San Girolamo dei Croati is the 17th century titular church of the Pontifical Croatian College of St Jerome, and the national church of Croatia. The postal address is Via Tomacelli 132, but the main entrance is on the Via Ripetta south of the Mausoleo di Augusto. It is very close to San Rocco, and the two form a landmark pair on the Tiber at a point which used to be the Porto di Ripetta (a landing place on the river for cargo before the Lungotevere was built). Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia page here.
The dedication is to St Jerome.
The church was first recorded in the 11th century, and was then called Santa Marina de Posterula. Nothing is known about its foundation or original function.
The name is unique among Roman churches, and has caused problems in the past -Maria and Martina have been given as alternatives. The actual word is a direct Latin translation of the Greek Pelagia or "girl of the sea", so this church was possibly dedicated to St Pelagia of Antioch.
The church fell into ruin in the 15th century, and in in 1453 the site was given to a group of Croatian clerical and lay expatriates by Pope Nicholas V, so that they could build a hospice and hospital. They were refugees from incursions by the Ottoman Turks into former Yugoslavia, an area which under the Roman Empire was a province called Illyria. Later, in the Middle Ages, the region was called Slavonia by the Hungarians who ruled it (the modern historical Slavonia is a much smaller territory).
They repaired the church and re-dedicated it to St Jerome, their patron who had been born in Illyria (actually in a place called Stridon near the present Ljubljana in Slovenia). Hence, the church was named San Girolamo degli Illirici or degli Schiavoni.
The expatriates were organized into a formal confraternity, and in 1587 Pope Sixtus V had the church completely rebuilt for the Croatian-speaking community in Rome. He also established a college of eleven Slav-speaking priests called the Capitolinum to conduct the liturgy there. Notoriously, the remnants of a spectacular ancient architectural monument called the Septizodium on the Palatine was demolished to provide materials for the church's decoration.
In 1790 Pope Pius VI founded a seminary here for Croat candidates for the priesthood, a separate institution from the Capitolinum. It functioned intermittently until 1901, when Pope Leo XIII combined the two into a new pontifical college. Non-Croatian Catholic Slavs, especially from around Kotor (the former Cattaro) in Montenegro, protested at its being named the Croatian college, so it was officially called the Pontifical College of the Illyrians. The Croats found this offensive, and Pope St Paul VI finally changed the name back in 1971. The church has been named dei Croati since then.
There was a major restoration in 1847, when the enormous fresco cycle by Pietro Gagliardi was executed, and again at the end of the 20th century.
The church was made titular in 1566.
Layout and fabricEdit
The plan is based on a Latin cross, with a fairly short nave of three bays which structurally has side aisles. These are divided into side chapels by blocking walls inside, which rise externally to become buttresses for the central nave walls. Then comes a transept, and finally a rectangular sanctuary and choir.
The fabric is in brick rendered in a very pale orange, with stone window frames and roofline cornices. The façade is also entirely in limestone.
The roof is pitched and tiled, and is hipped over the apse and transepts. There is no central exterior dome.
The campanile is a tower tucked in between the sanctuary and the far left hand side of the transept. It has three storeys above the roofline, and is in bare yellowish brick.
The first storey is low, with a square window in each face. The second is tall, with a narrow arched soundhole on each face flanked by four brick Doric pilasters supporting an entablature with a projecting stone cornice. The third storey is also low, a chamfered square with a round soundhole within a sunken square panel on each face. Four stone obelisks are inserted into the chamfers, and the parapet has four vase finials. The cupola, in lead, is also on the plan of a chamfered square and bears a stylized mountain finial consisting of four sugar loaves, one on top of three.
This device, together with a eight-pointed star, occurs elsewhere on the façade and is an emblem of Pope Sixtus V
The architect of the façade (if not the whole church) was Martino Longhi the Elder . It is in white travertine, with two storeys. The first storey has three
rectangular Ionic pilasters on each side of the entrance, with swags on their capitals and more swags and lion's masks in between them. In between each pair of these pilasters is an empty arched niche, with a blank rectangular (almost square) panel above and another one below. The frieze of the entablature that the pilasters support has a dedicatory inscription mentioning Pope Sixtus V.
The doorway has a raised triangular pediment, with more swags on the lintel and a pair of volutes on edge at the top corners of the doorcase.
The second storey has four ribbed Corinthian pilasters supporting an entablature and triangular pediment, the latter containing the coat-of-arms of Pope Sixtus flanked by gigantic swags. The frieze of this entablature has a dedicatory inscription with the saint's name. In the centre of this storey is a large rectangular window with swags below and a winged putto's head above. In between the pilasters are lions, either side of the stylized three mountain device. The three finials on the gable of the pediment have this form also.
