Excerpts From Rev. J. Barmby's
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF GREGORY THE GREAT
|ROME IN THE SIXTH CENTURY|
The aspect of the "Golden City," in the days of Gregory, was desolate and melancholy in the extreme. On all sides—along the Via Sacra, in the Fora, throughout the Campus Martins—the eye was met by traces of ruin and decay; vast works of wealth and industry, injured by storm and fire, but unrepaired; magnificent basilicas with no one to do business therein; grand lines of columns surrounding temples long closed and abandoned; triumphal arches rising in the midst of debris; libraries, the contents of which had been destroyed; empty palaces, with flowers and ivy crowning their mouldering walls. The baths, “so magnificent as to resemble entire provinces”, the artificial “stagna”, the fountains once supplied by the aqueducts, were dry and waterless. The countless statues, which adorned the squares and public buildings, and gave to Rome a second population of bronze and marble, were mostly mutilated or fallen from their pedestals. The theatres were crumbling, the stadia desolate; and the marble pavements, once pressed by the feet of throngs from every nation wader heaven, were breaking up. The Rome of the Republic and of the Roman Emperors was slowly perishing. The city of which Augustus had boasted that he had left it marble—the city of which one so recent even as Cassiodorus could exclaim that the whole of it was one great miracle—the city of parks and palaces, of cool arcades and gold-roofed temples, had become at the time when Gregory trod its streets little better than a cluster of dilapidated ruins. If Horace could have risen from his tomb to stroll once more along the Sacred Way, he would scarcely have recognized the scene of careless wanderings in the bright days of the early Empire.
Many causes had contributed to this result, and not the least of them was war. Within a century and a half Rome had been sacked four times; within less than twenty years it had been five times captured by force of arms. It is true that neither Alaric nor Genseric, neither Ricimer nor Totila, seems to have inflicted wanton damage upon the structures of the city; at any rate, the first three were bent solely upon plunder, and abstained from injuring to any serious extent the edifices themselves. But although, if we except the unexecuted project of Totila, there was no deliberate attempt at demolition, the damage done to the Roman buildings by successive armies of pillagers must have been considerable. Fittings were torn away, statues were hacked about and mutilated, gilded tiles and beams, bronze doors and decorations, were roughly removed, and the monuments thus disfigured were left without repair until the natural process of decay completed their destruction.
A second cause was neglect. The buildings were shaken by earthquake or injured by fire and pillage, but no one restored them. The beautiful temples, which in past times served not only as places of worship, but also as public museums and art galleries, were closed, and no one crossed their thresholds. Even in the days of Jerome we read that the Capitol was filled with mire, and all the shrines of Rome defiled with dirt and cobwebs. And this description, rhetorical and exaggerated in Jerome's time, was sadly accurate in the time of Gregory. According to a legend, which was believed to be true at the end of the sixth century, the Bishop of Canosa one day spoke with St. Benedict about the future of the Eternal City. The bishop was apprehensive of what Totila might do, and he said to Benedict: "The city doubtless will be destroyed by this king, so that it will never more be inhabited." But the saint replied with a famous prophecy, "Rome shall never be destroyed by the gentiles, but it shall be shaken by tempests, lightnings, and earthquakes, and shall decay of itself."
A third cause of decay was the unpatriotic practice so common amongst the Romans of erecting new buildings with materials taken from the old. "It is well known"—so runs the edict of Majorian—"that in several instances public buildings, in which all the ornament of the city consisted, have been destroyed with the criminal permission of the authorities, on the pretext that the materials were necessary for public works. The splendid structures of ancient buildings have been overthrown, and the Great has been everywhere destroyed in order to erect the Little. From this has arisen the abuse, that whoever has built a private house, has, through the favour of the magistrates, presumed to appropriate the necessary materials from public buildings; whereas all such buildings as contribute to the splendour of the city should have been restored and upheld by the loving reverence of the citizens." Many of the Emperors enacted laws prohibiting this wholesale spoliation, and Theodoric, the Gothic king, made a final effort to protect the perishing monuments. But Emperors and Kings alike were unable to arrest the mischief. The first buildings to suffer such violence were the temples, closed since 394, and tenanted, according to popular superstition, by evil spirits. But the secular structures soon shared the same fate; and archaeologists inform us that they have discovered no building later than the fourth century which was erected originally with freshly quarried material. In the light of these facts it is somewhat curious to find Procopius belauding the Romans for their peculiar love of their city and their anxious care for the preservation of its historic monuments. Unfortunately for the reputation of the citizens, the edicts of the Emperors and the discoveries of our excavators tell a different tale.
