San Carlo ai Catinari is a 17th century parish, convent and titular church at Piazza Benedetto Cairoli 117 in the rione Sant' Eustachio, and is a prominent landmark both in views and from the Via Arenula with its trams. Despite its magnificence, it is not a minor basilica. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia page here.
The dedication is jointly to St Blaise, a martyr of Roman Armenia (now eastern Turkey) and St Charles Borromeo, Apostolic Administrator of the archbishopric of Milan, Cardinal and Doctor of the Church. Hence the official name is Santi Biagio e Carlo ai Catinari.
However, everybody but the diocese calls it San Carlo.
Church of St BlaiseEdit
The forerunner of this church was a little parish church called San Biagio dell'Anello or "St Blaise of the Ring". It was first mentioned in a papal bull of Urban III in 1186 as a dependent chapel of San Lorenzo in Damaso, and back then had the name of degli Arcari. The name Anello came from the relic of an episcopal ring which allegedly had belonged to St Blaise, and which was venerated in this church, and arcari may be a reference to those selling archery equipment. Another name on record is del Monte della Farina, after the street in which the church stood.
It has been alleged that this church stood on the site of San Carlo. This is incorrect, as it was on the west side of the Via del Monte della Farina, just opposite the junction with the Via dei Barbieri.
In 1575 Pope Gregory XIII gave the church to the new congregation of the Barnabites (properly called "Clerks Regular of St Paul"). This had been founded at Milan in 1530 by a group of local noblemen led by St Anthony Mary Zaccaria, and had first met in the church of St Barnabas in that city -hence the nickname. The new congregation was a witness to the religious fervour in Milan, but the large diocese was in a state of serious corruption and disorder. As a result, in 1563 Pope Pius IV appointed the young St Charles Borromeo as apostolic administrator. (Strictly speaking, he was bishop for the diocese but not of it. The idea was that if things went very badly wrong -and they almost did- St Charles could be pulled out without problems.) The latter proved a close friend and helper of the Barnabites, and as their Cardinal Protector obtained the approval of their constitutions in 1579. Hence he is considered a Patron of the Order despite never having been a member of it.
The congregation wished to keep its headquarters in Milan, but as a sign of its growing prestige at Rome its church of San Biagio in Rome was made titular in 1587. The title was transferred from Sant'Apollinare.
The Barnabites found the old parish church and its adjacent priest's house completely inadequate, and started building a new church and convent on a rather restricted site in 1611. In the previous year St Charles had been canonized, and many donations came from the Milanese expatriates in Rome who were anxious to honour their new saint. So, the dedication was to be to him -it was the first church so dedicated. Another motive was that local people had invoked the saint's assistance to put out a fire threatening to destroy some houses intended as the temporary convent. Rosato Rosati was commissioned to design the church and permanent convent.
Meanwhile, at the same time the Theatines at Sant'Andrea della Valle were moving ahead with their project to build a much bigger convent of their own, and the church of San Biagio was in the way. It was demolished in 1617, after the cardinalate title had been transferred to the new church and changed to San Carlo ai Catinari in the previous year. However, it was directed that the dedication had to include that to St Blaise in commemoration of the lost church and hence we have Santi Biagio e Carlo ai Catinari.
The new church was finished structurally in 1620, except for the façade. This was patched up because the Barnabites had run out of money, but in 1627 they received a large bequest from Cardinal Giovan Battista Leni. This allowed the façade to be completed between 1636 and 1638 by Giovanni Battista Soria. However, there were further problems with the building. The sanctuary was judged unsatisfactory, so an apse was designed by Paolo Marucelli and added in 1642 . Then, the decoration of the side chapels caused more delay and the church was only finally consecrated on 19 March 1722 by Cardinal Lorenzo Corsini, who later became Pope Clement XII. This was 110 years after the foundation stone was laid.
