Natività di Nostro Signore Gesù Cristo degli Agonizzanti is a 17th century confraternity church, heavily restored, which overlooks the Piazza Pasquino in the rione Parione. The postal address is at Vicolo dei Granari 10/A. A picture of the church at Wikimedia Commons is here.
The dedication is to the Nativity of Christ.
The church had its remote origin in the foundation in 1616 of the Confraternita della Natività di Gesù Cristo at the nearby church of Sant'Agostino. This pious society for laypeople was dedicated to obtaining suffrages for the souls in Purgatory, and to the veneration of the Blessed Sacrament. It also took on the work of assisting those dying and those about to be executed for capital crimes, hence the nickname Agonizzanti as a reference to those about to die.
The confraternity spent the rest of the century moving from church to church, until it finally obtained permission to build their own from Pope Innocent XII (1691-1700). The work was carried out in 1692.
In the 18th century, the church was also used by the Università dei Pellicciari which was the guild of furriers.
There was a major restoration in 1862, when the façade was rebuilt in Baroque style. The architect was Andrea Busiri Vici.
The church has been used for worship by the expatriate Congolese (Kinshasha) in Rome since 1994.
The layout is a simple rectangle, with a shallow rectangular apse. There are taller buildings on all sides except the front, and so only the façade is visible. Also, ancillary accommodation intended for the confraternity is over the church in a second storey.
The façade is of a single storey, inserted into the larger edifice of which the church is part.
It has four Composite pilasters, raised on a pair of high plinths either side of the door. These pilasters support an entablature crowned with a triangular pediment decorated with modillions and with a blank tympanum, and on the frieze of the entablature is the inscription Deo Iesu Infanti Sacrum ("Holy Place to God the Infant Jesus").
The single entrance has a bronze door and a decorative molded doocase. Over the lintel is another inscription Gloria in Excelsis Deo, and there is a dedicatory inscription on a marble tablet above this in turn, which has a frame decorated with curlicues. It commemorates the 19th century restoration: Archisodalitii Animis morientium in extremo agone iuvandis auspice Pio IX P[ontifice] M[aximo] instauratum et ornatum anno Chr[isti] MDCCCLXII.
There is a pair of round-headed niches in between the pilasters either side of the door, and these have conchs decorated with scallop work. Above these is a pair of oculi (porthole windows) on the same level as the marble epigraph.
The small interior has a single nave of four shallow bays, a transept of the same width separated by a triumphal arch and finally a sanctuary in the form of a narrower rectangular apse.
There are two side altars in the nave, and two in the transept.
Overall the interior is tatty and worn, and the church is overdue for a restoration. It doesn't help that the original decoration was done cheaply, with paint rather than genuine polychrome marble revetting.
The first bay of the nave is occupied by the entrance vestibule, over which is the floating organ gallery with an ogee-curved wooden balustrade.
The other three bays are separated by pairs of ribbed Corinthian pilasters, painted yellow in imitation of Siena marble. These support side entablatures, from which the ceiling barrel-vault springs.
This vault is also divided into three bays, separated by transverse archivolts above the pilasters, each of which is decorated with a single row of coffers containing rosettes, picked out in blue, white and gold. The central bay is almost twice the width of the two other bays, and contains an octagonal fresco panel depicting St Joseph. The other four panels of this bay have grotesque scrollwork in pale puce and white. The two other, narrower bays have heraldry in the same monachrome grotesque style in the central panels, and frescoes of four prophets in their side panels.
The fresco work here and elsewhere was by Cesare Caroselli in the 19th century.
The triumphal arch of the transept has a pair of ribbed semi-columns in the same style as the pilasters, supporting posts in the entablature. An archivolt elliptical on the major axis springs from these; the curve is sharper than that of the ceiling vault.
The transept itself has one bay, of the same depth as the central bay of the nave. The vault has another octagonal fresco panel in its centre, this one showing the Dove of the Holy Spirit in glory.
The sanctuary is both narrower and lower than the transept. Its triumphal arch is supported on a pair of piers matching the pilasters and semi-columns, which support the terminations of the nave entablatures. A semi-circular archivolt rises above these to touch the transept vault, and the lower edge of the entablature architrave is carried across to form a tympanum. This has a horizontal elliptical (oeil de boeuf) window with stained glass representing the Dove of the Holy Spirit in glory, and fresco work showing two angels venerating it. Two other pilasters are folded into the corners.
The sanctuary itself has a low barrel vault coffered in octagons with rosettes. There is no altar aedicule, but the high altar is placed against the far wall with the large altarpiece in a gilded frame hung above it. This depicts The Nativity, and is by Girolamo Melchiorri. It is flanked by a pair of paitnings, much darkened by age, depicting St Joachim (left) and St John the Baptist (right) which have a pair of round windows above them.
The sanctuary side walls have two fresco scenes, badly scuffed, showing The Adoration of the Magi and The Circumcision.
The nave altars each have a triangular pediment supported on a pair of Corinthian pilasters. Pilasters and frieze are painted to resemble red portasanta marble. The right hand one is dedicated to St Michael the Archangel, and the altarpiece showing him sorting out Satan is by Luigi Garzi. The left hand one has an altarpiece described as showing "St Anthony of Padua" by Michelangelo Cerruti, although that saint is not usually shown with a beard (witness the modern statue of him). This looks more like St Francis of Paola.
The transept altars have columns instead of pilasters, again painted to resemble red marble. Those to the right are smooth, and those to the left are ribbed. The right hand altar is dedicated to the Crucifix with a painted wooden example, and the left hand one is dedicated to Our Lady. The altarpiece here is missing, and replaced by a little icon of Our Lady of Sorrows.
Access and liturgyEdit
According to signs on the church door and porch, Mass in the Congolese Rite - i.e. incorporating those alterations to the Latin Rite of the 'Zaire Use' is celebrated here every Sunday at 11.00am. The languages used are Lingala, French and Italian.
The church is advertised as being open each evening between Wednesday and Sunday from 17.00-19.00.