San Gregorio Magno al Celio is a heavily restored mediaeval monastic and titular church belonging to a monastery of Camaldolese Benedictine monks on the western slope of the Caelian hill. Its postal address is Piazza di San Gregorio 1, in the rione Celio (the historic rione Campitelli). The garden chapels now have a separate address, at number 2. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia page here.
- 1 Name
- 2 History
- 3 Exterior
- 4 Interior
- 4.1 Layout
- 4.2 Nave
- 4.3 Sanctuary
- 4.4 Chapel of St Benedict
- 4.5 Chapel of St Peter Damian
- 4.6 Chapel of St Romuald
- 4.7 Chair of St Gregory
- 4.8 Chapel of St Gregory
- 4.9 Cell of St Gregory
- 4.10 Blessed Sacrament Chapel
- 4.11 Cappella Salviati
- 4.12 Chapel of the Immaculate Conception
- 4.13 Cappella Gabrielli
- 4.14 Chapel of Bl Michael Pini
- 5 Garden Chapels
- 6 Access
- 7 Liturgy
- 8 External links
In practice, everybody calls this church San Gregorio Magno -but the church that the Diocese knows as San Gregorio Magno is San Gregorio Magno alla Magliana Nuova, which could not be more different in architectural style.
Actually, until recently the Diocese insisted on Sant'Andrea al Celio. However when the Missionaries of Charity took over part of the property they made the middle one of the "garden chapels" their church, which is now known as Sant'Andrea al Celio instead. So, the Diocese have changed the name that they use for the monastery church.
A further twist is that the cardinalate title is Santi Andrea e Gregorio Magno al Celio.
All very confusing.
In ancient times the area was built over, and in the late imperial period was a wealthy residential neighbourhood occupying the shoulder of the Caelian hill between the vast enclosure of the Temple of the Divine Claudius and the east end of the Circus Maximus. The latter site marked the beginning of the Appian Way at the Porta Capena. The Clivus Scauri was a street that ran west to east from near the end of the Circus up the hill to the Porta Caelimontana, and is one of the few streets in Rome that has kept both its ancient name and its route. It is thought to have been laid out and developed by Marcus Aemilius Scaurus, who was censor in 109 BC. Under the chapel of Santa Barbara are the foundations of a multi-storey insula dating to about the beginning of the 3rd century AD, which corresponds to the same sort of building fronting the Clivus Scauri under the basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo. The remains of the structures under the latter give a clearer witness to the subsequent gentrification of the neighbourhood.
The prestigious nature of the district that arose was demonstrated by the discovery in the monastery's grounds of the statue known as the Aphrodite of Menophantos, an extremely high-status item in ancient times.
Beware of a garbled assertion that is appearing online, alleging that early Christian remains including a baptistry have been found here. This seems to be a confusion with Santi Giovanni e Paolo.
According to the foundation legend, a family of the gens Anicia owned a house on the site of the present monastery in the late imperial period. This property passed to St Gregory the Great (c540-601), who founded the first monastery here in 575 dedicated to St Andrew the Apostle. He lived in it himself as a monk and superior for fifteen years, before being elected Pope in 590.
In the process he might also have taken over a library (the Bibliotheca Agapiti), founded just to the north by his relative Pope Agapetus I (535-6) and housed in an apsidal basilica. The remains of the apse are still visible by the garden chapel of Sant'Andrea, and it is obvious that a more ancient building was re-used when the library was founded. The right hand side wall of this edifice flanks the Clivus Scauri, and is visible there.
It is unclear how derelict the urban landscape had become by then. The population of the city had collapsed, but real ruination of the palace complex on the Palatine and the buildings of the Fora was probably only completed in the early 9th century by a massive earthquake. The monks might have simply taken over the Anicia house without building any additions, using one of the larger rooms as a chapel. This possibility is hinted at by a contemporary practice of restricting the number of monks in a monastery to thirteen, witnessed to in the "Dialogues" attributed to St Gregory (although this work is probably a 8th century forgery using material by him).
