Art and Culture -> The Basilica of St. Mary of Grottaferrata
The eaves and the
friezes are made of bricks, with saw-like grooves. A series of
pendulum arches sustained by pillar strips and small blocks of
marble decorate all the outside walls; in them there are some
windows closed by perforated marble plates which emanate a mystic
light. In the upper façade a series of gothic arches make the
visitor aware of the changes that taken have taken place, while in
the center there is a huge marble rose. On the right stands the
Roman style bell-tower, with six three-fold pillar windows and
ceramic polychrome dishes.
The entrance to the Basilica is through a pronaòs (vestibule),
with four pillars supporting the architrave. From this point there
is the passage to the Narthex (vestibule), where the
Christian rites of initiation of Cathecumens took place. On the
left, the marble Baptismal Font, a Byzantine work of the IX Century,
with symbolic bas relief figures representing man stripping off this
garments, i.e. his sins; he plunges into the baptismal waters and is
fished out transformed into a fish, a symbolic figure of Christ. On
the right there is an icon of the Resurrection.
The door is called 'speciosa' (latin = 'beatiful') because of its
precious decorations. From the narthex to the central nave of the
Church one passes through a magnificent marble doorway with finely
engraved door posts, with engraved cedar doors. Above, a mosaic
(called Dèisis - intercession – XI Century)
representing Christ blessing situated between The Virgin and St.
John the Baptist. A lesser figure at the feet of Christ is possibly
a portrait of St. Bartholomaeus, the builder of the church.
As one enters the sanctuary, one notices a marked change in style. In
1754 Cardinal G. Guadagni brought about an almost complete
transformation of the church by having the walls with their frescoes
and the marble pillars covered with baroque plastering.
The polychrome marble floor is the only thing that remains of the
whole decoration made by the Cosmati artist family, a work of the
The wooden monk's choir is featured with valuable inlaid seats;
it was fixed in 1901.
Very little remains of the ancient splendour: the mosaic and the
paintings of the triumphal arch. The mosaic represents the 12
Apostles and Pentecost or the coming down of the Holy Spirit upon
the Apostles, a Byzantine work of the XII Century.
Above the triumphal arch there are remains of frescoes originating from the XII and
XIII Century (much of which is in the museum).
We can see the Holy Trinity, Christ in small dimension sitting in
the lap of God the Father and holding the dove symbol of the Holy
Spirit. In 1577 Cardinal Alessandro Farnese had a lacunar
ceiling constructed, demolishing the former beam type ceiling. In
both sides there are many angels and the prophets David and Isaiah.
The Iconostasis, (walls which separate the altar from the rest of
the Church), indicates our infinite distance from the mystery of God
(as well as the goodness of God) which is nevertheless communicated
to us through the Holy Liturgy. The Iconostasis of this
church was planned by Bernini and made by his disciple
In the middle of the Iconostasis, surrounded by a chorus of
angels, is enthroned the Theotòkos, the Icon of the Mother of God.
Through the three doors
which are open only during the Holy Liturgy, the altar emerges,
surmounted by a canopy from which hangs a silver dove in symbolic
adoration above the ciborium where the Blessed Sacrament rests.