The church was situated in an area where dishmakers traded their goods, hence the appellation Catinari. A catino is Italian for a basin, and the items concerned were wooden tableware. It has been claimed that these were being made locally, but the production of wooden dishes happens where the trees that they come from are growing. This is in order to reduce transport costs, and also because the real skill is not in the carving, but in selecting and seasoning the wood so that it would not split. So, here we have a place where the wood-turners from the hills would come to sell their wooden bowls to the citizenry.
The convent became the headquarters of the Barnabites under Pope Alexander VII, who told them to move from Milan. In 1660 the same pope wished to extend the premises of the Monte di Pietà, and in the process demolished the old church of San Benedetto in Clausura ("St Benedict in the Enclosure") which was opposite. Its parish was joined to that of San Carlo. The altarpiece of this church was taken into the sacristy of the latter, but a copy (or the original?) later made its way to the Benedictine monastery of Sant'Ambrogio della Massima, where it still is.
After the fall of the Roman Republic in 1849, when the city was besieged and taken by the French on behalf of the Pope, the bodies of many of the defenders were brought here for funerary rites by the Barnabites. After each one was processed, it was dropped through a trapdoor in the floor in front of the Chapel of St Cecilia and stored in the convent cellar. When the job was done, the corpses were taken out and interred on the Janiculum.
The church was restored in 1860 by Vespignani after it was found to have structural problems, and again in 1915 after it had been damaged by a small earthquake. Apparently the quality of the original building work was not very good.
It remains a parochial church, and as such has been served by the Barnabite Fathers since it was founded. However after the annexation of Rome by Italy in 1870 the congregation had to find a new home, and hence built a new church and convent in a very quiet part of Trastevere. This is now Sant'Antonio Maria Zaccaria; the here church is next to a theological college, and the convent is a separate building to the north of the large site.
The cardinalate title was re-established in 1959 as a diaconate, and the first titular was Arcadio María Larraona Saralegui until 1969. The subsequent titulars were: Luigi Raimondi (1973-5), Giuseppe Sensi (1976-87) and Angelo Felici (1988-2007).
The present titular is Leonardo Sandri, who was appointed as cardinal priest in 2007. He was raised to the dignity of a cardinal bishop in 2018, but without a see.
The plan is based on a Greek cross within a short rectangle, with the length of the major axis at 34 metres being slightly longer than the width of the minor one, 26 metres, and with the layout entirely symmetric. The apsed presbyterium is a further 12 metres long.
The hexadecagonal (sixteen-sided) dome is central to the design, and sits on four massive pillars forming the square of the crossing. The arms of the cross radiating from it are, in turn, an entrance foyer, two arms of the transept and the first bay of the presbyterium. The latter has an apsidal extension falling outside the main rectangle of the plan. In the inner corners of the cross, making up the corners of the recangle, are four small octagonal chapels with elliptical vaults or false domes (they do not appear on the outside).
To left and right of the very short rectangular bay of the apsidal extension is a pair of identically sized rooms; one now leads to the sacristy, and the other is a chapel. Behind the apse is the conventual choir, which is not usually accessible to visitors but you could ask the sacristan -if he is to be found.
The basic structural shell of the edifice is in brick, and you can see this if you go round the left hand corner into Via del Monte della Farina. There, the external wall is in blank pink brickwork with two lunette windows lighting the two corner chapels. Architectural details on the church are in travertine limestone, as is all the façade.
The roofs are pitched and tiled, and the ones of the transept ends and the presbyterium are also hipped.
The campanile is a simple slab structure for four bells, and is over the top left hand corner. It is invisible from the ground, and is undecorated.
The dome is the third largest in the Centro Storico after San Pietro in Vaticano and Sant'Andrea della Valle, and is one of the more prominent ones in views over the city. (There are other larger 20th century domes in the suburbs.) Because there is no nave in the way, it is very easily visible from the front of the church.
The drum is in the same pink brick, with sixteen large recessed arched windows having the archivolts supported by pairs of Doric pilasters. Each corner of the hexadecagonal drum is occupied by an Ionic triplet pilaster with exaggerated and curly volutes. The pilasters support a cog-wheel entablature with projecting cornice, and above this are sixteen low shallow-arched recesses which support the lead dome proper. This is hempspherical with sixteen ribs and sixteen oculi, each of which has a ring frame and a little pedimented gable. These oculi light the void between the inner and outer domes.
