Basilica Sessoriana     Rome


in historical context   312   326

1999.09.23 09:40
equinoctial augury
Anyone who has visited Quondam's current schizophrenia + architectures exhibit probably already knows that I was born 20 March 1956 (less than four hours before the vernal equinox that year), and that my schizophrenic brother Otto was laterally lobotomized 20 March 1980 (coincidentally in the new version of the same hospital where I was born). Sometime in April 1998 I learned that the 20th of March in ancient Rome was the dies sanguinis, the day of blood, and this prompted me to write a short piece entitled "dies sanguinis" at xxx.htm.
The equinox is when night equals day, and there are two equinoxes, but do the two equinoxes equal each other?
20 September 1999:
I receive a package in the mail which contains one of the several books I've lately been successfully bidding on at eBay. The book is Wonders of Italy, Rome, Eternally Beautiful, a dense little guide book from 1937 with 1045 illustrations and lots of interesting facts; I'm very happy with this purchase. In my initial scan through the book, I look to see what it says about Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, the church which is built upon St. Helena's private chapel that was within the Sessorian Palace. The guidebook entry reads:
"Santa Croce, one of the 'Seven Churches' of Rome, owes its origin to the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine, who in her zeal for Christianity made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and brought back a collection of relics, including a portion of the Saviour's cross, for the purpose of forming a pilgrim's shrine for those who could not afford time and money for the journey to the Holy Land. The church she founded, was probably a hall of the Sessorian palace in which she resided; it was called Basilica Heleniana, or Sessoriana. The primitive church was rebuilt by Pope Lucius II, in 1114, and modernized in 1743 by Gregorini, who added the baroque facade. The campanile dates from 1196.
The sacred relics preserved in the church include a part of the cross and of its inscription, one of the nails, thorns from the crown, and the finger with which St. Thomas convinced himself of the reality of the wound in the side of Christ. The tribune is covered with frescos representing the Discovery of the Cross. The oldest part of the church is the chapel of St. Helena in the crypt (ladies are not admitted except on the festival of the saint, March 20), the floor of which is built upon a soil composed of earth from Jerusalem." [I know nothing about this 20 March "festival of the saint," but I'd sure like to know more. Furthermore, who dares doubt the relic existence of doubting Thomas' finger!?!]
21 September 1999:
I again receive a package in the mail which contains one of the several books I've lately been successfully bidding on at eBay, and this one is entitled Das Weib in der Antiken Kunst (Woman in Antique Art), 1914. At night I went through the book page by page looking at the many splendid black and white photographs depicting woman in ancient art, that is, primarily on vases and in sculpture. To my surprise, the last image is the sculpted head of Heilige Helena, Saint Helena. I have never seen this image before, and indeed the only ancient image of Helena that I thought was presently available was that of her profile on ancient coins issued during her lifetime as empress. I was immediately struck that the head of Helena (which in 1914 was, and I assume still is) in Copenhagen and the colossal head of Constantine within the courtyard of the Conservatory Palace in Rome both have the exact same eyes.
22 September 1999:
Early in the morning I receive an email from amazon.com that they have successfully tracked down an out-of-print book I ordered almost a half year ago, Hans A. Pohlsander's Helena: Empress and Saint. Later in the afternoon I receive a phone call from my mother, and she tells me that she had to take Otto to the emergency room in the middle of the night. I became immediately upset for several reasons, 1) Otto's recent panic attacks of this year seem to getting worst, 2) why did my mother not call me when it happened, 3) I got upset because I didn't expect myself to get so upset. I had been with Otto earlier that evening when he called and asked if I would pick him up and bring him to my house to then listen to some CDs. This is usually what Otto and I do when he feels a panic attack coming on or when an attack is already in progress, in fact he and I did the same thing the night before. My mother simply didn't want to bother me again, and she felt she could handle the emergency room situation on her own.
23 September 1999:
Lying restlessly in bed during the hours before the autumnal equinox (7:31 am edt 23 September 1999), I think of all the varying instances mentioned above. Of course, I'm surprised and glad to "see" all these new Helena "signs", especially since I'm not even working on her subject matter at this time. And then it dawns on me that Otto was again in an emergency room at a time close to an equinox. And then I think of how my brother not only has his schizophrenic cross to bear, but how he is now a cross for my mother and for me as well. And then I think how my mother still has such strength in her old age (she's 75). And then I think how Helena too had great strength in her old age (she traveled to the Holy Land in her late 70s). And then I think that maybe St. Helena is watching over my brother and my mother. And then I remember that St. Helena is the patron saint of miners, stemming from the ancient account of Eusebius that Helena, on her journey to and from the Holy Land, released (supposedly Christian) prisoners from the mines. And then I remember that my mother was once a post WWII civilian prison of war in Russia for five years, and during those years my mother, Rosa, was indeed a coal miner. And then I decided to write this letter.
Are the two equinoxes the same? I'd say they are exactly the same, but inverted in a fashion that only equinoxes can be.
Balancingly yours,
Stephen Lauf

