Unveiling Rome’s Hidden Mausoleum of Sant’Elena

Hidden behind the church dedicated to Saint Marcellinus and Peter on Via Casilina, I came across a captivating piece of history: the Mausoleum of Sant’Elena. Walking between the gates, I entered the cylinder-shaped mausoleum and ventured inside the structure. There I found the gated niche where Sant’Elena’s sarcophagus once laid.

In 32 A.D, Emperor Constantine constructed this mausoleum originally intended as a burial site for himself and his family. Instead, his mother Sant’Elena was buried here. Her sarcophagus is adorned with military scenes of Roman knights and prisoners which most likely was designed for her son or husband. While Sant’Elena’s sarcophagus was moved to the Vatican, her body now rests in the church of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli. The monument in Sant’Elena’s honor is also known as Torpignattara due to the pines buried inside the walls.

I was surprised by the narrow stairs leading to another level of this historical cylinder-shaped monument. The stone walls formed a perfect circle reminiscent of the past.  During the Middle Ages this mausoleum operated as a fortress and residence. Exploring this hidden historical gem in Pigneto, provided a fascinating glimpse into Rome’s past.

Jinamai Joseph is currently interning at Universita Popolare Di Torpignattara for the summer of 2024 through Living and Learning International Southeastern University.

Read her blog here.