All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to email@example.com. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in October 2010.
Collegio de' Neofiti (Book 9) (Day 3) (Map B3) (Rione Monti)
In this page:
This 1759 etching by Giuseppe Vasi shows Argiletum, one of the oldest streets of Rome, which was not modified during the Middle Ages and was not
affected by the XVIth century redesign of the city's street network. Argiletum is mentioned by Virgil:
the grove of Argiletum, sacred name,
where good Evander told the crime and death
of Argus, his false guest.
Book 8 - Translation by John Dryden
At the time of Ancient Rome the street was known for housing many booksellers, while in the XVIIIth century it was flanked by churches and religious institutions.
The view is taken from the green dot in the 1748 map below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) S. Maria ai Monti; 2) Collegio de' Neofiti; 3) S. Salvatore ai Monti; 4) short alley leading to Monastero delle Cappuccine. The small map shows also 5) Oratorio di S. Giovanni Battista.
In the 1880s town planners identified the need for a large street linking the area of the Imperial Fora with Stazione Termini,
the central railway station; they came to the conclusion that it was not possible to enlarge Via della Madonna dei Monti, the ancient Argiletum,
and they opened Via Cavour, a brand new street, which runs parallel to it; the Capuchin nunnery mentioned by Vasi was pulled down together with S. Maria della Concezione, its small church.
In the XIIIth century the site of the church was occupied by a nunnery of the Poor Clares; probably because the area was unhealthy the nuns moved to S. Lorenzo in Panisperna which was located on higher ground. The building was sold and one of its halls was turned into a hayloft; on April 26, 1580, a blind woman miraculously recovered her sight after having prayed in the hayloft in front of an old fresco portraying the Virgin Mary. Pope Gregory XIII suggested relocating the fresco to SS. Quirico e Giuditta, but the inhabitants of the neighbourhood opposed the move and eventually the pope decided to build a new church (on the same site) to house the sacred image (external link).
S. Maria ai Monti was designed by Giacomo della Porta; you may wish to see the church as it appeared in a 1588 Guide to Rome, immediately after its completion. The church became so dear to the Romans that it is usually called Madonna dei Monti, rather than S. Maria ai Monti, Madonna being a more colloquial term to indicate the Virgin Mary.
The ceiling of S. Maria ai Monti was painted by Cristoforo Casolani in 1602-09; its partition into various sections reflects the pattern introduced by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel; it is one of the first vault ceilings of Rome (more on this topic in a separate page). Unlike other small churches of the neighbourhood, S. Maria ai Monti has a lavish decoration and many interesting paintings (two of which you can see in page covering the iconography of the saints).
In 1543 Pope Paul III founded an institution aimed at assisting catechumens (would-be converts preparing for baptism) and neophytes (new converts); these were mainly Jews, but also Muslims who had been captured in the course of fights with the Ottomans and the corsairs of northern Africa; the institution, which was in part financed by a specific tax levied on the Jews of Rome, was housed for some time in the building known as Casa di S. Caterina.
In 1634 Pope Urban VIII assigned the small church of S. Salvatore ai Monti to the institution; his brother Cardinal Antonio Barberini the Elder bought the properties beween this church and S. Maria ai Monti and built Collegio de' Neofiti there: it was designed by Gaspare de' Vecchi and it resembles Collegio di Propaganda Fide (side along Via Due Macelli), also by De' Vecchi. The main portal (which you can see in the image used as background for this page) was decorated with the Barberini bees, but they were erased by the French administration of Rome.
Today the building houses a faculty of the Third University of Rome.
Pope Innocent XI enlarged the building with a wing reserved for women and he built a small oratory for them; his heraldic symbols (eagle, lion and incense burner) can be seen on two doors.
The conversion of Jewish children was often a cause of controversy, especially when the children were abducted from their families on the grounds that they had received baptism; the practice was supported by Canon Law and was enforced until the very end of the Papal State, the last recorded case having occurred in 1864.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Next plate in Book 9: Palazzo dell'Accademia di Francia
Next step in Day 3 itinerary: Piazza alli Monti
Next step in your tour of Rione Monti: Piazza alli Monti