The Coelian Hill
Saints John and Paul is an early 5th century "titular" church, nestled on the western spur of the Coelian Hill, one of Rome's seven fabled hills. Across from it is the Palatine Hill, where the palaces of Roman emperors once stood; nearby are the Roman Forum and the Colosseum -- remains of a powerful empire.
In the 5th Century
The church was built a few years before the Visigoths, led by Alaric, invaded Rome on August 24, 410 A.D. and plundered for three days the city that was thought unconquerable. In far-off Bethlehem, St. Jerome grieved over Rome's fall and the plight of his Roman friends: "...the bright light of all the world was put out...the Roman Empire was decapitated...the whole world perished in one city." Rome recovered from the raid, but its rapid decline had begun.
Before Alaric's invasion, the Coelian Hill was an quiet residential enclave close to the heart of the imperial city, where wealthy senatorial families lived in walled mansions, while they managed enormous investments in lands and farms in Africa, Sicily and Gaul. Besides the mansions of the rich, apartment houses (insulae) for the poor and middle classes stretched out along the roads crossing the hill. Imperial troops were quartered on the Coelian --- one garrison stationed near the Church of Saints John and Paul --- to be near the seat of government.
Important figures of old Rome had homes on the Coelian. The Emperor Marcus Aurelius (160-180) was raised there. The Emperor Constantine (312-337) and his mother, Helena, owned extensive properties on its eastern edge.
After Constantine gave the Christian church freedom in 312, he gave large land grants to the Christians on the Coelian --- a minority on the hill at the time. He built the impressive Basilica of the Savior (now known as Saint John Lateran, shown at right) with its connecting baptistery, and donated his Lateran Palace to Pope Melchiades (311-314) for a residence. Constantine's benefactions turned the Coelian Hill into the first major site of Christian buildings within Rome's walls and the center of church administration until the sixteenth century, when the popes moved their residence to the Vatican.
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