Once Gregory had become pope, he used his monastery to train English boys whom he had bought in the Roman slave-market to be monks (note the continuation of slavery, two centuries after paganism in Rome had been proscribed). They were intended as missionaries to England, but in 596 the pope sent his resident monastic superior instead, St Augustine of Canterbury, with several others of the brethren. They founded the cathedral at Canterbury, and it was this that made the monastery of St Andrew's famous in history.
The original house is most likely partially preserved beneath the present church and monastery, but has not been excavated. Given that the site slopes steeply, all that can be said is that the original ancient Roman town house probably had its axis along the contour of the hill, and may be underneath the church.
Owing to the lack of documentation, it is suspected that the monastery was abandoned after the death of St Gregory. The secular clergy of the time certainly resented his promotion of monks to the Curia, as the Liber Pontificalis testifies.
It might help here to point out firmly that we know nothing about the lifestyle of the monks at St Andrew's, the rule that they followed or how the monastery was administered. The bene trovato story, still influential, that the pope and the monks were Benedictine is historically false -and anachronistic by over three hundred years.
In the 8th century the monastery was rebuilt on the orders of Pope Gregory II (715-31), and was occupied by Greek monks of the Byzantine rite. Back then, the papal Curia was Greek-speaking and monastic life in the city was dominated by monks from the eastern Mediterranean. This situation came about through the immigration of well-educated refugee monks and clerics fleeing the conquests of Islam and the iconoclast policies of the Byzantine Empire.
Very unfortunately, hostility between the ecclesiastical power-centres of Rome and Constantinople led to the Great Schism of 1054. The eastern monks would have dispersed (many to southern Italy) or gone back home well before then. After that, the presence of Eastern monks as the dominant influence in Roman monasticism for over two hundred years was maliciously airbrushed from history.
A revisionist opinion that the monastery was actually founded by Pope Gregory II, and that Gregory the Great had nothing to do with it, has been aired. This is a challenging idea, but difficult to reconcile with the sources.
Later, in the 10th century, the French Benedictine reform movement of Cluny obtained possession of the property (together with San Paolo fuori le Mura and San Cosimato in Trastevere) and established it as a Benedictine priory under the authority of the abbot at Cluny. It was in this period that the legend was propagated that St Gregory and his monastery were originally Benedictine. This is a historigraphical fallacy that has had a long history, even among secular historians, right up to the late 20th century.
The priory was sacked by the Normans from Sicily under Robert Guiscard in 1084, but restored by Pope Paschal II (1099-1118). By then, the Clivus Scauri was the most convenient route from the western part of the built-up area to the Lateran Palace, and would have been at least as busy as the Via Ostiense to San Paolo.
The date of the actual fabric of the present church is uncertain owing to a lack of documentation. However, it seems that it and the monastery were completely rebuilt in the late 12th or early 13th century. Surviving Renaissance depictions indicate that there used to be a 12th century Romanesque tower campanile of the sort familiar at many Roman churches (see Santi Giovanni e Paolo nearby for an example). The church had an atrium courtyard and portico on the site of the present edifices, along the lines of what survives at San Clemente.
In 1300 an altar dedicated to SS Gregory and Benedict was consecrated in the church, which was the first on record here dedicated to the holy pope. The monastery was then dependent on San Paolo fuori le Mura.
However, by then the monastic observance of the Benedictines in Rome had became very bad. The basic problem was that the monks gained the right to private incomes, which led many of them to live in luxury, dress like noblemen (except in black), carry daggers and keep mistresses. As a result most of their monasteries in the city were handed over to other religious from the 13th century onwards. This one survived longer than most, but was granted to the Camaldolese in 1573 by Pope Gregory XIII. However the pope reserved the right to choose an abbot, instead of allowing the community to elect their own. Hence the superior here was a commendatory abbot with actual discipline in the hands of the prior or second-in-command.