aesthetics? (etc.)
There is now lots of new material to add to Learning from Lauf (vague) S., not the least of which is a new essay entitled "Constantine's Mother's House", a lively and in-depth look at the history and architecture of the Palatium Sessoriaum, Helena's residence in Rome, the only remaining part of which is today's Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.

2001.08.15 11:01
Helena: calendrical coincidences
The dedication date for Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, Rome is 20 March. This church is the remaining vestige of the Sessorian Palace which served as Helena's Roman residence very likely from late 312 to 326, and the story goes that Helena had a chapel built within the palace, and in this chapel was deposited ground/dirt from Golgotha along with many other relics including a piece of the Cross, hence the name 'Holy Cross in Jerusalem'. According to the Freund Latin-English Dictionary (under Bellona) 20 March is the "dies sanguinis", the day of blood when Bellona's (sister of Mars and goddess of war) priests and priestesses "gashed their arms and sholders and offered their blood to the goddess." What I think is interesting here is that Santa Croce in Gerusalemme also represents an intense day of blood, namely Christ's crucifixion.

Since I now have a working model of the first Sessorian conversion (into Santa Croce in Gerusalemme), this is where I will do the most virtual/Quondam play, e.g., design the floor paving based on 'to scale' representations of other floor plans (like 5233, Acropolis Q?) and filling the interior elevations with renderings of other to scale elevations, animated.

2001.11.09 12:49
calendrical coincidence
I'm working hard to get CC done so I can then begin work on "Sessorii Plus Ultra" which begins with an analysis of the Sessorian Palace/Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. Last week I began construction of a 3d computer model of the Sessorian palace hall that now is the church of Santa Croce--a very enlightening experience seeing the early definition of the space.

