Santa Francesca Romana or Santa Maria Nova is a 10th century titular church and minor basilica, formerly monastic, at Piazza di Santa Francesca Romana 4 in the rione Monti. This is on the north side of the Via Sacra of the Roman Forum, on top of the ruins of Hadrian's Temple of Venus and Roma and on the summit of a little hill anciently known as the Velian. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia page here.
The church was founded with the name Santa Maria Nova (note the Latin -Nova not Nuova), and this remains its official appellation. However, it is usually referred to by the people of Rome as Santa Francesca Romana, and the Diocese has accepted this as a subsidiary name.
The church should not be confused with the parish church of Santa Francesca Romana all'Ardeatino, which the diocese usually refers to as Santa Francesca Romana without a suffix. This is because there is a policy of giving priority to parish churches in naming. The Diocese prefers Santa Francesca Romana al Palatino for the church here, which is seldom used by anyone else.
The church occupies part of the site of the great ancient temple dedicated to Venus Felix and Roma Aeterna, founded by the emperor Hadrian in the year 135. He built it on the atrium of the Domus Aurea of Nero, providing a large podium measuring 145 metres long and 100 metres wide and surrounding it with a colonnaded porticus or sacred enclosure which has left surviving columns in grey granite. These were re-erected in 1935.
Famously, the temple was double. It had two cellae or cult-chambers back to back, with a dividing wall separating the settings of the two idols of Venus and Roma. In front of each cella entrance was a pronaos or porch with four columns, and enclosing cellae and pronaoi was a double row of peripteral columns. The outer of these numbered ten supporting the end pediments (known as a decastyle arrangement), and twenty-two down each side (there is confusion in published descriptions concerning the number; the corner columns are counted twice in the above). The temple stood on a low stepped platform known as a stylobate.
Most of the building has gone completely, except for the apses of the cellae which were provided by the emperor Maxentius in 307 after a fire had burnt the temple out. What remains are these two apses, Venus's facing the Colosseum and Roma's facing the church, with the latter preserving much of the south wall of its cella to its full height with part of the chamber's coffered barrel vaulting. The diapered coffering of the apses proved very influential design features for architects from the Renaissance onwards, as did the surviving portions of the opus sectile floor of the Roma cella -unfortunately, this was re-laid in some early antiquarian restoration without much care for its original form. The surviving wall has small free-standing porphyry columns in between niches for statues.
The temple survived as a functional entity longer than traditionally thought. Despite the government of the Empire becoming Christian under the emperor Constantine in 313, it was only in 390 that public pagan worship was suppressed. This was by the emperor Theodosius I , who had had to contend with a usurper in Rome called Eugenius in 394 who repaired the temple. What was done with the building in the next two hundred years is unknown, but it must have survived substantially intact until 630 when the emperor Heraclius allowed Pope Honorius I to loot its gilded bronze roof tiles for use at St Peter's.
It is now thought that complete ruination only came with a massive earthquake in the early 9th century. From then until 1873 the history of the site is that of the church and attached monastery, and from the late 19th century that of the Forum archaelogical area.
In 2010, the temple site was re-opened to the public after a programme of restoration lasting a quarter of a century. Access is included in the Forum and Palatine ticket. The podium has proved a useful base for papal ceremonies at the Colosseum, especially on Good Friday.
Legend of St Peter and Simon MagusEdit
The origin of the church was an oratory dedicated to SS Peter and Paul, founded by Pope Paul I (757-67) in the mid 8th century. This was erected in or by the putative western entrance to the temple's sacred enclosure, about were the nave of the present church now is.
The motivation for it was a strange legend, attested to by several patristic authors, featuring St Peter and Simon Magus. It derives from the 2nd century Acts of Peter. According to it, the latter was Jewish magician who had won over the emperor Nero by his magical tricks, and entered into a miracle contest with St Peter during which he boasted that he could fly -and did. The saint knelt in prayer, with the result that Simon crashed and died. Two stone slabs with the alleged imprint of the apostle's knees were on display by this oratory, and are still preserved in the church.
