San Lorenzo in Lucina is a heavily restored 5th century parish and titular church and minor basilica It is at Piazza di San Lorenzo in Lucina 16/A, just west of the Corso in the rione Colonna. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia page here.
The dedication is to St Lawrence, the 3rd century Roman deacon and martyr.
Archaeological investigations under the church in the early 20th century revealed remains of Roman houses from the reign of Emperor Hadrian, including a fine black and white marble floor in a curvilinear pattern.
An apartment complex or insula on top of these remains, which dates from the 3rd century. The palaeochristian church was revealed as having been built in turn within the ruins of this.
The church was, according to tradition, built in the 4th to 5th centuries on a domestic property that once held the titulus in Lucina. The insula found in the excavations has been tentatively identified with this, but on the basis of no demonstrable archaeological evidence of Christian use of this edifice before its demolition.
Pope St Damasus was elected here in 366, and it is mentioned in an entry in the Liber Pontificalis for Pope Sixtus III (432-40) as Titulus Lucinae. The church on the present site was restored by Pope Benedict II in 685, and the reference to the work in the Liber describes the church as appellatur Lucinae ("called Lucina") which is the earliest reference to the name as certainly applied to this church. The name "Lucina" most likely came from an early Roman matron; the hesitation in fixing the earlier titulus at the present site is that we know that such sites changed at other churches such as Santa Prassede.
Archaeological witness to foundationEdit
A detailed archaeological analysis of the first church is given in a very good illustrated article in English by Otto Brandt: The Early Christian Basilica of San Lorenzo in Lucina, Stockholm 2012. This is available online -see "External links" below.
The summary of the findings are: The church cannot be older than the early to mid 4th century, as pottery deposits of that period were sealed in the foundations when it was built. This is the earliest possible date for the church's foundation, but archaeological evidence for a later date might have been destroyed in subsequent building work. The evidence from the fabric places the foundation as before the 6th century. So, the church was built between about 350 and 500.
The up-to-date reconstruction of the original church does not differ substantially from that suggested in the 1930's by Richard Krautheimer, although some points of argument have been cleared up.
There was a basilica with a central nave and side aisles, these being separated by an arcade of ten arches on each side with a row of ten arched windows in the central nave wall above. There was a presbyteral apse, and also a separate baptitery off the right hand aisle. The immersion font for this was excavated in the late 20th century, although the plan of the actual baptistry building was not recovered. The arcades had columns, not piers as formerly suggested.
Dark ages Edit
Pope Adrian I commissioned a restoration in 780, and there had to be another one in the middle of the 9th century after the Tiber flooded the area twice.
By this time, the survivors of the civic collapse of the city had re-settled in what was to be the mediaeval built-up area centred in the bend of the Tiber. The church had a large parish, comprising the modern rioni of Campo Marzio and Colonna.
After damage by the Normans in 1084, Pope Paschal II ordered the church to be "rebuilt" in 1112 (although we know now that much of the old fabric was kept). The finished building was consecrated in 1131 by an anti-pope called Anacletus, and Pope Celestine III reconsecrated it on 26 May 1196 after it was finally decided that the original consecration was probably invalid.
Relics of saints were collected as part of the project, including the skull of Pope St Alexander (now allegedly under one of the side altars -which one?) and the body of St Felicula. St Pontian, a Roman martyr (not the pope of the same name), was enshrined under the main altar with three companions. Part of the gridiron on which St Lawrence was allegedly roasted was also on display, together with the chain used to fetter him.
The interior was re-ordered in 1650 by Cosimo Fanzago, when the church was granted to the Minorites or Order of Clerks Minor Regular, nicknamed the Caracciolo or Adorno Fathers. He divided the aisles into self-contained chapels, and also carried out a minor restoration of the façade. The chapels were then leased to noble families to decorate and to use as mausolea, a process that was only finished in 1779.
At this time, the parish was comparatively large and active and the only other parish church in the city north of it was Santa Maria del Popolo. A witness to this is the separate oratory (actually amounting to a small church) of Santissimo Sacramento e San Lorenzo Martire, built by the parish's Eucharistic confraternity (it is now deconsecrated).
The parish was reduced in size by the creation of the separate parish of San Giacomo in Augusta in 1824; on the other hand, the parish of San Nicola dei Prefetti was annexed and its church became the home of the parish's Confraternity of the Crucifixion.