2001.11.12 17:56
Re: Pohlsander, coincidentally
Thanks for asking the questions regarding Eutropia. I wish you did it via the list so everyone was part of the exchange, but that's ok since I can still post my answers.
1. The rhetoric of Constantine's letter is more telling than it appears, especially since scholars up to now place Eutropia's Holy Land visit before the 326 death of Fausta, although Eusebius clearly places Eutropia's letter to Constantine after Helena's death. Constantine's letter that mentions Eutropia's letter also chides the Holy Land bishops for not having found out the conditions at Mamre sooner. This very much implies that the other Holy Land sites were already being taken care of. So how is it then that Europia was in the Holy Land prior to the summer of 326 when scholars today date Helena's activity in the Holy Land after the summer of 326? Why would Constantine speak down to the Holy Land bishops if he and the bishops had not already been taking care of the other Holy Land sites?
2. Given Maximian's reputation, it's quite possible that Eutropia wasn't so fond of him herself.
3. After the death of Maxentius, Eutropia publicly admitted that Maxentius was a bastard. This could well have been to save her own skin, and/or it could have been to put Constantine in a better political light. In either case it worked.
4. I believe Eusebius's book III of the Vita Constantini (VC) is in chronological order, and that Helena died a day or two after Fausta's death. Both Fausta and Helena were just arrived at Rome for the Vicennalia, and Helena also brought with her part of the Cross and the other relics now at Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. If Fausta committed suicide, then Eutropia would not necessaily turn against Constantine. But I believe what really happened is that with the sudden and unexpected death of Helena (right after the death of Fausta), Constantine and Eutropia found themselves to be "the only ones left." That they were now in possession of Christianity's most holy relics very likely only compounded the matter. Plus, who was going to take care of all Constantine and Fausta's children, who, like Constantine himself had just lost their mother?
[My latest theory as to how the "silence" surrounding Helena and the Cross began, was as a general order that there was to be utter silence during Helena's funeral procession. Seeing how well this order worked, Constantine then found that it didn't take much more effort on his part to indicate that the matter was still closed.]
5. After the death of Helena passages in the VC, the very next chapter is about Constantinople. This indicates that Constantine was now through with Rome, now that all its basilicas were done or nearing completion, and now that Helena (who was really Rome's resident Imperial at that time) was buried. Notice too in the VC that after this point Constantine becomes much more destructive of pagan temples and cults.
6. Eutropia's subsequent trip to the Holy Land, and her letter to Constantine regarding Mamre gave Constantine all the joy it did because Eutropia had managed to literally keep the spirit and work of Helena alive--something that I'm sure Constantine really treasured. The abrupt end of the issuing of Helena coins late 328-early 329 may well indicate when Eutropia died.
I fully realize that what I write above is easily considered only fiction, but if it is a fiction, it is one based on reading the VC in the order that Eusebius put it. I believe Eusebius was extremely clever in his writing of the Life of Constantine, especially in giving out information that was risky to give out, i.e., breaking the "silence" without being caught breaking the silence. That Eusebius tells us anything about Eutropia is itself extraordinary, however the way Eusebius utilizes Eutropia indicates that Eusebius was an extraordinary historian. For me personally, it was when I stopped avoiding Eutropia that all the conundrums of Helena began falling into place.

2001.11.13 11:14
Re: sketching
I don't construct as many cad models as I used to (and no I don't need a manual constantly at hand), but I have worked on two models so far this year, namely the tower of Princeton Memorial Park (1966, unexecuted), perhaps Venturi and Rauch's most Kahnian building, and a reconstruction of the first rendition (c. 326 AD) of what is today Santa Croce in Gerusalemme--this is a large hall from what was once the Sessorian Palace, where Empress Helena lived in Rome between 313 and 326. I'm especially pleased with the quondam Sessorian hall. The model proved most enlightening with regard to beginning to understand what really happened during the paradigm shift in Western culture from Paganism to Christianity. I'd say any "drawing" that can do that goes somewhat beyond just "draughtsmanship".

2001.11.14 11:23
Re: sketching
The other "lively" issue with CAD drawings is that they are never completely done, and never is there a sole original either. CAD drawings propagate! For example, in constructing the first Santa Croce in Gerusalemme I needed classical columns, so I effortlessly copied the columns from Quondam's (Schinkel's) Altes Museum model, reduced them in scale, and they look perfect. (Not bad for less than ten minutes worth of work.)

2001.12.04 11:36
Piranesi Prison dates, etc.
I don't like having to do this (because it implies that some editor is not really doing their job), but it must be pointed out that Joseph Rykwert made (at least) one factual mistake within The Seduction of Place (2000). On page 150, Rykwert states:
"The attempt to provide a mimetic "condensation" of another place and time is not new. Centuries ago pilgrimages to remote and sacred places were replicated for those who could not afford to leave home. The fourteen [S]tations of the [C]ross, which you may find in any Roman Catholic church, are a miniturized and atrophied version of the pilgrimage around holy places in Jerusalem."
The above is complete disinformation. The Stations of the Cross do not represent a "pilgrimage around holy places in Jerusalem." The Stations of the Cross are a ritual reenactment of what Christ experienced on the day of His crucifixion.
Interestingly, the example that Rykwert should have put forth is that of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, the church in Rome built within the Sessorian Palace, the imperial home of Helena Augusta, which today houses Christianity's most valuable relics (of the "Stations of the Cross"). Additionally, Santa Croce (which means Holy Cross) is built upon ground brought back by Helena from Golgotha, site of Christ's crucifixion. Santa Croce is indeed one of Rome's primal pilgrimage churches.
"Virtual Gerusalemme" will be a major feature within "Theatrics Times Two."