Foundation of churchEdit
The nearby church of Santa Maria Antiqua fell into disrepair and was abandoned in the mid 9th century, probably as a result of the earthquake in 847 which smashed the remaining structures in the Forum. Pope Leo IV (847-55) transferred the rights and obligations attaching to the old church to the oratory of SS Peter and Paul, but without changing the name of the latter.
In the reign of Pope Gregory V (996-9) the old title of Santa Maria Antiqua was finally transferred to SS Peter and Paul which was henceforth known as Santa Maria Nova. Also, the pope enshrined the relics of several martyrs brought from the suburban catacombs which were being stripped and abandoned. They were called Nemesius, Exuperia, Sempronius (or Symphronius), Olympius, Lucilla and Theodulus (see Catacomba di Aproniano).
The old oratory was rebuilt as a church between 847 and 996, with its back wall on the line of the stairs of the stylobate of the ruined temple.
It is not known when the attached monastery was founded, nor what sort of monks first inhabited it. That they were of the Byzantine rite is a good guess, and that they took over when the church was rebuilt. The first small convent was behind the church's back wall, in Roma's portico with her ruined cella behind.
Pope Alexander III (1159-81) ordered a restoration, which involved the provision of the surviving apse mosaic, the building of the fine Romanesque campanile and the rebuilding of the convent. The church was re-consecrated in 1161. It was damaged by fire at some time before or during the pontificate of Honorius III (1216-1227), and was restored by that pope who provided a new roof.
In 1351 a monastery of the Olivetan Benedictine monks was founded here, which survived until sequestration by the Italian state in 1873.
The Olivetans, named after Monte Oliveto near Florence, was a late reform of the Benedictine monastic life, started by St Bernard Tolomei and some companions from the mercantile aristocracy of Florence who abandoned secular life to live as hermits in the woods outside the city. A very similar movement at Siena nearby in the same period led to the foundation of the Servite friars. A complaint was made about them to Pope John XXII that they were living according to no official rule and were probably heretics, so the pope told the city's archbishop to provide them with one. Unexpectedly, he chose the Benedictine rule and the first monastery of the new congregation was established on Monte Oliveto in 1319. Other monasteries of the new, strict and penitential congregation were quickly founded before the death of St Bernard in 1348. One of these was at Santa Maria in Domnica on the Caelian Hill, which was founded in 1340 and was the first belonging to the congregation in Rome.
The second Roman Olivetan monastery took over the entire temple site, incorporating its remains into its domestic buildings and gardens. The accommodation left by the canons was inadequate, so Pope Gregory XI (1371-78) provided for the reconstruction of the cloister. This had a main range to the north-east, a minor wing to the south-west and a connecting block running over the sanctuary of the church to the north-west. The south-east side was left as a simple arcade, with the back wall corresponding to the entrance wall of the ruined cella of Roma. The latter structure was apparently already being treated with respect. The cella of Venus had a little formal garden laid out in it.
To the south of the church the monks built three domestic ranges around a court, the main western one of which ran from the church to the Arch of Titus, then a fortified gateway to the domain of the Frangipani family. The south range was on the Via Sacra, and the east one returned to the cloister.
The monastery had vineyards and vegetable gardens to the north, east and south.
St Frances of RomeEdit
St Frances of Rome or Santa Francesca Romana, full name Francesca Bussa de' Leoni (1384-1440), was a married noblewoman of the city, who founded an enclosed house of Benedictine oblate nuns at Santa Maria Annunziata a Tor de’ Specchi near the Campodoglio. The convent has never been suppressed, and still survives. They are "oblate" rather than "regular" nuns, because they make promises rather than take vows. (Back in the 15th century, one had to be a physical virgin to become a regular nun.) The "oblations" had to be made to the superior of a male monastery or a bishop, and St Frances as a widow and her original companions chose to make theirs to the Olivetian prior at Santa Maria Nuova.
When she died in 1440 her community wanted her buried at her convent, but the monastery claimed her body (as was their right through her oblation) and entombed it in the church.