Gregory was a witness of the passing of Old Rome. He lived amid the relics of the past, in the great city on which was set the seal of unmistakable decay. Let us imagine him, for once, leaving his father's house and mounting the Via Sacra, most famous of all streets, on his way to attend a lecture on the Capitol or to listen to a Virgil recitation in the Library of Trajan. As he passes through the city, what kind of panorama would meet his view ?
First, to the right of the Sacred Way, opposite the Colosseum, on the little hill called Velia, there still was standing, with porphyry columns and gilded tiles intact, Hadrian's lovely double temple dedicated to Venus and Rome—the temple which had cost the uncourtly architect his life. Beyond it, spanning the road at its highest point, rose the Arch of Titus, from which a slight descent, lined with fine buildings, conducted the traveller to the Roman Forum. The buildings on either side of the road were yet imposing. On the right, at the top, was the great brick-constructed Basilica of Constantine, with its noble vaulted ceiling and its three naves divided by gigantic pillars; next was the Church of SS. Cosmas and Damian; beyond, the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, of which the marble frieze, with bas-reliefs of griffins, candelabra, and festoons, is considered a marvel of art; and, further still, one caught a glimpse of the red granite columns of the portico built by Theodosius on the site of the once splendid Basilica Aemilia. On the left of the Via Sacra, below the Arch of Titus, was, first, the Portions Margaritaria, a handsome arcade with shops of jewellers, goldsmiths, and perfumers—shops, however, which had now for long been closed and empty. Lower down were the buildings of Vesta—the house of the Vestal Virgins, now transformed into citizens’ dwellings and pierced with many doors and windows, and adjoining it the sanctuary of Vesta, closed and silent. The road ended in the Forum, the scene of many of the most stirring events in Roman history. It was an area of small extent, paved with slabs of travertine, crowded with statues and surrounded with venerable buildings. The heat in summer was stifling here, and in the old days the Romans sought for some alleviation by spreading out shady awnings, beneath which they were able to take their part, with comparative comfort, in the many varied phases of the Forum life—in the legal discussions, the criminal prosecutions, the religious ceremonies and processions, the military pageants, the public executions, and the political banquets. In Gregory's time the Forum was no longer the scene of brilliant spectacles or of important business transactions. It was still used, however, as a popular meeting-place, where the wiseacres of Rome foregathered to discuss the affairs of the city.
The buildings that surrounded the Forum were still in fair repair, though many of them were disused and permanently shut up. On the east side were two abandoned structures—the Temple of Castor and the retangular Temple of Julius, marking the spot where the body of the great Caesar had been cremated. Both these buildings, however, through long neglect, were falling into decay. On the south side of the Forum was the vast Basilica Julia, with nave and four aisles, the site of which in modern times recalls a chain of varied memories of Roman magistrates and the priests of S. Maria de Foro, of mediaeval rope-makers, of marmorarii, lime-burners, and the guardians of the Ospedale della Consolazione. On the north side, next to the Basilica Aemilia, was the small bronze Temple of Janus, yet containing the image of the god. Its brass gates, closed since Rome became Christianized, had been wrenched on their hinges in 537 by some half-pagan fanatics, and had never shut quite tightly since. Beyond this temple stood the ancient Senate House, the elaborate decorations of which—the gilded coffers of the vaulted roof, the marble panelling of the walls, the bas-reliefs of the pediment and the bronze door—continued to be seen and admired long after Honorius the First had turned the hall into the Church of St. Hadrian.
