Church of Santo Stefano Rotondo

Saint Stephen in the Round on the Celio Hill (Chiesa di Santo Stefano Rotondo al Monte Celio) is a church in the Monti district in Rome. Its main attraction is a rather gory cycle of frescoes by Pomarancio depicting torture scenes.

It was consacrated in the 2nd half of the 5th century by Pope Simplicius. It is dedicated to Saint Stefano, the first martyr of the Christian church, whose remains had been transported to Rome from the Holy land.

Construction of the church is thought to have been paid for by the extremely wealthy Valerius family, who owned a huge part of the ground on the Celio hill.

Santo Stefano Rotondo is characterized by a rather unusual round shape (hence the name rotondo), with 4 chapels along the side walls, which make its foundation into a perfect cross. The design was based on that of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (or Church of the Resurrection) in Jerusalem.

The most interesting work of art in the church consists of a series of 34 frescoes painted by Niccolò Pomarancio and Antonio Tempesta and showing the inhuman ways in which the martyrs were made into martyrs. Inscriptions indicate the nature of the torture and the name of the Emperors who had ordered it.

Donaugh O’Brien, an Irish King who died in Rome in 1064, is buried in Santo Stefano Rotondo.


During recent excavations a 2nd century mithraeum was discovered underneath the floor of the church of Santo Stefano Rotondo. The building, dedicated to the worship of Mithra, originally an eastern deity of Persian origin), was probably connected with the nearby Castra Peregrina barracks. It consists of a rectangular space with benches on each side and a small shrine in the back. There are frescoes on its walls, most notably a personification of the moon. It is thought that both the space itself and the shrine were enlarged in the 3rd century. At the moment the mithraeum is closed to visitors.

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