Church of Santa Bibiana

The church of Santa Bibiana, which now stands on the busy Via Giolitti, almost incorporated into the structures of Termini railway station, was founded in 468 by Pope Simplicius in the area that formerly belonged to the Horti Liciniani. As often happened at the time, the church was built by reusing some structures of a domus of the Roman period, which according to tradition belonged to the praefectus Flavianus, father of the martyr Bibiana, or to a relative, Olympina, who buried her after her martyrdom. During the third century, the domus may have been transformed into a “domus ecclesiae”, a place of worship where early Christians met in secret during periods of persecution. The pope, therefore, may have limited himself to expanding and beautifying this primitive “ecclesia”. In the thirteenth century, a nunnery was built near the church, disbanded in 1440 by Pope Eugene IV due to the “poor conduct of some nuns”. Today, the tombstones of some abbesses of the nunnery are preserved along the walls of the church.

On 2 March 1624, following the miraculous discovery of the martyr’s body, Pope Urban VIII ordered the radical restoration of the church dedicated to her. At that time it was decided to build a new façade, that which we still admire today; its design was entrusted to the young Gian Lorenzo Bernini, for whom it was the first work of architecture. The artist, on the orders of the Pope, wished to create an original interpretation of ancient church buildings, designing a façade with a complex architectural form: central projecting section, a porch with three arches and an upper gallery. To the same artist we also owe the main altar and the cult statue of the saint. On the same occasion, Pope Urban VIII commissioned Pietro da Cortona and Agostino Ciampelli to execute the frescoes showing scenes from the life of the saint, still visible inside the church.