San Carlo al Corso is a minor basilica, a titular and conventual church at Via del Corso 437 in the rione Campo Marzio. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia page here.
Name and status
The full name, preferred by the Diocese of Rome and often used in publications and online sources, is Santi Ambrogio e Carlo al Corso. The dedication is jointly to St Ambrose and St Charles Borromeo, who are the most famous of the bishops of Milan (to be entirely accurate, the latter was the apostolic administrator of the diocese).
It used to be the national church of the Duchy of Milan, but since the unification of Italy has been the regional church of Lombardy. It also contains the Chapel of St Olav, which is the national shrine in Rome for expatriates and pilgrims from Norway.
San Niccolò del Tufo
The first church on the site was a small one called San Niccolò del Tufo, which had its entrance not on the present Corso but on a lost side street running closely parallel to the west. It may be the Sancti Nicolae mentioned in papal bulls of 955 and 962 as dependent on San Silvestro in Capite, but there is a serious suspicion that this refers instead to San Nicola in Arcione and the point cannot now be settled.
The dedication was to St Nicholas of Myra.
The first unambiguous reference is in a document in the archives of San Silvestro dated 1269, and the church is listed in the late mediaeval catalogues. The name varies: Tofo, Tofis, Toffo, Tufi, Tufis, Tosto. By then it was one of the many small parish churches of the mediaeval built-up area, serving about thirty families.
The site of the old church is occupied by the present private oratory of the Lombard Confraternity, south of the present church with an exterior wall on the Vicolo del Grottino. There is a suspicion that the fabric contains remains of the old building, but this is not yet demonstrated.
Confraternita dei Lombardi
In 1471, Pope Sixtus IV approved the establishment of a lay confraternity of Lombard expatriates living in the city. A large community of Lombards (not all from Milan) had settled especially in the Borgo, and they were well-regarded for their talents in stonecutting and as masons. The pope had entrusted the building of the Sistine Chapel to a company of them. As part of the foundation of the confraterntity, the pope gave them the parish church of San Niccolò as a nucleus for a proposed hospice where pilgrims and infirm expatriates could stay. The foundation documentation mentions that the parish had failed (admodum collapsa). The massive foundation programme of small parish churches carried out in the 11th century was a long-term failure, and many of these churches ended up as confraternity and guild headquarters or were eventually demolished.
The confraternity added their patron St Ambrose to the dedication of the church (Santi Niccolò ed Ambrogio), and restored the fabric. The work, which probably amounted to a rebuilding, was finished in 1520 after seven years' effort. It is on record that Baldassare Peruzzi and Perino del Vaga executed frescoes here.
in 1610 St Charles Borromeo was canonized, and it was this event that inspired the building of a much larger church just to the north of the old one. The result is the present edifice. The confraternity, now named the Archconfraternity of SS Ambrose and Charles of the Lombard Nation, undertook to fund the project and obtained an initial donation from Cardinal Luigi Omodei the Elder which enabled work to begin.
So in 1612 the city block on the Corso north-east of the old church was acquired and cleared, and the new church was begun by Onorio Longhi. It was dedicated to SS Ambrose and Charles Borromeo when the foundation stone was laid on 29 January of that year. The frontage was set back from the Corso, creating a little piazza which could show the proposed façade to advantage. The old street containing the former church was suppressed.
It has been suggested that the original design of the church was by Martino Longhi the Elder, the father of Onorio.
The old church was left standing, and in use, until 1672 when it was finally demolished to make way for the confraternity's private oratory. This is the reason why the dedication to St Nicholas was not transferred to the new church -the two churches were functioning together for over half a century.
Enough of the nave had been completed by 1614 for Cardinal Federico Borromeo to transfer the relic of the heart of St Charles to a shrine here. However, money proved a serious problem and the church was only completed in 1684 when the finishing touches were put to the façade. Hence, the project took seventy years. The builders did well in erecting one of the grandest churches in Rome, but skimped the specifications to fit the funds available. Much of the apparently rich interior decoration is fake, and the inadequacies of the fabric revealed themselves in a serious way at the end of the 20th century.
