All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
by Girolamo Francino
(an illustration of the guide showing - left to right - the coat of arms of Pope Sixtus V, a generic fountain having some resemblance with that near SS. Venanzio e Ansovino and a personification of the City of Rome)
The section of the guide covering the churches of Ripa and Campitelli shows how the part of the City which was the heart of Ancient Rome became a peripheral borough of Papal Rome. With the exception of S. Giovanni Decollato and S. Maria in Domnica all the churches have a medieval aspect, an indication that they did not attract the interest of Renaissance popes, cardinals and noble families.
The position the Catholic Church had towards Ancient Rome during the Counter-Reformation period was spelt out in Roma Sancta, a manuscript written in 1581 by Gregory Martin (*): (..) so I sette a part al worldlie & prophane antiquitie thereof, commending & leaving it to them that for curiositie, or gaine, or whatsoever other vanitie, take great paines to abuse their travel and tyme in paltrie. They will tell perhappes goodly tales of the Capitol, the Amphitheatre, of Trajans pillar, Neroes palace, Diocletians bathes, the seven hills, & so foorth, but the Christian pilgrime and religious Reader whom I would instruct, in these thinges taketh only this delight, to se the ruines thereof, and how they are neglected, al Christian monumentes comming in their places; to se the victorie of Christ over the Diuel, of Peter over Nero, of the See Apostolike over the earthly Empyre.
The guide written by Francino is consistent with this approach in the sense that its illustrations are all dedicated to churches, yet in those of this section there are glimpses of ancient monuments.
The guide sheds some light on the name of S. Nicola in Carcere; it was founded in the VIIth century when Rome was a Byzantine territory and this explains why it was dedicated to St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor, who was (and is) very popular among the Greeks. The reference to a prison (carcere) was not related to the saint's life, but to a medieval prison which stood next to the church. The prison was later on relocated elsewhere; its memory was lost and so carcere was thought to be a reference to a prison of Ancient Rome: because it was evident that the church was built on the site of three ancient temples, the guide gave this explanation:
Dove Ŕ questa Chiesa, furno le prigioni antiche, & essendo Consoli C. Quinto, e M. Attilio, ivi fu fatto il Tempio della PietÓ, percioche essendo stato condennato a morire uno di fame in prigione, una sua figliuola ogni giorno sotto colore di andarlo a visitare, li dava il latte, & accorgendosi li guardiani di ci˛, lo riferirno al Senato, che per un tal atto di pietÓ perdon˛ al padre, & ad ambedue diedero il vitto per tutta la vita loro.
(A prison stood on the site of the church. It was turned into a Temple to Piety by Consuls C. Quinto and M. Attilio; this because of the following event: a man was sentenced to die by starvation in that prison; his daughter, with the excuse of visiting him, every day fed him with her milk. The wardens discovered why the prisoner continued to look healthy and reported the fact to the Senate. The Senators were impressed by this act of filial devotion and pardoned the two who were given a pension for the rest of their lives. That's why it was decided to turn the prison into a temple.).
The fašade of the church was renovated in 1599.
In 1588 S. Maria della Consolazione was in the process of being rebuilt; this may explain why the illustration shows the tower of Palazzo Senatorio as if it were the bell tower of the church (which was never built). The church was part of an important hospital which according to Roma Sancta was: (..) a famous Hospital, governed by the nobles of Rome. Beddes for men, alwaies fiftie; foer wemen, ten, in the summer, thy are in al an hundred. Physicions, Surgeon, servants proportionably to the number. To this Hospital belongeth a Church adjoyning thereunto, called Our Ladies of Comfort, of great devotion, and ful of donaries and vowes hanged round about, in memorie of some miraculous benefite receaved by praying to the B. Virgin. This Church hath nine Chaplens which receave every one fore crownes a moneth in gold, so that there is dayly service, and every Mooneday and Satterday dirge Masses for the dead, a most charitable institution. It is interesting to observe that the number of beds reached its maximum in summer, rather than in winter. In those days malaria killed more than pneumonia.
The illustration shows the initial placement (in 1412) of the clock on the fašade of S. Maria d'Aracoeli: in the XVIIIth century it was relocated in a central position and in the early XIXth century it was moved to the tower of Palazzo Senatorio. When the guide was written the ceiling of the church had just been renovated. Roma Sancta expanded on this embellishment: (..) of Churches in the honour of Christ, we see every where some built from the ground, some costly repayred, some sumptuousely garnished (..) namely when Duke Marcus Antonius Columna the Christian Captayne against the Turkes next under Don Jhon of famous memorie, after his returne from that glorious victorie, being presented of the Citie of Rome with a verie pretious gift, al of gold, gave it al fortwith to the Church of our Ladie called Ara coeli, to garnish the seeling or vault thereof throughe out, which is done and finished most beautifully.