Crowning the dome is a tall lantern in the form of a circular temple with sixteen Ionic pillars supporting a conical cupola ending in a ball finial.
The travertine façade is by Giovanni Battista Soria, who designed it in 1635. The main section fronts the entrance lobby, while the two narrow recessed zones flanking it have the corner chapels behind. The three vertical zones need to be seen as a unit. There are three doorways in the central zone, which all lead into the entrance lobby.
There are two storeys. The first one has eight Corinthian pilasters; two on the outer corners, two flanking the central doorway and two pairs to left and right of the subsidiary doorways. The outer two of the latter occupy the corners of the central zone, and are tripletted around the corners. These eight pilasters support an entablature that runs across the entire façade and has a bombastic inscription on its frieze celebrating Cardinal Leni. It reads: Io[hannes] Baptista S[anctae] R[omanae] E[cclesiae] Cardinalis Lenius Archipr[esbiter] Lateran[ensis] A[nno] MDCXXXV. ("John Baptist Leni, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, Archpriest of the Lateran, in the year 1635"). The cornice of this entablature projects strongly, and is decorated beneath with fine dentillation and egg-and-dart.
At ground level, there is a five-sided flight of eight stairs leading to a large doorway flanked by two smaller doors. The latter each have a raised segmental pediment containing a scallop shell, and between the lintel and pediment is a richly decorated Baroque tablet displaying a swag. The main doorway has a raised triangular pediment supported by a pair of corbels, and in between the corbels is an elliptical tablet set on a scroll. This contains the Leni heraldic device, which consists of three logs of wood and which is repeated all over the façade. The tympanum of the pediment has a winged putto's head.
At the level of the cornice of the central entrance's pediment, a string course runs across the central zone of the façade but is interrupted by the six pilasters. Above the pediment of the main entrance is a Baroque frame containing a wreathed elliptical tondo itself containing a fresco of St Charles at prayer. Above this is the crowned word Humilitas (humility) in Gothic lettering -rather unusual. This was his motto. Above the string course over the side entrances are two blank rectangular tablets within Baroque frames decorated with swags and putto's heads and having protruding architraves . These look as if they were meant for frescoes which never materialized. Above these in turn, at the level of the capitals of the pilasters, the Leni heraldic motif is repeated.
The fresco of St Charles is a copy; the original by Guido Reni has been moved into the choir.
The second storey has three windows echoing the doorways, although the two smaller ones on each side are false. There are also eight Composite pilasters matching the pilasters below, supporting an emblature also in a similar style (although with a blank frieze and no egg-and-dart). The crowning triangular pediment contains a relief coat-of-arms of Cardinal Leni, angled so that it can be seen by people in the piazza. The façade never had any finials.
The middle window in this storey is set in a Doric arch matching those on the drum of the dome, and is framed by a pair of Ionic columns supporting a segmental pediment with the central section recessed. There is a balustrade, as if this were a balcony for speeches. The two false windows on each side have Baroque frames and triangular pediments raised on corbels, and feature the Leni arms again -this time in colour.
The two identical recessed zones of the façade each have, on the first storey, an empty round-headed niche crowned by a triangular pediment. Above this is a rectangular window in a Baroque frame decorated below the sill with a crowned woman's head within curlicues. Above the window is the Leni device yet again, with ribbons and chains. On the second storey, there is another pair of empty round-headed niches but these are treated more elaborately. A pair of pilasters with the Leni device on their capitals supports an architrave, above which is a curlicued device supporting a tiny raised segmental pediment.
It is not obvious from the piazza, but the top of the façade is false. The apex of the nave roof only reaches the level of the upper entablature.
The late Baroque former convent of the Barnabites is adjacent to the church, on the right hand side. it was a tight fit on the restricted site. A bellcote for one bell is on the edge of the convent roof on the side away from the street, and hence invisible from the ground.
