Chiara Bianchi

Piazza di Santa Cecilia: Everything You Need to Know

Step into the serene and spiritual world of Piazza di Santa Cecilia, a haven in Rome's Trastevere.

Peaceful ambiance of Piazza di Santa Cecilia


Did you know that one of the oldest and most beautiful churches in Rome is hidden in a small and quiet square in the heart of Trastevere? Piazza di Santa Cecilia is a charming spot that offers a glimpse into the rich history and culture of this lively neighborhood. Here you can admire the stunning façade and the ancient cloister of the Basilica of Santa Cecilia, dedicated to the patron saint of music and one of the most revered martyrs of the early Christian era. You can also explore the fascinating underground ruins of a Roman house and a thermal bath, where legend has it that Santa Cecilia was tortured and beheaded for her faith. In this article, we will tell you more about the origins, historical significance, lesser-known stories, intriguing facts, and dark histories of this remarkable piazza and its basilica.

Historical Context

Piazza di Santa Cecilia has been a sacred place since ancient times. According to tradition, the basilica was built over the house of Santa Cecilia, a noble Roman woman who lived in the 3rd century AD and converted to Christianity along with her husband Valerian and her brother Tiburtius. She was arrested and condemned to death by Emperor Alexander Severus for refusing to worship pagan gods. She was first locked in a steam room in her own house, where she survived for three days without suffocating. Then she was struck three times on the neck with a sword, but she did not die immediately. She lingered for another three days, singing hymns and praying, until she finally expired. Pope Urban I buried her body among the bishops in the Catacombs of San Callisto and consecrated her house as a church.

The first church on this site was probably built in the 5th century, as attested by a document from the Synod of Pope Symmachus in 499, where it is mentioned as the Titulus Ceciliae. The church was renovated and enlarged several times over the centuries, especially by Pope Paschal I in the 9th century, who moved the relics of Santa Cecilia from the catacombs to the basilica and decorated it with splendid mosaics. He also founded a monastery next to the church, where different monastic orders have lived since then. The current Benedictine nuns have been in charge of the basilica since 1527.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, the church acquired its Romanesque appearance, with the addition of the cloister, the atrium, and the bell tower. The cloister is one of the most beautiful examples of Cosmatesque art in Rome, with its intricate geometric patterns made of marble, porphyry, and glass. The atrium preserves some ancient mosaics, columns, and a cantharus (a large water vessel) from a Roman fountain. The bell tower is one of the tallest and oldest in Rome, dating back to 1129. It has five floors with arched windows and a pyramid-shaped spire.

In the late 13th century, the church was embellished with two masterpieces of medieval art: the ciborium by Arnolfo di Cambio and the fresco of the Last Judgment by Pietro Cavallini. The ciborium is a Gothic canopy that covers the altar, supported by four black and white marble columns decorated with statues of angels, saints, prophets, and evangelists. The fresco covers the entire wall above the entrance and depicts Christ as judge surrounded by angels, apostles, saints, martyrs, and sinners. It is considered one of the first examples of naturalism and perspective in Italian painting.

In 1599, during some restoration works, Cardinal Paolo Emilio Sfondrati had the tomb of Santa Cecilia opened and discovered her body miraculously intact, dressed in white and with wounds on her neck. He commissioned Stefano Maderno to sculpt a marble statue that reproduces exactly how he saw her. The statue is placed under the altar in a glass case and is one of the most moving representations of martyrdom in art history.


The Basilica of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere is a 5th-century church that stands on the site of the ancient house of the Roman martyr Saint Cecilia. The church has a rich history and a beautiful architecture that reflects different styles and periods. The church has a Baroque façade by Ferdinando Fuga, which encloses a courtyard decorated with ancient mosaics, columns and a cantharus (a large Roman vase). The interior, divided into three naves, has a vault frescoed with the Apotheosis of Saint Cecilia by Sebastiano Conca. The presbytery contains some of the most remarkable artworks of the church, such as the Gothic ciborium by Arnolfo di Cambio, the 9th-century apse mosaic depicting Christ with saints and Pope Paschal I, and the famous statue of Santa Cecilia by Stefano Maderno, which reproduces the position in which the body of the saint was found in 1599. The church also preserves a mural painting of the Last Judgment by Pietro Cavallini, a masterpiece of 13th-century Roman art.


The design of the church is influenced by several architectural styles, from the early Christian to the Baroque. The original 5th-century church was rebuilt in the 9th century by Pope Paschal I, who also added the apse mosaic and moved the relics of Saint Cecilia from the catacombs. The church was further modified in the 12th and 13th centuries, when the cloister, atrium and bell tower were added. The ciborium by Arnolfo di Cambio is a fine example of Gothic architecture, with its four marble columns decorated with statuettes of angels, saints, prophets and evangelists. The façade by Ferdinando Fuga is a typical Baroque composition, with a curved pediment, pilasters, niches and statues. The façade also incorporates some ancient elements, such as the columns and the cantharus.

Iconic Buildings

The Basilica of Santa Cecilia is not only a church, but also a complex that includes other buildings of historical and artistic interest. One of them is the monastery, founded by Pope Paschal I in the 9th century and inhabited by Benedictine nuns since 1527. The monastery has a beautiful cloister with cosmatesque decorations and a fountain in the center. Another building is the medieval house at the corner of Piazza de' Mercanti, which has a characteristic tower and windows. The house is said to belong to Giovanni dei Crescenzi, a nobleman who married Stefania, the niece of Pope Benedict VII. The house is also connected to a legend that tells how Giovanni saved Stefania from being kidnapped by Crescentius II, a rival of Benedict VII.

Tips and Recommendations

If you want to visit the Basilica of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, here are some tips and recommendations to make your experience more enjoyable:


The Basilica of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere is one of the oldest and most beautiful churches in Rome. It is a place where you can admire stunning artworks from different periods, from the early Christian to the Baroque, and where you can feel the presence and the devotion of Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians. It is also a place where you can discover the history and the legends of Trastevere, one of the most authentic and vibrant areas of the Eternal City. The Basilica of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere is a must-see for anyone who loves art, culture and spirituality.