San Francesco di Paola ai Monti is a 17th century conventual, regional and titular church at Piazza San Francesco di Paola 10, perched on the raised corner above the Via Cavour and the Via degli Annibaldi just to the west of San Pietro in Vincoli. This is in the rione Monti. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia page here.
The dedication is to St Francis of Paola, the 15th century founder of the Minim Friars. The church is the regional ones for expatriates in Rome from Calabria, the southern Italian region where he was born.
Foundation of convent
The convent with its church is not an old foundation. It was established by a priest from near Cosenza in Calabia called Giovanni Pizzullo, who bought a large mediaval palazzo from the Cesarini family for 12 500 scudi. This establishment used to be owned by the Borgia family, hence the old campanile of the church is sometimes called the Torre dei Borgia. He then donated the property to the Minim Friars, who established a convent here in 1623. The friars had established themselves nearby at Santi Sergio e Bacco in the year beforehand, and when they moved here that church was taken over by monks of the Byzantine rite.
The palazzo was suitable to become a convent, but a proper church had to be built from scratch. The first one put up was designed by Orazio Torriani, who has work at several other churches in Rome to his credit (the façade of San Bartolomeo all'Isola being perhaps the best-known and the staircase at Santi Domenico e Sisto being the prettiest). Unfortunately, the friars only had the funds for a very small edifice which proved inadequate.
Fortunately for the friars, Princess Olimpia Aldobrandini Pamphilj left a very large sum of money to them in 1645 to build a larger church. She had family connections with Calabria, and so was sympathetic. The work started in 1650, when (according to Titi writing in 1686) one Giovanni Pietro Morandi was appointed as architect. He built a plain church, as apparently funds did not run to interior decoration.
Interestingly, the new church was immediately made parochial. The parish occupied the western outlier of the Esquiline hill on which the church is situated, and survived until suppressed in the 19th century.
The interior had to wait for a proper decorative scheme until the early 18th century, when Luigi Barattone oversaw its embellishment with stucco. He also provided the façade, and rebuilt the convent. This is the rather grim block to the left of the church. It was not until 10 July 1728 that the new church was finally consecrated, by Pope Benedict XIII.
The architect is better known for his re-modelling of the interior of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere.
The parish was suppressed in 1824, but the church was restored two years later on the orders of Pope Leo XII. In 1873, however, together with almost all other Roman convents, the complex was sequestered by the Italian government and turned into a school.
In 1886, the Via Cavour was built which entailed the drastic lowering of the ground level in front of the church. Beforehand, the church and convent faced a rectangular piazza with a grassed slope on the other side overlooking the Subarra. A very steep section of the Via Urbana led off the east end of this, where the steps up to San Pietro in Vincoli now are.
The Minims managed to regain control of the convent in the early 20th century, which became a house of formation. Now it is the location of the Generalate of the Order of Minims.
There was a restoration in 1953 by Cesare Minestra, which especially involved the ceiling vault.
In 1999 the church was declared to be the regional one for Calabrian expatriates in Rome.
About ten years later, the church closed down because of structural problems which have not been publicized. St Nicola Saggio da Longobardi used to be enshrined here (he was a holy friar who died at the convent), but his relics were removed to Paola in Calabria in 2010. The future of the building now has to be uncertain.
The church was only made titular in 1967.
The present titular deacon of the church is Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, who was created Cardinal on 21 October 2003.
Layout and fabric
The church has a rectangular plan, comprising a single nave of four bays and a sanctuary of the same width. The nave bays differ in length, because the nave has three chapels on each side of differing sizes. The middle two are twice the width of those either side.
A 12th century tower fort, the Torre dei Margani or Torre dei Borgia, was transformed into the bell-tower for the church, and is attached to its top left-hand corner. It can be glimpsed from the walkway on the other side of the Via degli Annibaldi. The medieval coat-of-arms on the tower has been preserved, as have been the machicolations through which the defenders could drop things on any besiegers who got too close.
The rather severe façade is not very easy to appreciate because of the drop to the Via Cavour below on the other side of the narrow street. It is in two storeys, with travertine limestone for the first and pale orange render for the second. The lower part was refinished with stucco detailing in the 18th century.
The entrance is flanked by a pair of semi-round Composite columns supporting a triangular pediment containing a relief of a virgin's face in Classical mode. The tall lintel has a winged putto's head decorated with swags.
The nave section of the frontage is slightly brought forward, and is flanked by two pairs of rectangular Ionic pilasters with the capitals decorated with swags and putto's heads. The aisle sections have no entrances, but each has an aedicule comprising a blank arched and conched niche flanked by half-round Composite columns supporting an entablature and segmental pediment with a scallop shell, and with swags between their capitals. These look as if they were intended for statues.