The door of the convent, next to the church, is worth a glance. The building is restrained in style, in pink brick with plain stone window frames, but the doorway has a pair of incurving volutes in place of a proper pediment and these are in front of an elliptical window. Above this is a pair of large round-headed windows, one above the other, and the overall effect is quite pleasing.
When you enter, you find yourself in a vestibule which takes the place of the nave. There is a chapel to the left and the right, then one in each end of the transept and one on each side of the presbyterium on the other side of the dome crossing. Hence, there are six side chapels in all. The transept chapels are open to the crossing, but the corner chapels are slightly more enclosed because the piers to each side give them an octagonal shape. There are narrow passages between the chapels on each side. A further, seventh chapel is in the top right hand corner, to the right of the apse.
The interior is richly decorated, and was restored in 1897 in celebration of the canonization of St Anthony Mary Zaccaria, the founder of the Barnabites. Gigantic Corinthian pilasters in yellow scagliola support the short coffered barrel vaults which cover the entrance foyer, transept ends and presbyterium. Scagliola is a false marble which is made up with ground gypsum, glue and pigment applied to the desired surface and then polished up when dry with linseed oil. There is a lot of this in Rome, and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish from the real thing. One giveaway is that it looks like no real marble known, but sometimes you need to be a good geologist to be able to tell.
The gilded coffering, with rosettes, is tesellated in octagons, circles and crosses and looks spectacular. Together with that in the dome, it is said to be by Domenichino.
On the counterfaçade (the interior wall over the entrance) is a fresco of The Charity of St Charles Borromeo by Mattia Preti, and one of St Charles Borromeo Fighting Against Heresy by Gregorio Preti. The latter is apposite, as when he was alive some of his enemies accused him of being a heretic himself.
The internal dome was part of the original design by Rosato Rosati. It has a wonderful coffered interior, consisting of circles and crosses divided by sixteen rays which converge on the oculus. Within the latter is God the Father with Putti by Giovanni Giacomo Semenza. The entablature on which the dome rests has a frieze in blue with an inscription which reads: Ecce sacerdos qui in diebus suis placuit Deo, et in tempore iracundiae factus est reconciliatio. ("Behold, a priest who in his days pleased God and in a time of anger made reconcilation"). This is taken from the Mass chants prescribed for the celebration of a Church pastor, and obviously refers here to St Charles.
Churches in Rome with domes tend to decorate them to invoke the empyrean, that is, the viewer looking into them is given a view of heaven. Usually this is done by means of a large fresco, but here the viewer is sees the oculus as a peep-hole into heaven with the coffering focusing the attention onto it.
The pendentives are frescoed with allegories of the four cardinal virtues (Prudence, Temperance, Justice and Fortitude) by Domenichino. The symbolism is quite involved, and relies on Aristotle as well as on Christian teaching. The artist used a very pretty blonde girl (bellissima bionda) as a model. These four frescoes are very late works of the artist, and the one of Fortitude had to be finished by Francesco Cozza.
Prudence is top left, sitting over Father Time and looking into heaven; this demonstates the need to use one's time properly in the context of eternal life after death. The left hand putto holds a mirror, symbolizing the need to inspect one's motivations thoroughly before making a decision. The first right hand one puts coins into a vase, indicating planning for the future, while the second right hand one holds a snake. This pairs with the dove above, and alludes to a saying by Christ: Be as prudent [Greek: ϕρóνιμoς] as serpents, and as innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16).
Justice is top right. The figure of Justice has a startlingly modern pose, showing a bare breast and with a blank stare which makes her look bored out of her mind. The intention of the artist was to show her as if she were blind -the usual way of depicting this is to show her with a blindfold, to indicate that the law is applied in the same way to everybody.
