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E05292: Mosaic on the triumphal arch of the church of S. Lorenzo fuori le mura on the via Tiburtina, Rome, with Christ flanked by the Apostles *Peter and *Paul (S00036 and S00008), who are in turn flanked by *Laurence/Laurentius (deacon and martyr of Rome, S00037), presenting to Christ Pope Pelagius II holding a model of the basilica, and *Stephen (the First Martyr, S00030) presenting *Hippolytus (martyr of Rome, S00509). 579/590.

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posted on 06.04.2018, 00:00 by pnowakowski
The scene shows a bearded Christ, with nimbus enclosing a cross, purple robes, and sandals, seated on an orb, holding a staff ending with a cross in his left hand, and stretching his right hand in a gesture of blessing. He is flanked by two men in white garments with plain nimbi. The person shown to the left of Christ is holding a similar staff with a cross, has a greyish-white beard and hair, and is labelled SCS PETRVS/'Saint Peter'. The person to the right is identically dressed but has no cross, and has a black beard. He is labelled SCS PAVLVS/'Saint Paul.

The three central figures are surrounded by four others. To the right of Paul, we see two men dressed in white, with nimbi. One of them, a beardless young man, is holding an open book with the following inscription: adesit anima mea/'my soul followeth'. He is labelled SCS STEPHANVS/'Saint Stephen'. Next to him there is a depiction of a bearded man bearing a golden crown with colourful jewels. He is labelled SCS YPPOLITVS/'Saint Hippolytus'.

To the left of Peter, there is an image of a young man with short beard and hair, and a nimbus, significantly taller than the other figures, wearing a golden robe, and holding both an open book and a cross in his left hand. In the book we read: Dispersit, dedit pauperibus/'He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor'. This figure is labelled SCS LAVRENTIVS. Immediately to the left of him we see a man dressed in white, with a stole or an omphorion decorated with crosses, and shoes different from the sandals worn by the others. He is stretching his hands towards Christ, offering him a small model of the basilica. He is labelled PELAGIVS EPISC/'Bishop Pelagius'.

At both ends of the scene are images of two walled cities. The one at the left-hand end has a cross hung in its gateway, flanked by two hanging jewels (?). Within the gateway there is an inscription: +HIERVSALEM/'Jerusalem'. The one at the right-hand end is very similar in appearance, but is described as +BETHLEEM/'Bethlehem'.

On the triumphal arch we read: + marty[rium flammis  o]lim levvita subisti  iure tuis templis  lux ben[erand]a redit  / 'Martyrdom with flames you a priest once endured. Justly does venerable light return to your temple' (trans. F. Watson).


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Peter the Apostle : S00036 Paul, the Apostle : S00008 Stephen, the First Martyr : S00030 Hippolytus, martyr of Rome : S00509 Laurence/Laurentius, deacon and martyr of Rome : S00037

Saint Name in Source

Petrus Paulus Stephanus Yppolitus Laurentius

Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.) Archaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea) Literary - Poems



Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Rome and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Suburban catacombs and cemeteries

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Suburban catacombs and cemeteries Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Bequests, donations, gifts and offerings

Cult activities - Use of Images

  • Commissioning/producing an image

Cult Activities - Miracles

Saint aiding or preventing the construction of a cult building

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - Popes


The mosaic is on the triumphal arch of the basilica of Saint Laurence/San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, on the via Tiburtina, close to the cemetery of Cyriaca. The church was built by pope Pelagius II (579-590), as recorded in this mosaic. The present-day church was heavily remodelled by Pope Honorius III (1216-1227) who demolished the old apse and added a new nave, reversing the orientation of the church. As a result the mosaic now faces the apse instead of being displayed in front of it. The mosaic has been the subject of many editions and we can here give just a brief outline of their history. For a detailed list, see the edition by Antonio Ferrua in the seventh volume of the Inscriptiones Christianae Urbis Romae. The poem on the arch shown below the scene was copied by late antique and medieval travellers to Rome, and it features in manuscripts with collections of inscriptions: the Sylloge Turonensis and the Sylloge Laureshamensis, which associate it with another poem (E05305). The first edition based on all the accessible manuscripts was published by Giovanni Battista de Rossi in the old series of the Inscriptiones Christianae Urbis Romae. Print editions from single manuscripts had, however, been available much earlier, beginning with the publication of the Palatine manuscript of the Sylloge Laureshamensis in 1602 by Iohannes Gruter. As the mosaic is still preserved in situ, there have also been many editions by early modern and modern archaeologists and epigraphists exploring the church, see our bibliography below.


