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Rome, Italy

The Martyr Murals at Santo Stefano Rotondo

Charles Dickens was not a fan of the ghastly wall dressings in this 6th century church. 

Thirty-six murals line the walls of this church depicting dozens of ways to die.

Santo Stefano Rotondo was consecrated sometime in the mid-400s, but its macabre artwork was added sometime in the 16th century. These murals show Roman martyrs being flayed, boiled, vivisected, roasted, crucified, and buried alive. The name of the emperor who ordered each type of torture appears above each mural.

Charles Dickens visited the church and later wrote:

“To single out details from the great dream of Roman Churches, would be the wildest occupation in the world. But St. Stefano Rotondo, a damp, mildewed vault of an old church in the outskirts of Rome, will always struggle uppermost in my mind, by reason of the hideous paintings with which its walls are covered. These represent the martyrdoms of saints and early Christians; and such a panorama of horror and butchery no man could imagine in his sleep, though he were to eat a whole pig raw, for supper. Grey-bearded men being boiled, fried, grilled, crimped, singed, eaten by wild beasts, worried by dogs, buried alive, torn asunder by horses, chopped up small with hatchets: women having their breasts torn with iron pinchers, their tongues cut out, their ears screwed off, their jaws broken…. So insisted on, and laboured at, besides, that every sufferer gives you the same occasion for wonder as poor old Duncan awoke, in Lady Macbeth, when she marvelled at his having so much blood in him.” Pictures from Italy (1846)

The church is also built over a Mithric altar which is currently being excavated.

Know Before You Go

Near the intersection of Via della Navicella and Via di Santa Stefano Rotondo