|The excavations 1982-1987
had uncovered most ancient remains beneath the church and beneath the side
chapels (like the North-South corridor to the right on the clickable plan,
beneath the right hand side chapels of the church: North is up!).
However, at the final stage of the
excavations, an interesting circular structure emerged in the crypt beneath
an old chapel outside the church (the square room at the top left of the
plan). This structure was identified as a baptistery and was completely
uncovered by the Swedish Institute in 1993. The baptistery is found outside
the basilica. The font surely was built in a room, a chapel, outside the
right nave of the basilica, but we have no traces of its outer walls. They
were pulled down completely in the 15th century when the still standing
chapel (now ex Sala dei Canonici, Museo parrocchiale) was built.
What we have is the circular font
and a rectangular secondary basin. They are both in very bad conditions.
Reconstruction of the two basins
The baptismal font itself consisted
of a circular basin with an internal diameter of about 3 and a half meter.
A circular brick wall, 65 cms thick and clad with marble, was the rim of
the font. But this wall was also damaged in the fifteenth century. How
high was it? Perhaps about one meter? Its inside was clad with white marble
and bluish cipollino marble. One of these cipollino marbles is a reused
funerary inscription of a woman called Hilarina,
who died in the fourth century. This circular font must be were solemn
baptism was celebrated on Easter and Pentecost.
To the east of the circular font,
there is a rectangular basin, which measures about 2,2 x 1,35 m. On the
south short side, there is a kind of nich with the bottom 15 cms above
the bottom of the rectangular basin. Also this basin is damaged. What was
its original shape? Were the walls high all around? This would make no
sense considering the nich, which should have ended as a kind of small
apse. Perhaps one can compare with some earlier Roman nymphaea from
Pompeji with a kind of aedicula with a nich in front of a low basin, and
reconstruct the two basins as in this drawing.
The function of the secondary
We have no clues as to the function
of the secondary basin, except that it clearly contained water.
Was it used for the washing of
feet? Some sources mention this rite after immersion and anointing. St.
Ambrose in Milan wrote in 380-390 that this part of the rite had been left
out in Rome . For this reason, the secondary basin in San Lorenzo in Lucina
could be used for the washing of feet only if the baptistery was built
some time before Ambrose wrote, in the mid fourth century.
"The Church of Rome does not have
this custom, whose character and form we follow in all things. Yet it does
not have the custom of washing the feet. perhaps on account of the multitude
this practice declined."
(De sacramentis 3,5: Sources chrétiennes
Another possibility is that the secondary
basin was used for the blessing of the water before the baptism. Some martyr
legends, the so called "Passiones", written i Rome in the fifth century,
describe how baptism was celebrated in Rome in that period. And they often
mention that as there seldom was any running water, the water was first
brought - allata est aqua - and then blessed. The water would then
have been taken from this basin after the blessing and used for the baptism
in the bigger font.
Later history of the baptistery
This fifth century baptistery was
used in a thousand years. It was rebuilt several times.
The circular font had one or two
steps added on its west side, perhaps in the general reconstruction of
the chucrh in the eight century, or already earlier. Probably this step
was meant for the priest who baptized and who didn't want to get his feet
wet. Such steps can be found also in the churches San Crisogono and Santo
Stefano in Via Latina in Rome.
The big reconstruction of the entire
church took place after its destruction by the Normands in 1084. Probably
this is when the bottom of the circular font was covered with a kind of
plaster called cocciopesto, and the secondary basin was completely covered.
The hole in the middle probably shows that from now on, baptism was celebrated
in a smaller font of the modern kind as we are used to today.
All the remains of the old baptistery
were covered up by the floor of a new chapel built in the fifteenth century.
An important tomb destroyed part of the circular font which no longer was
visible. M E Bertoldi understood that this was the chapel of St. John the
Baptist, mentioned in the old documents, which means that the chapel still
was used for baptism for some centuries.
This is what archeaeology tells us
about this baptistery. This was one of the many, perhaps 25 smaller baptisteries
in the tituli, created between the fourth and sixth centuries for
the baptismal celebrations of Easter and Pentecost.
In the beginning of the fourth century Rome had only one baptistery at
the Lateran, but the religious transformations in the fourth century made
that baptistery insufficient for the great masses of converted adults and
their children after them. Together with other baptisteries in titulus
churches, like those recently found in San Marcello al Corso, Santa Cecilia
in Trastevere, San Marco and San Clemente, this baptistery reflects the
Christianization of the city of Rome: one of the most interesting transformations
in the past, and one which helped creating the European culture, that culture
which unites Sweden, Italy and great part of the modern world.
|Would you like
to know the exact date of Easter baptism in the any year after 325? Check
the site "Calculation
of the Ecclesiastical Calendar" by Marcos J. Montes. Enter a year after
325 CE and a script will calculate the day of the Easter in the Western
and Eastern Traditions, the movable feasts, and other significant liturgical