SS. Quattro Coronati was in such a remote location that when Pope Pius IV decided to locate an orphanage in the adjoining buildings he had to open a street to allow easy access to the church. Roma Sancta thus described the orphans' life: The boyes are commonly above an hundred, within the territorie of the Church called Quatuor Coronati, and there taught to write and to read, and in al vertuous discipline, and afterward either put to higher scholes, if they be fitte: or otherwise bestowed to worke for their living. Whiles they are in this state of Orphanelli as they call them or Orphans, they goe al in white and in al Processions they have their place, two and two, with their Crosse, singing the Litanies.. The orphans had to attend all the many processions which took place in Rome. Whether this practice strengthened their faith is a matter of opinion.
The illustration shows the church without the roof; this is quite surprising because a new ceiling was completed in 1580.
Today S. Giovanni Decollato is a church very few know about: it is open to the public only on June 24, Feast of St. John Baptist. In the XVIth century all Romans were aware of its existence and of the brotherhood which built the church between 1488 and 1504. The activity of the brotherhood was so described in Roma Sancta: The Companie "de la misericordia" that is of mercie: is worthely so called, because of their merciful worke upon al such as are executed by justice and by the Law, dying like good Christian men. These also are not suffered either to feede the ravens upon the gallowes, as in many places: nor to be buried in the place of execution profanely and at adventure, as in some other Countries; but as Christian men and our brethren are taken downe by this Companie, as it were by Joseph of Arimathea, wrapt, caried solemnely and acompanied through the streates to their Church of "S. John decollato", that is, "beheaded", where they burie them, and sing Masses and Dirges for them duely as for their owne brethren, for which their charitie toward prisoners executed, his Holines geveth and releaseth them one prisoner every yere upon their fest of S. John Baptist, whom the whole Companie in triumphant maner fetch from the prison, and bring him first to the Church to geve God thanks for his deliverie, and for the life of a man preserved to repentance, which is great Compassion.
In the illustration of S. Giorgio al Velabro Francino took the liberty to show a monument of Ancient Rome: Arco degli argentieri, a small arch dedicated to Emperor Septimius Severus. He did not fear to be accused of showing a profane building, because he could argue that the illustration was just true to life. The engraver did not show the same accuracy in depicting the portico of the church. He added a column at the right side of the entrance.
The illustration of S. Anastasia shows a church very different from the one we see today. This very old church was restored by Pope Sixtus IV for the 1475 Jubilee Year; the fašade was marked by an unusual Gothic window. The church had a tall Romanic bell tower similar to that of nearby S. Giorgio al Velabro (this is confirmed also by the 1593 map of Antonio Tempesta). We know that between 1598 and 1618 the fašade was modified with the addition of a porch. In 1634 S. Anastasia was greatly damaged by a storm and in 1636 it was rebuilt in its current form with two small bell towers flanking the entrance. The illustration allowed Francino to show the ruins of the Imperial Palaces.
Today S. Anastasia is one of the few churches where relics are displayed to the public.
S. Gregorio al Celio is another church which has lost its Romanic bell tower. The columns of the portico were used for the decoration of the large atrium which was built in the XVIIth century; what today seems to be the fašade of the church is just the grand entrance to the atrium.
SS. Giovanni e Paolo was built upon the house of a Roman Christian senator. It was dedicated to Sts. John and Paul two martyrs of the IVth century. According to the tradition they were beheaded because of their faith at the time of Emperor Julian. This emperor was regarded as a great enemy of the Christians, however there is no historical evidence of him persecuting them, at least in the western part of the empire. John and Paul are still in the list of saints, but (Catholic Encyclopedia): The year and circumstances of their martyrdom are likewise unknown. According to their Acts, which are of a purely legendary character and without historical foundation, the martyrs were eunuchs of Constantina, daughter of Constantine the Great, and became acquainted with a certain Gallicanus, who built a church in Ostia. At the command of Julian the Apostate, they were beheaded secretly by Terentianus in their house on the CŠlian, where their church was subsequently erected, and where they themselves were buried.