This was Onorio Longhi's only commission in Rome. However, he died before the work was completed on the nave. A suggestion was made to bring in Borromini, but this did not work out. Hence, the interior was designed by Martino Longhi the Younger, son of Onorio, in 1642 and slightly altered by Pietro da Cortona in 1651 after he took on the commission. The latter erected the dome and apse in 1668, and it is worth comparing the dome with that of Santi Luca e Martina by the same architect.
The façade was finally completed in 1684 by Gian Battista Menicucci and Mario da Canepina, who are described as Capuchin friars (at least, the latter was). Apparently the design was suggested by the same Cardinal Luigi Omodei who put up the first funds for the project, and who by then was aged 78. He had vetoed a design by Carlo Rainaldi. Art critics have been unkind about the result, which as a composition was meant to be monumental but is arguably incoherent, heavy and crass.
The Confraternity has been in possession of the church and ancillary buildings ever since. However, in 1906 the administration of the church was given over to the Rosminians who are still in charge of the spiritualities.
In 1929 the church was granted the status of a minor basilica. Towards the end of the following decade it was affected by the stupid and blundering series of demolitions around the Mausoleum of Augustus indulged in by the Fascists, which had the small advantage of opening the apse of the church to easy view. (The rumour was that Mussolini wanted to restore the mausoleum for his own corpse.)
In 1963 an international seminary for priestly formation was opened in part of the former hospice, and this Collegio Ecclesiastico Internazionale San Carlo Borromeo has room for 45 seminarians. It is supported financially by the dioceses of Lombardy, and run by the Rosminians.
The church fell into very bad repair in the late 20th century. In 1996, the "World Monument Watch" based in New York listed it as one of the hundred most endangered architectural monuments in the world. It mentioned that the dome was cracked, that the interior decoration was being damaged by damp and that the crypt was suffering from water penetration. As a result, the Italian government provided funds for a campaign of restoration. The interior was reported as having been renovated in 2001. However, in February 2002, the Roman newspaper Il Messaggero wrote that the external walls also had cracks in them, and that the church was therefore in danger of collapsing. The damage might have been caused by the heavy traffic on the Corso, as suggested in the article, but shoddy building work in erection was perhaps also to blame. To prevent the edifice from failure, steel reinforcing rods were inserted in the apse and the church is now judged to be structurally safe. The restoration is mostly now finished (2013).
In 2010 a youth centre was opened in the crypt, named GP2 after Pope John Paul II. Among other things, it runs a bar which sells beer and wine at lower prices than the (admittedly often exploitative) prices charged locally, but it also excludes those who are drunk. As the centre points out, traditionally Italians have been able to drink alcohol regularly as part of life without health or social problems, but some young people in the early 21st century have been discovering the dubious delights of the public drunkenness more familiar in Britain (the stronghold of neurotic and obsessive attitudes towards alcohol in western Europe).
San Carlo briefly became a titular church in 1627, when Pope Urban VIII suppressed the title of San Carlo ai Catinari and created that of San Carlo al Corso. The first titular priest was Desiderio Scaglia O.P. (appointed 1627, died 1639), a famous Dominican theologian. The title was suppressed after his death.
The church became titular again in 1967, under the different title of Santi Ambrogio e Carlo. Angelo Dell'Acqua was cardinal until his death in 1972, and was succeeded by Ugo Poletti from 1973 to 1997. He was followed by Dionigio Tettamanzi, formerly Archbishop of Genoa and then of Milan, who was appointed in 1998 and died in 2017. The title is currently (August 2017) vacant.
Layout and fabric
This is a very large church, 72 metres by 54 metres. The nave has side aisles (in the English usage) or subsidiary naves (Italian), with three external chapels on each side opening off these. The overall layout is circiform, which means that the presbyterium is a very large apse as wide as the nave and aisles together and hence giving a plan similar to an ancient circus for chariot racing. In between the presbyterium apse and nave is a transept as wide as the nave, aisles and external chapels combined, and over the crossing of this is a central dome. The apse has an ambulatory or a continuation of the side aisles around the apse behind the main altar; this feature is uncommon in Roman churches (there is another one at Sant'Alessio all'Aventino).
