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Today we visit Rome’s first circular church, San Stefano Rotondo. Modeled after the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, this church has almost the identical circumference and diameter. The church was once made up of three circular walkways which surrounded the nave. The outer ring fell into disrepair, so now just two circular aisles remain.
Lining the walls of the outermost ring are twenty-four sixteenth century frescos each depicting a scene of horrific martyrdom. The scenes even include descriptions of the event and name the emperor responsible for the execution. Not long after the completion of the frescos, seminarians were encouraged to study the scenes. Not only did the scenes show them what the early martyrs endured for their faith, but they also helped prepare for possible future torment, especially for those about to be sent off as missionaries.
The church was first dedicated to the protomartyr, Saint Stephan, whose relics were moved here from the Holy Land. He has since been moved to San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura. The church was rededicated to Saint Stefan of Hungary.
There is a tablet recording the burial here of the Irish king Donough O’Brien, who died in Rome in 1064. He was the son of the legendary King Brian Boru.
Near the entrance to the church is an ancient wooden throne where Pope Saint Gregory the Great sat to deliver one of his homilies.