The Basilica of Sant'Eustachio, the legend and the history

The basilica of Sant’Eustachio rises majestically in the center of Rome, a stone’s throw away from the Pantheon, with a truly curious history, from its foundation to the changes it saw over time.

The legend around the construction and the name of Eustachio

The Basilica of Sant’Eustachio rises above the ruins of the Neronian Baths and, as reported by some documents dating back to the 10th and 11th centuries, is considered in platana, according to the ancient tradition that refers to a plantain tree planted in the garden of the house of the martyr Eustachio where the emperor Constantine would have erected an oratory.

A Christian legend tells that the church was built on the house of the centurion Placido who, having gone hunting in the hills near Tivoli, would have fallen on a deer with a cross with the image of Christ between the horns with the consequent redemption under the name of Eustachio who, under the empire of Hadrian, was condemned for having refused to honor the gods and abandoned to the lions with his family. The animals are said to have bowed and cooked by Adriano, but their bodies would later be found intact.

Structural changes over time

The origins of this church date back to the early Christian era but sources tell us that it was built in the seventh century AD. even though, over time, the building has undergone major changes and transformations. In 1195-1196, it was completely rebuilt and enlarged, with the addition of the Romanesque bell tower. In the Middle Ages, many brotherhoods elected St. Eustace as their patron and had their chapels inside the church as it became a center to help the poorest.

Between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, due to the floods of the Tiber and excessive humidity, the medieval structures were demolished (except for the bell tower which is still visible today) by the architect Cesare Corvara and the basilica was rebuilt in its final eighteenth-century form. The baroque facade is made up of two orders. Below, the four pillars and two columns have capitals decorated with deer heads that refer to the legend of Placido as well as the presence in the upper triangular tympanum of a crowned eye surrounded by palm branches surmounted by a deer head with a cross between the horns, the work of the one and only Paolo Morelli.

The internal characteristics

The interior of the basilica, designed by Cesare Corvara and Antonio Canevari, has a single nave and three chapels on each side, decorated with eighteenth-century canvases. On the counter façade, the stained-glass window which depicts the penitent Magdalene, created in the last decade of the 19th century by Gabriel and Louis Gesta of Toulouse, and the majestic eighteenth-century organ stand out.

The main altar, made of polychrome marble and bronzes, was done by Nicola Salvi (1739) and is surmounted by a canopy put in place by Ferdinando Fuga. The altar canvas is accredited to Francesco Ferdinandi and depicts the martyrdom of the saint, while the table, on a red porphyry urn, contains the relics.