The illustration showing S. Maria in Domnica is pretty accurate and it is almost identical to the current aspect of the church. At that time it was usually called S. Maria alla Navicella, rather than S. Maria in Domnica. This happens also today, because Domnica is awkward to pronounce (to Italian tongues) and does not have a clear meaning, while Navicella is a well known fountain near the church: it has the shape of a small ship (It. nave, navicella = nice and small ship).
For a long time S. Stefano Rotondo was thought to be an ancient temple which was turned into a church in the Vth century. Today there is a general consensus that S. Stefano Rotondo was a church from the beginning, although its columns were taken from previous Roman buildings. According to the guide in the past it was the Temple to Faun and this was also the opinion of Gregory Martin:In Rome we have for (..) the Temple of Faunus, S. Stevens Church. The attribution of the temple to Faun, the Roman God of shepherds, was not based on any evidence. However this deity was portrayed with horns and goatlike hooves, a popular representation of the Devil; so the fact that a church was built upon a former temple to Satan supported the statement summarized by Gregory Martin with these words: Rome the spouse of Christ (won) over Rome the whore of Babylon.
Note: this church which stands opposite S. Maria in Domnica was placed in Rione Monti in the XVIIIth century when the borders of the Rioni were defined with precision.
S. Sisto was restored by Pope Gregory XIII a few years before the guide was published. The illustration shows the critical location of the building which was situated in low ground and in an area which was often flooded. This led to the abandonment of the church for long periods. The fašade was modified in the XVIIIth century, but the travertine portal was not replaced.
On Ash Wednesday a short procession led by the Pope reaches S. Sabina. In the past it was a major event: Roma Sancta describes it with these words: S. Sabina is the first station of Lent. It is prepared in the best maner to the glorie of God, the walles hanged, the aultars decked, and principally the high aultar furnished with Relikes, lampes burning at every Monument, al the Churche perfumed with incense, before the high aultar Cushins and Carpettes for the more honorable personages to knele upon. The Churche being thus prepared the people beginne to goe at the verie poynt of midnight, And the Pope him self with al the Cardinals, to beginne the Stations that first day, after he hath heard a solemne Masse in his Chappel, and blessed the Ashes and geven them to the Cardinals and to manie other, him self I say accompanied with the principal of the Court and of the Citie, in solemne maner on horse backe, without al pompe, maketh his pilgrimage to that Churche a mile and an half from the palace, and solemniseth that Station.
The illustration of S. Prisca shows that there was a large fresco on the old fašade. Although in a sketchy manner, the engraver portrayed a person and a beast, a scene of the martyrdom of Prisca; according to the tradition Prisca was sentenced by Emperor Claudius to die in the Colosseum. The lions however did not assault the young woman, who was eventually beheaded. The episode is clearly reminiscent of Daniel's miraculous preservation in the lions' den.
The illustration shows S. Saba on the background of a countryside landscape; the church was the only building in that part of the Aventine hill. The portico was supported by six ancient columns; the two central ones were of porphyry and their bases were embellished by statues of lions. It is known that for centuries columns and other material were taken from the ancient buildings for the construction of churches. When this source came to an end it was the turn of the old churches to be spoiled. The columns of S. Saba were replaced by very ordinary brick pillars during the pontificate of Pope Pius VI. Most likely these columns were used for the decoration of his family palace (Palazzo Braschi).
S. Balbina was spoiled of its four ancient columns at a much earlier stage. They were replaced by brick pillars during a restoration commissioned by Cardinal Pompeo Arrigoni in 1590. At the same time the cardinal was building a villa (today known as Villa Muti) near Grottaferrata and most likely the columns were relocated there.
S. Giovanni a Porta Latina was situated in such a remote location that it was used as a hermitage. The nearby gate was closed and only brave hermits dared to live in such an isolated and unhealthy place. The upper part of the bell tower was damaged and the medieval portico was poorly restored. In the illustration the desolation of the site was increased by showing the ruins of an ancient Roman tomb behind the church. Today, after an extensive restoration which took place in the 1940s, S. Giovanni a Porta Latina has a very pretty medieval aspect. While in the case of S. Saba and S. Balbina the columns shown in the illustrations have been replaced by pillars, in S. Giovanni a Porta Latina the reverse has occurred.
(*) Gregory Martin (c. 1542 ľ 28 October 1582), was an English Catholic scholar, the translator of the Douai Version of the Bible from the Latin Vulgate. (from wikipedia)
Introductory Page - The Seven Churches.
The Churches of Trastevere and Borgo.
The Churches near Via del Corso.
The Churches in the Bend of the Tiber.
The Churches of Monti.