For Christmas we received from some dear friends a book by George Weigel entitled Roman Pilgrimage: The Station Churches, which we are using this Lent as part of our religion curriculum. Today’s station is St. George in Velabro.
Weigel says that St. George features “springing arches” to lighten the walls, fretwork windows and “two slender side aisles [that] flank a wide nave covered by a wooden ceiling with painted stars”. The church “sits in the swampy valley of the Forum. ‘Velabro’ is derived from the Latin velum [marsh], and Roman tradition has it that here, at the base of the Palatine, when the Tiber was in flood, the infants Romulus and Remus were deposited in their basket, a first moment in the founding of the city.” The church is built over the Cloaca Maxima, “ancient Rome’s great sewer”. It faces the Arch of Janus, built around 325 as an entryway for the meat market next door.
St. George was a soldier from the eastern part of the empire. He refused to sacrifice to the emperor, and he and St. Sebastian (to whom the church is also dedicated) were tortured and killed by their fellow soldiers. In the ninth century, Pope Zachary gave St. George’s head as a relic to the church, which is now contained in a reliquary placed in a shrine inside the main altar.
According to Weigel, the interior likely contained frescoes throughout, but what now remains is a fresco over the apse by Pietro Cavallini, Christ Flanked by Mary and Sts. Peter, George and Sebastian.