Today we visit the church of San Vitale, located on the bustling street of Via Nazionale.
In the late fourth century a small chapel was built here to honor the martyrs Saint Gervase and Saint Protase. In the fifth century a wealthy woman named Vestina donated money to build a larger basilica and the church was named, Titulus Vestinae. This is yet another of the original twenty-five titular churches of Rome.
The name was changed to San Vitale by Pope Saint Gregory the Great. Saint Vitalis was father to Saints Gervase and Protase. He, his wife, Valori and their two sons were all martyrs.
The church was rebuilt under Sixtus IV in 1475. The exterior remains much unchanged from the fifth century structure. What has changed is the elevation. Fifteen hundred years ago, this church was street level. Today one must descend thirty-four steps to reach the entrance.
Inside, the walls are decorated with lovely landscape scenes. Lovely, that is, until one gets a closer look and sees that these are cleverly disguised depictions of martyrdom. Remember, this church was built to honor a family of martyrs.