The rather surprising depiction below her of a girl playing with her bare breasts is actually based on ancient depictions of the goddess Hera lactating, and hence creating the Milky Way. If you look carefully, you can see the milk spraying from her breasts. This figure, and the breast of Justice with its erect nipple (note the shadow its casts) are allusions to the Letter to the Hebrews, 5:12-13: Whoever is a partaker of milk, is unskilful in the word of justice. Part of the virtue of justice is to judge for those who cannot judge for themselves.
The figure of Justice is being crowned by a putto, holds a sceptre and has gilded slippers on. These are all signs of governing power, as are the fasces being held by a putto on the left. The other putto there holds a pair of weiging scales, a familiar symbol.
Temperance is bottom left. She is shown sitting over a girl restraining a unicorn, which is a symbol of wild lust and anger. In one hand she holds a palm branch, originally a symbol of martyrdom and hence of the suffering to be accepted in being temperate, and in the other she is accepting a bridle and bit from a putto. The bridle obviously signifies restraint, but has an interesting juxtaposition to a camel. The latter is a warning against departing from the temperate golden mean, for it is famous for doing without for long periods and then being able to eat and drink enormous quantities when it can. Temperance is not about giving things up.
The pair of putti in the right hand corner are watering a small vine, and this scene seems to be symbolizing sobriety. Drinking wine mixed with water was the social norm in Mediterranean countries from ancient times until fairly recently.
Fortitude is at bottom right. The male figure below her, fighting a lion, is an allusion to King David killing a lion while still a shepherd (First Book of Samuel, 17:34-36). She wears a breastplate and holds a shield and sword. A putto to the left holds a scroll saying "humility" (a reminder that fortitude combined with pride is evil), and two on the right are playing with a fallen column which seems to be a symbol of paganism conquered.
The high altar was executed by Martino Longhi the Younger, and paid for by Filippo Colonna (a nephew of St Charles) and his heirs. The decoration of the apse was restored and greatly embellished by Vespignani in his mid 19th century restoration.
It is a spectacular Baroque composition placed against the wall of the apse, and features four porphyry Corinthian columns with gilded capitals supporting a broken segmental pediment containing swags of flowers. Two female figures, each with a putto, sit on this and they support a Baroque tablet placed on the pediment, which contains the crowned motto Humilitas on a banner. This tablet itself has a triangular pediment, and a pair of putti sits on that. The whole composition is rather top-heavy.
The large altarpiece painting of St Charles is by Pietro da Cortona, and was executed in 1667. It was one of his last works. The saint is depicted carrying a Holy Nail in a procession to avert plague at Milan. The precious metalwork of the altar is by Simone Costanzi.
To either side of the altar are 19th century statues in stucco of SS Peter and Paul, in their own pedimented aedicules. They are copies of those in Piazza San Pietro. St Peter on the left is by Giuseppe De Fabris, and St Paul on the right is by Giulio Tadolini. Above these is a pair of tondi with portraits of saints by Ercole Ruspi of about 1850; St Francis de Sales is on the left, and St Alexander Sauli on the right.
In the conch of the apse is a fresco of The Apotheosis of St Charles by Giovanni Lanfranco, said to have been his last work. He is being presented to the Trinity by Our Lady while a crowd of saints and angels look on. There is a lamb being stroked by the figure to the left of Our Lady, which identifies him as St John the Baptist.
The two side balconies on corbels are cantoria, intended for solo singers and musicians. They date from 1685, but were restored in 1857. The gilded screens are there to preserve the anonymity of the musicians, since their performances are meant to accompany the liturgy and not to entertain (in theory). The balustrade of the sanctuary was erected in 1745.
The side chapels are taken in anticlockwise order, starting from the bottom right near the entrance.
The first chapel on the right is dedicated to the Annunciation to Our Lady, and was the Costaguti family chapel. It is richly decorated in polychrome marble to the design of Simone Costanzi, and was finished in 1702. The patron was Cardinal Giovanni Battista Costaguti, who is buried here.
The altar is in alabaster, and the altarpiece is a fine work by Giovanni Lanfranco. To the left is a 17th century ebony crucifix, and to the right is a Neapolitan statue of Our Lady of Sorrows dating from 1865. Both of these items used to be in the chapel of St Cecilia.
