Giovanni de' Medici became cardinal-deacon at the age of 17 in 1560, but died in 1562. He was followed by his brother Ferdinando I de' Medici, who also became Grand Duke of Tuscany. He added the coffered ceiling of the basilica during his tenure.



The façade of the basilica is in the Renaissance style, and has a porch with five arches separated by travertine pilasters, with two square and one round window. The tympanum has the coat of arms of Pope Innocent VIII in the center, and that of cardinals Giovanni and Ferdinando de' Medici on the sides. The inconspicuous bell tower houses a bell dated 1288. The design of the facade (1512-1513) has been attributed to Andrea Sansovino.

File:Santa Maria in Domnica - apse mosaic.jpg
9th century apse mosaic commissioned by Pope Paschal I


The interior of the basilica retains its 9th century layout, and consists of three naves of equal length, separated by 18 granite columns recycled from an ancient temple and crowned with Corinthian capitals. The wall over the windows is frescoed by Perin del Vaga, based on designs of Giulio Romano.

The nave has frescos by Lazzaro Baldi. The coffered ceiling has the Medici coat of arms in the center, with symbolic representations of Noah’s Ark and Solomon’s Temple

The triumphal arch is flanked by two porphyry columns. The apse mosaics from the 9th century depict Christ with two angels, and the twelve apostles, with Moses and Elias depicted underneath. In the semi-dome, Pope Paschal (with a square halo) kissing the foot of the Virgin Mary (dressed as a Byzantine noblewoman), seated on a throne with the Christ child and surrounded by a multitude of angels.





  • Macadam, Alta. Blue Guide Rome. A & C Black, London (1994), isbn 07136-3939-3