There is another pair of Ionic pilasters on the corners of the first storey. The six pilasters support an entablature with a blank frieze, and above this the gabled second storey has a rectangular window with a raised floating segmental pediment, small round window above which lights the roof void and no crowning pediment. A pair of sunburst symbols flanks the larger window.
Layout and fabric
The writer has not been able to get into this church, and the following description is mostly based on the excellent online description in Danish by Anne-Birgitte Larsson.
The single four-bay nave has six side chapels, three on each side, and a rectangular sanctuary almost as wide as the nave. The central chapels are wider and deeper than the other two on each side.
The side chapels are entered through arches separated by piers with applied Composite pilasters having their capitals embellished with putto's heads and festoons. The archivolts are also embellished with angels, putti and vegetation in white and gold, this decoration being applied by Barattone to the structure put up by Morandi. This stucco work was apparently inspired by Borromini. Over the arches are ornate cantorie or opera-boxes for solo musicians.
The nave ceiling is a barrel vault, which was redecorated in 1953 by Cesare Minestra. It has fake painted trompe l'oeil coffering.
The marble floor seems to have been relaid in the same restoration, but it incorporates some 17th and 18th century tomb slabs: Francesco Santi, 1744; Matteo Saxi, 1723; Pietro Guglielmino, 1720; Fausto Tursi, 1678; Natale del Grande, 1793 and Giovanni Bozzio, 1647.
The counterfaçade has an organ gallery the balcony of which bears the motto of the Minims: Caritas ("Charity"). Above the organ is a stucco relief depicting The Glory of St Francis of Paola. To the left of the entrance is a memorial to Giorgi Marra 1681, and to the right those to Girolamo Rossi 1687 and to the sculptor Giuseppe Angelini 1824 (he died in 1811).
The spectacular late Baroque high altar was designed by Giovanni Antonio de' Rossi in about 1655, in the style of Bernini. The aedicule is of exceptional beauty. A wooden tabernacle, of fine workmanship, is set in a sculptured entrance of what looks like a military pavilion, the cloth of which is being pulled back by angels. This pavilion is an allusion to the original meaning of tabernacle -a tent. It also refers to God's presence among the Jews when they carried the Ark of the Covenant with them during the Exodus and kept it in a tent-temple. The theological message is that God is present in this tabernacle as he was then with the Jews. Over the pavilion is a large glory with gilded rays, containing a representation of God the Father being venerated by angels.
The altar is flanked by a pair of doors leading into the choir behind, which have segmental pediments containing putti with wreaths.
On the right hand side wall of the sanctuary is a good Baroque memorial to Lazzarro Pallavicini, designed by Ferdinando Fuga 1744. He had been a Genoese priest serving in the Curia of Pope Benedict XIV, who paid for the monument after being impressed by his humility (he turned down the offer of being made a cardinal). The portrait bust is by Agostino Corsini.
To the left is the entrance to the sacristy, over which is a memorial to Giovanni Pizzullo who was was the founder of the church. The bust is thought to be by Corsini also.
The side chapels are described anti-clockwise, beginning to the right of the entrance.
Chapel of SS Joachim and Anne
The first chapel on the right side is dedicated to SS Joachim and Anne, parents of Our Lady. The altarpiece showing them with her is by Filippo Luzi. The frescoes in the ceiling are by Onofrio Avellino, with the central panel showing The Apotheosis of St Anne. To the left is a 17th century wooden crucifix, and a tomb-slab of Annibale Messi who died in 1773.
Chapel of St Francis of Paola
The second chapel on the right is dedicated to St Francis of Paola, and has an aedicule dating from 1700. This has a pair of columns supporting a broken segmental pediment, into which is inserted an oval relief tondo supported by a pair of angels. The altarpiece shows the saint having a vision of Our Lady, and is allegedly a copy of a portrait painted from life in 1483 and now in a church at Montalto delle Marche.
The vault and side walls have frescoes by Giuseppe Chiari, who might also have executed the altarpiece. The vault shows the saint in glory, and the side walls depict two miracles. One shows the saint resurrecting a builder crushed by a falling wall, and the other shows the saint providing facial features for a baby born without any.
Chapel of St Francis de Sales
The third chapel on the right is dedicated to St Francis of Sales, a patron of the Order who became a tertiaryof it. It is frescoed by Antonio Grecolini, and the altarpiece depicts the saint making his tertiary vows. To the left he is shown writing (he is a Doctor of the Church), and to the right assisting sick people. The vault shows his Apotheosis.The floor has attractive majolica tiles featuring flowers and birds, and incorporates a tomb-slab of Pietro Zupo who died in 1747.
The choir of the friars is behind the high altar, and is accessed via the pair of doors flanking it. The stalls are in walnut, and date from 1673. The altarpiece is a polychrome painted wooden statue of St Francis of Paola.
