Hierusalem in Laterano: Translation of Sacred Space in Fifth-Century Rome

Hierusalem in Laterano: Translation of Sacred Space in Fifth-Century Rome

By Christian Sahner

New Jerusalems: Hierotopy and Iconography of Sacred Spaces, edited by Alexei Lidov (Moscow, 2009)

Introduction: Richard Krautheimer was the first to remark on the building surge that took place in the southeast of Rome during the course of the fifth century: “Centered on the Lateran and extending in a vast arc north [to S. Maria Maggiore], west [to Sto. Stefano Rotondo], and east [to S. Croce in Gerusalemme], a borgo seems to be outlined, much as the one that some hundred years later extended from St. Peter’s and the Vatican”. Krautheimer argued convincingly that these topographical changes manifested papal ambitions to consolidate power in the Lateran cathedral, but he was unable to identify any unifying theme beneath the new construction. As Krautheimer’s explained, with evident bewilderment, “I have asked myself whether the three churches [S. Croce in Gerusalemme, S. Maria Maggiore, and Sto. Stefano Rotondo] were not meant to outline the perimeter of a territory extended from the Lateran and set apart as the pope’s very own part of Rome”. Krautheimer had detected something new, the development of a distinctive hierotopy taking shape around the cathedral church. As this paper will argue, the “sacred landscape” of fifth-century Rome was ultimately shaped by the topographical blueprint of the Holy Land, transforming Rome into a “New Jerusalem”.

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