The original plan was probably influenced by the circiform basilicas of the early 4th century at Rome, such as Sant'Agnese fuori le Mura -Basilica Constantiniana. The Duomo of Milan is also cited as a model, but less obviously.
The fabric is in pink brick mostly rendered in an ochre colour, with architectural details in travertine limestone or white render. The edifice has the form of a Latin cross superimposed on the circiform plan; the cross comprises the central nave, transept and apse and the roofs of these are pitched and tiled. The transept roofs both have hipped ends, and the apse has eight separate pitches forming triangular sectors. The aisles and ambulatory are lower and have singly pitched roofs, that of the latter being laid in a series of truncated triangular pitches (as any builder can tell you, laying tiles on the roof of a curved building to follow the curve is very tricky; using flat pitches, as here, is both easier and cheaper).
The side chapels are a set of three conjoined rooms on each side, like piglets at their mother, each having a little hemispherical dome in lead and a tiny lantern imitating that on the main dome.
Da Cortona's central dome is slightly undersized in proportion to the building, but is still large and is an important element in the city's skyline. The octagonal drum has a tripletted Corinthian pilaster in naked brick at each corner, and each side has a pair of Corinthian columns in white render enclosing a large rectangular window. The pilasters and columns support a cog-wheel entablature, and above this is an attic with eight horizontal elliptical windows each of which is sheltered by a little gable.
The dome itself is in lead, hemi-ellipsoid with eight ribs. The lantern is octagonal, with eight narrow round-headed windows and is topped by a sunk ogee cupola with an oversized ball finial.
The little campanile is perched on the north (right hand side) roof of the transept. It is a cube in brick, with an arched soundhole on each face and a projecting cornice. Above is a shallow drum in brick, and a little hemi-ellipsoid dome which is unusually (for Rome) sheathed in copper. There is an hour-glass finial.
The demolitions by the Fascists gave the opportunity to present the apse as part of the streetscape on the Piazza Augusto Imperatore (it was not originally meant to have been seen like this). The semi-circular ambulatory has five gigantic recessed panels topped by a row of seven small square windows; three of these, including the middle one, have large rectangular windows in Baroque frames but the other two have large tablets with commemorative inscriptions.
The left hand tablet commemorates Achille Ratti, who celebrated his first Mass in the church in 1879 and went on to become Pope Pius XI. The pope's coat of arms crowns the central window of the ambulatory.
Above, the apse itself is buttressed by an enormous pair of double volutes.
The church here is flanked by a pair of modern statues of St Ambrose and St Charles Borromeo, sculpted by Attilio Sélva from Trieste in the mid 20th century.
The church was built as part of a hospice complex, which has two main blocks. These are separated by the church, and their frontages are joined onto the façade of the church on each side. Observant visitors may notice that the line of the overall frontage is not parallel to the Corso, making the long, narrow piazza in front trapezoidal rather than rectangular. This is because the new church was built with an alignment exactly parallel to that of the old one, and it was decided to keep the façade at that orientation (not an automatic choice; an example in Rome of a church where the façade follows the street axis rather than the church's major axis is Bambin Gesù).
The frontages of the two blocks are not symmetrical, as the southern one has a large arched entrance but the northern one does not. The main entrance to the latter is round the corner in the Largo dei Lombardi. The southern block contains the private oratory of the Confraternity, on the site of the old church, and this is accessed via a passage leading off the left hand end of the transept or by another one from the southern entrance mentioned which runs along its left hand wall.
As mentioned, the façade is said to have been designed by Luigi Omodei, who was the cardinal-protector of the Lombard Archconfraternity while the church was being built. (There seems to be some doubt about this.) Since the church is on a crypt, it is accessed via a flight of stairs.