17th century workEdit
St Frances was canonized in 1608, and this was a spur to the monks to refit the church. The entrance façade to the design of Carlo Lombardi was added in 1615, who supervised the remodelling of the interior and the addition of the spectacular wooden ceiling. The confessio was built, and the saint's body enshrined in it in 1638. As a result, the church gained its secondary dedication and its usual name.
The part of the confessio before the high altar was provided with a gilt bronze statue of St Frances by Bernini.
The French occupation from 1798 saw the monastery pillaged, and the Bernini statue stolen and melted down. After the monks regained possession of their property, in 1816 they demolished the old mediaeval ranges round the south courtyard and so freed the Arch of Titus and the east part of the Via Sacra. In place of these, they employed Giuseppe Valadier to build a new south-west cloister range and a narrow range to the south-east on the line of the old entrance wall of Roma's cella. This seems to have been the time when the botched restoration of the cella floor took place. The work was completed in 1829.
The confessio containing the saint's shrine was re-modelled in 1858.
The monastery was suppressed by the Italian government in 1873, although Olivetan monk-priests continued to serve the church. There was pressure from nationalist "archaeologists", wishing to "cleanse" the Forum from post-Imperial accretions, to have the church and monastery demolished, but the popularity of Santa Francesca Romana among ordinary Roman people ensured that this could not happen even under Mussolini.
Instead, the monastery has been used to house the Forum excavation offices and the Antiquarium Forense or antica, which is a collection of small finds discovered in the course of the excavations. This was opened in 1900. Towards the end of the 20th century, however, this museum became seriously neglected, and ended up being permanently closed. Promises of its restoration and regular re-opening on the Forum and Palatine ticket have been forthcoming for several years, but do not seem to have come to proper fruition yet.
The church interior was restored in 1953.
The title is currently technically vacant, but is being held in commendam (that is, as a personal dignity) by H.E. Angelo Cardinal Sodano, who when he was the cardinal priest in re was also Bishop of Albano. He became Bishop of Ostia as well in 2005, but was allowed to keep the title.
Layout and fabricEdit
Structurally the church has a basilical plan, having a nave and aisles of five bays. However, the side aisles have been converted into chapels by the insertion of blocking walls. The fifth bay has the Romanesque campanile inserted into what would be the top end of the left hand aisle.
The sanctuary is, in effect, a sixth bay. This, and the segmental apse, is included in the south-west range of the monastic cloister buildings.
The disused side entrance from the Forum used to connect with the mediaeval monastic range running down to the Arch of Titus. It is now accessed by a pair of transverse staircases since archaelogical excavation has lowered the ground level. The doorcase is elaborate, and looks 17th century -did Valadier move it from another location in the 19th century? It has a pair of Ionic columns with exaggerated volutes, in front of a pair of pilasters in the same style, and these support a segmental pediment with a broken cornice. In the tympanum is a tablet supported by a pair of putti.
The entrance façade and loggia, with a choir chamber above, is a separate architectural unit. It is in travertine, while the brick exterior walls of the rest of the nave are rendered in light orange.The entrance façade and campanile are best viewed from the Via Sacra in the Forum, although this means a separate visit from that to the interior. Here, one can immediately appreciate that the façade has been added on as a separate architectural unit, forming an extra bay of the nave with its roof appreciably higher than that of the nave.
The tall Romanesque campanile was erected around the middle of the 12th century. It is on the left hand side of the church just by the high altar, and is in brick with five storeys above the roofline. The storeys are separated by projecting cornices with stone modillions. The first two storeys have a double arch on each face, blocked except for a vertical slit. The top three have a pair of double arched soundholes on each face instead, each doublet being separated by a recessed marble column with an impost. The fabric of these storeys is are decorated with crosses in a porphyry and roundels in various colours which are actually glazed pottery dishes.
Above the soundholes of two sides of the top storey, those facing either end of the church, are two little aedicules each formed by a gabled arch on imposts and marble columns supported on corbels. These have no statue plinths, so were probably intended for mosaics (a surviving example is at Santa Maria in Trastevere).