Chapel of St BlaiseEdit
The second chapel on the right, in the transept arm, is dedicated to St Blaise and has an altarpiece of The Martyrdom of St Blaise by Giacinto Brandi. The chapel design was by Carlo Rainaldi, and features a pair of Composite columns in pavonazetto marble supporting a triangular pediment with modillions. The pediment is within a semi-circular arch which displays a fresco of two cherubs playing with a curtain; this is by Ercole Ruspi, about 1860.
Between the second and third chapels is an exquisite Neo-Classical funerary monument to Giovanni Hamerani, by Luca Carimini. He was the last in the male line of a celebrated Roman family of medallists and coin engravers, and died in 1846.
Also here is a wall-tablet to Mother Mary Elena Bettini, who founded a congregation called the Daughters of Divine Providence and who died in 1983. She was inspired by the famous icon of Our Lady of Divine Providence in the church.
Chapel of St CeciliaEdit
The third chapel on the right is dedicated to St Cecilia, the patroness of music, and is a gorgeous exercise in florid late Baroque with lots of stucco drapery and figures. Perhaps as a result, it is nicknamed "Paradise". It was designed by Antonio Gherardi, and should be compared to his Cappella Avila at Santa Maria in Trastevere where a similar surprise is sprung on those who look up.
His altarpiece painting of the saint is not up to much artistically, and has unintended humour. There is an angelic string trio scratching in the foreground, and behind them is St Cecilia looking as if she is giving up in despair after trying to conduct them from a score.
However, if you look into the elliptical domed lower vault you will see a very large oculus with a band of another four angel musicians in stucco, sitting on the edge and apparently jamming on their instruments. Above them there is a rectangular space, with unseen windows producing numinous light which floods the top ceiling. In the vault there is the dove of the Holy Spirit in glory, attended by St Cecilia transfigured and an enormous garland of flowers; the composition is in white and grey, with the Dove in gold.
Apparently Gherardi used members of his family as models for all these angels.
The altar has an unusual shape. Four alabaster Ionic columns support an entablature which curves in over the altarpiece, but instead of a pediment above there is an arch in grey-green marble on heavy Doric pillars. This frames a window with blue glass spangled in golden stars.
Chapel of Our Lady of ProvidenceEdit
The chapel of Our Lady of Providence is in the rectangular room to the right of the apse, and has a copy of a 16th century canvas now kept in the convent of the Barnabites (according to the church guidebook, it is still in the upper choir chapel in the convent here and was moved for reasons of security).
The congregation have a great devotion to this depiction of Our Lady, and you can obtain prayer cards showing it in the church. The original painting was by Scipione Pulzone, executed in a naturalistic style in about 1580 (look at the rendering of the hairs on the Child's head). It was obtained for the church in 1664, and attracted much admiration. As a result, this chapel was paid for by subscription and opened in 1732. It has walls panelled with alabaster.
The third chapel on the left was originally dedicated to SS Marius, Martha, Abachum and Audifax. They were Persian expatriates martyred at Rome in the 3rd century for burying the bodies of those already martyred. The original altarpiece is by Giovan Francesco Romanelli, and is now over the door on the right leading to the sacristy. The lunette frescoes are by Giacinto Gimignani, and depict episodes from the legend of the saints.
The chapel is now dedicated to St Anthony Maria Zaccaria, founder of the Barnabites, and hence the altarpiece depicts him. It is by Virginio Monti , of 1897. The altar has four Corinthian columns in black marble.
Chapel of St AnneEdit
The second chapel on the left, in the transept arm, is dedicated to St Anne and the altarpiece showing her death is by Andrea Sacchi. The polychrome marble work is original. The two cherubs in the arch enclosing the altar match those in the chapel opposite, but are by a different artist. They are by Francesco Trevisani, late 19th century.