A drastic restoration in 1858, ordered by Pope Pius IX, removed much of the Baroque interior decoration that Fanzago provided and added an extra two side chapels. The present appearance of the church derives from this work, overseen by Andrea Busiri Vici.
There was an excavation under the Palazzo Fiano to the left of the church in 1872, and fragmentary carved stonework including Christian epigraphy was found. Some of this is in the portico.
The Minorites were dispossessed in 1873, when the freehold of the property was sequestered by the government. However, they were allowed to remain in charge until they transferred to Sant'Angelo in Pescheria in 1906. Since then, the church has been in the care of diocesan secular clergy.
Continued problems with groundwater penetration entailed yet another restoration in 1919, with attention being given to the campanile. In an attempt to solve the damp problem permanently, the foundations were excavated.
The Italian government restored the façade to what was imagined to have been the medieval appearance in 1927. The previous frontage is shown in the 18th century Vasi engraving (link below).
The damp came back in the late 20th century, and between 1983 and 1998 excavations in the convent to the right hand side of the church uncovered remains of the palaeochristian baptistry.
The present titular is Albert Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don.
Layout and fabricEdit
The church has a basilical plan, with a nave and structural side aisles (converted into side chapels by blocking walls). It is preceded by an open loggia or narthex, and has a semi-circular external apse.
The central nave has a single pitched and tiled roof, with a separate roof for the sanctuary bay and a third one for the apse. The side chapels have their own individual roofing arrangements. There are five on the left hand side of the nave, but only four on the right hand side because the campanile occupies the first bay on the right. The pair of 19th century side chapels are added to the ends of the aisles.
The structure of the open narthex is largely as it was after the 1112 rebuilding, and has a sloping tiled roof held up by six re-used ancient granite Ionic columns supporting an entablature. The architrave of the latter is of veined white marble, while the frieze is of tiles laid on edge. In the frieze there is a trapezoidal stone above each column. The cornice is dentillated, and the end corners of the narthex have square Corinthian pilasters.
The marble of the architrave was from a very large ancient fluted column.
Before the 20th century restoration removed it, there used to be a solid parapet with flaming urns, one above each column. Also, some time before the 18th century the two outermost bays of the narthex were walled off and made into little cottages or lodges. These were removed in the 19th century.
The nave frontage above the narthex is Mediaevalist-modern. It is of orange brick with stone detailing, and has a framed round window flanked by a pair of vertical rectangular ones. On top there is a blank triangular pediment. Before the restoration, the window frames were narrower and the rectangular windows had segmental pediments broken at the top.
Fabric from the original palaeochristian basilica was revealed in the frontage when the plaster was removed in the early 20th century, but not enough to reconstruct its appearance.
The Romanesque brick bell-tower was added in the 1112 rebuilding, and was placed over the right hand aisle just behind the narthex. Of the five storeys above the narthex, the lower two have double arches (the bottom ones blocked), and the upper three have triple ones with marble pillars in between having imposts. On the other side of the nave, the strange little domed lantern belongs to the first chapel on the left.
The original convent of the Clerks Regular survives next to the church, of 1665 by Carlo Rainaldi. It did not have a proper cloister behind the street block, but instead an L-shaped arcaded walkway looking out over a large garden. The latter has had a modern building erected on it.
Interior of narthexEdit
The narthex contains four very interesting 12th century inscriptions. The oldest records the consecration of the altar by Leo, bishop of Ostia in 1112. A slightly later one records the collection and enshrinement of relics by a priest called Benedict, and dates to 1119. A record of the consecration by Antipope Anacletus (1130) and re-consecration by Celestine III (1196) are also here.
Two genial-looking medieval stone lions flank the entrance door, guarding their lunches; one has a lamb, and the other a human baby.
Fragments of mediaeval architectural details are also kept in the narthex, some displaying fine Cosmatesque work.
At the right hand end is a finely carved tomb-slab of a 15th century bishop, set into the wall. Also along here is a memorial to Clelia Severini, 1825 in the form of a neo-Classical carved relief. She is depicted as a young ancient Roman girl taking leave of her parents and pet dog -she died aged only nineteen. The work is by Pietro Tenerani, and the poet Giacomo Leopardi wrote a poem about it - Sopra un Bassorilievo Antico Sepolcrale.
The doorway itself is 12th century.
