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St. Agnes church dates back to the time of Constantine

Archaeologist Suzanne Buranelli examines a cache of skeletal human remains recently discovered in the crypt of San Nicola in Carcere (St. Nicolas in Prison Church) in Rome.
Little more than a footnote today among the churches of Rome, San Nicola in Carcere (St. Nicholas in Prison Church) at one time contained many of the priceless frescoes that will exhibit June 2 through Sept. 15 at the Museum of Texas Tech.

Archaeologist Suzanne Buranelli said that underneath the 16th century church is the most ancient part, the crypt.

Going down into the crypt, she pointed out part of the ninth-century wall at the same level.

"The frescoes were there," she said.

photo: news
  Pope Honorius I built Sant'Agnese fuori le Mura (St. Agnes outside the Wall Church) in Rome with a canopy over an altar that features a statue of St. Agnes done by Nicolas Cordier in 1605.  
"We don't know exactly if in the ninth to 12th century the frescoes were directly attached to the wall, but at this level (the floor), the travertine stone was covered by plaster.

In Roman times, the area near the church was a cattle market and a vegetable and fruit market. Nearby is the site of the first Roman bridge, a simple bridge built without rails. It was the only place to cross the Tiber, she said.

"Here we can find the most ancient artifacts," Buranelli said, noting that most of the area was destroyed by Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator during World War II.

"This church and my office (in an ancient building across the street) were left as a souvenir."

photo: news
  San Nicolas in Carcere (St. Nicholas in Prison Church) in Rome may have been founded as early as the seventh century and most certainly before the year 1000.  
Her office oversees the archaeological treasures of Rome, protecting them from further destruction by new building.

An example of the burgeoning Christian presence, St. Nicola may have been founded as early as the seventh century and most certainly before the year 1000.

It was in the seventh century that a ban in Rome on transforming pagan temples into churches was lifted, and existing buildings were transformed into churches, according to the New Millennium Edition of "Art and History — Rome and the Vatican" published by Casa Editrice Bonechi.

When the church was remodeled, the early frescoes were moved into storage. In the 1800s, the frescoes were removed for protection to the conservatory basement in the Vatican Museums.

Most of the frescoes from St. Nicholas depict a series of images that include decorative motifs (birds, dolphin, dragons and palm fronds) — images that were symbolic messages for early Christians.

A few months ago, the Rev. Malcolm Neyland told The A-J that the discovery of the frescoes, some estimated to be created as early 1120, "pushes the Renaissance back 200 to 300 years, meaning art historians didn't know this type of painting existed during the time period they were done."

The more realistic, three-dimensional appearance of the human figure was a mark of the Renaissance painter, the period encompassing the 14th to 16th centuries. The style of art spread from Italy to the rest of Europe.

bpratt@lubbockonline.com 766-8724

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