The Camaldolese monks who came here were from the original Camaldoli congregation, not the separate Monte Corona eremitic reform congregation. The former already had a Roman headquarters at San Romualdo (now demolished), which it was in the process of rebuilding. Simultaneously with the grant of the monastery to this group, the Monte Corona monks were permitted to establish a monastery of their own at Santi Leonardo e Romualdo (also demolished).
The Camaldoli brethren immediately began a long campaign of improvements, beginning with a new sacristy and portico (the latter later replaced). In 1594 Cardinal Anton Maria Salviati, the commendatory abbot, undertook the construction of a large domed side chapel for family burials. This was completed in 1600. His successor was that great scholar Cardinal Caesar Baronius, who ordered a complete restoration as well as the building of a new chapel of Santa Silvia. Unfortunately he died in 1607, and the work was completed by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in the following year. Then, from 1629 to 1633 the cardinal had a new portico built, to a design by Giovanni Battista Soria.
Unlike many others of their congregation, who have been hermits, this monks of this particular monastery have had a cenobitic life organised on the lines familiar in Benedictine monasticism.
The abbey obtained a resident abbot by the 18th century. Abbot Apollinare Montanari began a programme to rebuild the monastery in 1706, a project that took ten years and left the present edifice. This included a hospice for poor people as well as a new cloister, indicating that the monks here were moving away from their original, purely contemplative charism.
Then the interior of the church was re-modelled from 1725 to 1734 by Francesco Ferrari (not the famous painter, who was dead by then). In this restoration many funerary monuments were cleared out, and re-erected in the atrium. The mediaeval Cosmatesque floor was re-laid, and a new high altar provided in 1745. The result is essentially the present building.
The mediaeval tower campanile seems to have been demolished in this remodelling.
The monastery was sacked and severely damaged by the French during the Napoleonic occupation of Rome from 1809 to 1814.
A moment of glory came when a Camaldolese monk of this monastery was elected as Pope Gregory XVI. He ordered a restoration in 1829, and made the church titular in 1834.
The monastery was sequestered by the Italian government in 1872, together with all the others in the city. In 1876 the government passed over ownership of the buildings to the city of Rome, and followed this with the monastery's extensive gardens and vineyards in 1880. Much of the latter was used in widening the local roads, and a dedicated right of way for an electric tram was built through the former vineyard at the start of the 20th century. This still functions, as tram number 3. The monastic premises meanwhile became a municipal almshouse for poor people -a Ricovero di Mendicità.
The monks were able to return to part of the monastery after the Lateran Pacts of 1929 (they had been allowed to keep charge of the church in the meantime), and the institution became the Roman headquarters and house of studies for the Camaldolese after that. The Camaldoli branch of the Camaldolese joined the Order of St Benedict in 1966, hence the church has returned to the Benedictines after almost half a millennium.
The city leased another part of the premises to the Missionaries of Charity on the initiative of St Teresa of Calcutta, their foundress, in 1968. They use it as an outreach to poor immigrants and expatriates, especially eastern Europeans, and the Roman headquarters of the Missionaries is also here.
A nursery school is also located in the complex. Part of the former vegetable gardens is now a public park, the Parco di San Gregorio al Celio, which was restored recently.
The monks renovated part of their wing of the monastery as a dedicated hotel in 2002, for paying guests. This was partly in response to a serious decline in vocations, which has left the monastic community in danger of being able to fit into one taxi.
The church had to be closed for a period at the beginning of 2010, owing to defects in the plasterwork of the vault which led to a minor collapse. A safety net has been installed, allowing the re-opening to visitors, but repairs are urgently needed and the church may be closed for a long period for these in the near future.
In 2012 the former "garden chapel" of Sant'Andrea was raised to the status of a full church by the Diocese, with a priest appointed by the Chapter of Santa Maria Maggiore.