Despite the size, there is only a single storey. The design is based on four gigantic Corinthian pilasters in shallow relief with incut corners, which support an entablature which is vertically stepped in proportion. Above this is a crowning vertically stepped triangular pediment with an elliptical oeil de boeuf window in its tympanum, and this is embellished with curlicues and a scallop shell. The cornices of the entablature and pediment are decorated with rosettes and modillions in the form of little curlicues, and the frieze of the entablature has a very simple dedicatory inscription: Divis Ambrosio et Carolo dicatum.
So far, so good. The design goes badly wrong through the addition of a pair of Corinthian semi-columns to the inner pair of pilasters. The entablature and pediment are further stepped in response, giving a jagged and restless outline to the top of the façade. The semi-columns should have been omitted; they were added in order to impress, but look out of place.
The four pilasters divide the façade into three vertical zones, each of which has an entrance with a molded Baroque doorframe. The central one is larger than the side ones, and this has a raised triangular pediment. Above is a large window with a shallowly curved top and a balustraded balcony, and flanked by a pair of pilasters topped by triglyphs.
The side entrances have raised segmental pediments in contrast. Over each is a rectangular window, almost square with a pair of triglyphs on the frame, and above this in turn is a large rectangular window with a raised triangular pediment, curlicues on the frame and a balustrade in front.
The interior of the church is impressive, and in plan is entirely symmetrical. It is 72 metres long, and 54 metres wide at its widest point which is across the transept. There is a nave with two aisles, and the latter run around the sanctuary to form an ambulatory. The three external chapels off each side aisle are identical architecturally, although differently decorated. Two further chapels occupy the ends of the transept.
The interior is richly decorated, with lots of gilded stucco and (apparently) polychrome marble revetting. The nave has three bays with arcades separated by rectangular pillars, each of which has a pair of Corinthian pilasters in what looks like red marble with gilded capitals. The arcade arches themselves are supported by Doric pilasters in a startlingly striped black and white patterned marbling, which is obviously fake and which has attracted bitchy comments since the church was built. The same decor was used for the pilasters supporting the aisle vaults and elsewhere.
Each arch of the arcades is crowned by a tablet bearing a quotation from the psalms referring to the dedication of a church. A larger one on the counterfaçade over the entrance starts the sequence with: Domine, dilexi decorem domus tuae ("Lord, I loved the beauty of your house").
Above a deep entablature, with rosettes and modillions on the cornice, are three large windows on each side, then the barrel vault which is richly coffered and embellished. The central panel has a fresco depicting The Fall of the Rebel Angels (1677–1679) by Giacinto Brandi. The stucco work is by Cosimo and Antonio Fancelli, to the design of Da Cortona.
The nave, transept and sanctuary all have barrel vaults of the same height, meeting at the crossing in four large arches with double rows of rosette coffering on their intradoses. These support pedentives with frescoes of the four Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezechiel and Daniel) executed by Brandi. The cornice on which the drum sits has a thin garland below, and modillions above.
The drum has eight large windows, each flanked by a pair of Corinthian columns with gilded capitals. In between these is a pilaster in the same style, and these support an entablature on which the dome rests.
The interior of the dome is coffered in gilded stucco to a complex design, with eight radial ribs. The oculus is surrounded by a large rosette motif in stucco, with four main petals.
The sanctuary apse has a short barrel vault with a fresco by Brandi depicting The Apotheosis of St Charles Borromeo. The conch of the apse has another fresco by the same artist, showing St Charles with the Plague Sufferers. The two works were completed by 1677.
The pair of ornate pulpits cantilevered from the triumphal arch piers are worth looking at. This is a Counter-Reformation church, and one popular devotional exercise of the period was to have two preachers involved in a sacred dialogue. This very rarely happens anymore in a Catholic church.
The altar is squeezed, rather awkwardly, into the curve of the apse; note the curvature of the triangular pediment above. Apparently the original design was for the ambulatory to have an arcade of three open arches, but this was changed when it was decided to commission an enormous altarpiece. The smaller one already provided was by Giovanni Domenico Cerrini, and had the same theme as the present conch fresco. Unfortunately it was disposed of.
