St Peter’s and the Vatican were marked by striking social and economic contrasts from the beginning. In the first to 2nd centuries CE an imperial estate became a vast cemetery with burials ranging from Hadrian’s mausoleum to pauper’s graves. One of the latter was the catalyst for the great basilica begun by Constantine after his conversion to Christianity and conquest of Rome in 312. Thereafter, the church became the site for elite tombs as well as for charity to the needy, and pilgrims transformed the region into a crowded enclave of rich and poor, resembling a small city.
This paper considers the role of covered spaces – loggia, porches, arcades – as the site where the poor would gather for the distribution of charitable materials and services. It examines pictorial representations of charity under such spaces as well as actual buildings where such activities are documented to better understand how such building forms came to symbolize charity. Much of the material in this study is drawn from the 13th and 14th centuries, particularly Italy.
Our research covers contemporary written testimonies from local archive and medieval houses that are still preserved. The remains of huge pre-communal assemblies cum curte et turri can still be discerned in civitate Tragurii. They were built in the most important parts of the town – around the main square and near the city walls. In those times all the members of a family clan used to live together with their servants. We assume that those assemblies were built by the members of the same distinguished family clans whose descendants, patricians, are recorded as their owners in the 13th century. In that century the members did not live together any more, but each one in a separated household. So those pre-communal assemblies were divided and from 13th – 15th century we usually find its parts as a property of the few members of the same family clan. They were also trying to enlarge them by purchasing adjacent houses. They often managed to shape an assembly with the court, but much smaller then those pre-communal ones. Those assemblies were redesigned within demands of new, gothic style – meaning embedding of new architectural sculpture on the main façade and building a porch in the court, while most of the older structures remained intact. Those patricians tried to keep that property within the family witch sometimes wasn’t possible because of the lack of male heir. In those cases their assemblies would usually became a property of another patrician family (either as dowry or through a selling contract).
Patricians usually had – in civitate – one or more other houses for lease and even empty parcels. The poor ones would rent the house (or a part of it) or a parcel to build a wooden house on it. The mid-class members – mainly craftsmen or merchants – also had their stone houses in the city, but they were much smaller, with modest architectural sculpture and without a court. Most of them were never rebuilt – so there are several Romanesque houses still preserved in Trogir.
A land for building a medieval suburb – burgus – was purchased by the earthwork during 13th century. The patricians undertook the project and than divided the land between themselves. They used to hire out those parcels to the poor to build the wooden houses on. Through the 15th century there were still 80% wooden houses in burgo – most of them were still built on the hired parcels – and only 20% stone houses. None of the patrician ever lived in that part of the town.