At the west end of the Forum was a confused mass of splendid monuments—the Arch of Severus, with its sculptured episodes of Eastern wars; the white marble Temple of Concord, praised by Pliny; the elegant Temple of Vespasian, of which three columns are standing in the present day; the badly restored Temple of Saturn; and the huge Tabularium. And at the back of all, to the south, there rose in solemn majesty the Capitoline Hill. A century and a half ago the poet Claudian had described the scene which met the gaze of one standing on the Palatine and looking towards the historic shrine of Jupiter Capitolinus. He spoke of the crowd of temples blocking the sky, the highly wrought doors, the statues seemingly suspended in mid-air, the innumerable arches, the beaked columns commemorative of great naval victories—all alike glittering in the sunshine with brass and gold work, till the dazzled eye shrank before the splendour of the scene. In these hundred and fifty years, however, the ravages of decay had been rapid and unchecked, and the view had lost somewhat of its magnificence. Yet even in the sixth century, the buildings of the Capitol, defaced and broken as they were, and robbed by enemies of their statues and golden tiles, must have seemed to Gregory, as to Cassiodorus, "surpassing all other works of human skill."
North-east of the Forum of the Republic, between the Capitol and the Quirinal, on a site now covered by a network of insignificant and dirty streets, there stretched, in Gregory's time, the splendid series of the Imperial Fora, ending on the north with the superb Forum of Trajan. This quarter, with its fine open spaces, its spreading porticoes, and its majestic temples, has in modern times completely changed its aspect. Excepting a portion of Trajan's work, the Fora of the Emperors have entirely disappeared. Three Corinthian pillars of Luna marble, with their entablature, which once adorned the Temple of Mars Ultor in the Forum of Augustus; and the two “Colonnacce” of the Temple of Minerva in the Forum of Nerva, are the sole remains of a group of buildings which were once the most beautiful and magnificent in Rome. In Gregory's time, however, these piazzas were not encroached upon, and Papal builders had not yet begun to make havoc of the impressive edifices. The temples, indeed, were closed, and here, as everywhere, there was abundant evidence of decay and neglect, but in its general features the scene was the same as in the days of the Early Empire.
Of the entire series the Trajanic group of buildings was perhaps the finest. “The Forum of Trajan”, says Cassiodorus, “however often we see it, is always wonderful”. To make room for it, Trajan had cut away a ridge which formerly linked the Capitoline Hill with the Quirinal, separating the Imperial Fora from the Campus Martius. The space thus obtained was occupied by the large open area of the Forum itself, by the bronze-roofed Basilica Ulpia, the Greek and Latin Libraries, and the Temple of Trajan. It was further beautified by a multitude of statues of famous men (among them those of Claudian and Sidonius Apollinaris), and by an equestrian effigy of “the best of princes” himself. Ammianus Marcellinus has left us an interesting account of a visit made to this “place imperial” by the Emperor Constantius in 357. He says that when the Emperor reached the Forum, “the most exquisite structure under the canopy of heaven and admired even by the gods themselves”, he fell into a stupor of admiration, and, realizing the impossibility of himself completing any work of like magnificence, he exclaimed despairingly, in allusion to the equestrian statue, that the horse which Trajan rode was all that he could imitate. Whereat Prince Hormisdas, who chanced to be at his side, replied, “But the horse, your Majesty, must have a stable worthy of him. Command, then, one to be erected as magnificent as this”.
In Gregory’s time there seems to have existed in Trajan’s Forum a relief representing a woman supplicating the Emperor; and to this group a story had become attached, to the effect that on one occasion Trajan, when setting out to battle, had delayed in order to give audience to a widow who prayed for justice. Gregory knew the story, and was touched by the goodness of the prince. After his death in 604 a legend grew up, apparently in the English Church, that the Pope “prayed” or “wept” so earnestly for the soul of the Emperor, that he procured its release from the infernal torments, though at the same time he was divinely warned never again to presume to pray for any who had died in paganism. This legend is accepted by Paul the Deacon, but is regarded with grave suspicion by John, and is unconditionally rejected by later Catholic theologians.
