The first representation of the crucifix: the wooden door of Santa Sabina

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The Aventine, today one of the most elegant and exclusive districts of the capital with its villas and lush gardens, was in ancient times the working class neighbourhood of Rome, the hill of plebeians and merchants, as opposed to the aristocratic Palatine – with the his patrician dwellings – which stood right in front of it. Around the 3rd century AD, with the widespread diffusion of the “new” Christian religion, numerous private homes took on the function of places of worship: they were the so-called “domus cultae”. Santa Sabina was founded out of one of these domestic churches in 422 BC. Its wooden door, surprisingly, has reached almost intact to this day. It was originally composed by 28 panels, of which only 18 have survived, depicting stories from the Old and New Testament and probably created by two artists with very different traits. One of these panels shows the first known representation of the crucifixion: Christ is depicted in the midst of the two thieves, larger in size than themselves, signifying his moral superiority.

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