326

Eutropia

Santa Croce in Gerusalemme   Rome

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sessorium, sessorii : a place of residence, a dwelling, habitation


The Sessorium, a building known in later times as the palatium Sessorianum, was standing in the first century, when it is mentioned as being near the spot where the execution of criminals took place. The origin of the name is unexplained, but the building became an imperial residence in the fourth century and was a favorite home of Helena, the mother Constantine. Its site is known, for the Church of S. Croce in Gerusalemme occupies one of the halls of the ancient palace. This rectangular hall, 34 meters long, 21 wide, mad 20 high, resembled closely the templum Sacrae Urbis of Vespasian both in construction and scheme of decoration. It was converted into a church by Constantine, who added the apse at the east end, while the columns were not set up until the eighth century. North of the church, in the garden, are the remains of another hall of the Sessorium, consisting of an apse and the walls on each side. This hall was not destroyed until the sixteenth century.
North of S. Croce in the vigna Conti are the ruins of some thermae, including a piscina, which are known to have been restored by Helena after a fire and are therefore called the thermae Helenae. Complete plans of these baths, made by Palladio and Sangallo in the sixteenth century, are in existence, but the ruins themselves are very meager.
Samuel Ball Platner, The Topography and Monumants of Ancient Rome (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1904), p. 448.


SESSORIUM: a building of unknown origin, situated at the extreme south-east of Region V, adjoining the amphitheatrum Castrense. It was earlier than the Aurelian wall which cut through it, but is not mentioned before that time unless the emendation Sesswvrion for Shstevrion in Plutarch, Galba 28, is admitted (Becker, de Romae veteris muris 120; De Rossi, Roma sotterranea iii.408). From the beginning of the sixth century it appears as Sessorium in the Excerpta Valesiana 69 (Mommsen, Chron. min. i.324: in palatio quod appellatur Sessorium), and in certain scholia (Pseudoacron. in Hor. Epod. 5.100; Sat. i.8.11, 14; Comm. Cruq. ad locc. citt.), where paupers and criminals are said to have been buried outside the porta Esquilina or on the Esquiline in qua est Sessorium, although this building was at least 1400 metres from the gate. That part of the building which was outside the Aurelian wall was destroyed, but the extensive inner section became an imperial residence by the beginning of the fourth century, and Helena, the mother of Constantine, lived here. Hence it was called palatium Sessorianum (LP. vit. Silves. 22; LPD i.179, 196, n75).
Constantine converted one of the halls of the palace into the church of S. Croce in Gerusalemme, and placed in it the fragments of the true cross which Helena brought from Jerusalem. This hall was 34.35 metres long, 21.75 wide and 20 high, with five open arches on each side and windows above, and resembled closely the so-called templum Sacrae Urbis of Vespasian both in construction and scheme of decoration. Constantine walled up the arches and added the apse at the east end, but the columns were not set up until the eighth century. North of the church are the remains of another hall of the Sessorium, consisting of the apse with external buttresses, added almost immediately after its construction, and the start of the nave, probably belonging to the time of Maxentius (Ill. 49).
This hall was intact down to the sixteenth century and was erroneously called templum Veneris et Cupidinis (RA 147-152). In 1887 further remains of a building of about 100 A.D. were found on this spot (NS 1887, 70, 108; BC 1887, 100). For further description of the Sessorium, see LR 399; Ann. d. Inst. 1877, 371 ; Mon. L. i.490-492; HJ 249-250; LS iii.163-164; Arm. 795-800; Becker Top. 556-557; SR i.248; HCh 243; BC 1925, 278.
Samuel Ball Platner, The Topography and Monumants of Ancient Rome (London: Oxford University Press, 1929), p. 488-89.


At the same time Constantine Augustus constructed a basilica in the Sessorian palace1, where also he placed and enclosed in gold and jewels some of the wood of the holy cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and he dedicated the church under the name by which it is called even to this day, Hierusalem2. In that church he offered the following gifts:
4 candlesticks of silver burning before the holy wood, like to the number of the 4 gospels, weighing each 80 lbs.;
50 silver chandeliers, weighing each 15 lbs.;
a goblet of gold, weighing 10 lbs.;
5 golden chalices for service, weighing each one lb.;
3 silver goblets, weighing each 8 lbs.;
10 silver chalices for service, weighing each 2 lbs.
a golden paten, weighing 10 lbs.;
a silver paten overlaid with gold and set with jewels, weighing 50 lbs.;
a silver altar, weighing 250 lbs.;
3 silver pitchers, weighing each 20 lbs.;
and all the land about the palace he gave, as an offering to the church; [or: near the palace itself,] likewise the property of Sponsae on the Via Lavicana3, yielding 263 sol.;
near the city of Laurentum4 the property of Patrae, yielding 150 sol.;
near the city of Nepeta5 the property of Anglesis, yielding 150 sol.;
near the aforesaid city the property of Terega6, which yields 160 sol.;
near the city of Falisca7, the property of Herculus, which he gave to Augustus and Augustus gave to the church of Hierusalem, yielding 140 sol.;
near the city of Tuder the property of Angulae, yielding 153 sol.
1. Sessorian palace: the Sessorian palace is known to have been a residence of the empress Helena. Two inscriptions in her honor have been discovered there. In spite of alterations and mutilations the present basilica still shows traces of its origin as a private hall. Duchesne, op. cit., p. 196, n. 75.
2. Hierusalem: the title is now Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. In the fifteenth century an inscription was still legible beneath the apsidal mosaic, which commemorated the payment of a vow by Valentinian, Placidia and Honoria Augusti to the "holy church Hierusalem." As for the relic of the cross, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, writing about 348, says that fragments of the sacred wood were dispersed through all the world. Duchesne, ibid.
3. Lavicana: or Labicana. One of the main roads leading over the Esquiline Hill to the Latin town of Labicum.
4. Laurentum: Cf. supre, p. 50, n. 1.
5. Nepeta: the modern Nepi in the upper border of the Roman province.
6. Terega: the spot may have taken its name from the river Treia, which flows by Nepi. Duchesne, op. cit., p. 196, n. 79.
7. Falisca: now Civita Castellana.