Layout and fabricEdit
The interior, as may be expected, is very richly decorated and has figurative fresco work on almost every surface. There are three chapels on each side of the nave, formed by inserting cross-walls in the aisles. The crossing has a false saucer dome, extremely lush in its decoration. The sanctuary is square in plan, and doubles as a choir.
The college website has a large gallery with photos of the frescoes and pictures in this church, and the link is available in the "External links" below.
The overall fresco work is by Pietro Gagliardi, and is an enormous achievement. The chapel arcade arches are separated by gigantic Corinthian pilasters supporting an entablature, and on these pilasters are frescoes of the Apostles, each having a helpful putto above with a label bearing his name.
The barrel-vaulted ceiling has three window lunettes on each side, and in between these are the four Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezechiel and Daniel). The large central panel depicts the Triumph of the Church Militant.
On the counterfaçade are Popes Nicholas V and Sixtus V, also by Gagliardi.
The central crossing has an internal cupola, frescoed by Giovanni Guerra, 1590. It has a trompe-l'oeil effect, giving you the impression of looking into a colonnaded drum of a real dome with fantastically ornate columns. The central scene shows Jesus and Mary reigning in heaven, being venerated by St Jerome and pointed out by John the Baptist.
The ends of the transept have two frescoes by Gagliardi, the Crucifixion to the right and the Adoration of the Magi to the left.
The sides of the square sanctuary are occupied by the stalls of the college clergy, forming a choir. The altar is in the form of an ancient sarcophagus in verde antico, with fittings in gilded bronze. It has no baldacchino, but above is a floating canopy in crimson and gold, embelllished with tassels and cross-flowers and containing the Dove of the Holy Spirit in glory. There is no altarpiece
The frescoing of the sanctuary was done by several artists: Guerra, Antonio Viviani (Il Sordo di Urbino) and Lilio. The back panels shows The Ordination of St Jerome as Priest at Antioch in Syria (the lion was not there in reality, but is his symbol). The side walls show, to the right, St Jerome Debates on the Scriptures Before Pope Damasus, and to the left St Jerome Disputes on Doctrine in the Desert of Chalcis.
The sanctuary vault shows God the Father in a central tondo, with side panels depicting angels.
The chapels are described in anti-clockwise order, beginning to the right of the entrance.
Chapel of St Anthony of PaduaEdit
Outside is a memorial to Paolo Gozzi, 1680. It is a superb design, showing his bust as if standing at a window with the sill draped with a black marble cloth with his epitaph.
Chapel of Our Lady of the StarEdit
The second chapel on the right is dedicated to Our Lady, as Madonna della Stella. The altarpiece is thought to be by Filippo Bracci, 1745. The side wall frescoes are by Gagliardi; to the right is the Birth of Our Lady, and to the left the Assumption of Our Lady. The latter is unusual, as it shows her at the point of leaving her tomb.
Chapel of St AnneEdit
The third chapel on the right is dedicated to St Anne, and the altarpiece showing her with Our Lady and the Christ-Child is by Giuseppe Puglia. Here also is a memorial to Luigi Lezzani, 1861 by Ignazio Jacometti.
Chapel of SS Cyril and MethodiusEdit
The third chapel on the left is dedicated to SS Cyril and Methodius, apostles of the Slavs, and the altarpiece depicting them is by Benignio Waug, Il Vangellini.
Chapel of Our Lady of SorrowsEdit
The second chapel on the left is dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows, and the altarpiece depicting the Deposition is by Puglia. Side wall frescoes depict the Agony in the Garden and the Crowning with Thorns by Gagliardi.
Chapel of St JeromeEdit
The first chapel on the left is dedicated to St Jerome, and the altarpiece by Puglia shows him studying the Scriptures as a hermit. The side wall frescoes show St John the Baptist and St Paul Paul are by Gagliardi.
The church was rarely open to visitors when Croatia was part of Yugoslavia. However, since independence the college has had a re-vivification and the church seems to be open more regularly now.
An unofficial source gives:
Weekdays 7:00 to 9:00, 17:00 to 19:00,
Sundays 10:00 to 13:00, 17:00 to 19:00.
Masses are celebrated in Italian and Croatian. A Centro Storico Mass times database (accessed May 2019) gives the following, which is liable to change (it is recommended to contact the College beforehand if making arrangements to attend Mass here):
Weekdays 7:00, 7:30, 8:00, 18:30;
Sundays 10:30, 11:30, 12:15, 18:00 (Croatian).
Croatia's Statehood Day is 25 June, and the feast-day of St Jerome is 30 September..
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