San Clemente al Castello di Torrenova is a deconsecrated 17th century villa church at Via Casilina 1382, and is attached to the fortified farmstead of Castello di Torrenova which is in the suburban zone of Torrenova (sometimes spelt Torre Nova).
The dedication is to Pope St Clement I.
The church was apparently gutted and abandoned in or around 1965, and for the next fifty years the interior was derelict. Hence it is categorised as "deconsecrated", although the Diocese still lists it as a working church annexed to the parish of San Gaudenzio a Torre Nova (June 2019).
In 2016 a limited emergency restoration was completed, but it seems uncertain as to whether the edifice will be reconsecrated.
Remote origins? Edit
It seems plausible that the Castello or fortified farmstead was erected in mediaeval times on the site of an ancient Roman villa. However, the site has not been properly investigated archaeologically so this has to remain a hypothesis.
Also lacking evidence is the surmise that the present church replaced a mediaeval chapel.
The history of the present edifice begins with the disgrace of the Cenci family in 1599 and the execution of Beatrice Cenci. The family owned the Castello and its farming estate, but this was sequestered and auctioned to Giovanni Francesco Aldobrandini in the same year. The Aldobrandini family was at its summit of wealth and power at the time, owing to one of them being Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605).
At this time, Torrenova was not Roman territory but was in the diocese of Frascati. The family built a very impressive villa complex in the little city of Frascati, the Villa Aldobrandini (which remains their seat), but also decided to develop the Castello as a small villa estate. The main buildings kept their mediaeval aspect, but a new church was built and pleasure gardens laid out. The sole surviving feature of the latter is a ruined and derelict nymphaeum in a field to the west of the Via Antonio Ingegnoli, west of the Castello. This is called the Bagno della Bella Cenci as a folk-memory of Beatrice.
The church was designed by Giovanni Fontana, begun in 1600 and completed in 1614. The dedication to Pope St Clement was in honour of Pope Clement VIII, who had died before the church was finished.
Lateran's responsibility Edit
The new edifice seems to have functioned at first as a private church of the Aldobrandini family. Its most famous moment was the marriage of Olimpia Aldobrandini to Camillo Pamphilj in 1647. However, in 1683 the property passed to the Borghese family, which had no interest in the Castello as a residence. In the following century a conviction took hold of Romans that a stay of any length in the Campagna countryside would result in contracting malaria, so the estate reverted to being a working farm and the church merely became a place of worship for the sparse local population. It was under the care of the Chapter of San Giovanni in Laterano, despite remaining in the diocese of Frascati.
In 1817, a brief description was published which indicates that the interior was then decorated with polychrome marbles -none survive. Also mentioned was a memorial in the form of funerary urn decorated with a lion mask, which allegedly survives as a fountain in the courtyard of the Castello.
Jesuit mission Edit
In 1865 the Lateran canons passed the responsibility of the church to the Jesuits, who established a small rural mission here. In 1867 the territory was transferred from the diocese of Frascati to that of the diocese of Rome, and the church was made subsidiary to the parish church of Santi Marcellino e Pietro ad Duas Lauros. However, the paucity of residents remained a problem. In 1904, a census revealed a total population of 95 and the church was closed in the following year after the roof began to leak.
The church must have been repaired by the Borghese, but its status as a place of worship becomes obscure in the 20th century. In 1923 the estate was broken up and sold, although suburban development only came after the Second World War. The Castello became an ad-hoc apartment block (a function it still performs), and in the mid-Sixties serious problems with squatters and disrepair set in. It is thought that the church was gutted by its private owners about this time, although details are hard to come by. The fabric, however, was secure enough to survive its being locked up and abandoned for fifty years.
Limited restoration Edit
Residents of Torrenova and their representatives began to raise influential concern about the future of the Castello and the church in about 2010. In response, the city government allocated 40 000 euros for a limited restoration intended to make the roof watertight and to prevent further deterioration of the frescoes. This began in 2015, and was completed in April 2016.
Unfortunately, the ownership of the property was now under legal dispute and so the church entered a limbo as regards its future. Its fabric required further attention, and some decision needed to be made as to its future function.
Further, more systematic restoration was entered into in 2018, and it seems that the future of the church will be decided when this is completed.