The buildings of Trajan were intact in the sixth century. War, however, had wrought, in one respect, irreparable damage. The priceless treasures of Greek and Latin literature, once contained in the libraries, had perished. Some of the fine editions of the classics, inscribed on sheets of ivory, and enclosed in rich embroidered and jewelled cases, had been carried off as booty; the common rolls had been lost, or destroyed by fire, or left to rot in the cupboards until they were cleared away as rubbish. Only a few books, secreted by some careful librarian, can have survived of one of the richest collections that any city was ever fortunate enough to possess. But the Romans of Gregory's age had no longer thoughts for literature, and to Gregory himself the masterpieces of the pagan writers would have seemed but vanity.
It would be tedious to describe in detail the other great monuments of ancient Rome which yet adorned the diminished city of the sixth century. The buildings in the neighbourhood of the Roman Forum and the Imperial Squares were perhaps the most venerable and magnificent. Yet in the Campus Martius and other quarters were many others equally interesting, and equally touched by the universal decay. There was the Pantheon, with the colossal statues of Augustus and Agrippa under the portico, and the neglected effigies of departed Caesars in their shrines beneath the gilded dome. But the place was believed to be haunted; the great bronze doors were closed; and the silence within was broken only by the patter of the rain pouring through the opening in the cupola on to the marble floor, and by the monotonous plash against the walls of the rising waters of Tiber. There, again, was the Mausoleum of Augustus, described by Strabo,—a circular building of white marble supporting a leafy garden of cypresses and evergreens. But no gardener came any longer to keep the trees in order, and the bronze statue of the Emperor, amid a rank and tangled growth kept solitary ward. There too was the Poseidonion, with its exquisite bas-reliefs representing the thirty-six provinces of the Early Roman Empire. There were the Race-course of Flaminius; the Stadium of Domitian, much of which was still standing in the Middle Ages; the Theatres of Marcellus and Balbus; the huge Theatre of Pompey, which provoked the admiring exclamation of Cassiodorus, “How is it, 0 age, that thou dost not destroy, when thou hast shaken that which is so mighty?”; the Baths of Nero and Alexander, and of Agrippa; the monster Thermae of Diocletian, the largest baths in Rome, the work of thousands of Christian prisoners. Everywhere the eye was met by the melancholy magnificence of great works sinking into unregarded ruin. The theatres were falling in pieces, the baths were dry and waterless, the temples were closed. In the open spaces of the city the weeds grew freely, the gardens and pleasure-grounds were choked with rubbish, and the grass was pushing through the broken pavements of the streets. On account of the destruction of the aqueducts, and the consequent difficulty in procuring water, the higher and more salubrious quarters of the city were deserted; and the vast private palaces of the nobles—so huge that it was remarked of them, “A single house is a city”—were empty and silent. The sumptuous shops, which had once been the pride of the luxury-loving Romans, were mostly closed. No libraries remained, save in a few churches. The “mighty nation of statues”, which in prodigious numbers had once decorated the buildings and piazzas of Rome, and which even the Christian Prudentius had characterized as “the noblest ornaments of our fatherland”, were, many of them, broken or removed, or lay neglected at the foot of their pedestals, with no one to restore them into place. The city, in short, was a city of death; and Gregory might well have anticipated Montaigne's remark, that "there is nothing left of Rome but its grave”.