The first chapel on the left is dedicated to St Paul, and is the Cavallerini family chapel. It was designed by Mauro Fontana, and completed in 1739. The tondi to each side and the vault frescoes are by Filippo Mondelli; the tondi depict St Paul Having His Sight Restored by Ananias and St Paul Preaching to the Athenian Philosophers.
The altarpiece is possibly by Giuseppe Ranucci (this is disputed). It depicts St Paul Showing the Cross to St Alexander Sauli, and was painted as the result of a donation in 1760.
A subsidiary dedication to St Alexander Sauli was added in 1742, when that saint was beatified (he was canonized only in 1904). He was a Barnabite, hence his veneration here; he is more popular in Corsica where he had a successful career as a preacher.
Try to visit the sacristy, which is accessible from the left of the presbyterium through an antechamber which is the mirror image in plan of the Chapel of Our Lady of Providence.
The altar here was designed by Tommaso Piccioni, and has a fine pietra dura frontal. The altarpiece is a little bronze crucifix, inlaid with marble, glass and mother-of-pearl. It was made in the 17th century by Alessandro Algardi.
Among the pictures, there is a depiction of The Mocking of Christ by the Cavalier d'Arpino. The vault fresco depicts the Annunciation to Our Lady, and over the door is St Paul Writing a Letter.
There is some very good antique furniture in this sacristy.
Accessible from the sacristy is the conventual choir (also known as the retro-sacristy), which is behind the apse of the church. In it is the fresco of St Charles by Guido Reni which was originally on the façade. The altarpiece here of St Charles in prayer, and the angel of the pestilence sheathing his sword as a result, is by Andrea Commodi.
Here also is the altarpiece of the lost church of San Benedetto in Clausura showing the death of St Benedict, although there seems to be doubt as to whether this is a copy of the original now at Sant'Ambrogio. Probably not.
The Miracle of St Blaise here is by Gian Domenico Cerrini, and was the original altarpiece of the Chapel of St Blaise.
There are cellars displaying ancient Roman remains under the convent and the church, although these are now not accessible from the latter (there used to be a trapdoor entrance in front of the Chapel of St Cecilia).
The access is via a little iron door in Via Giovanni Borgi, to the east of the convent, which leads via a staircase to a small room with black and white mosaic paving. From this proceeds a long corridor and a second staircase. There are nine rooms on two levels dating from just before the year AD 200, with barrel vaults and paving in opus spicatum (in a herringbone pattern). They seem to have been part of a large building at the west end of the Circus Flaminia; the surviving remains cover about 400 square metres.
The western range was converted just after AD 200 into a dwelling of some sort. Two rooms were knocked through to create a large hall with polychrome mosaic decoration having plant motifs. In one place are two pools lined with marble, with the walls and ceiling around them coated with a layer of pumice stones. This looks like a nymphaeum or sacred cave.
The church is apparently open:
7:30 to 12:00, 16:00 to 19:00 or when the evening Mass finishes.
The times of Masses, according to the Diocese, are (2017 -the church's guidebook is out of date):
Weekdays 8:00, 10:00, 18:00 (18:30 in July and August);
Sundays 10:00, 12:00, 18:30.
Because of the restricted floorspace of the church, visitors (even well-behaved ones) are not welcome in the church during Mass unless they attend it. Please plan your visit with the above times in mind.
On 22 November, the feast-day of St Cecilia, the Accademia di Santa Caecilia plays sacred music during the festal Mass. If you are a music-lover and happen to be in Rome at that time of year, you won't regret attending this Mass.
The feast-day of St Charles Borromeo is celebrated with solemnity on 4 November, that of St Blaise on 3 February, the Conversion of St Paul as patron of the Barnabites on 25 January and the feast-day of St Anthony Mary Zaccaria as their founder on 5 July.
The solemnity of Mary, Mother of Divine Providence is celebrated on the third Sunday in November.
The skull of St Febronia is preserved beneath the high altar, and her feast-day is on 25 June. This relic came from the church of San Paolo alla Colonna demolished for the building of the Palazzo Chigi.
"Flickrhivemind" photo gallery (some excellent photos here)