The replacement altarpiece, depicting The Madonna Presenting SS Ambrose and Charles to Christ, was painted between 1685 and 1690 by Carlo Maratta, who worked in situ. Rather cheekily St Charles is shown being given the greater honour, with St Ambrose looking on; a putto points to a tablet bearing a single word Humilitas (Humility), the virtue for which St Charles was famous.
The altar itself was restored in 1725, and the bronze embellishments date from this restoration. The stucco angels on the pediment, the heroes playing with garlands either side of the window above and the high-relief panels over the side entrances to the sanctuary are by Cosimo Fancelli, but were also re-ordered.
If you follow the ambulatory behind the sanctuary, you will find a niche behind the altar where a gilded reliquary containing the heart of St Charles is kept. It was donated to the church in 1614 by Cardinal Federico Borromeo, a relative of the saint. Above the niche is a bust of St Charles, and then a large painted banner of the school of Carlo Maratta depicting St Charles Venerating the Madonna and Child.
The five bays of the ambulatory are decorated in fresco by different artists. All but one are allegories of virtues. From left to right, the works are: Penance by Carlo Ascensi; Humility, Prayer, Perfection and Fortitude by Giovanni Battista Boncore; The Glory of the Angels by Luigi Garzi (in oils, not fresco), Vigilance by Ludovico Gemignani and Patience, Tolerance and Discretion by Fabrizio Chiari.
Here there are also six stucco statues of various saints by Francesco Cavallini. They are: SS Sebastian, Thecla, John the Baptist, Joseph, Peterand Stephen. They are in round-headed niches which are framed and segmentally pedimented, and these niches are rendered in a rather creepy light grey marbelling. Helpfully, the saints are labelled below the pediments.
The side aisles contain a further four stucco saints by Cavallini. They are: SS Matronian, Barnabas, Marcellina (sister of St Ambrose) and Philip Neri. The first one was a very obscure hermit, but he is here because St Ambrose enshrined his relics at Milan. The recent revisers of the Roman Martyrology have concluded that he never existed, and have deleted him.
The chapels off the side aisles, and at the ends of the transepts, are described in anticlockwise order starting from the bottom right near the entrance.
Chapel of the Crucifix
The impressive gilded wooden altar dates from the late 16th century, and was salvaged when the Oratory of the Blessed Sacrament at Perugia was demolished in the 1630's. It has a pair of ribbed Corinthian columns supporting a split segmental pediment, into which a smaller segmental pediment is inserted.
The crucifix on the altar is by Cavallini again, placed over a landscape painting as was common at the time. On the right hand wall is a picture showing St Henry the Emperor Venerating St Benedict (not Henry of Uppsala, as claimed by the church guidebook) by Francesco Rosa. On the left is Christ Receiving SS Charles and Ambrose in Glory by an artist of the school of Maratta, possibly Pier Francesco Mazzucchelli (nicknamed Il Morazzone). It is suggested that this work was left over from a competition to select the original main altarpiece for the church. In it, St Ambrose has the more honoured position -in contrast to the present main altarpiece.
The vault fresco depicts an allegory of Temperance Strengthening the Will and is by Paolo Albertoni.
Here is the baptistry, and on the font is a little marble statuette of St John the Baptist dating from the early 15th century. This seems to be the oldest thing in the church.
Chapel of Our Lady, Help of Christians
The second chapel on the right is dedicated to Mary, Help of Christians (Maria Auxilium Christianorum), and has an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary which was donated by St Vincent Pallotti in the 19th century. He had been involved with Marian devotions in the church. The fresco on the vault, depicting Justice, Peace, Law and Truth, is by Gerolamo Troppa who was of the school of Maratta but here was under the direction of Brandi. The painting on the left is an anonymous 19th century work depicting St Rita of Cascia.
Chapel of the Holy Family
The third chapel on the right is dedicated to the Holy Family. The altarpiece is unimportant, but the picture on the left hand wall is The Ecstasy of St Francis by Mazzucchelli and is an impressive work. The painting on the right hand wall is anonymous, of the latter 17th century, and depicts Blessed Pope Innocent XI. It is here because he had been a member of the Confraternity.