The appearance of the people was in keeping with the aspect of their city. There was no longer either wealth or talent left in Rome. The brilliant society so vigorously depicted by writers like Jerome and Ammianus Marcellinus, had vanished utterly. The Epicurean millionaires, the high-born matrons surrounded with troops of sycophants and gossips, the men of pleasure, the supple, scandal-purveying churchmen, the mercenary advocates, the light-hearted, pampered populace;—all these were seen no more. That self-indulgent, frivolous life had burnt quite out. Of the Romans of the sixth century, survivors of the Gothic War, all who were swayed by pleasure or ambition, all who cared for the splendour of the court or for the society of the learned, or for opportunities of gaining distinction and of making money, had taken their departure to the new Rome on the Bosphorus, or had joined the court of the Patrician at Ravenna. The very few who remained in Rome were for the most part little better than beggars, living miserably in corners of the great ruinous mansions which they had no longer the means of keeping up, or huddled together in tenements in the lower quarters of the city, where they fell a prey to the malaria which was engendered from the swamps caused by the destruction of the aqueducts. The whole population, estimated in the time of Augustus at about a million, cannot in these days have exceeded forty thousand souls. And these were all that were left in a city which, besides innumerable public buildings, contained nearly eighteen hundred palaces for the wealthy and more than forty-six thousand lodging-houses for those less well-to-do.
Everything in the place was stagnant. Civil life was hopelessly dislocated. Political activity there was none. The Senate indeed—"the flower of the human race," in Cassiodorus' courtly phrase—still existed in name, but the only function assigned to it, in the Pragmatic Sanction of Justinian, was that of regulating, in conjunction with the Pope, the weights and measures used by tradesmen. There was no commerce or manufacture to restore prosperity. Learning had departed in the train of wealth. Agriculture, which had revived under the rule of Theodoric, was utterly decayed. The Campagna, which once presented the appearance of "a great park, studded with villages, farms, lordly residences, temples, fountains, and tombs," was now a dangerous and pestilential wilderness, and nothing but the lines of broken aqueducts and the charred ruins of villas and country-houses bore witness to the life that once had flourished there.
Thus, then, in the middle of the sixth century, the Rome of the classical age seemed doomed to moulder away ingloriously, the sport of the elements, the prey of robbers, insulted by barbarians, and wronged by her own children. Yet within this city of fading splendour another Rome was growing up. "The clearest light of the universe" was not extinguished, as Jerome had once believed. The Eternal City was by no means dead: it was only undergoing the agonies of transition. The city of the Caesars was in process of becoming the city of the Popes. Temples and palaces were fast disappearing, but churches were being built and adorned with ever-increasing magnificence. Emperor and court had vanished, but an ecclesiastical hierarchy had taken their place. The toga had been exchanged for the cowl, the sceptre for the crozier. And though Rome had long ceased to govern the world by force of arms, she was learning to claim dominion as the divinely appointed guardian and administrator of the Christian religion. Thus on the site of the ancient classical city, and inheriting the ancient classical tradition, the mediaeval Christian Rome was gradually coming into being—the Rome of the Prince of the Apostles and the Martyrs, the Rome of churches, of monasteries, of pilgrim shrines, of the Bishops of the Lateran.
It will be advisable to notice briefly a few of the more important buildings of this new Rome.
Of the great patriarchial churches, the most venerable was the Basilica of Constantine, near the Asinarian Gate—"the mother and head of all the churches of the city and of the world"—originally dedicated to the Redeemer, but known since the sixth century as the Basilica of St. John Lateran. It was a comparatively small building, consisting merely of a nave and two aisles, but its decorations and ornaments were so splendid as to win for it the name of the "Golden Basilica." Close by, in the Domus Faustae, was the episcopal palace, where, from the time of Constantine to the migration to Avignon, the successors of St. Peter had their residence.