The church was given a cardinalitial title by Pope Gregory XVI in 1834, but had to wait until June 1839 for its first titular priest. This was Ambrogio Bianchi, like the pope a Camaldolese monk. Two famous English cardinals here were Henry Edward Manning and Herbert Vaughan.
Dominating the Piazza di San Gregorio al Celio is a large portico at the top of a staircase, behind which is an atrium flanked by two wings of the monastery. The nave frontage of the church is straight ahead, behind another wing, but access is via the monastery door on the right. From there, visitors go along the ground-floor corridor of the right-hand wing to the church's monastic side entrance.
The monastery has three other large ranges, arranged around a rectangular cloister to the west of the church. To the east of the church are modern single-storey buildings, and to the south-east is the public park occupying the old vegetable garden.
To the north-east of the piazza, up a separate staircase, is a garden. On the other side of this are three chapels arranged on the plan of a half-open fan, with their entrances close together. Although they are stand-alone buildings, they are traditionally regarded as attached to the church.
Clivus Scauri entrance
The ancient monastery is thought to have been on the left hand side of the church, but the Benedictines in about the year 1200 decided to build a new one on the other side. However, the putative old gateway to the former monastery from the Clivus Scauri was rebuilt in 1607 to a design by Flaminio Ponzio. This has a pair of Doric pilasters supporting a split pediment, the two halves being on either side of a fresco of St Gregory. He has a bird apparently pecking at his ear; this is meant to be the Holy Spirit inspiring him in his writings. Above the fresco is a segmental pediment, and on the lintel of the door is an inscription commemorating Cardinal Scipione Borghese.
This gate led into an irregular courtyard behind the garden chapels. In turn this would have led into the vegetable gardens.
The gate actually occupies a side wall of the ruin of the mid 6th century basilical library founded by Pope Agapetus I (the attribution depends on a lost inscription recorded in the 8th century Itinerary of Einsiedeln). You can see an ancient side wall fronting the street to the left, and if you look round the corner on the right you will see the well-preserved apse. The fabric of the latter shows that an older edifice was partly rebuilt for the library, but there is no evidence that this had any Christian function. A view of the interior of the basilica is here.
The Piazza di San Gregorio al Celio is itself a historical monument. Mediaeval monasteries usually had an open area outside their gatehouses, which functioned primarily as a mustering ground. Men bearing arms were not allowed onto monastery property. In most cases this also functioned as a market, and for many monasteries in Europe the market evolved into a town.
The patch of grass here now has a modern sculpture of St Teresa of Calcutta.
The two-storey portal is by Giovanni Battista Soria, together with the atrium, and was completed in 1633. It is considered his best work, and has recently been restored. The church lies on high ground, and Soria used this to good effect by constructing a wide approach staircase with very low steps. This enhances the impression of monumentality.
The façade of the portal is of two storeys divided into three vertical sections, with the middle section brought forward. In each section there is an arched portal with Doric imposts and molded archivolts, all of the same size and with wrought iron gate railings. The middle one is crowned by an eagle in relief, and the side ones by winged dragons. These two creatures are the supports of the coat-of-arms of the Borghese family, a reminder that Cardinal Scipione Borghese was responsible for the work.
The first storey has a pair of Ionic pilasters on each side of the protruding central section, and single ones on the outer corners. The central four are doubletted, looking as if other pilasters are hiding behind. The six pilasters support an entablature dividing the storeys. The inscription on the frieze of this commemorates the cardinal: S[cipio] Episc[opus] Sabin[ensis] Card[inalis] Burghesius M[aior] Poeniten[tiarius] AD MDCXXXIII. Here the cardinal is advertising his status as Major Penitentiary.
Three rectangular windows in the second storey correspond to the portals below, and have balustraded balconies which also bear eagles and dragons. The central window has a segmental pediment, while the two side ones have triangualar ones, and these are decorated with swags and ribbons. There are also six pilasters in the second storey, with Corinthian capitals, and the middle four support a triangular pediment containing a coat-of-ams.