Layout and fabricEdit
As it now is, the nave has six bays with arcades on each side which lead into side chapels. To the left are five side chapels, with a sixth arch at the end leading into the antechamber of a sixth chapel flanking the sanctuary. However, to the right there are only four side chapels because the first bay has the campanile occupying it here.
So, bear in mind that the second chapel on the left is opposite the first on the right, and so on.
The sanctuary has two bays, one a continuation of the nave flanked by the end chapels, and the other occupied by the aedicule of the main altar. Behind this is the apse, occupied by the former convent choir.
In the rebuilding of 1650, the original aisled basilical plan was destroyed and the aisles or side naves were replaced by separate Baroque chapels. This was done by inserting walls behind the arcade piers.
The arcade arches are separated by long rectangular piers with Doric imposts. Above each pier is a circular tondo containing a fresco depicting a scene from the life of St Lawrence, and above these is a floating entablature which runs around the church without being supported by pilasters. Above this in turn the central nave side walls have a large rectangular window over each arch, and fresco panels of saints over the piers. The piers, arch intradoses and upper walls are all frescoed in fake polychrome marbling, as part of the restoration ordered by Pope Pius IX. All this fresco work was executed by Roberto Bompiani in 1860.
The flat nave ceiling is coffered in squares, gilded and decorated with rosettes, and has a painting of the Apotheosis of St Lawrence by Mometto Grütter in the central panel. The other saints in the depiction are Lawrence, Pope Damasus, Lucina and Francis Caracciolo. This ceiling was executed in 1857 as part of the same restoration.
The superb Baroque pulpit to the left, with its floating soundboard supported by putti, is by Fanzago.
The geometrically patterned black and white marble floor was paid for by Cardinal Giuseppe Renato Imperiali in 1743. It replaced a fine Cosmatesque floor, described in the 16th century as pavimento intarsiatio tutto di pietri di diversi colori ("a pavement inlaid with all the stones of various colours"). Some of this apparently survives under the present floor.
The French artist Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) is buried in the second chapel on the right-hand side, and is commemorated with a monument donated by Chateaubriand in 1830 (he happened to be the ambassador of France to the Papal court at the time). This is on the pier in between the second and third chapels.
It has a bust by Paolo Lemoyne, and an interesting bas-relief by one Desurer which is a copy of the artist's work entitled Et in Arcadia Ego. This has been mis-titled in modern publications as The Burial of Sappho, but if you look closely at the actual relief you will see the figures pointing to the actual words.
The epitaph reads: Parce piis lacrymis, vivit Pussinus in urna, vivere qui dederat nescius ipse mori. Hic, tamen, ipse silet; si vis audire loquentem, mirum est in tabulis vivit et eloquitur.
("Spare your pious tears, for Poussin lives in ths urn, he gave to live being himself unable to die. Here, however, he is silent; if you wish to hear him speaking, it is a wonder that he lives and speaks in his pictures.")
The geometric polychrome marble panel above the memorial is actually part of it.
The sanctuary starts with the last bay of the nave, sequestered by a balustrade with black marble balusters and red marble panels. At either end is a large statue of an angel on a plinth and holding a lamp.
The enormous aedicule of the high altar dominates the church, blocking the view of the apse. It is by Carlo Rainaldi, 1669, and has a complex plan based on a bowed central section with two diagonal wings. You can see this shape in the entablature, which is supported by four ribbed Corinthian columns of black marble. A pair of semi-columns is at the sides.
The altarpiece is the Crucifixion by Guido Reni , about 1640, which is the most important artwork in the church. It was not actually painted for its setting, but was donated in 1669 by Cristina Duglioli Angelelli and inspired a devotion to the Crucifixion which informed the spiritual life of the parish. Christ is shown at the point of death. The chiaroscuro depiction was copied many times, and became an icon of the Counter-Reformation.
In the segmental pediment is an icon of the Madonna and Child in a tondo with a glory, supported by a pair of stucco putti. The fresco work was uncovered in the 17th century restoration, preserved and enshrined here.
Under the altar are the relics of SS Pontian, Eusebius, Vincent and Pellegrinus who are described as martyrs of Acquatraversa. The altar is dedicated to them, which is why there is a side chapel dedicated to St Lawrence.
On the piers of the apse triumphal arch are two gilded bronze grid-irons, symbols of St Lawrence.