On the other side of the Tiber, in the Vatican region—a territory already filled with convents, hospitals, and churches—rose the Basilica of St. Peter. This great church, with its spacious marble-cased atrium, its nave and four aisles, its ninety-two columns, its semicircular tribune glistening with mosaics, retained substantially its original form down to the pontificate of Julius the Second. It was built traditionally by Constantine, who, according to the Papal biographer, "erected a basilica over the body of the blessed Peter, which he enclosed in a bronze case." The workmanship of the edifice was bad, and the building must have seemed mean when compared with those of a former age. The materials used were taken largely from other structures, the walls being a patchwork of fragments, and the bases and capitals of the pillars being dissimilar. Yet the site was hallowed by memories of the Christian martyrs tortured to death by Nero, and by the tradition of St. Peter's crucifixion. And, above all, the precious relic of the Apostle's body lying in its golden vault made the Basilica of the Vatican the centre of the religious life of Rome. The tomb of the Jewish fisherman was, as it were, the palladium of Roman greatness; it was the one spot where a Roman could still feel that his city had not entirely lost its claim upon the reverence of the world. Hither, for the festival on the 29th of June, came long trains of pilgrims from far-distant lands. Hither the princes of the earth sent costly offerings to the chief of the Apostles. Here—to take but a few instances which the first half of the sixth century supplies—Theodoric, though an Arian and a Goth, "worshipped with the deep devotion of a Catholic," and presented at the altar two silver candlesticks seventy pounds in weight. Here Clovis the Frank offered "a royal gift adorned with precious stones," as the first fruits of his conversion, and the earnest of the connection which was to be in after-times between his own successors and those of the Apostle. Justin, too, sent from Constantinople vessels of gold and silver ornamented with jewels, embroidered cloths, and volumes of the Gospels in costly bindings set with precious stones; and similar presents were made by Justinian shortly before the outbreak of the Gothic War. Lastly, the veteran Belisarius, from his share of the spoils, dedicated here a golden cross inlaid with gems, on which his victories were enumerated; and two large candlesticks of silver gilt, which in the ninth century still stood "before the body of St. Peter." The Vatican Basilica, thus enriched, gradually came to represent the power of the Roman Church and the majesty of the Roman city. And when at last Honorius the First stripped Hadrian's finest temple of its metal tiles to adorn St. Peter's roof, the act was but the logical conclusion of a sequence of events which had converted Rome from a city of Emperors and soldiers and jurists into a city of pilgrims and monks and priests.
Scarcely less rich, and certainly more beautiful than St. Peter's, was the Basilica of St. Paul—the magnificent church completed by Honorius on the Ostian Way, where once a chapel marked the traditional site of the Apostle's martyrdom. It had been superbly decorated by Galla Placidia, the sister of Honorius, under the guidance of Pope Leo, and at this time was, perhaps, the most splendid and impressive church in Rome. The eighty magnificent pillars, the marble casing of the walls, the gilded ceiling, and the great arch resplendent with mosaics, must have presented a truly dazzling spectacle for the throngs of pilgrims who came to pay their vows at the tomb of the Doctor of the Gentiles.
By Tiber's current where the turf on the left bank is grazed,
And Ostia's road guardeth the hallowed ground,
Our prince's favour there to Paul a stately fane upraised,
And pranked with golden plates the circuit round.
With branching foil of metal blaze on high the burnished beams,
The aisles are ruddy as the morning ray;
Of pillars white 'neath gilded vault a fourfold order gleams,
And arches dyed as green as leas in May.
The Liberian Basilica on the Esquiline, and that of St. Lawrence outside the walls on the road to Tivoli, complete the number of the five ancient patriarchal churches of Rome. Of these the former, S. Maria Maggiore, is interesting for the remarkable mosaics executed by Pope Sixtus the Third, and also for the fact that it was probably the first Roman church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The title conferred on it is supposed to commemorate the condemnation of Nestorius, and the triumph of the orthodox affirmation that Mary was indeed the Mother of God. The Church of St. Lawrence, on the site of the martyr's grave, is alleged to have been founded by Constantine, and was rebuilt by Gregory's predecessor, Pope Pelagius the Second, who also is believed to have brought from Constantinople relics of St. Stephen the Protomartyr, and to have caused them to be placed in St. Lawrence's coffin.
The five basilicas above mentioned had for long been held in peculiar and universal honour. They were not assigned to any cardinals, but were presided over by the Bishop of Rome himself, while the whole body of Christians dispersed throughout the world constituted their community. By the time of Gregory, moreover, along with these five, two other basilicas were regarded with special veneration—that of S. Sebastian on the Appian Way, and that of S. Croce in Gerusalemme. These, “the seven churches of Rome”, became, from the sixth century, the goal of pilgrimages, and the central points of Catholic devotion.
