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St. Nicholas' fresco treasures come from crypt

An icon of St. Nicholas sits between silver candlesticks on the altar of San Nicola in Carcere (St. Nicolas in Prison Church).
Photos by Beth Pratt Avalanche-Journal
The Church of Sant'Agnese fuori le Mura (St. Agnes outside the Wall Church) dates from the time of Emperor Constantine, who officially acknowledged the Christian religion with the Edict of Milan, in A.D. 313.

The basilica near the church was built by Constantine's daughter, Constancia, in 342 on the spot where St. Agnes was killed and where catacombs already existed.

St. Agnes, the patron saint of young girls, was martyred in 304 and was between the ages of 10 and 12, according to the Catholic Almanac.

The church was built in an area near the Aurelian walls of Rome. It was rebuilt in the seventh century in the Byzantine style by Pope Honorius I. Frescoes, believed to have been painted between 1280 and 1300, found in St. Agnes church were stored in the Vatican Museums conservatory.

From the Vatican

• Exhibit: "Medieval Frescoes from the Vatican Museums Collection."

• When: June 2-Sept. 15.

• Where: Museum of Texas Tech, Fourth Street and Indiana Avenue.

• Museum hours: 1 p.m.-7 p.m. Sundays, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays and Fridays-Saturdays, and 9 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Thursdays. Closed Mondays.

• Tickets: Free. However, tickets must be reserved in advance by calling 742-6800 or toll free (866) 803-6873. Those reserving tickets must know the date and time of day that they want to attend. Approximately 200 ticket-holders will be admitted each hour.

• More information: vaticanexhibit.com.

No one know who painted the frescoes, but some art historians say they were from the Roman School and influenced by the Italian painter and mosaic designer Pietro Cavallini.

In the gallery reserved for women in early Christian churches, beautiful mosaics show St. Agnes between Popes Symmachus and Honorius I on a gold background. She is represented with the symbols of sword and flame, indicating she was a martyr. A phoenix on her robe indicates eternal life.

Inside the church Honorius built is a canopy over the high altar that dates from the 17th century. A statue of St. Agnes done by Nicolas Cordier in 1605 includes a gilded bronze head, clothing and hands and an antique alabaster torso.

The three naves of the church are divided by columns topped with Corinthian capitals. The ceiling also is richly decorated with high windows lighting the artwork on the gallery and above.

Also inside the church is the entry to the church's catacombs, which contain the body of the saint, who was martyred during the persecutions of Diocletian. This area contains some of the oldest places of Christian worship and burial in Rome.

The circular church next to St. Agnes was built in the fourth century as a mausoleum for the daughters of Constantine, Costantia and Helena. It was called the Mausoleum of Santa Costanza. Later, it was changed into a baptistry and then into a church.

It is one of the oldest Christian buildings in Rome with a circular plan, and its original structure still stands, according to "Art and History: Rome and the Vatican," New Millennium Edition.

The vaults of the church are decorated with fourth-century mosaics that feature a variety of plant, geometric and figurative motifs, alternated with figures of animals and Cupid.

Christian motifs are found in two side niches and show Christ giving the keys of the kingdom of God to St. Peter and Christ delivering the Gospel.

bpratt@lubbockonline.com 766-8724

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