The entrance to the sacristy and the adjoining Chapter Room of the convent is to the left of the sanctuary, and you pass through the sacristy to reach the convent. The suite was designed by Filippo Breccioli, as part of the 17th century building campaign under Morandi. The Chapter Room is tucked away behind the Chapel of St Michael (see below). In the far end of the sacristy is a doorway leading into the bottom storey of the mediaeval tower.
The ceiling of the sacristy was painted by Sassoferrato, the theme of the main panel being Our Lady Appearing to St Francis of Paola. Of the seven side lunettes depicting miracles performed by the the saint, four are by Agostino Masucci and three by Filippo Luzi. The scenes show:
St Francis Resurrects the Nephew of Nicola D'Alessio; St Francis Resurrects a Fish Offered at Table by the King of Naples; St Francis Multiplies the Timbers Needed to Build the Convent; St Francis Crosses the Strait of Messina on his Cloak; St Francis Shows Burning Charcoal to a Servant of the Pope; St Francis Squeezes Blood from Money Before the King of Naples and St Francis Cures a Baby Born Without a Face.
In opposite walls are two oval niches with statues of Christ and Our Lady. These two statues came from the nearby demolished church of San Salvatore ad Tres Images.
The floor is in polychrome marble tiling, with a tomb-slab of Maria Felicita Baraini Mazzocchi 1713.
The convent entrance is opposite the doorway from the church. Here there are two paintings, The Immaculate Conception by Stefano Pozzi, and St Francis Venerates Our Lady Being Crowned by the Trinity by Vincenzo Milione 1787, as well as a painted wooden statue of the saint of around 1700. The painting of Our Lady used to be the altarpiece of the second chapel on the left in the church.
The chapter room has an altar, the altarpiece being a Crucifixion with St Francis of Paola by Francesco Cozza. The wall and vault frescoes are by Pozzi, with the latter showing Angels with the Instruments of the Passion. The vault frescoes show The Garden of Gethsemane, The Road to Calvary and The Deposition from the Cross.
The floor has a tomb-slab of Giovanni Battista Rolfino, 1737.
Chapel of St Michael
The third chapel on the left hand side has a polychrome marble altar aedicule with an altarpiece depicting St Michael the Archangel by Stefano Perugini. The other paintings are by Giacomo Triga; the vault shows St Michael and Angels with the Cross, and the side walls show the archangel giving St Francis of Paola the habit of the Minims and the motto (Caritas) of the Order.
Chapel of St Nicholas Saggio
The second chapel on the left is dedicated to St Nicola Saggio da Longobardi, but used to be dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. When the saint was beatified his relics were enshrined in a porphyry urn under the altar, but when he was canonized they were taken to the sanctuary at Paola in 2010.
The altarpiece depicts the saint, and is by Francesco Manno 1786. It replaced a work by Pozzi, which is now in the sacristy. St Nicholas was from a poor family of Longobardi in Calabria, and was a lay-brother at the convent here who became very popular among the poor people of the locality because of his charity.
The side walls show The Nativity and The Adoration of the Magi by Stefano Pozzi again, and he also executed The Assumption in the intricately decorated ceiling vault. The chapel contains four stucco angels, identified as the archangels SS Michael, Gabriel and Raphael with the fourth possibly being Uriel.
Chapel of Bl Gaspar de Bono
The first chapel on the left is dedicated to Blessed Gaspar de Bono, who was a Spanish Minim who did much to foster the Order in his country and who died in 1604. The altarpiece is of him, and was executed by Milione in 1787.
The chapel used to be dedicated to St Joseph, and this altarpiece replaced a picture of him by Onofrio Avellino. The pictures on the side walls and vault are by Pozzi again. To the right is The Dream of Joseph, to the left The Escape into Egypt and in the vault is God the Father.
The floor has majolica tiles matching those in the chapel of St Francis de Sales.
Don't bother. The church has been "closed for restoration" in recent years, although there is no sign of any work being carried out.
De Alvariis, whose excellent online galleries of photos of Roman church interiors have links from this Wiki, e-mailed the Generalate of the Minim Friars for permission to visit. He got this reply:
Ancora la chiesa è chiusa per restauro, tuttavia si permettono riprese fotografiche solo per tesi dottorali in Architettura e storia dell'Arte. Pertano la sua domanda di riprese fotografiche all'interno è respinta.
Mass should be celebrated in the church at least twice a year, on the anniversary of its consecration and the Solemnity of its patron saint. If the interior is so derelict that this cannot happen, the church will need to be re-consecrated if and when it is restored.
The online profile of the church is poor, and there are no photos of the interior available. Beware of mislabelled photos of a church with the same dedication at Turin.
Annas Rom Guide (best description of interior around -but in Danish.)
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