Before 1872, when the government confiscated it, the monastery kept its highly regarded library in the upper storey of this portico. The reason for this was safety -monks have been burning down their monasteries by misusing candles ever since monastic life started, and this place was the furthest from any putative source of conflagration.
The beautiful cobbled atrium, painted in lemon-yellow and white, has arcaded ambulatories or walkways in the portico and to right and left with applied Ionic pilasters on the square piers separating the arches. These support an entablature running round the atrium. Corresponding Corinthian pilasters on the second storey walls of the side wings and portico support the dentillate cornice of a second entablature at the roofline, the capitals intruding into the frieze. A window with a molded Baroque frame is in between each pair of second storey pilasters.
However, the ambulatory or loggia straight ahead in front of the church is not arcaded but trabeated, with three large rectangular portals. The entablature here is supported by six ancient Ionic columns on high plinths, one at each end and two pairs. The Corinthian first-floor pilasters above the double columns are also double. The second storey here has three windows.
The lunettes of the ambulatory vaults have frescoes attributed to Niccolò Circignani, Il Pomarancio. They show miracles in the lives of Pope St Gregory the Great (including an eucharistic miracle), and of St Romuald the founder of the Camaldolese. Note that the monks in these latter frescoes wear white habits, as they still do. Each fresco has (or had) a caption in both Latin and Italian. Unfortunately, many were mutilated by the installation of funerary monuments removed from the church in 1734. Compare these frescoes with those in the cloister at Sant'Onofrio al Gianicolo.
Notable memorials are as follows:
To the right, Pietro Beltramo 1543 (with a pair of bearded male herms), Cardinal Roberto Riparoli 1592, Bernardo dei Franchi 1620, Porzia del Drago Santa Croce 1614 (in polychrome marble, with a very good veiled portrait bust), Francesco Maria Bagorcia 1562 and Antonio & Michele Bonsi, brothers from Florence, about 1500. The last has a delicately carved bas-relief of the Madonna and Child with angels by Luigi Capponi, as well as a portrait bust of one of the brothers (the other one has gone missing).
To the left, Robert Peckham 1569 (an English refugee from the Reformation), Edward Carne 1561 (with a bas-relief of Our Lady and a shield showing the Pelican in Piety), Giacomo Bespini 1645, Emilia Lomellini 1592, Giovanni Nicolini 1580, Virgilio Crescenzi 1592 by Onorio Longhi and Lelio Guidiccioni 1643 with another bas-relief of Our Lady with angels. This last monument has obviously re-used carved items from a destroyed memorial of the previous century, and it is thought that this might have been to the famous high-class sex worker Imperia Cognati who had been buried in the church in 1512.
The gable end of the church nave can be seen peeping over the far range of the atrium, and shows the same style of six pilasters (two singles and two doubles) supporting a triangular pediment. In the pediment is an oeil-de-boeuf window with its frame decorated with volutes.
The church building is not easy to view from the exterior, because it is enclosed by monastic and other buildings.It has a nave of four bays with side aisles, a short sanctuary at a much lower elevation and a three-sided external apse. The roofs are pitched and tiled. The side aisles are extended to provide chapels flanking the sanctuary, and off the far end of the left hand one is the Cappella Salviati which on the outside is a separate cubical building with a pyramidal tiled roof.
The 18th century campanile is a slab perched on the outer wall of the far end of the left hand aisle. It has two storeys, with bell-openings and a crowning tiled gable. It replaced a 12th century tower campanile of four storeys above the nave roofline, which was situated to the left of the sanctuary and features in 17th century depictions.
