Early Christians always had bright ideas
If there is one thing that history teaches us it is that first-century Christians were zealous in attempting to erase paganism in order to promote faith in Christ. They often came up with bright ideas that led to the traditions we uphold today. Christmas came about because early believers in Christ desired to take the focus away from the pagan rituals of the Winter Solstice. The same ideology is why the Resurrection of Christ is celebrated during the Spring Equinox. The bright idea of dedicating to the Lord, that which was previously utilized in an idolatrous manner, was even involved regarding church buildings and ancient temples. Perhaps you may have assumed that most buildings that were erected for and dedicated to the worship of ancient Roman gods simply decayed over time or were destroyed during wars. You might have believed they were razed, without any future plan or anything specific being built in their place.
There are actually 11 structures in Rome, at this present time, which used to be pagan temples that are now utilized as Christian churches. Some buildings were remodeled and converted, while others were demolished and a completely new edifice was erected in the location. This list comes from an article in Forbes, written by Sarah Bond a historian. In researching these temples of the gods that were transformed into Christian houses of worship, only a few of the background stories actually list the name of the Roman temple that the churches derived from.
1. San Bartolomeo all’Isola/Temple of Aesculapius
During the Roman Empire, the Temple of Aesculapius stood on the site of the modern church San Bartolomeo, which is named for Bartholomew who was one of Christ's 12 disciples. Emperor Otto built this church, and it was twice renovated by Pope Paschal II in 1113 and 1180. In 1557, the church was badly damaged by a flood and restored a third time. The current interior of the church has preserved two lion supports and fourteen ancient Roman columns that date back to the earliest reconstruction of the basilica.
2. San Basilio
This structure was built by abbot Apolemone Agreste (Apollinare Agresta), and was named for Saint Basil the Great of Caesarea. He was the bishop of Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia, Asia Minor. San Basilio supported the Nicene Creed and opposed the heresies of the early Christian church, He was a powerful Theologian and the church dedicated to him was restored in 1682, according to the inscription that is over its main entrance.
3. San Lorenzo in Miranda
San Lorenzo is a Roman Catholic minor basilica. just outside of Rome in Miranda and is named for Saint Lawrence or Laurence who was one of the first seven Deacons and who was martyred in 258 AD.
4. The oratory of Saints Peter and Paul (now Santa Francesca Romana).
Santa Francesca Romana ( Basilica di Santa Francesca Romana in Italian), was previously known as Santa Maria Nova. It is a Roman Catholc church, which is located next to the Roman Forum in the rione Campitella in Rome Italy,
5. From a Roman temple to Santa Urbano alla Caffarella
Sant'Urbano alla Caffarella is an isolated 10th-century church, located in the Appio Latino quarter. This structure was converted from an ancient Roman temple in the Parco della Caffarella near the Via Appia Antica. It is believed to have been dedicated to Saint Urban who was also a Bishop. The deity to whom the pagan temple had been dedicated is not listed.
6. Santa Maria dei Martiri
This basilica is dedicated to Christian martyrs, both known and unknown. According to a brief dated July 27, 1561, Pius IV ordered the church to be built and dedicated it to the Beatissimae Virgini et omnium Angelorum et Martyrum ("the Most Blessed Virgin and all the Angels and Martyrs"). A modern-day story indicates that these Martyrs were Christian slave laborers who had been forced to construct the Baths. This structure was also a personal monument of Pope Pius IV, whose tomb lies inside the apsidal tribune.
7. Stefano delle Carrozze/The temple of Hercules
At the end of the second century BC, a round marble temple dedicated to Hercules, once occupied space in the Forum Boarium, which is the market area in the old river port of Rome. In the twelfth century, this temple was converted into a church, dedicated to Santo Stefano, (Saint Stephen). A new roof and a bell tower were erected along with the construction of a wall in between the columns of the portico. The church was called Santo Stefano Delle Carrozze, after the name of the street and by the seventeenth century was dedicated to Santa Maria del Sole. the seventeenth century, The remains of the ancient Roman temple came to light at the end of the nineteenth century when the church was deconsecrated.
8. San Nicola in Carcere
Basilica di San Nicola is dedicated to the memory of Saint Nicholas. This structure was built between 1087 and 1197. Both Roman Catholics and mainstream Christians visit this church where there are relics belonging to the man upon whom the Santa Claus legend is based.
9. Santa Maria de Secundicerio/Temple of Porunus
This temple was built in the first century BC and was dedicated to Portunus, the god of harbours. It had earlier been falsely asserted that this structure was erected in honor of Fortuna Virilis. This was because the main city port of ancient Rome was just to the north, where transshipment boats from the seagoing ports at Porto and Ostia tied up. In 872, in order to change the temple into a church the entrance wall of the cella was demolished and the gaps between the columns of the portico were filled in so that one large room could be created.
10. San Sebastiano al Palatino-Temple of Divus Agustus or Emperor Elagabalus
The origin of this medieval church is not known with certainty. The brick substructure dates back to the reign of the final Flavian Emperor, Domitian. Excavations which were carried out near the beginning of the twentieth century revealed a concrete foundation from a peripteral temple. The dimensions were 60 meters long and 40 meters wide. This could be the remains of the unidentifiable Temple of Divus Augustus, which was dedicated in the first century AD. This structure was rebuilt by Domitian after being destroyed in a fire. Some believe this temple built by the emperor Elagabalus in the third century.
11.San Nicola dei Cesarini/Temple of Juturna
This church is dedicated to Saint Nicholas of Myrna and is believed to have once been a temple of Juturna, the Roman goddess of fountains, wells, and springs. Portions of the temple’s peripteral colonnade were incorporated into its outer walls. The church is believed in 1186, 1611, and 1695, Cesarini was added to the name in honor of a prominent family. When it was realized that this structure was on the site of not one, but two ancient temples, the building was demolished in 1929. All that remains are a fe architectural fragments and a cat-decorated display of ancient ruins, located in the middle of the Largo di Torre Argentina in the rione Pigna.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Cheryl E Preston
Cheryl E Preston (author) from Roanoke on February 04, 2020:
I love that song Ms. Dora.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on February 04, 2020:
Thanks for this information, Cheryl. The lyrics come to mind: "Mine eyes have seen the glory . . . His truth is marching on."
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 02, 2020:
Cheryl, This is a very interesting bit of history that is mostly new to me. I knew there were pagan temples, but I didn't know there were so many. This is a very good article.
Lorna Lamon on February 02, 2020:
Such an interesting article Cheryl, in particular the historical facts which I was not aware of. However, there are still a few Pagan temples in Ireland which remain to this day as Pagan temples. I have visited Rome and the 'San Basilio' is incredibly beautiful -, to think it was once a Pagan temple. An enjoyable read.
Anya Ali from Rabwah, Pakistan on February 02, 2020:
Cheryl E Preston (author) from Roanoke on February 02, 2020:
OLUSEGUN from NIGERIA on February 01, 2020:
History gingers one's mind.