The apse behind the altar aedicule used to be the choir when the church was conventual. The stalls are still in place, and behind a cupboard door at the far end of the curve is the marble throne of Pope Paschal II. This has a contemporary inscription on its back recording the consecration of the altar by Leo, bishop of Ostia (already mentioned in an epigraph in the narthex) as well as the enshrinement of relics of St Lawrence and others by Pope Paschal.
The three apse windows have modern stained glass depicting St Lawrence, The Legend of Abgar of Edessa and St Rita.
The apse is now undecorated, but used to have a mediaeval fresco depicting Christ accompanied by SS Peter, Paul, Laurence, Stephen and Lucina. The last-named legendary foundress held a model church. Also depicted was a "Pope Sixtus", thought to have been Sixtus III.
The side chapels are described in anti-clockwise order, beginning to the right of the entrance.
Bottom storey of campanileEdit
In the right hand corner is the ground floor storey of the campanile, containing many monuments on its exterior wall. Notable are those to Cardinal Silvio Passerini, 1529 and Ginelin von Karlsruhe, 1820. There is also a pretty little holy water receptacle here, in black marble and held by an angel.
There is an information board here, and also postcards etc on sale. The far doors lead into the former convent.
Chapel of St LawrenceEdit
The first chapel on the right hand side is dedicated to St Lawrence, and was sponsored by the Lovatti family. The original altarpiece featuring the saint was by Tommaso Salini, but has been replaced by St Lucina Offering Her Church to St Lawrence by Sigismondo Rosa.
Below the altar is a bronze grille, through which you can see a reliquary. In this is preserved part of the gridiron that was used in the martyrdom of St Lawrence.
The side walls have two pictures by Giuseppe Creti, one showing St Lawrence offering poor people to the tyrant as the "wealth of the Church", and the other showing the beginning of his martyrdom.
Chapel of the Blessed SacramentEdit
The second chapel on the right is now reserved for the Blessed Sacrament, and has a modern depiction of the Sacred Heart as an altarpiece. However, it used to be dedicated to St Anthony of Padua and the side fresco panels by Jan Miel depict miracles of his.
The altar aedicule is by Carlo Rainaldi. The original altarpiece depicting the saint, by Massimo Stanzione 1616, has been sold on. However, a little oval tondo of the Holy Family survives in the segmental pediment, below a crew of stucco putti. This is by Domenico Rainaldi.
Chapel of St Francis CaraccioloEdit
The third chapel on the right is dedicated to St Francis Caracciolo, founder of the Minorites. The altarpiece showing the saint adoring the Blessed Sacrament is by Ludovico Stern, 1740. The pendentives of the cupola show scenes of the saint's life, and are by Teodoro Matteini.
Chapel of the AnnunciationEdit
The fourth on the right-hand side is dedicated to the Annunciation to Our Lady. This, the Cappella Fonseca, was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini for Gabriele Fonseca, a rich Portuguese physician who attended on Pope Innocent X (1644-1655).
The chapel has some fine busts of members of the Fonseca family, in red marble frames. These include a superb portrait of Gabriele himself (to the left of the altar), which is by Bernini. The pose is very lively; he is shown saying the Rosary with heartfelt devotion.
The other two family busts are of the school of Bernini, and the identities of the subjects are now unclear. The fourth bust here is in the same style of marble frame, but is a very academic production of 1868 showing L. A. De Witten who was Minister of the Interior to Pope Pius IX.
The altarpiece of the Annunciation is by Ludovico Gimignani, and has an unusual setting of an oval black marble frame supported by a pair of flying angels in the same material.
To the right is a painting by Giacinto Gimignani (Ludovico's father) depicting Elisha Pouring Salt Into the Bitter Fountain at Jericho that dates to 1664. On the opposite is Our Lady, Salus Populi Romae which is of the Roman school at the same period and might be by Giacinto as well.
The stucco vault is a jungle of heavenly beings.
The next arcade arch leads into a vestibule, with memorials on its wall. Notable among the monuments are those of Cardinal Antonio Davia, by Ferdinando Fuga 1740 (the bust is by Agostino Corsini) and Giuseppe Zagnoni by Vincenzo Pacetti 1803.
The door ahead to the left leads off to the sacristies and entrance to the underground area (scavi). To the right through here is the parish museum, which occupies two large apsed rooms built in the 15th century as side chapels to the basilica. The treasure here is the reliquary containing the chain alleged to have been used to imprison St Lawrence
The far room was the chapel of St John the Baptist, deconsecrated and now called the Sala dei Canonici.