The façade in travertine limestone is actually quite a complicated and ingenious design by Lombardi, and is best described as a single-storey propylaeum flanked by a pair of kiosks slightly recessed. A pair of gigantic rectangular Composite pilasters on very high plinths is on each side of the arched main entrance to the loggia, and these support a full entablature and triangular pediment. There is a dedicatory inscription on the frieze of the entablature: Virg[ini] Mariae ac S[anctae] Franciscae. The cornice and pediment are embellished with dentillations, fronded modillions and rosettes.
The entrance arch is molded, without imposts. Above is is a tablet with tassels and swags, and inscription reads: Paulo V Burghesio Romano P[ontifice] M[aximo] sedente, Olivetana Congregatio suis et monasterii sumptibus, templum hoc in hanc formam construxit et ornavit, anno Domini MDCXV. ("The Olivetan congregation, with its own and the monastery's resources, built and decorated this temple in this form, during the reign of Paul V Borghese the Roman Pontiff.")
Above this epigraph is a large rectangular window framed by a pair of Ionic columns supporting an entablature and segmental pediment. There is a balustrade in front of the window.
The flanking kiosks each has a slightly smaller archway opening into the loggia, and doubletted Doric pilasters at the corners (the inner one partly hidden). The arch is crowned with an inscription tablet as well; the left hand one reads Ego flos campi et lilium convalli ("I am a flower of the field and a lily of the valley"), while the right hand one reads Quasi oliva speciosa in campis ("Like a beautiful olive tree in the fields"). The references are to Our Lady, St Frances and Monte Oliveto. Above the tablet is an entablature bearing with a decorated frieze, then an attic plinth and finally a large double volute sweep framing the upper part of the central propylaeum. To unite the façade design, the cornices of the entablature and attic are continued across the propylaeum, behind the gigantic pilasters and framing the window balustrade.
The side entablature friezes bear triglyphs, interspersed with relief panels either showing a mitre crossed with a crozier and cross, or a stylized mountain with olive fronds. These refer to Monte Oliveto abbey.
The left hand side wall of the loggia is blank, but the right hand one has an archway the same size as the central one. The cornices of the side entablatures are richly decorated on their undersides, including with waffle modillions. There are three large statues on the pediment, two at the outer corners of the side kiosks and one on the other end of the roof ridge.
The chamber over the loggia is the monastic choir.
Some olive trees are outside the entrance -a nice piece of symbolism.
The cloister is behind the back end of the church, and has arcades in three storeys. The north
range is mediaeval, but the south range is 19th century.
If you manage to visit the antica, have a look at the vaulted former refectory (dining-hall), with 15th century frescoes attributed to Antonio da Viterbo.
Layout and fabricEdit
The richly decorated but restrained Baroque interior features a nave with side chapels, a flat wooden coffered ceiling and a small shallow apse with conch. There are no nave arcades, but the side chapels are entered through large arches with rectangular windows above and which are separated by double Ionic pilasters.
The sanctuary is raised, and has staircases either side of it to access an ambulatory just in front of the apse. Another pair of staircases lead to the little crypt below where St Frances is enshrined. In front of the sanctuary is a confessio or enclosed area adjoining the crypt, but not connecting with it.
The double nave pilasters support dentillated entablatures, and are themselves skeletal in that they are frames containing sunken alabaster panels.
The carved and coffered wooded ceiling is tricked out in red, blue and gold, and has figurative panels on its major axis. These show: St Benedict (in the white habit of the Olivetans), the coat-of-arms of Cardinal Paolo Sfondrati who sponsored the 17th century restoration, the Madonna and Child accompanied by SS Agnes and Cecilia, the coat-of-arms of Monte Oliveto Abbey and finally St Frances with her guardian angel over the confessio. The ceiling is dated 1612 in an epigraph, and also given is 1867 which was when it was restored.
The floor of the nave preserves some Cosmatesque pavement from 1216, but was mostly re-laid in different shades of grey marble with some red in the restoration in 1953.