The vault fresco is by Giovanni Battista Benaschi under the direction of Brandi, and depicts Religion, Fortitude, Purity and Chastity.
Chapel of the Immaculate Conception
The chapel in the right hand end of the transept is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. It is sumptuously and impressively decorated, and was completed in 1769 from a design by Paolo Posi after ten years' work.
The aedicule is bowed (convex), and has two pairs of Composite columns in a red and white stone supporting a deep entablature with a massive projecting gilded cornice. A pair of stucco angels sit at the ends of this, while a small split segmental pediment containing more angels is raised above an epigraph in honour of Our Lady: Tu sola universas haereses interemisti ("You alone have destroyed all heresies"). The aedicule sits on a plinth of green verde antico marble, while to the sides the walls are revetted with yellow Sienese marble and a pale green banded stone. The wreath around the epigraph and the devices to the sides are in gilded bronze.
The altarpiece is actually a mosaic, and is a copy of The Immaculate Conception with the Doctors of the Church by Carlo Maratta in the Cybo Chapel at Santa Maria del Popolo. There is a smaller picture on the altar of Blessed Antonio Rosmini , the founder of the Rosminians.
The aedicule is flanked by a pair of statues. The one on the left is of King David with his harp, and is by a French sculptor called André Jean Lebrun. The one on the right is of Judith holding the head of Holofernes, and is by Pietro Pacilli from Tuscany.
The church guidebook asserts that the chapel was paid for by a legacy from a fictional "Cardinal Parravicini" whose swan emblem appears in the bronze decoration. If bishop Erasmo Paravicini of Alessandria who died in 1640 is meant, the Confraternity sat on his money for over a century.
The vault fresco depicts Saints in Glory, and is by Brandi. The stucco work is by Cosimo and Antonio Fancelli again, including the angelic musicians.
Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament
The Blessed Sacrament chapel in the left end of the transept is very similar to the one opposite just described. Incredibly, it dates from two centuries later and was completed in 1929 to celebrate the priestly jubilee of Pope Pius XI. The architect was Cesare Bazzani.
The altarpiece depicts God the Father Being Worshipped by Angels, and is by Tommaso Luini. The statue of Religion by Eugenio Maccagnani and that of Faith by Guido Galli were executed as part of the commission.
The vault fresco and stucco work are by the same artists as that over the Immaculate Conception chapel.
Chapel of St Olav
The third chapel on the left is dedicated to St Olav of Norway, the martyr king who was slain in the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030. He is the patron saint of Norway, and this chapel is the Norwegian Catholic place of worship in Rome.
The chapel was consecrated by Cardinal Lucido Maria Parocchi on 9 April 1893, which was the 50th anniversary of the first Mass celebrated legally in Norway since the Reformation. As part of Denmark, Norway had followed that country in enforcing Lutheranism as the state religion in 1536.
The altarpiece, by the Polish artist Pius Adamowicz Welonski, depicts the king's victory over his own past, represented by a dragon - he was a Viking raider in his youth, before he became a Christian. It was originally a gift to Pope Leo XIII on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his episcopal ordination, and was presented to the Holy Father on 3 March 1893 by Baron Wilhelm Wedel-Jarlsberg. The latter was a convert Norwegian nobleman, and the papal chamberlain. The Holy Father supported the idea of a Norwegian chapel in Rome, and when one was set up in this church Bishop Johannes Olav Fallize of Norway asked for the picture to be placed here.
A smaller picture on the altar shows St Anne and her daughter, the Blessed Virgin. St Anne was a very popular saint in pre-Reformation Norway.
The relics of a dubious Roman catacomb martyr are enshrined under the altar. Nothing is known about him except his name, St Saturninus -and even that might have been invented in the 17th century.
On the right hand wall is one of the better pictures in the church, The Holy Family with SS Anne and John the Baptist by Cristoforo Roncalli. The left hand wall has The Adoration of the Risen Christ in the Garden by Pasquale Rossi; this was the original altarpiece before the chapel was re-dedicated to St Olav.
