San Giovanni della Pigna is a 17th century confraternity church at Piazza della Pigna 51 (the postal address is Vicolo della Minerva 51). This is, predictably, in the rione Pigna. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia article (a stub) here.
The dedication is to St John the Baptist.
The appellation Pigna comes from a very large bronze pinecone that stood as the centrepiece of an ancient Roman fountain situated nearby (the original location is now unknown). This object was taken to St Peter's in the Middle Ages, and was moved again in 1608 to the Cortile della Pigna in the Vatican. There, it fulfils its original purpose as part of the Fontana della Pigna.
Santi Genesio ed Eleuterio
The first mention of the church is in 962, when it was listed as one of the local churches owned by the monastery of San Silvestro in Capite. The circumstances of its foundation are not known, but this probably occurred not long beforehand. It functioned as one of the many small parish churches in the mediaeval built-up area.
A restoration occurred in 1509, but the parish failed and the church fell into disrepair later in the 16th century. As a result in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII gave it to the "Company of Piety towards Prisoners" (Arciconfraternita della Pietà Verso i Carcerati).
The confraternity made do with the ruinous mediaeval building for almost forty years, but then had it rebuilt and rededicated to St John the Baptist in 1624. The architect was Angelo Torroni, and this is his only church in Rome.
There was a restoration in 1837, executed by Virginio Vespignani.
The confraternity lost its reason for existence in 1870, when the city's penal system was taken over by the Italian government. For a time after that, the church was under the care of the Salesians but this stopped in the early 20th century.
At the end of the 20th century, the church was the Roman headquarters for "Italians in the World", that is, expatriates. The rendering of the façade was in pink.
There was a major restoration of the church and the piazza outside at the start of the 21st century, which was finished in 2007. The façade was re-done in white.
It was decided to remove the status of "Church in Rome for Italian Expatriates" shortly after that, and the advertising material for this rôle was taken down by 2011. Presumably Italian expatriates do not want to be regarded as such when they are back in the old country.
The church is back to needing some kind of pastoral justification for its existence. At present, the only one that it has is its link to the nearby Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi since the priest in charge is also the apostolic administrator of that body.
The church was made titular in 1985, and is a cardinal diaconate.
Layout and fabric
The church has a single nave of three bays, then a square sanctuary and finally a semi-circular apse. The two latter parts are incorporated into the former headquarters of the confraternity. Because the street to the east, the Vicolo della Minerva, has a curve the headquarters block is actually at an angle to the major axis of the church and so the ridgeline of its pitched roof is not a straight line with that of the nave but is angled to the right (east).
At the lower right hand corner of the headquarters block is the little campanile, a bellcote placed parallel to the ridgeline.
After the recent restoration, the little church now looks very smart. Unusually the façade is lower than the ridge of the nave roof, which can be seen protruding above it as a gabled
There is a single storey, rendered in white with details in travertine limestone. Four gigantic Ionic pilasters with swagged capitals support a deep entablature, and a triangular pediment with a completely empty tympanum. There is a recessed rectangular panel between the pairs of pilasters either side of the single entrance door, and two rectangular windows of the same size above these.
The doorcase has a raised segmental pediment, and on the lintel is a winged putto's head.
In the centre of the upper part of the façade is a large panel shaped like an axe-head which breaks into the entablature, and which is decorated with a pair of volutes dangling strings of tassels. The frieze of the entablature is arranged so as to dodge over the top of this as if it were a cloth ribbon, and bears the inscription Archiconf(raternitas) Pietatis Carceratorum which is the Latin title of the confraternity that first rebuilt the church.
This panel used to have a modern tablet reading Chiesa degli Italiani nel Mondo, ("Church of Italians in the World") but this was removed by 2011.
Layout and fabric
The small interior is richly but cheaply decorated in what looks like marble and stucco, but this is mostly paint and dates from the 19th century restoration. The sanctuary has a shallow saucer dome, and a curved apse with a conch.
The nave has three bays, and each side wall has three shallow arched recesses. The further two of these contain side altars. These arcade arches are separated by blind pilasters (lacking capitals), which support an entablature which runs round the church except across the counterfaçade.
The counterfaçade occupies a very shallow entrance bay with its own arched vault, and here is the church organ on a gallery with a horizontal balustrade.
Three members of the Porcari family are buried in the church, and their very interesting tomb slabs were preserved when the old church was demolished. The most famous family member, Stefano Porcari, was executed in 1453 on the orders of Pope Nicholas V for organizing a plot to establish a republic, and his heavily restored house is nearby at Via della Pigna 19.
The memorials are on the side walls flanking the entrance, but used to be in the portico of the mediaeval church. To the right is that to Nicola di Eramo Porcari, 1362 with an incised effigy. To the left is that to Giuliano Porcari, 1282 with inlaid Cosmatesque work in porphyry and green serpentine. This involves a cross, the family shield and a floreated border; the shield features a pig, as you might expect from the family name. Below this is the memorial of Giovanni Porcari, 1363 with a border inscription in Gothic script surrounding the effigy. The pig features again.
The nave ceiling is barrel-vaulted on a shallow curve, and has three triangular lunettes on each side over windows in the nave walls. It displays skilful trompe l'oeil paintwork to imitate intricate detailing in stucco, arranged in wide diaper bands running in between the lunettes. The colour scheme is creamy white and pale grey, with yellow bits imitating gilding.
There is an impressive nave chandelier.
The triumphal arch has a molded archivolt which springs from the interior entablature and which is decorated in the same way as the nave vault.
The shallow saucer dome of the sanctuary is similarly treated, with the paintwork imitating eight wide ribs. The oculus features the Dove of the Holy Spirit. The pendentives have four tondi with frescoes of the Evangelists, 19th century.
The apse arch matches the triumphal arch. The altar aedicule is coved (concave), fitted against the curved wall, and has four ribbed yellow marble Corinthian columns supporting an entablature with a frieze in the same material.
The main altarpiece depicts a youthful St John the Baptist in the Desert and is by Baldassarre Croce, early 17th century.
Above the entablature is a framed panel containing a Pietà by Luigi Garzi, 18th century, and above that in turn in the apse conch are a group of stucco putti venerating the Cross.
Note the four gilded metal reliquary busts on the shelf flanking the tabernacle.
The side chapels are described anticlockwise, starting from the bottom right. They all have an identical design, featuring a round-headed picture frame embellished with acanthus leaves which is fitted into the curve of the arch. At the bottom of this is a scallop shell.
The first chapel on the right is dedicated to St Eleutherius. The altarpiece of his martyrdom is by Giacomo Zoboli, c1700.
The second chapel on the right is dedicated to St Genesius and the anonymous 18th century altarpiece depicts his baptism.
The first chapel on the left is dedicated to Our Lady. This has an attractive Madonna and Child in a vaguely Byzantine style, formerly attributed to Croce but now regarded as anonymous 18th century.
The church seems to be regularly open on weekdays, in the early morning for Mass and also sometimes in the late afternoon -opening times are not publicised, however, and this afternoon opening might have stopped (2018).
It is closed on Sundays, Solemnities (except the Nativity of St John the Baptist on 24 June, presumably) and during the month of August.
According to the Diocese (May 2019), Mass is celebrated at 8:00 on weekdays, and 18:00 on Saturdays.This Saturday evening Mass is for the Sunday.
Note that a former 18:00 Mass on weekdays has been discontinued, according to the Diocese.