The church's organ, newly built in the 1970's within the original Baroque case, is over the entrance and has the present monastic choir behind it.
The monastic choir now occupies the chamber over the entrance loggia. It was decorated in 1693. The central window now has modern stained glass featuring the founders of the Olivetan congregation praying at a crucifix. It is by Ambrogio Fumigalli, an Olivetan monk himself, and was installed in 1970. He also supervised the installation of the new organ.
The confessio was originally designed by Bernini and completed in 1649, but was altered in the 19th century. The area is enclosed by a balustrade, which has an attractive ogee curved sweep on either side as it runs up the staircases.
The curve of the confessio juts out into the last bay of the nave. To either side, the arcade arch has a blank wall instead of a side chapel. The left hand one conceals the first storey of the campanile, while the right hand one has behind it the janitor's chamber. Each of these walls has a painting. On the right-hand side is The Flagellation of St Andrew, a copy of a work by Domenichino, and to the left is St Andrew Adores His Cross which is a copy of one by Guido Reni. Both originals are in the church of San Gregorio al Celio.
In the confessio itself, four fluted columns of red and white Sicilian jasper with bronze Corinthian capitals make up a semi-circular aedicule for a marble scupture of St Frances and her angel. This work was executed by Giosuè Meli in 1866, to replace the gilded bronze statue of Bernini that the batrachian occupation government had looted and melted down at the start of the 19th century.
The coat-of-arms here is of the Bussa de' Leoni family, to which the saint belonged.
The sanctuary area is up either staircase at the sides of the confessio. It preserves much of its original cosmatesque floor, which has been restored. This shows that the crypt was already in place by the 13th century, except then it was presumably for the catacomb martyrs.
In the conch of the apse there is a mosaic of the Madonna and Child between the apostles James, John, Peter and Andrew. This probably dates to 1161. The Hand of God holding a wreath is above Our Lady, and the figures are within an arcade of arches which is a figurative representation of a palace. The archivolt of the triumphal arch has flowers and fruit with the Chi-rho monogram at the top. The inscription at the bottom, not easy to make out, reads: Continent in gremio coelum, te in domo, Sancta Dei Genitrix proceres comitantur erilem ("The leaders follow the mistress, Holy Mother of God, and enclose you in a house, [you who enclose] heaven in [your] abdomen".)
The high altar is against the wall of the apse, above which is the famous icon of the church (actually there are two -see below). This is flanked by four Ionic pilasters in red jasper, which frame two frescoes by Domenico Maria Canuti, 1684, and depict the martyrdom of the catacomb martyrs Nemesius, Exuperia, Sempronius, Olympius, Lucilla and Theodulus. They were enshrined in the church by Pope Gregory V (996-999).
Either side of the altar are two angels of the school of Bernini.
To the right of the altar is the tomb of pope Gregory XI, who returned the papal seat to Rome after the exile in Avignon. It was executed by Pier Paolo Olivieri, and set up here in 1585 at the expense of the Senate of Rome in gratitude. The central bas-relief of the monument depicts St Catherine of Siena accompanying the returning pope. She was instrumental in persuading him to return. The statues flanking this relief are of Faith and Hope. There are four Ionic columns in yellow Sienese marble, which were used to replace the original ones in giallo antico in 1900. The originals are outside the sacristy.
In the floor is the tomb-slab of Cardinal Francesco Uguccioni Brandi, 1422 with his effigy. Also in the sanctuary floor is that of Cardinal Alamanno Adimari, 1412.
The right hand side wall of the sanctuary has the pair of flagstones with the alleged imprint of the knees of St Peter. According to the legend, the magician Simon Magus wanted to prove that his powers were superior to those of the Apostles. To do this, he levitated himself above the Forum. St Peter fell to his knees in the crowd and prayed that God would humble Simon Magus, which He did with a vengeance - Simon immediately fell to his death. These stones were originally venerated in situ by the Via Sacra, and later brought into the church for safe-keeping.
The return wall here has a depiction of St Michael the Archangel, of the Roman school about the end of the 17th century.
