Rome, Italy

Santa Maria in Aracoeli

Next to the stairway leading up to the Campidoglio, is the spectacular stairway of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli.

It was built over the ruins of the Temple of Juno Moneta and was part of the monastery that was founded in that location when the ancient Roman buildings fell to ruin.

Built in the VI century, its name, which means “Altar of Heaven”, is actually tied to a legend regarding Emperor Augustus, who supposedly had a vision there of a beautiful woman with a child.

When the Roman people took possession of the piazza of the Campidoglio in the Middle Ages, the church was rebuilt and became an integral part of Rome's political life, hosting, among others, popular assemblies.

The huge, splendid stairway was specifically commissioned by the Roman people as a solemn promise to the Madonna if she were to end the plague. The abundant supply of marble from the monuments all around the area were recycled to build it.

The interior of the church is perhaps even more beautiful than Saint Peter's or Saint John Lateran, and has a characteristic that sets it apart from the others: it was not built to celebrate the power and opulence of the popes but is the only church of the Roman people and of its civic institutions.

Santa Maria in Aracoeli was and is famous for the “Holy Child”, a 15th century sculpture in olive wood from the Garden of Gethsemane. According to popular belief it had miraculous powers.

The statue was stolen in Febraury of 1994 and was never found again but a copy that took its place is venerated just as much.