Santa Maria in Aracoeli, Rome Built on the foundations of the ancient Temple of Juno, the church known as Santa Maria in Aracoeli (St. Mary of the altar in the air) is the designated church of the Italian Senate and the Roman people. Building the Church on the Hill Situated at the north side of the Capitoline Hill, Santa Maria in Aracoeli has a long history. The foundation of this church may have been laid as early as the 6th century. At that time, the worshippers would have followed the Greek rite. However, the church was taken over by the papacy in the 9th century and was given to the Benedictines. It was then passed on to the Franciscans in the 13th century, who added Romanesque and Gothic touches to the church. By the Middle Ages, Santa Maria in Aracoeli was at the center of both religious and civic life in Rome. The stairs The first thing most visitors notice about Santa Maria in Aracoeli is the set of 124 marble steps (122 if you start on the right side) that lead up the hill to the church’s main entrance. Added in the 1348 by Simone Andreozzi, it is said that if you ascend the stairs on your knees, your sins will be pardoned. Architecture The façade of the church was originally decorated with mosaics and later, frescoes, but little of that remains. Inside, the church contains three naves, divided by 22 Roman columns that are all a bit different from one another since they were taken from different several Roman buildings. Also inside, several frescoes have been lovingly preserved. For example, guests can view 15th century works by Pinturicchio profiling the life of Saint Bernardino of Siena. A number of other exquisite artworks are also found inside Santa Maria in Aracoeli, including a Transfiguration painted on wood by Girolamo Siciolante da Sermoneta, a tombstone by Donatello and a tomb designed by Michelangelo. Works by other notable artists like Pietro Cavallini, Benozzo Gozzoli, and Giulio Romano can also be admired here. The beautifully decorated ceiling commemorates the battle of Lepanto in 1571 where allied troops defeated the Turkish fleet.turkeyarena.com Also of note is the statue of the baby Jesus carved from olive wood from the Garden of Gethsemane during the 15th century. It is said that the statue could heal terminally ill people; it would even have the power to raise people from the dead. Encrusted with jewels, the original was stolen in 1994 and never found. A replacement is now used instead and brought out to the high altar on Christmas Eve during a spectacular mass attended by many.