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Page revised in June 2009.
Chiesa di S. Gregorio e Monastero dei Monaci Camaldolesi (Book 7) (Map B3) (Day 5) (View C10) (Rione Campitelli)
This area of Rome (Celio, one of the seven historical hills) was at Vasi's time almost countryside as we can
see from the state of the streets and from the absence of other buildings other than monasteries and churches.
The area has retained most of its quiet aspect and the view over S. Gregorio Magno and the three chapels is unchanged. The church is also known as S. Gregorio al Celio after the name of the hill.
From the northern side of the Aventine which overlooks Circus Maximus it is possible to include in the same view S. Gregorio Magno and the apse of SS. Giovanni e Paolo. The view shows also that the actual church of S. Gregorio is preceded by an atrium and that the imposing fašade relates to the latter.
The monastery was founded by St. Gregory in ca. 575 by modifying his father's house and a nearby theological school (Bibliotheca Agapiti) built by his relative St. Agapetus I who was pope in 535-36. The site chosen was facing the Palatine, which at the time was the residence of the Byzantine governors of Rome. The monastery was for a long time assigned to the Benedictine order; in 1573 it passed to the Camaldolese, a branch of that order, named after the hermitage of Camaldoli near Arezzo (see their website).
S. Gregorio Magno
The old church was thoroughly restored by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1633. Giambattista Soria designed the staircase and a new fašade which leads to an atrium and then to the church (you may wish to see the building as it appeared in a 1588 Guide to Rome).
During the French occupation of Rome some coats of arms of popes and cardinals were erased by the French troops; this occurred to the coats of arms of Cardinal Borghese at the top of the fašade and in the garden of the monastery. The soldiers did not realize that the Borghese heraldic symbols were everywhere in the decoration of the fašade (or maybe they did not dare to erase them). So eagles and dragons were spared.
In 1614 Pope Paul V, the uncle of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, approved the publication of Rituale Romanum, a comprehensive revision of all ceremonies and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. It included guidelines for exorcisms: it is interesting to note that the foreword to these guidelines had a word of a caution about the appropriateness of exorcisms: In primis, ne facile credat, aliquem a daemonio esse obsessum (First of all, one should not easily believe that a person is possessed by evil spirits). The atrium is decorated with a cycle of paintings showing events of the life of St. Gregory including one where an exorcism is performed. One of the preferred formulas is said to have been introduced by St. Benedict: Vade retro Satana (step back Satan).
The Three Chapels
In the little graveyard of the monastery two medieval chapels dedicated to S. Barbara and S. Andrea were restored by Cardinal Cesare Baronio in 1602-03; he added a third chapel dedicated to S. Silvia, mother of St. Gregory, in order to compose a symmetrical complex. Cardinal Scipione Borghese completed the restoration.
Vasi calls the chapel of S. Barbara Triclinio di S. Gregorio because St. Gregory used it as a soup kitchen; for this reason the lintel bears the inscription Triclinium pauperum (although triclinium, the formal dining room of the ancient Romans, is perhaps a not so appropriate term).
In 1607 Flaminio Ponzio designed a new portal on the site of the old entrance to the monastery (which was rebuilt to the right of the church); between this entrance and the three chapels one can see the ruins of the apse of a basilica, which is commonly known as Biblioteca di Agapito and is thought to be part of the complex built by that pope; the lower part of the wall belongs to an earlier building.
The interior of the church was renovated in 1725-30 and a series of Renaissance funerary monuments were relocated in the atrium; many of them are related to members of foreign communities; their long inscriptions sometimes shed light on political events of the XVIth century; Sir Edward Carne was a Welsh diplomat who was involved in missions to Emperor Charles V and to the pope. At the death of Queen Mary in 1558 he chose to remain in Rome: the design of his sarcophagus follows a pattern introduced by Michelangelo.
Antonio and Michele Bonsi were two Florentine brothers: in 1498 Antonio was Ambassador from the Republic of Florence to Rome; his brother Michele was the owner of a fine collection of antiques gathered in Rome. Their monument is a work by Luigi Capponi, the preferred pupil of Andrea Bregno who was the leading sculptor in Rome until the arrival of Michelangelo. He excelled in low reliefs and this is confirmed by the work of his pupil.
Andrea Gentili was from Genoa: he died at the age of 59. He was portrayed in his sleep in line with a traditional way of depicting the dead; in this case however the posture of Gentili is that of someone having a nap, rather than being immersed in his eternal sleep. During the Renaissance there was little room for the gruesome symbols which characterized in the following century many baroque monuments.
The monument to Canon Lelio Guidiccioni (d. 1643) is rather peculiar because while its lower part shows a typical iconography (hour-glass) of the XVIIth century, the reliefs in its upper part have a Renaissance grace. They are thought to have come from the tomb of Imperia, a famous courtesan of the early XVIth century. She lived in a palace in Via Giulia where she died at the age of 26. Her beauty was such that a poet wrote: "The gods made two gifts to Rome: Mars gave the Empire and Venus Imperia".
Tribuna di SS. Giovanni e Paolo
The left part of the plate shows the apse of SS. Giovanni e Paolo which was decorated
in the early XIVth century with a gallery in Lombard style. The brickwork of the cornice dates back to the XIIth century.
Next plate in Book 7: Monastero de' Monaci Cisterciensi
Next step in Day 5 itinerary: Chiesa de' SS. Nereo e Achilleo
Next step in your tour of Rione Campitelli: Palazzo Augustale