There is a central nave of four bays with side aisles, and three main entrances from the atrium into these. The aisles in the first three bays are laid out as side chapels, three on each side, although there are no blocking walls separating them. The fourth bay has the monastery entrance on the right (this is the way in used by visitors) and the entrance into the Cappella Salviati on the left. This large chapel has its own nave, and a domed sanctuary on a square plan.
The church sanctuary has two bays, the further one wider on both sides. The high altar fits into a shallow rectangular apse -not three sided, as the church exterior would have you believe. The sanctuary walls are very thick, and might incorporate very old fabric although this is not known for sure.
The sanctuary is flanked by two chapels, each having a single bay and an apsidal sanctuary. Off the right hand chapel is a little room venerated as St Gregory's monastic cell.
The nave and aisles are separated by an arcade of four arches on each side, separated by five solid piers. The near and far piers are attached to the counterfaçade and triumphal arch wall respectively. Each pier has an applied tripletted Ionic pilaster, and these pilasters support an entablature with a strongly projecting cornice, a blank frieze and tripletted posts above the capitals.
The arch archivolts do not spring from imposts attached to the piers, but from free-standing Ionic columns. These are ancient, and are thought to have belonged to the mediaeval church. Eleven are of grey granite, two of grey marble (bigio antico) and three of cipollino marble. In between each arch and the entablature is an identical stucco decorative relief featuring crossed palm branches within swagged curlicues and a crowning winged putto's head.
Most of the interior of the church, including this stucco decoration of 1725 by Carlo Porziano under the direction of Ferrari, is painted in a cream colour.
There is a spectacular Cosmatesque polychrome marble floor, dating from the 13th century. The 18th century brethren could have ripped it up and replaced it with marble tiles as in too many other Roman churches, but instead they had Ferrari re-lay it. We should be grateful.
The barrel-vaulted ceiling springs from the entablature, and has a shallow curve. Above each arcade arch is a large semi-circular lunette containing a window crowned by a stucco wreath. Most of the vault is taken up by a fresco by Placido Costanzi 1727, showing The Glorification of SS Gregory and Romuald. The panels at either end feature stucco putti by Porziano.
The deep triumphal arch springs from two pairs of ribbed Composite semi-columns, tightly flanked on the nave side by a pair of Ionic entablature pilasters. Here the molded archivolt intrudes into the entablature, and touches the cornice. The lunette above the latter features a large relief medallion supported by a pair of flying angels, depicting Pope Gregory Commissions the English Mission. This work is by Giovanni Battista de' Rossi, to a design by Ferrari.
The design of the sanctuary and high altar is given as being by one Dalmazzoni, 1733. A third pair of semi-columns supports the archivolt of the triumphal arch of the shallow rectangular apse, within which two free-standing columns placed diagonally behind support a nested archivolt. In front of this pair of columns are two statues of SS Andrew and Gregory, thought to be by Paolo Romano late 1400's.
The vault of the sanctuary bay features the Dove of the Holy Spirit in glory.
There is no aedicule as such, but instead a large, ornate round-headed gilded frame featuring curlicues, swags and a scallop shell. The altarpiece painting depicts The Madonna and Child with SS Andrew and Gregory, and is by Antonio Balestra 1734.
The side chapels are described anti-clockwise, beginning to the right of the main entrance (the bottom of the nave).
Chapel of St Benedict
The nave side chapels are identically treated, each being a rather small arched niche within the thickness of the side wall. The molded archivolt is supported by a pair of ribbed Ionic columns with gilded highlights. The round-headed altarpiece fits snugly into the niche, and the little altar has polychrome marble embellishments.
The first chapel on the right is dedicated to St Benedict. The interesting altarpiece by John Parker 1749 shows St Gregory as a boy with his mother St Silvia, having a vision of St Benedict foretelling his papacy.
Chapel of St Peter Damian
The second chapel on the right is dedicated to St Peter Damian, whose monastic congregation of Fonte Avellana was later united with that of Camaldoli. The altarpiece by Francesco Mancini 1751 shows him with Pope Alexander II.
