The room is on a lower level in respect to the peribolos and became
a chapel only recently. Its construction, however, goes back to
the time of Paul V, who in 1607 had it excavated as the second Polyandrium
to deposit the remains from the tombs in the old basilica that was
being demolished. The room remained unchanged until the pontificate
of Pius XII when the remains were removed and in 1950 the area was
readapted to keep the marble fragments of the dismembered tomb monument
of Paul II Barbo.
layout, which preserved the original architectural structure, followed
the Apostolic Letter "Egregiae virtutis" of December 31,
1980 in which John Paul II proclaimed St Benedict, SS. Cyril and
Methodius as the Patron Saints of Europe.
to this chapel is wide enough for the visitors passing along the
peribolos to appreciate the interior of the chapel from the outside.
Before Mass in the
Chapel of the Patron Saints of Europe
Altarpiece by Tommaso Gismondi with
SS. Benedict, Cyril and Methodius
liturgical furnishing of the chapel consists, first of all, of a
small altar made from ancient fragments with a 13th century Cosmatesque
panel with a Greek cross inscribed in a polychrome circle. Nearby
is the lectern on a spiral Cosmatesque column, originally from the
tabernacle of the Holy Veil.
altar is a bronze gilded crucifix by the sculptor Tommaso Gismondi.
The design is inspired by the Carolingian crucifix from the 9th
century that until 1550 was located in capite columnarum,
i.e., on the first column of the Constantinian basilica. The living
Christ is represented with a halo rather than with the crown of
thorns. He is surrounded by four figures in bas-relief: to the left
is the Virgin; to the right St John the Evangelist; below the support
are SS Peter and Paul; above is Christ the King holding the scepter
in His right hand and the globe in the left hand.
The grand bronze
altarpiece is by the same artist. It is located under the arch of
the front wall and it represents the three Patron Saints of Europe:
Benedict, with the book of the Regula; Cyril dressed in monastic
robes holding a document written in Cyrillic characters; and Methodius
in episcopal vestments, holding the Gospel. The bas-reliefs on the
sides represent the four Evangelists with their traditional symbols.
Each one holds a scroll with the initial words of their Gospels
in Latin. The inscription below commemorates the dedication of the
chapel to the Patron Saints of Europe. The bronze works are embellished
by gilding, silver plating, patina and semi-precious stones.
Our Lady enthroned with
Child and Angels
Inscription Commemorating the Blessing
of John Paul II and the
Contribution of the Knights of Columbus
To the right
from the altarpiece is a medieval fresco representing the Madonna
with Child and Angels. The fresco comes from the old basilica where
it was located in the vicinity of the Door of Death. Later it was
taken to the chapel of the Madonna of Partorienti where it remained
for over 3 centuries. For some time it was believed to be by the
Senese school. It was restored in 1980 and is now attributed to
the 13th century school of Jacopo Torriti.
To the right
from the entrance are the surviving fragments of the fresco on the
vault of the original access corridor built by Paul V in 1617. Immured
on the wall, is the elegant tombstone of Agnesina Colonna, the wife
of Onorato Caetani, the general of the papal infantry in the battle
of Lepanto (1571). She was buried in the basilica in 1578 and later
transferred to the grottoes.
in the left corner of the entrance commemorates the blessing Pope
John Paul II imparted to the chapel that was realized with the support
of the Order of the Knights of Columbus. Another small inscription
in English commemorates the contribution of the Order.
Tomb of Agnesina Colonna Caetani
Detail on the
Tomb of Agnesina Colonna Caetani
SS. CYRILLI ET
METHODII QUOS S. BENEDICTO /
ADIUNCTOS IOANNES PAULUS II
PONT MAX. DIE XXXI /
DEC A. MDCCCCLXXX COMPATRONOS
EUROPAE DECLARAVIT /
to SS Cyril and Methodius,
who together with St Benedict on
December, 31, 1980, were declared by
Pope John Paul II,
the Patron Saints of Europe
QVAM IOANNES PAVLVS II PONT MAX
S. BENEDICTI ITEMQUE SS. CYRILLI ET METHODII
EQVITIBVS A COLVMBO SVMPTVM SVPPEDITANTIBVS
IDEM POSTRIDIE KALENDAS NOVEMBRES
November 2, 1981, Pope John Paul II blessed
this chapel that he built in honor of
St Benedict and SS Cyril and Methodius,
the Patron Saints of Europe,
with the support of the
Order of the Knights of Columbus