The remnants of the Monastery of Elijah (Latin:
Despite this rare material completeness, the monastery has not been the subject of advanced scholarship. On the one hand, the near-complete loss of its textual apparatus has excluded it from historical analysis; on the other, its material complexity has not sufficed to overcome art-historical biases favoring monuments in Rome over those in its hinterland. Art history’s early focus on origins—of styles, motifs, architecture—further distanced the monastery, as its clearly Roman appearance and peripheral location led to its dismissal as provincial and derivative. Most of the sparse literature focuses on stylistic and iconographic identification, mainly in relation to the Apocalypse cycle; nothing has been written about the monastery as a whole.
Recent changes within the field of art history bring
This double inheritance—akin, perhaps, to the duplex spirit Elijah bequeathed to Elisha—underpins the monastery’s ability to contribute to current art-historical discourses. Sant’Elia was constructed during a fraught period in Roman history that culminated in the schism between Pope Innocent II (d. 1143) and his rival, Anacletus II (d. 1138). Analysis of the church’s Roman heritage enables us to see in this peripheral monument aspects of artistic and cultural history elsewhere obfuscated by schism and points to the need to rewrite the history of patronage in twelfth-century Rome. It also calls us to rethink the center/periphery dichotomy: in its artistic contemporaneity, papal or near-papal patronage, and use of imported Roman workshops, Sant’Elia is best understood as a fully Roman church transplanted to the margins of papal territory. Local history and community-specific identity were equally important in determining the monastery’s appearance and function. The incorporation into Sant’Elia of early medieval architectural and sculptural elements demonstrates a unique historical consciousness, both of an imagined late antique past and of the community’s more recent empirically documented historical past. The monastery’s highly unusual dedication to an Old Testament prophet offered another pathway to the formation of communal identity. Not only did Elijah serve as an explicit monastic exemplar within Christian theology; his relationship with Elisha furnished an alternate mode of inheritance and supported the monastery’s claims to
Like the site it examines, “The Monastery of Elijah” does not limit these arguments to the visual register. It contributes to