San Bartolomeo dei Vaccinari was a small 18th century Baroque guild church, now demolished, in the Via de San Bartolomeo de' Vaccinari, just to the east of the Via Arenula in the rione Regola.

The dedication was to St Bartholomew the Apostle.


Middle agesEdit

This was an early mediaeval church, originally dedicated to St Stephen the Protomartyr.

The first documentary mention is in 1186, when it was called Sanctus Stefanus in Cacabariis and was one of several chapels dependent on the parish church of San Lorenzo in Damaso. This meant that you could go to Mass there, but needed to go to the main church for baptisms, weddings and funerals. The name was shared by the nearby Santa Maria in Cacaberis, also now a lost church.

It might have become the possession of a Benedictine monastery later, since in 1372 and 1380 it was referred to as Sanctus Stefanus de Benedictinis or "of the Benedictines". However, the term "Benedictines" in the plural was not the usual one for referring to a male Benedictine monastery, and no documentary evidence seems to exist to show which monastery might have owned it. Rather, this mode of address is more common as regards Benedictine nuns. There was a Benedictine nunnery nearby at Sant'Anna dei Falegnami, and this might have had possession of the church in order to receive some income from it. If so, it never got much because this seems always to have been a very poor area.

In this period the church was also known as in Victinariis, which seems to be a reference to slaughterhouses. There is archaeological evidence that cattle were being slaughtered in the vicinity in the Middle Ages, and this may support the hypothesis that a leather-making industry was established here then. The nearby church of San Paolo alla Regola seems to have started as a tanners' chapel.

By 1380 the church was parochial, and by 1408 had changed its name again to Santo Stefano in Silice. A silex is an ancient Roman paving stone. It was also known as in Arenula, which referred to a sandbank in the river just at the north end of the present Ponte Garibaldi. Modern sources have used this name of Santo Stefano in Arenula when discussing the church.


In 1560 the parish was reported as having only 16 to 20 poor households which could not pay for maintenance. As a result, in 1570 the church was granted to the guild of Vaccinari or tanners (makers of leather, specifically from cattle) and the parish suppressed. The tanners rededicated it to their patron saint, St Bartholomew the Apostle. By tradition he had been martyred by being skinned alive, so the guild found him appropriate as a patron in a rather sick sort of way. They had been worshipping at San Paolo alla Regola beforehand.

They rebuilt the church in 1723. Who was the architect? Whoever he was, he used an unusual elliptical plan. A photo of the interior survives, showing it to have been a very attractive building. There was another restoration in 1827.


The church was demolished at the end of the 19th century, allegedly in 1885. There are some problems with its recorded fate.

Firstly, it is claimed that the demolition was as a result of the building of the Lungotevere de' Cenci or the Via Arenula. Neither work impinged on the site. Rather, the church seems to have been simply abandoned and used as a warehouse before its demolition for redevelopment.

Secondly, the date of demolition is disputed since Hülsen in his Le Chiese di Roma nel Medio Evo 1927 describes the church as still standing when he wrote the book. The modern building standing on the site seems too early for this by at least ten years. A photo exists from 1886, which seems to show the church entrance (see "External links" below).

The high altar was taken to St Joseph's Cathedral at Asmara in Eritrea, since that was then an Italian colony.


Go down the present Via di San Bartolomeo de' Vaccinari from the Via Arenula. The entrance to the church was about where number 17 now is, on the right just beyond the tobacconist's shop which has a balcony above it.



The original church was a simple rectangle with a segmental apse, but the 18th century one was an ellipse on the major axis. The new church was set slightly back from the site of the old one, and 18th century maps show it to have had either a square entrance hall, or a courtyard off the street.

The 1886 photo mentioned above, if this is of the church, shows a courtyard with a flight of stairs leading to an entrance with a marble doorcase which enclosed a transom with two octagonal windows or panels. Hence, the church was possibly over a crypt. The rest of the façade was plain. It is recorded that the entrance had an inscription mentioning SS Bartholomew and Stephen.


The interior walls had eight Corinthian semi-columns, four on each side. Two flanked the little presbyterium, which was a transverse rectangle with a tiny segmental apse. Another pair was just inside the entrance, and the other two pairs were on the sides so as to divide each curved nave side wall into three bays. The two bays flanking the presbyterium had side altars, in arched niches with concave molding in the archivolts. The two middle bays had wooden balconies or cantoria. The two bays nearest the entrance had two more side altars, making a total of four.

The semi-columns went up to an entablature, from which sprang the vaulting for the roof which was, in effect, an elliptical saucer dome. In between the springers from above each semi-column was a large window in an arched embrasure. The entablature was interrupted by the triumphal arch of the presbyterium, which had two archivolts since the presbyterium ceiling was lower than that of the nave.

The stucco decoration of the interior was rich. In the conch of the apse was a device showing the Dove of the Holy Spirit being venerated by putti, and below this on the apse wall was the main altar. This had its altarpiece framed by what looked like a doorcase, with no columns or pilasters but with an incurved gabled top over two crossed palm branches with a crown. This device alludes to the two principal patrons.

The main altarpiece was the Martyrdom of St Bartholomew by Giovanni de' Vecchi, and the frescoes in the presbyterium were by Michelangelo Cerruti. The chapel to the right of the presbyterium had an altarpiece fresco by Giacomo Zoboli. The other altar on the right was dedicated to Our Lady, and had Our Lady with Saints by Cerrutti also. Cerruti also executed the Martyrdom of St Stephen for the left hand chapel nearest the presbyterium, dedicated to St Stephen, and Blessed Francis Vitrano the Tanner in the other left hand chapel. This rather obscure beatus, whose cult was never approved, was associated with St Francis Caracciolo.

External linksEdit

Italian Wikipedia page

"Hidden Churches" web-page

Photo of interior on Flickr

Is this the church entrance? Photo on Flickr

Nolli map (look for 748)

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.