2001.12.05 20:03
virtual Gerusalemme
Images derived from a 3d computer model of the Basilica Hierusalem, the original Santa Croce in Gerusalemme are now available. The model is based on a plan of the basilica as featured in the Corpus basilicarum Christianarum Romae, and on a schematic reconstruction featured in Krautheimer's Early Christian And Byzantine Architecture.
Seeing how Santa Croce is indeed a "mimetic 'condensation' of another place and time," I am now curious if there are other earlier examples of such "reenactionary" buildings/places. Or does the Basilica Hierusalem actually set the precedent for this type of building in Western civilizations? Any clarifications or suggestions would be most appreciated.
You will note that I have dated the Basilica Hierusalem as circa late 326. This indicates my contention that the basilca came into being after Helena's death (circa 1 August 326), and that the basilica was constructed (perhaps under the guidance of Eutropia) to both honor Helena as well as the relics she (Helena) had just brought to Rome. This thinking coincides with what happened at the "the house of Crispus" in Trier after his murder/death. The Imperial house at Trier was demolished, and an enormous double basilica was erected in its place (and there are still today two churches at Trier on the double basilica site).
In terms of design, the double columns of the Basilica Hierusalem seem to have been "reenacted" at the mausoleum of Constantina (today's Santa Costanza, Rome). Constantina was one of the daughters of Constantine, and the grand-daughter of both Helena and Eutropia. Continuing with the double theme, the typology of double basilicas in Christian architecture is extemely rare, and those that exist(ed) appear to have been first constructed within the decade or so before and after 326.

St. Ambrose, 8 December 2001
I went to the Free Library Central to record data on S. Croce in the Corpus B. I got all I needed; it is a very good documentation. Coincidentally found The Geometry of Love, which is all about St. Agnes Outside the Walls; a great book/find.
At home, thought of the likely reversal of only women allowed in the Helena Chapel on 20 March.

2002.06.16 15:23
houses that morph...
...into something else
The Sessorian Palace, as it morphed over centuries from imperial home of Elagabalus to the baroque church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme today, is what started me thinking about houses that morph into something else. Such changes are not at all uncommon however, and any trip through inner urban areas, like North Philadelphia, for example, will present many former houses that are now either churches, or stores, or some other businesses. Houses that morph into something else are likewise not uncommon among the 88 Houses of Ill-Repute as presently featured at Quondam.

2003.06.29 19:10
Re: Contemporary Aboriginal Art
Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, the seventh of the Seven Churches of Rome, houses what are Christianity's most valuable relics: a large piece of the Cross, at least one nail, some thrones, and half of the titilus, the sign that also hung on the Cross, which has a long Middle Ages history of being still in Rome but unknown and buried in a wall of Santa Croce, and is at least archealogically sound as to its date of origin.

2003.07.24 15:22
(calendrically coincidental) 25 July
I am (today) compiling more specific late antiquity events that coincide on 25 July. Here's an outline.
25 July 306: Constantius I dies at Eburacum (York), with his son Constantine at his side. Constantine is subsequently hailed Caesar by the troops.
25 July 315: Constantine's Decenalia (tenth anniversary as emperor--note Romans counted 25 July 306 as Constantine's year one; they didn't count with a zero) at Rome. The Arch of Constantine is dedicated. Constantine is at Rome 21 July to 27 September [close to dates of reenactment season].
25 July 325: Constantine's Vicennalia at Nicomedia, coinciding with the end of the 1st Nicean Council; the Nicene Creed is published. I really like how Eusebius describes this occasion within "How Constantine entertained the Bishops on the occasion of his Vicennalia," chapter XV of Vita Constantini Book III at newadvent -- I sense a pleasing hint of punch drunkenness, as in "talk about (finally!) being at an a-list party."
25 July 326: The closing ceremonies of Constantine's 20th jubilee at Rome. Not a very happy occasion because Constantine had (to have) his first born son Crispus Caesar killed a few months earlier. Helena('s boat) was late getting (her) to Italy; she was bringing a piece of the Cross with her. Helena died (at Naples?) or was buried (at Rome) 28 July--if Helena was buried 28 July, then perhaps she died 25 July, coinciding not only Constantine's anniversary, but also dying on the same day as her husband, Constantius. Perhaps it is just a bit too coincidental for both of Constantine's parents to have died on 25 July. Making matters worse, the death (via probable suicide) of Fausta, Constantine's second wife (but not the mother of Crispus), may well also have occurred at Rome 25 July. Constantine was at Rome 18 July to 3 August; Constantine never again returned to Rome.
Sometime before 3 August 326: A law of silence regarding Helena and her finding of the True Cross is instituted and strictly enforced.
After this, the two surviving senior imperials (at least in this author's estimation) were Constantine and Eutropia (Constantine's mother-in-law). Eutropia may well henceforth be responsible for organizing and supervising the conversion of Helena's private chapel at the Sessorian Palace into what is today Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. From there, Eutropia may well have traveled to Trier to oversee the destruction of the Imperial Palace (last of Crispus Caesar) there making way for the subsequent construction of Trier's enormous double basilica. And, thereafter, Eutropia returned to the Holy Land, where she, reenacting Helena, initiated the construction of the first Christian basilica at Hebron.