Layout and fabric Edit
The church has a straightforward rectangular plan, with a small priest's house attached to the right hand side. There are two external side chapels, each being a small transverse rectangular edifice (the right hand one is part of the structure of the house).
The fabric is in brick, with architectural details in a grey tufa. The external walls are rendered in a cream colour, which in places has fallen off. The single pitched and tiled roof covers both nave and sanctuary.
Self-sown trees have been allowed to grow to maturity right next to the church, and these are threatening its foundations.
The façade has a single storey, but is surprisingly tall. At its base is a tall double plinth, now in naked brick (it seems to have once been rendered) with two tufa string-courses having simple molding. The upper string course is just below the level of the lintel of the entrance doorway. On this string course stand a pair of tripletted pilasters at the outer corners, also in tufa, and these support a crowning entablature triangular pediment which is posted out over the tripletting. The cornice is deep and molded.
The pilaster capitals are unusual. They look Corinthian, but instead of acanthus leaves they sport the heraldic emblem of the Aldobrandini family -a bend-embattled with stars. In the tympanum of the pediment above is a large relief carving of the Papal coat-of-arms of Clement VIII, flanked by two smaller coats-of-arms. The larger one breaks the gable tip of the pediment.
The frieze of the entablature has an epigraph, difficult to read because the tufa has weathered badly: Sedente Clemente VIII Pont. Opt. Max.
The single entrance has a molded tufa doorcase, and a segmental pediment raised on strap corbels. Above it is a slightly sunken vertical rectangular panel with a wide frame, which looks as if it was intended to contain a fresco. Above this in turn is a vertical rectangular window.
The interior remains inaccessible, and the description below is based on photos posted on Facebook (see "External links". The recent restoration consolidated the frescoes and made the roof watertight, and also cleared out much of the filth (pigeon droppings and so on) that had accumulated over half a century of dereliction. However, nothing further than that was done until 2018.
The nave has four bays, of different depths. These are separated by blind pilasters, melding with the frieze of an internal entablature lacking an architrave. The first pair of pilasters are doubletted along their near edges. Above the entablature is a barrel vault, with two windows in each side.
The first bay has a large framed fresco in each side. The second and fourth each have a vertical rectangular fresco in each side, with two small horizontal frescoes at top and bottom. These fresco panels are sunk, within frames themselves slightly sunk.
The third bay is flanked by two side chapels. These are basically short blind tunnels, with barrel-vaults. Each is entered in between a pair of shallow pilasters supporting the start of the vault on thick slab imposts. The archivolt above is not decorated. Above the archivolt is another horizontal rectangular fresco panel.
The frescoes are now attributed to Federico Zuccari, and are late works of his. This makes them important, and the damage that they have suffered in the dereliction is very sad. The best preserved is the large one on the near right, which shows St Clement being thrown into the sea with an anchor tied to his neck.
The frames of the frescoes are decorated with grotesquery, including the Aldobrandini symbol the "bend-embattled".
There are remains of fake marbelling on the wall surfaces, but nothing survives of the rich marble work allegedly provided when the church was built.
Side chapels Edit
The side chapels are decorated in blue. They must have been very dark to celebrate Mass in, since they have no windows. One seems to have been dedicated to the Crucifix and the other to Our Lady; the latter has a wooden icon frame hanging on the far wall. The altars have been removed.
The sanctuary is separated from the nave by a triumphal arch of two nested arcivolts fitted into the barrel vault. The matching shallow doubletted pilasters have thick slab imposts.
The barrel vault within the sanctuary has two window lunettes.
The high altar survives, although the decoration on its frontal has been almost completely destroyed. It stands on a raised platform with two steps. The aedicule is in wood (surely not original), and has a broken segmental pediment. The supporting pilasters are missing. The altarpiece is gone, but is described as depicting "A pope praying in the countryside, and having a vision of the Lamb of God".
Above the aedicule is a drape frame, in iron rods forming a square. This looks as if it were installed in the early 20th century. In the tympanum of the vault above is a fresco of God the Father by Zuccari.
There has been no public access of any sort, and apparently no-one with the authority to provide a private view in 2016. Hopefully things will change when proper restoration is completed, perhaps in 2019.