Under the floor in 1993 was found the remains of the immersion font of the original palaeochristian basilica. This was a circular brick wall 65 cm thick enclosing an area 3.5 metres in diameter, and clad with white and cipollino marble. This cladding includes a 4th century epitaph to one Hilarina, which indicates that the structure is 5th century.
Next to it was a smaller, rectangular tank the function of which is unknown -suggestions have been that it was for infant baptism, or for ablutions (either liturgical or hygienic) to do with the baptismal rite back then. Or, it might have been for storing the water when the main tank was cleaned out. It was 2.2 by 1.3 metres, with some sort of round-backed niche at one end which was possibly where someone could sit.
Chapel of the CrucifixEdit
Flanking the sanctuary to the right is the small chapel of the Crucifix, originally fitted out in 1850 for the Nataletti family and re-fitted in the subsequent church restoration. Here are monuments to Gertrude 1864, Filippo 1859 and Pietro 1840.
The painted wooden crucifix itself is 17th century. The altar is flanked by two statues of angels -to the left, the Archangel Raphael directing Tobias to catch the fish (see the Book of Tobit), and to the right, the Guardian Angel.
Chapel of the Immaculate Heart of MaryEdit
Flanking the sanctuary on the corresponding left hand side is a chapel dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It is lush neo-Baroque with a curlicued wrought iron screen, and an altarpiece (very much of the mid 19th century) showing Our Lady as the source of grace.
Here is a large memorial to Cardinal Gabriele della Genga Sermattei, 1869.
Chapel of SS Francis of Assisi and Hyacintha MariscottiEdit
The interior was originally designed and decorated by Simon Vouet in 1624. His two paintings on the side walls depict two scenes from the life of St Francis. One shows his clothing in the religious habit, the other shows him being tempted by a young woman flashing her leg. The vault frescoes are also by him, and show scenes from the life of Our Lady. Pictured are her birth, Presentation, Annunciation and Assumption. The Eternal Father is in the middle.
There was a re-fitting in 1736 by Marco Benefial, who executed the altarpiece showing The Death of St Hyacintha. The frescoes of saints on the pilasters are also by him, and feature SS Peter, Paul, Mary Magdalen, Clare and Lucy.
The altar pediment has a little picture of oil on slate depicting Our Lady of Graces, which is thought to be by Girolamo Siciolante da Sermoneta.
Chapel of St JosephEdit
Chapel of St John NepomuceneEdit
The third chapel on the left is dedicated to St John Nepomucene, a martyr who died in Bohemia (part of what is now the Czech Republic) in 1393. He was killed on the order of King Wenceslaus IV after refusing to reveal what was said to him in Confession by the queen. He was thrown into the river at Prague to drown. The statue of him over the altar is by Gaetano Altobelli, 1732.
The altar aedicule has a pair of alabaster columns, supporting a segmental pediment containing a copy of the famous work depicting St Michael the Archangel by Guido Reni.
The side walls have two pictures by the Czech artist Emil Holarek. To the right, the saint's body is depicted washed up by the river and, to the left, he is depicted being condemned by the king.
Chapel of St Charles BorromeoEdit
The second chapel on the left-hand side is dedicated to St Charles Borromeo. It has an altarpiece by Carlo Saraceni, depicting St Charles in Procession with a Nail of the Cross. The two side wall pictures are by Gregorio Preti , a pupil of Saraceni, and show St Charles giving alms and administering the Last Rites to a plague sufferer.
The altarpiece is framed in yellow and red striped sardonyx, a very striking stone.
According to the Diocese (May 2019), the church is open from 8:00 to 20:00 daily (later on Fridays when there is Exposition, presumably).
The scavi (underground ancient remains) are advertised (unofficially) as being open at 16:30 on the last Saturday of the month. Guided tours of these do take place, including ones under the aegis of info.roma (see link below).
Mass is celebrated (according to the Diocese, May 2019):
Weekdays 11:00, 18:00, 19:00 (the two evening Masses are Vigils on Saturdays);
Sundays 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 18:00, 19:00.
The 19:00 Mass is combined with Vespers.
Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on the first and third Fridays of the month, 21:00.
Rosary daily at 18:30.
Confession is available, 9:00 to 12:00 daily.
(The parish website is defunct, and the domain has been relinquished.)
Article on ancient inscriptions (on above website)