Re: FW Evolutionary theory and architecture
Aside from strictly religious (temple and church) architecture, the case can be made that classical Roman architecture, in general, reached its climax during the reign of Maxentius, and ended 28 October 312, when Maxentius lost his life in battle with Constantine at the Milvian Bridge--Maxentius became (usurpative) emperor of Italy and North Africa 28 October 306, and Constantine attributes his Christian conversion to events that occurred the eve of 28 October 312. The architecture built in Rome under Maxentius is of the utmost refinement, e.g., the Circus of Maxentius manifests the most precisely designed of all Roman circuses. [Incidentally, the Circus of Maxentius plays a key role in the manifestation of two Ichnographia Campus Martius.] Records indicate that it may have been only a month after Constantine's triumph at the Milvian Bridge that the first Christian Basilica in Rome, first named after Constantine and today St. John Lateran, began construction. The architecture of Rome executed under Constantine (312-330) further includes (at least), St. Peter's at the Vatican, separate Basilicas of St. Lawrence, Agnes, and Peter et Marcellinus, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme (which is all that remains today of Elegabalus' Sessorian Palace, where Helena took up subsequent residence in Rome), the Arch of Constantine (which reused pieces of the Arch of Trajan), the Baths of Constantine, the Baths of Helena, and the Mausoleum of Helena (whose ruins exhibit construction very similar to the ruins of the great Constantinian Bath of Treves (Trier, 306-312), which were the largest Roman Baths outside Rome).

2004.01.10 12:57
the making of "My Rita Novel Idea"
Rubens tells us about all the research he did after receiving his first public commission of three altarpieces for the crypt chapel of St. Helena in Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. Plus he thoroughly discusses his designs of the Life of Constantine tapestries that presently hang in the Great Hall of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

ideas - Odds of Ottopia
On 25 February Ambrose says that the Helena chapel at Santa Croce is only open to women on 20 March because it was (mostly) only women that were witness to Christ's death and resurrection.

Superimpose Gerusalemme model and the Cathedral wireframe.

...finish Gerusalemme.

2005.07.17 16:24
The Semiology of God
Only part of the Holy Cross went to Constantinople. Most of it stayed at Jerusalem, specifically at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and part of it went to Rome and is still within the Helena chapel at Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, and is half of the titilus, the sign on the Cross.

2005.09.08 17:48
Hadrian was born in Spain
Check out the emperor Elegabalus as a latter-day Nero and then some. He had the Sessorian Palace built, which was a little Roman theme park in that besides the Palace there was also a circus and and amphitheater. What's left of the Sessorian Palace compound is at Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. A hundred or so years after Elegabalus, Helena took up residence at the Sessorian Palace.

2009.04.13 14:38
Re: Relics of the "true" cross?
I see Santa Croce at Ravenna as a reenactment of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme--essentially Galla Placidia reenacting Helena Augusta, a later Christian Empress reenacting the 'original' Christian Empress. Helena was a "church builder" and Galla Placidia continued the tradition. In a sense, Santa Croce at Ravenna provides evidence for the prior existence of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme and its own 'legend'.



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