The mosaic shows the offering of the basilica to Christ by its founder, Pope Pelagius II, through the intercession of the martyr Laurentius, buried in the nearby cemetery. The foundation of this basilica is described in the Liber Pontificalis, which says that 'over the body of St Laurence he [i.e. Pelagius] built a basilica from the ground up and decorated the martyr’s tomb with silver panels.' (E01401). As was usual in mosaics of this kind, although the basilica was dedicated to the martyr, and eventually named after him, the mosaic shows Christ as the recipient of the gift, and not the saint himself. As in other late antique representations of the saint, Laurence is shown in golden clothing. The scene on the right hand-side shows the offering of his crown of martyrdom to Christ by *Hippolytus, martyr of Rome under Alexander Severus, buried on the via Tiburtina. The offering is seemingly made with the help of *Stephen the First Martyr. The quotation in the book held by Laurentius comes from Psalm 62/63: adhaesit anima mea post te, me suscepit dextera tua / ''My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me'. The quotation in the book held by Stephen derives from Psalm 111/112: dispersit dedit pauperibus / 'He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor', a reference to the deaon Laurentius' care for the indigent of Rome. Dating: The mosaic dates substantially to the construction of the Basilica of San Lorenzo, under the pontificate of Pelagius II (579-590); although it has undergone extensive restorations over the centuries, its fundamental iconography is unchanged from the time of Pelagius.


The inscriptions and the church have a very rich literature. Here we gave just a basic selection, focused primarily on the text of the inscriptions: Edition: Just the couplet on the arch: 1a) From Sylloge Turonensis (codices Goettweihensis 64 and Closterneoburgensis 723): Diehl, E., Inscriptiones Latinae Christianae Veteres, vol. 1 (Berlin: Apud Weidmannos, 1925), no. 1771. De Rossi, G. B., Inscriptiones christianae Urbis Romae septimo saeculo antiquiores 2.1 (Rome: Ex Officina Libraria Pontificia, 1857-1888), 63, no. 9. 1b) From: Sylloge Laureshamensis (codex Vaticanus Palatinus latinus 833 f. 66) De Rossi, G. B., Inscriptiones christianae Urbis Romae septimo saeculo antiquiores 2.1 (Rome: Ex Officina Libraria Pontificia, 1857-1888) 106, no. 47. See also: De Santis, P., Sanctorum Monumenta: "Aree sacre" del suburbio di Roma nella documentazione epigrafica (IV-VII secolo) (Bari: Edipuglia, 2010), no. 90. The entire poem: Ciampini, G. G., De sacris aedificiis à Constantino magno constructis, synopsis historica (Rome: , 1693), 113. Fleetwood, W., Inscriptionum antiquarum sylloge in duas partes distributa (London: Impensis Guil. Graves, 1691), 435. Severano, G., Memorie sacre delle sette chiese di Roma (Rome: Per Giacomo Mascardi, 1630), 651. Gruter, J., Inscriptiones antiquae totius orbis Romani, in corpus absolutissimum redactae (Heidelberg: Ex officina Commeliniana, 1602), 1173, no. 1. 3) From the monument: Epigraphic Database Bari, nos. EDB34634-34637 de Rossi, G.B., Ferrua, A. (eds.), Inscriptiones Christianae Urbis Romae Septimo Saeculo Antiquiores, n.s., vol. 7: Coemeteria via Tiburtinae (Vatican: Pont. Institutum Archaeologiae Christianae, 1980), no. 17671. de Rossi, G-B., Musaici cristiani e saggi dei parimenti delle chiese di Roma anteriori al secolo xv., tavole cromo-litografiche con cenni storici et critici, con tr. francese (Rome: , 1872-99), Tav. XVI. Garrucci, R., Storia della arte cristiana nei primi otto secoli della chiesa (Prato: G. Guasti, 1872-1871), Tav. 271 and p. 84. Nibby, A., Analisi della carta deu dintorni di Roma, vol. 2 (Roma: Tip. delle Belle arti, 1837), 266. Angelo Mai, Scriptorum veterum nova collectio e Vaticanis codicibus edita, vol. 5 (Rome: Typis Vaticanis, 1831), 135 (ed. L. G. Marini). Ciampini, C. G., Vetera Monumenta, vol. 2 (Rome: Ex typographia Joannis Jacobi Komarek, 1690), 101, Tab. XXVIII For the basilica San Lorenzo, see: Krautheimer, R., Corpus basilicarum christianarum Romae. S.Lorenzo fuori le mura (Città del Vaticano: Pontificio istituto di archeologia cristiana, 1962). Da Bra, G., San Lorenzo fuori le mura (Rome: Tipografia Pio X, 1952).

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