San Giovanni Battista de La Salle alla Piazza di Spagna is a 19th century school chapel, listed by the Diocese as a church, with a postal address at Via San Sebastianello 1 near the Spanish Steps in the rione Campo Marzio. The actual edifice is on the Via Alibert.
The dedication is to St John Baptist de La Salle.
The edifice was built in 1883 to 1885 as the chapel of a school being established here, in the 18th century Palazzo Altense donated by Prince Torlonia to the Brothers of the Christian Schools. The patron saint was their founder.
The architect was Ciriaco Baschieri Salvadori, who attached the church to the north-west corner of the palazzo. It was the first church dedicated to the saint in Rome.
The school here was known as the Istituto De Merode, and had been founded by Archbishop Francesco Saverio de Mérode in 1871. It started life in the Palazzo Altemps, which is now a museum.
There was a narrow escape after 1931, when the Fascist government proposed a new road that would have entailed the demolition of the complex. In response, the Brothers initiated a project to transfer the school to a new site in the rione Flaminio. The Second World War put a stop to Fascist road-building schemes in Rome, but it was decided to go ahead with the project as a new school. This was opened in 1956, and is now the Istituto Villa Flaminia. It has its own chapel -Annunciazione della Villa Flaminia.
The older school on the Piazza di Spagna is still run by the Brothers, but was united with another institution administratively and so is now part of the Collegio di San Giuseppe -Istituto De Merode. This has two foci, the other being the old Collegio in the Palazzo Poli near the Trevi Fountain.
The church listed at the end of the 19th century as open to pilgrim visitors, and it seems that the intention was for it to be a shrine to St John Baptist de La Salle. However, his relics were enshrined at the Santuario di San Giovanni Battista de La Salle when that was built on the Via Aurelia in 1939. So, the church has only had the function of a school chapel and nowadays seems to be entirely private with no free public access.
Layout and fabric Edit
This is a surprisingly large church, but is seriously hidden away from public view.
The layout is rectangular, and features a nave of three bays with structural side aisles. There is a large polygonal apse, five-sided, as high as the nave, and also a matroneo or upper gallery over each aisle. The church stands on a crypt which is at street-level.
The fabric is in brick, rendered in a pale orange colour. The main roof is pitched and tiled, but the sanctuary apse roof is flat. The central nave side walls are divided into three by a pair of buttresses, and each of the three bays so defined contains a round-headed window. The galleries have a matching set of windows -twelve in all. The apse is windowless.
There is no entrance façade, since the way in is through one of the 18th century wings of the former palazzo to the east which is arranged round a large arcaded courtyard. The church abuts this at its bottom end.
The right hand aisle wall, including the gallery, fronts onto the Via Alibert, which is a dead-end street off the Via Margutta. This forms what amounts to the public profile of the church, but it seems that the entrances here have not been used for at least sixty years.
The three bays of the left-hand aisle are obvious here. Each has a former entrance doorway with a molded doorcase and a floating cornice, the middle one being further embellished with a blind arc tympanum over the cornice. This doorway is flanked by two pairs of gigantic Corinthian semi-columns on very high plinths, and which reach up to a projecting roofline cornice. The latter is slightly brought forward over them, for the length of the middle aisle bay. These pairs of semi-columns are matched by two pairs of pilasters at either end of the frontage. In each bay is a round-headed window, high up and lighting the gallery within.
The interior is surprisingly lush, in a neo-Baroque style.
The three nave bays are delineated by massive rectangular piers supporting high arcades. The piers do not have proper capitals, but instead have posts with architrave, frieze and strongly projecting cornice. The frieze is in green marble. The piers are clad in a greenish-grey marble. The piers are connected to the side aisle outer walls by blocking walls in the same style, and these walls act as buttresses for the central nave vault. The decoration of the posts is extended across these blocking walls and the nave side walls as a lower entablature, which is interrupted by a round-headed window in each bay of the aisle wall.
These blocking walls create three huge recesses in each structural aisle, and each of these is barrel-vaulted with coffering in a cross pattern. Between vaults and windows are frescoes of saints on the aisle walls.
Into each recess is inserted a gallery, supported by a huge trabeation beam and fronted by a marble pin balustrade. The beam is itself supported by a pair of yellow marble Doric columns.
Each pier is decorated with a pilaster of pink marble having a raised white marble frame, and a derivative Composite capital in yellow, fitted under the post.
The three left hand recesses contain the former public entrances of the church, now unused. The three right hand ones contain side chapels. These are described as not having any works of art worth noting.
The arcade arches have stucco reliefs of angels on their spandrels, and are topped by a massive second cornice with strap corbels. From this the central nave ribbed cross-vault springs, having lunettes containing round-headed windows. These windows, like those in the side aisle walls, have stained glass -twelve in total. The vault is in blue, with frescoes of saints by Fontana.
The counterfaçade is windowless, and features an organ which is apparently a high-quality instrument. This is set into a huge recessed arched gallery with a bow-fronted balustrade, and above this an arcade of seven small arches is just below the vault. The main arch here has angels in its spandrels, too. The small arcade fronts an upper gallery, containing four statues.
The sanctuary has a single shallow bay with a coffered barrel vault having a little lantern at its top. The coffering is a row of alternate squares and circles with rosettes, white on a puce background with further stucco embellishments. Beyond is the apse, with an enormous fresco by Fontana showing St John Baptist de La Salle presenting schoolboys and teachers to the Trinity and Our Lady.
The sanctuary wall has two storeys, separated by the lower entablature of the nave. The first one is revetted in Baroque polychrome marble decoration featuring large yellow marble panels, and has six Corinthian pilasters with yellow marble panels imitating the nave piers. There is stucco decoration between the pilaster capitals. The first entablature has a green marble frieze. The second storey features six portraits of saints flanking a central round-headed bas-relief niche, these in Baroque frames and separated by vertical panels with Grotesque decoration. The second entablature of the nave tops this upper storey, and has the conch of the apse springing from it.
The high altar is dominated by an enormous gilded glory with a copy of the icon of Our Lady of Pompei, and this obscures the central niche just mentioned.
Inside, the extensive fresco work on the side walls, apse and ceiling vault is by Fontana. The apse features a fresco featuring Christ and Our Lady with St John Baptist de La Salle. There are three side chapels,