The Sessorian palace is known to have been a residence of the empress Helena. Two inscriptions in her honor have been discovered there. In spite of alterations and mutilations the present basilica still shows traces of its origin as a private hall.
The title is now Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. In the fifteenth century an inscription was still legible beneath the apsidal mosaic, which commemorated the payment of a vow by Valentinian, Placidia and Honoria Augusti to the "holy church Hierusalem." As for the relic of the cross, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, writing about 348, says that fragments of the sacred wood were dispersed through all the world.


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Rodolfo Lanciani, Forma Urbis Romae (Rome: Edizioni Quasar, 1989).

180-211

Numerous tiles with brick stamps with the names of Septimus Severus and Commodus, found on the roof of the basilica.

200

A Sessorian Imperial palace stood here.

202

Inscriptions of a water-pipe found in front of the basilica.


Slaves were crucified outside of Rome in a place called Sessorium, beyond the Esquiline Gate; their execution was entrusted to the carnifex servorum (Tacit., "Ann.", II, 32; XV, 60; XIV, 33; Plut., "Galba", ix; Plaut., "Pseudol.", 13, V, 98). Eventually this wretched locality became a forest of crosses (Loiseleur, Des peines), while the bodies of the victims were the pray of vultures and other rapacious birds (Horace, "Epod.", V, 99, and the scholia of Crusius; Plin., "Hist. Nat.", XXXVI, cvii). It often happened that the condemned man did not die of hunger or thirst, but lingered on the cross for several days (Isid., V, 27; Senec., Epist. ci). To shorten his punishment therefore, and lessen his terrible sufferings, his legs were were sometimes broken (crurifragium, crura frangere; Cic., XIII Philipp., xii). This custom, exceptional among the Romans, was common with the Jews. In this way it was possible to take down the corpse on the very evening of the execution (Tert., "Adv. Jud.", x; Isid., V, xxvii; Lactant., IV, xvi). Among the Romans, on the contrary, the corpse could not be taken down, unless such removal had been specially authorized in the sentence of death. The corpse might also be buried if the sentence permitted (Valer. Max., vi, 2; Senec., "Controv.", VIII, iv; Cic., "Tusc.", I, 43; Catull., cvi, 1; Horace, "Epod.", I, 16-48; Prudent., "Peristephanon", I, 65; Petron., lxi sqq.).
The Catholic Encyclopedia online, under "Archaeology of the Cross and Crucifix."

218-235

Emperors Heliogabalus and Alexander Severus built the Circus Varianus and Amphitheater Castrense in the palace grounds.

317-322

The palatium Sessorianum is in possession of the Empress Helena, whose name is preserved in an inscription on a base of a statue, now in the chapel of S. Elena. Other inscriptions referring to Helena found in the neighborhood.

313-361

Founding of the basilica and donations of Constantine the Great or of one of his sons; among these perhaps also a relic of the Holy Cross.

before 348

Discovery of the Holy Cross and diffussion of the cult of the Cross in the Occident.

Richard Krautheimer, Corpus basilicarum Christianarum Romae: Le basiliche cristiane antichi di Roma (sec. IV-IX) (Cittá del Vaticano: Pontificio istituto di archeologia cristiana, 1937-) and other sources.

1144

The bell tower was added during one of the church's innumerable reconstruction.

1741-44

Pope Benedict XIV (architects Domenico Gregorini and Pietro Passalacqua) added the facade, oval vestibule and ornately Rococo inside.








Reconstruction of the Sessorian palace by Lanciani based on existing ruins, late 19th century. The amphitheater is named Castrense. The ruins to the northeast of the sessorian hall is a Templum Veneris et Cupidinis (Temple of Venus and Cupid).



First plan of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme (after Krautheimer). The grid is in increments of 10 meters square.



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