The wall here has a painting of the school of Pierre Subleyras, depicting St Bernard Tolomei Comforting the Plague-Stricken. He had gone to Siena with some of his monks to nurse sufferers during the Black Death of 1348, caught it himself and died.
The return wall here has a painting of the Ascension, which is 17th century and is thought to be by Jacopo Zucchi. It is actually quite good, although the swarm of putti surrounding the ascending Christ might put some people off.
The icon of the Madonna and Child which can be seen in the apse above the altar dates to the 12th century and is of the Tuscan school. According to tradition, it was brought from Troas on the Hellespont by a crusader from Rome called Angelo Frangipani in 1100.
In 1950, it was being cleaned of an 1805 overpainting. Examination during this restoration revealed that the 12th century work had in turn been painted over an earlier version, which is probably from the 6th century, and might have come from Santa Maria Antiqua rather than from Troas. It is one of the most ancient icons of Our Lady in existence.
The style of the work has been erroneously described in modern publications as Glykophilousa from the Greek for "sweet affection", but is actually an early version of the Hodegetria or "shower of the way". Our Lady is pointing to the Child with her hand, and he is giving a blessing with one hand while holding a scroll in the other (Glykophilousa icons show the two of them cheek-to-cheek).
The two paintings were detached from one another, and the older one is now kept in the sacristy. Apparently it and the other works in the sacristy can be seen by appointment (contact details on the diocesan web-page).
The sacristy is accessed via a short corridor, the doorway to which is in the top left hand corner of the sanctuary. It is a large, square room decorated in the 18th century. Below the ceiling are preserved fragments of the mediaeval mosaic that dropped off.
There is large collection of oil paintings in here. Unusual is an early 16th century painting of Pope Paul III with Cardinal Reginald Pole of England (the last pre-Reformation English cardinal), attributed to Perino del Vaga. Other notable works are: A painting of the Miracle of St Benedict by Pierre Subleyras (the saint is reviving a little boy crushed to death by a falling rock), a Madonna and Child Enthroned between St Benedict and St Francesca Romana by Liberale da Verona, a Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints by Sinibaldo Ibi (1545), two sketches from the school of Francia, an anonymous depiction of the Deposition, another of St Peter Walking on the Water and a fine Trinity with St Bernard Tolomei by Giacinto Brandi, 1680.
The relics of St Frances in the crypt can be visited by going down either staircase at the sides of the sanctuary after ascending the steps from the nave. The present crypt was fitted out by Andrea Busiri Vici, who provided a glass-fronted loculus with a mosaic in the tympanum above. The latter features SS Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalen and is a rather poor work by one G. Guidi.
Her skeleton vested in the habit of her Oblate Sisters, is on display and it is edifying that the Olivetans have never made up her relics with wax to look like a living person -as is the case with several other saints enshrined in Rome.
A breviary lies open in her hands, at Psalm 72 (73 in the Hebrew numbering), because legend has it that she was saying the Office of Our Lady one day, but as her husband called for her four times she never managed to complete this psalm. When she finally got back to her prayers, she found the verse miraculously inscribed in letters of gold: "You have taken me by the right hand, and by your will you have led me, and with glory you have received me (Tenuisti manum dexteram meam, et in voluntate tua deduxisti me, et cum gloria suscepisti me)."
The oval bas-relief of St Frances with her guardian angel, whom she had the privilege of being able to see, is 17th century. The book that the angel holds displays the psalm verse quoted above.
She remains very popular in the city, and you will notice the written prayer requests and photos left near her.
The following description of the side chapels starts from the bottom right near the entrance, and proceeds anticlockwise.
Chapel of the CrucifixionEdit
The first chapel on the right hand side is dedicated to the Crucifixion. The altarpiece of the Calvary is anonymous, but the paintings on the side walls are by Giuseppe Maria Crespi Lo Spagnolo. The one of right is of St Bernard Tolomei, and on the left is the Madonna and Child.
