Saints John and Paul basilica al Celio, Rome

For the church in Venice, see Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Venice.
Large view of the basilica.

Santi Giovanni e Paolo is an ancient basilica church in Rome, located on the Caelian Hill. It is also called Santi Giovanni e Paolo al Celio or referred to as SS Giovanni e Paolo.

The church was built in 398, by will of senator Pammachius, over the home of two Roman soldiers, John and Paul, martyred under Julian in 362. The church was thus called the Titulus Pammachii and is recorded as such in the acts of the synod held by Pope Symmachus in 499.

The church was damaged during the sack by Alaric I (410) and because of an earthquake (442), restored by Pope Paschal I (824), sacked again by the Normans (1084), and again restored, with the addition of a monastery and a bell tower.

It is home to the Passionists and is the burial place of St. Paul of the Cross. Additionally, it is the station church of the first Friday in Lent.


The inside has three naves, with pillars joined to the original columns. The altar is built over a bath, which holds the remains of the two martyrs. The apse is frescoed with Christ in Glory (1588) by Cristoforo Roncalli (one of the painters called il Pomarancio); while below this fresco are three paintings: a Martyrdom of St John, a Martyrdom of St Paul, and the Conversion of Terenziano (1726) by Giovanni Domenico Piastrini, Giacomo Triga, and Pietro Andrea Barbieri respectively.

The sacristy features a canvas by Antoniazzo Romano of the Madonna & Child with Saints John the Evangelist & John the Baptist, and Saints Jerome & Paul. During excavations performed in the 19th-century, a series of Ancient Roman rooms were discovered under the nave of the church. Some of these rooms date back to the 1st-4th centuries.[1] According to the writer Charlotte Anne Eaton, these rooms were dens that were part of a vivarium in which wild animals were kept before being used in entertainments held at the Colosseum. A low vaulted passage connected this vivarium with the Colosseum.[2]

Until the 2016 consistory, the Cardinal Priest of the Titulus Ss. Ioannis et Pauli was most recently Edward Egan. Among previous Cardinal Priests of this Title are 3 who became Pope: Pope Honorius III (Cencio Savelli, elevated to cardinal in 1198), Pope Adrian VI (Adriaan Boeyens, elevated to cardinal in1517) and Pope Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli, elevated to cardinal in 1929). Since Francis Spellman became the new Cardinal Priest of the titulus in 1946 (after it had been vacated by Pacelli's election to the papacy in 1939), it was held until 2015 by cardinals who were Archbishops of New York. In 2012, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York was elevated to cardinal and assigned a different title, because Cardinal Edward Egan, the first prelate to enjoy the title Archbishop Emeritus of New York, continued in the title of Ss. Giovanni e Paolo until his death on March 5, 2015. The title is now held by Cardinal Josef De Kesel, the Archbishop of Mechelin-Bruxelles, who was appointed on 19 November 2016.[3]


A fresco in the Roman rooms.

The underground sites of the basilica were discovered in 1887 by Father Germano da San Stanislao, who at the time was rector of the Basilica, and was searching for the tombs of the martyrs John and Paul; he found twenty decorated rooms belonging to at least five different buildings dated between the 1st and the 4th century AD. These five buildings comprise one of the best conserved Roman era residential building complexes still in existence today, and one of the best examples of domus ecclesiae ("house church"). The original frescoes can still be seen, with scenes of the martyrdom. The houses are accessed outside the church on the Clivus Scauri.

In one room, which was a nymphaeum courtyard, an elegant 3rd century AD fresco depicting Proserpine and other divinities among cherubs in a boat (3x5 meters) can be found, as can traces of another marine fresco and mosaics in the window arches. Between the 3rd and the 4th century AD some modifications were made to the rooms, and a sort of oratory was made, with Christian-themed frescoes, while in the other rooms the decorations did not specifically have Christian themes (winged genies, garlands, birds, etc.). A confession was also built in the 4th century AD in a passageway behind the Clivus Scauri; the walls of the confession were frescoed with Christian themes (Beheading of Crispo, Crispiniano and Benedetta, feminine figures and an "orante" or "person in prayer").


  1. Romecity entry (Italian)
  2. Eaton, Charlotte Anne (1827). Rome, in the Nineteenth Century: Containing a Complete Account of the Ruins of the Ancient City, the Remains of the Middle Ages, and the Monuments of Modern Times. I. New York: J. & J. Harper. pp. 332–333. Retrieved 23 January 2011.
  3. David M. Cheney, Catholic-Hierarchy: Josef Cardinal de Kesel, retrieved: 2016-11-25.


Coordinates: 41°53′11″N 12°29′32″E / 41.88639°N 12.49222°E / 41.88639; 12.49222

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