Besides these seven great churches, Rome, at this time, possessed about twenty-eight tituli, or parish churches, in which the sacraments were regularly administered, and which were each under the charge of a cardinal-presbyter. Some of these were of great antiquity, and, for the interest of their associations, equalled the more celebrated basilicas. Such was S. Pudenziana on the Esquiline Hill, traditionally the oldest church in Rome, and built where the house of Pudens had once given harbourage to St. Peter; such also were S. Clemente, S. Prisca on the Aventine, and S. Prassede. In addition to these twenty-eight tituli, there were in Rome a multitude of other buildings connected with the service of religion—churches, chapels, shrines and oratories, hospitals, guest-houses and convents, the number of which was steadily and incessantly on the increase.
Of the Christian places of worship in this period two characteristics require a passing notice.
First, their architecture was basilican, and their distinguishing quality was severe simplicity. On their exteriors little care was bestowed—in striking contrast to the temples of antiquity. Their interiors exhibit the same general features—a nave with two aisles divided by stately lines of columns, a semicircular apse, and (when there happened to be a transept) an arch in front of the apse. The vacant spaces on arch and apse and walls were adorned with mosaics, austere and solemn in conception, but most brilliant in effect. The introduction of such decorations was not indeed universally acceptable, but it was becoming increasingly common, and not a few eminent churchmen wrote or spoke in their defence. Paulinus, for instance, upheld the practice on the ground that pictorial representations supplied food for thought to the people in the intervals of the services; and Gregory himself, as we shall see hereafter, supported the custom for reasons somewhat similar. An atrium, with a fountain in the midst, enclosed by a colonnade, usually formed the approach to these churches, and not unfrequently almost hid them from view.
Secondly, the Roman churches were constructed to a great extent from old materials. We have already remarked this in the case of the Vatican Basilica; and the Vatican Basilica was no exception to the general rule. Thus the pavement of the Basilica of St. Paul was patched with more than nine hundred miscellaneous inscriptions, and its columns were the spoil of ancient buildings. The Church of St. Peter ad Vincula, again, was adorned with columns of Greek marble, taken most probably from the Baths of Trajan or of Titus; the Church of the Holy Apostles was rebuilt by Pelagius with stones and columns from the Baths of Constantine; the pillars of St. Sabina seem once to have belonged to the Temple of Diana. In some few instances ancient public buildings had been appropriated in their entirety for Christian worship. The Templum Sacrae Urbis, for instance, had been turned into the Church of SS. Cosmas and Damian, and the Basilica of Junius Bassus had been renamed by Pope Simplicius after St. Andrew. The actual shrines of paganism, however, were not in Gregory's day turned to this account. They remained barred and empty, the home of myriads of foul crawling things, and the haunt (so it was thought) of evil spirits. However, on May 13, 609, Boniface the Fourth dedicated the Pantheon to the Virgin Mary and All the Martyrs, and placed in a porphyry basin under the high altar no less than twenty-eight cart-loads of bones from the Catacombs. And this was the commencement of a general appropriation of pagan shrines. The Temple of Janus was dedicated to St. Dionysius; that of Antoninus and Faustina to St. Lawrence; that of Saturn to the Saviour; and in the vestibule of the Temple of Venus and Rome a chapel was consecrated to St. Peter. Thus did Christianity triumph eventually over the ancient gods; but in the sixth century, as I have said, this wholesale appropriation had not yet begun.
Such, then, was the Rome of Gregory’s childhood—a city old and dying, yet at the same time newly born to a fresh and vigorous life, a city of ruined temples and of gorgeous churches, a city from which all that ministered to worldly glory seemed to have passed away, yet to which the greater crown of spiritual dominion was on the point of being awarded. Gregory's Rome was not the Rome of the Republic or the Rome of the Empire; it was the Rome of the Church, of the Popes, of the Middle Ages.