Head down…

July 6, 2012 / Art & Archaeology
Rome, Italy

Tough to keep your head down in Santa Prassede, when there’s so much up to see. …up for the amazing medieval mosaic in the apse, depicting Prassede and her sister Pudenziana’s “introduction” to Christ. …up to contemplate the column to which Christ was tied and whipped. …up locating the square halos of Episcopa Theodo(ra!) and Pope Paschal Ist, and so on..

With all that up, you might miss the down. Look down instead and…

…wha?! Another Cosmateque floor?! PSHHH! BIG DEAL! In Rome they’re a dime a dozen, you say!

Ok, so you’re right. However, all the other churches graced by the Cosmati family’s beautiful medieval stonework (such as Santa Maria Maggiore, Santa Maria in Trastevere, San Saba, San Paolo fuori le Mura, the Aracoeli, Santa Maria in Cosmedin, San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, etc etc), are far more visited. And so…?

This means that the 8-900 years worth of feet over those other floors has quite consumed them, rubbing away the softer white marble and leaving lumpy ridges of all the smaller colored stones. In short, kind of like an old rug, they’re worn out.

Not Santa Prassede though. The entire floor is for the most part even and smooth like glass, the infinite variations of the stones within the very repetitive geometric designs even more stunning than elsewhere, more whole. Thanks to this being a lesser known church, fewer people over the centuries visiting it has meant that this Cosmatesque floor is one of the best preserved ones there is.

Mi raccomando, remember to look down.


by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

16 Responses to “Head down…”


    I was in Roma in September, 2011. My wife and I visited a number of churches. Who could not when in Roma?? Question: Is this Santa Prassede church, St. John Lateran? I’m confused. I have pictures of the floor that I took while there. I thought I was in St. John Lateran but maybe it was another church. Help me!!

  2. Altamarea

    That floor should be covered with plexiglass or something — not laid directly on top of the tile, but perhaps raised a bit with felt borders (like a glass table top on a coffee table). Either that or people should be required to leave their shoes at the door. That floor is too beautiful to lose!

  3. Linda Ulanski

    Santa Prassede is near Santa Maria Maggiore. If you are looking out from Santa Maria Maggiore it is down a side street to the right behind a small cafe. I can’t remember the name of the cafe on the corner it is behind.

  4. William Strangio

    That was an interesting article, so I did some “searching” and
    found out that that Antonio Munoz constructed the floors in
    the 20th century. They are very realistic. If you want to see
    originls the Basilica Clemente on via San Giovanni Laterano
    are good.

    Santa Prassede is located south or south east of Santa Maria Maggiore about 3 blocks. Its front entrabce is on via San Martino
    and a side entrance on via de Santa Prassede – the nearst large street is via Merulana. The mosaics in Santa Prassede are original Byzantium style from about 800 AD.

  5. Another example of fine Italian work and superior workmanship; gorgeous!. Be ashamed you Italian haters and mockers!

  6. margaretlb

    During my last visit to Roma (April 2011), I stayed at a hotel on via Merluna which was a perfect location for me! I was able to visit both Santa Prassede and Santa Maria Maggiore every day in my comings and goings. Santa Prassede is really special and I encourage everyone who loves mosaics to spend time there. More pictures can be seen here:

    Regarding the cosmati floor, I read somewhere (perhaps in Rev. Tylenda’s excellent “The Pilgrims Guide to Rome’s Principal Churches”) that the floor was added during a renovation.

  7. Check out The Sistine Chapel for an authentic Cosmateque floor and recall who walked there: Michelangelo, Raphael…….

  8. Picture the Sistine Chapel, everyone looking up in awe, and one lady with her eyes glued to the floor – me! Splendido! – thanks for the article!

  9. My eyes were not glued to the floor. There is much to take in at The Sistine Chapel that the curious person should be aware of. The floor, walls, etc. are part of its history prior to Michelangelo’s work and provide clues, enhancing an understanding of the ceiling. Reading about its history will help to illuminate the context of Michelangelo’s great work not only on the vault but the later Last Judgement.

    • There was much beauty to take in, but I meant MY eyes, no reflection on you – when I was there and astonished by the floor!

  10. Sorry for the misunderstanding. I’m glad that you found the floor as astonishing as I did.

  11. marjorie lee

    I was interested in the comment and website referring to the square halo. I first saw a square halo about 8 years ago in an illuminated manuscript at the Castello in Ferarra. The website “christiansymbols.net” defines the square halo as did GB:
    the image created while the person was still alive. The website also adds that these personages might be considered lesser in status than those with round halos. This confuses me a little since I saw in Urbino a beautiful fresco in the Oratory of San Giovanni where Sarah and Zachariah (parents of John the Baptist)
    are depicted with square halos. Clarification?

  12. lewis murray

    re your article on “heads down”…the floor in santa prasede are nice indeed, but mainly because they are “new”….done in early l900s as i recall, possibly later. regards, faithful reader lewis murray

  13. George

    The Cosmati floors were made from salvaged bits of Roman stone, and were never as pristine as the one in Santa Prassede. Nevertheless, it’s one of the places I have to drop into every trip to Rome just for the incredible mosaics. Let me add the floor in San Clemente to the list of the “must sees!”


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