Side entrance vestibuleEdit
In the vestibule of the side entrance are two monuments. The memorial to Marino Cardinal Vulcano (died 1394 -also known as Bulcano) was executed in the 15th century by Paolo Romano. It has three allegorical figures representing Faith, Hope and Charity, as well as a reclining figure of the deceased.
The other tomb is that of Antonio da Rio (or Rido), castellan of Castel Sant'Angelo, and was executed in the second half of the 15th century. It shows the deceased as a knight on hoseback, and has two putti flanking the epitaph who are having a really good cry (as Renaissance ones sometimes do). The shields that they are holding display his coat-of-arms.
Chapel of St BenedictEdit
The second chapel on the right is dedicated to St Benedict. The altarpiece shows St Benedict with SS Henry the Emperor and Francesca Romana; the two latter are patrons of Benedictine oblates (which is what the Benedictines call tertiaries). The artist is Augusto Orlandi, 1937. The paintings on the side walls are anonymous: to the left, St Bernard Tolomei Gives Spiritual Instruction, 17th century, and to the right St Bernard Tolomei Performs an Exorcism, 16th century.
Chapel of St Frances of RomeEdit
The third chapel on the right is dedicated to St Frances of Rome. It was refitted in 1729 by Francesco Ferrari (not the painter, who was dead by then), and is richly decorated. The altarpiece featuring the saint is anonymous. There is a holy-water basin here being held by an angel of the school of Bernini.
Chapel of St Bernard TolomeiEdit
The fourth chapel on the left hand side is dedicated to St Bernard Tolomei, and has rich polychrome marble decoration from 1660. The altarpiece by Giuseppe Pirovani depicts St Bernard Tolomei at a Deathbed During the Siena Plague.
Chapel of Our Lady of SorrowsEdit
The third chapel on the left is dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows, and used to have a marble Pietà which was sold and is now apparently in Germany. The altarpiece is now, rather incongruously, a depiction of St Emygdius from the Olivetan monastery of Sant'Angelo Magno in Ascoli (which is represented). The artist is given as Piero Tedeschi.
Chapel of St Gregory the GreatEdit
Chapel of the NativityEdit
The first chapel on the left is dedicated to the Nativity, with an altarpiece which is a copy of a work by Carlo Maratta. The two paintings on the side walls are attributed to Domenico Maria Canuti and depict St Bernard Tolomei; the one showing the saint praying, while St Michael drives away the Devil, is very lively.
Opening times have been variable recently, but in 2017 unofficial sources had:
Daily 10:00 to 12:00, 15:00 to 17:00.
To get to the entrance, either go up the so-called Clivo di Venere Felice, a ramp from the Colosseum, or use the pedestrian stairs to the east of the Basilica of Maxentius. At the top of these, follow the path round to the right where the entrance is located. Here there is a section of ancient Roman street surface.
There is no access from the Forum.
As at 2013, the staircase access is closed off for the construction of the Metro Linea C.
Mass is celebrated on Sundays at 11:00. Weekday Masses are no longer advertised.
The feast-day of St Frances is on 9 March. It was the tradition for Roman drivers to park their cars as close as possible to the church to have their vehicles blessed on that date, since St Frances is the patron of motorists as well as of Benedictine oblates. The inevitable chaos could be quite entertaining. However, the tradition seems to have tailed off in later years and the recent closure of the Via dei Fori Imperiali to private traffic has probably put a stop to it.
Her feast-day on this date is celebrated as a solemnity in this church and in Olivetan monasteries, and as a liturgical feast locally in Rome. She has an obligatory memoria in the General Calendar of the Catholic church, but memorias are only celebrated outside Lent. This is only the case on 9 March when Easter is as late as it can be, on 25 April, which happens about once a century. The next year when this happens is 2038, which makes this the rarest liturgical celebration in the Church's general calendar, even rarer than a Holy Jubilee.
Like many churches in the Centro Storico, this church is popular for weddings which may make it inconvenient for visitors at week-ends. On the other hand, the revenue helps pay for continually needed repairs. If you have both the money and the class, you could get married here -you don't need to be Italian (although you do need to be a Catholic). See website in "External links".
The church has never been parochial.