Santa Sabina all'Aventino ☆☆☆

The amazingly preserved 5C carved wooden doors, Santa Sabina, Rome, Italy (Photo Peter1936F)
The amazingly preserved 5C carved wooden doors

This ancient church on the Aventine Hill has some of the oldest Christian art in the world

This is one of Rome's best surviving paleo-Christian churches.

Santa Sabina was built in AD 422–32 and still retains its original 5th century wooden doors, beautifully carved with Biblical scenes including one of the earliest Crucifixions in western art.

The door is located at the end of the 15th-century porch filled with sarcophagus lids (mounted on swivel frames so you can spin each one to examine both sides; cool).

At first glance, the gorgeous and shadowy interior seems almost perfectly preserved, with giant Corinthian columns pirated from a nearby ancient structure and the original opus sectile marble inlay above the arches. Most of the chapels, however, have been baroqued—Frederico Zuccari helped with that, particularly in the apse. Luckily, this impacts little on the overall effect.

If it's open, pop into the pretty 13th-century cloisters off the porch.

Photo gallery
  • The amazingly preserved 5C carved wooden doors, Santa Sabina, Italy (Photo Peter1936F)
  • The nave, Santa Sabina, Italy (Photo by Dnalor 01)
  • Triumph of San Jacinto (1600) by Federico Zuccari in the Cappella di San Giacinto, Santa Sabina, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • Mosaics from AD 431, Santa Sabina, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • Madonna del Rosario (1643) by Sassoferrato, Santa Sabina, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Christ healing the blind man, the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes, and the Conversion of Water into Wine at the Marriage at Cana , a panel from the 5C wooden doors, Santa Sabina, Italy (Photo by Jim Forest)
  • Scene of Acclamation, a panel from the 5C wooden doors, Santa Sabina, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • The cloisters, Santa Sabina, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • Exodus, the Death of Pharaoh, and the Brazen Serpent, a panel from the 5C wooden doors, Santa Sabina, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • The portico, Santa Sabina, Italy (Photo by Lalupa)
  • Christ Appearing Before Caiaphas, a panel from the 5C wooden doors, Santa Sabina, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • The exterior, Santa Sabina, Italy (Photo by Dnalor 01)
  • Ascension of Elias, a panel from the 5C wooden doors, Santa Sabina, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • St. Catherine by Giovanni Odazzi, Santa Sabina, Italy (Photo by Martin Addison)
  • Scenes from the Life of Moses, a panel from the 5C wooden doors, Santa Sabina, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • San Jacinto and Gregory IX (1600) by Federico Zuccari in the Cappella di San Giacinto, Santa Sabina, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Crucifixion, a detail from the 5C wooden doors, Santa Sabina, Italy (Photo by Peter1936F)
  • Frescoes in the portico from c. AD 680, Santa Sabina, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • The Abduction of Habbakuk, a panel from the 5C wooden doors, Santa Sabina, Italy (Photo by Bill Storage)
  • San Vincenzo Ferrer, Christ, and the Donor (c. 1480-90) by Antoniazzo Romano, Santa Sabina, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Denial of St. Peter, a panel from the 5C wooden doors, Santa Sabina, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • Ordination of San Jacinto (1600) by Federico Zuccari in the Cappella di San Giacinto, Santa Sabina, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Three episodes from the Life of Moses, a panel from the 5C wooden doors, Santa Sabina, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • Madonna del Rosario (1686) by Giovanni Maria Morandi, Santa Sabina, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
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Tips

How long does Santa Sabina take?

You can wander the church in a quick 20 minutes—though budget an extra 20 minutes for the trek up onto the Aventine, which is kind of removed from the rest of central Rome (but in a lovely way; you feel like you're in a leafy suburb, not a downtown neighborhood).

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
     
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
     
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
     
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
     
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
     
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
     
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
     
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah


* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).