photo © Louise Shapcott
The Church of San Marciano
The original church of San Marciano is said to have been built on the site of the martyrdom of San Marco. He was put to death in 96 AD during the reign of the Emperor Domitian. In a church chronicle of Atina, “Breve Chronicon Atinensis Ecclesiae” it is documented that during the 4th century, and reign of Emperor Constantine, the Bishop Massimo built a church here dedicated to Santa Maria and San Marco. This was later destroyed during invasions by the Longobards and the Saracens. The 12th century writings of a monk from Cassino by the name of Pietro Diaconno, refer to the remains of the funerary basilica of San Marco in this area, and a church built by Bishop Leone which was dedicated to San Marciano. Roman elements of architecture were re-utilised and incorporated into the new construction. The position of the church was important, being sited where three important roads converge linking the regions of Abruzzo, Campania and the coast of southern Lazio. Roman elements of architecture were re-utilised in the new construction.
This church was destroyed during an earthquake in 1231 and was subsequently rebuilt yet again. It was restored in 1514 but the relics of the saint had been transfered to the larger church of Santa Maria. The church of San Marciano then fell into decline, before being finally abandoned. For a time the building was even used as a stable. However, on the 6th August 1955 the church was reopened by the Mayor, Antonio Lancia, for the celebration of marriages.
The Restoration of the Church and Archaeological Discoveries
During building work an early Christian burial ground was excavated beneath the church. This was made of several tiers and contained 23 graves, dating from the 4th century AD. In these early times of Christianity the saints were considered to be especially close to God and were thought to hold the sole key to paradise. A cult developed whereby deceased Christians were often buried “ad santos, apud ecclesiam” in the vicinity of a church and around the tomb of a saint.
In the burial site at San Marciano most of the corpses were buried facing east to west, according to Christian tradition. However a few were aligned differently from the others, on the same axis as the church. One tomb was particularly unusual and demonstrated signs of privilege. It was protected by a covering of three layers of tiles. Inside, with the body was a funerary offering of 23 coins dating from the era of Constantine. It is quite possible that this was the tomb of San Marco. A stone inscription was discovered “cristian pax tecum”. Also there was a Christogram, which is a monogram made of superinposed Greek letters representing the name of Jesus Christ – a traditional Christian symbol. The mortal remains of other early bishops of Atina may have also been interred at this site, adjacent to the remains of San Marco, namely the bishops Massimo, Romano and Eugenio.
The tombs under the church have been excavated and the bodies and contents have been removed and are undergoing further examination by specialised archaeologists. The tombs however have been carefully preserved and can now be viewed through a special glass floor from within the church.
The Burial Site Outside of the Church
The burial site extends beyond the confines of the church. Outside the building a perimeter wall has been excavated made of limestone blocks.
Some Old Photos of the Church of San Marciano Prior to the Renovation Work
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