The vault has a fresco of Faith by Luigi Garzi. The neo-Classical funerary monument with the three statues commemorates a married couple, Lorenzo and Serafina Mencacci, and is by Filippo Gnaccarini of 1838.
The chapel was restored in 1980, and was reinaugurated by Bishop John Willem Gran of Oslo. The inititive for this restoration came from Cecilie "Ciss" Riber-Mohn (who was not herself a Catholic, and who passed away in 1978, before the restoration was complete), Olga Térése "Olgese" Mowinckel Ringler and her Italian husband Andrea Ringler. Rieber-Mohn had also intervened to preserve the chapel in the 1960's, when there was talk about using it for other purposes.
Mass is celebrated in Norwegian at Christmas and on May 17th (Norwegian Constitution Day), and many Norwegian ex-patriates, including non-Catholics, take part. Requiem masses are celebrated here for Norwegians with connections to Rome. Norwegian pilgrim groups can make an appointment to celebrate Mass here, and at times tourist groups come here for ecumenical services.
Chapel of St Philip Neri
The pair of painting on the side walls are from 1726, and are thought to be by Giacomo Zoboli. The left hand one depicts The Miraculous Communion of St Stanislaus Kostka, and the right hand one St Aloysius Gonzaga Nursing the Plague Sufferers.
Chapel of St Barnabas
The first chapel on the left is dedicated to St Barnabas. He is venerated here because of a fictitious tradition that he was the first bishop of Milan (he actually died on Cyprus). The altarpiece showing St Barnabas Preaching is by Pier Francesco Mola, and the ceiling vault by Pio Paolini depicts Hope and Truth.
The following three rooms are accessed via a door in the left hand side of the sacristy. They are not accessible to ordinary visitors; the suggestion in the church guidebook is that you ask one of the Rosminians for permission to visit. The problem is finding one, as there are only three resident at the convent.
The "Weekday chapel" would have been used for public Masses with small congregations. Many Roman churches have one attached, often called the "winter choir" because it would have been used by a conventual community in winter when the main church was too cold to bear.
The altarpiece here depicts The Immaculate Conception Venerated by SS Ambrose and Charles. It is an 18th century copy of a painting that was in the old church before 1627. The altar has the original tabernacle of the church, in polychrome marble, and among the collection of portraits of popes and cardinals on the walls is a Crucifixion by Jacques Courtois.
The sacristy is beyond the above chapel. The woodwork of the vestment wardrobes is original, by Pietro Gigli in 1682. The portrait collection features here too, and includes two busts of cardinals by Agostino Cornacchini. One is of Omodei, the church's patron, and the other is of Ferdinando D'Adda.
The altarpiece is St Ambrose with Two Deacons by Tommaso Luini.
The private oratory of the Confraternity is beyond a little courtyard on the left. It is a simple narrow rectangular space, with a passage running along its north wall to a street entrance. This passage contains two 15th century funerary monuments from the old church, and tablets commemorating notable benefactors of the main church are also kept here.
The altarpiece is a Pietà by Tommaso della Porta.
The oratory was restored in the 1930's.
The church is open from 7:00 to 19:00. This seems to be one of the few churches in central Rome kept open during the lunch hour.
Mass is celebrated (May 2019):
Weekdays 7:30, 12:00, 18:30.
Sundays 8:00, 9:30, 11:00, 12:00, 18:30.
Feast that are solemnly celebrated here include St Charles on 4 November, St Ambrose on 7 December, Translation of the Heart of St Charles on 22 June, Mary Help of Christians on 24 May and Bl. Giovanni Battista Scalabrini on 1 June. The third in the list is peculiar to this church.
- Mass had been legally celebrated between 1537 and 1843, but only in embassies and in fortresses where foreign officers served. In 1843 it was again celebrated in public after the King of Sweden and Norway had given his permission.
Youtube video series by Gtotsias (commentary in Italian):
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