Chapel of St Romuald
The third chapel on the right is dedicated to St Romuald, the founder of the Camaldolese monks, who also features in the nave ceiling. The altarpiece depicts his death, and is by Francesco Fernandi 1733.
Beyond, on the wall to the right, is a relief of Our Lady being venerated by angels, of the Roman school about 1500.
Chair of St Gregory
At the entrance is now placed an ancient Roman marble chair of the 1st century BC, which by tradition is the cathedra or the one in which the pope sat when presiding at liturgies in the church that he founded here. This is one of four chairs known of this type, the design of which is almost certainly of an ancient Greek provenance.
The chair has a semi-circular back, on which is depicted in shallow relief a winged and bearded genius arising from curlicues. The original plinth or bottom section is missing, and there is speculation as to what the entire object might have looked like.
The chair now sits on a square stone panel with Cosmatesque decoration, which obviously has no connection with it.
Chapel of St Gregory
Because the high altar is dedicated to St Andrew, there is a chapel dedicated to St Gregory at the end of the right hand aisle. This has a bay with a circular skylight or oculus in its vault, and then an apse with a conch which has rich gilded stucco decoration in a grotesque style and also two capsule-shaped side windows lighting the altar.
The altarpiece showing St Gregory Inspired by the Holy Spirit is by Sisto Badalocchio, 1606.
The altar frontal is an important marble relief work by Luigi Capponi, commissioned by Michele Bonsi whose memorial is in the atrium (and is also by Capponi). Here, three square panels show the legend of the Gregorian Mass which occurs in the "Dialogues" allegedly written by the pope himself -there is serious doubt about the authenticity of this episode, however. The reliefs show the pope having a vision of Christ while saying Mass (centre), from which he learned that the celebration of thirty consecutive daily Masses would release a soul from Purgatory. The left hand panel shows the first occurrence of this with the soul of one of his monks, and the right hand one features the pope continuing the practice for many souls.
Cell of St Gregory
A doorway in the right hand side of the chapel leads into a little chamber, which is venerated as the original cell which St Gregory occupied when he was a monk. It is not quite rectangular -the left hand wall on entering is noticeably skew. The present Grotesque scrollwork decoration on the walls and the cross-vault is 18th century.
In here are two niches, protected by bronze grilles. The smaller of these, the one without a triangular pediment, has a text above it identifying it as the sleeping-place or Lettuccio of the saint. It reads: Nocte dieque vigil longo hic defessa labore, Gregorius modica membra quiete levat. ("Keeping watch night and day, worn-out by lengthy work, Gregory comforts his limbs with a little rest"). This contains a pun on his name, which in Greek means "watcher".
The marble chair, which is now outside, was kept in here for centuries until recently.
Blessed Sacrament Chapel
The corresponding chapel to the left of the sanctuary is the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. It is almost identical in design to that of St Gregory, but it is provided with a low balustraded rail.
The altarpiece is by Alberto De Rohden 1893, and has the title Anglia Dos Mariae or "England, the Dowry of Mary". It shows the Madonna and Child with SS Joseph, Peter, Gregory and a saint with a palm-branch -Andrew?
To the left is the memorial of Cardinal Placido Zurla, and to the right a bronze bust of Pope Gregory XVI. Both had been Camaldolse monks, as well as close friends. These works are by Giuseppe De Fabris.
Near this chapel is a door that leads to the Cappella Salviati, first proposed as a family mortuary chapel by Cardinal Antonio Maria Salviati in 1594. Francesco da Volterra was going to be the architect, but unfortunately he died in the same year and the project was continued by Carlo Maderno. Completion was in 1600.
The chapel amounts structurally to a small church. There is a small single nave which has an entablature supported by blind pilasters (no capitals), from which springs a barrel-vaulted ceiling with window lunettes. The decoration here is restrained, in pale yellow and white. Notable monuments are to Rainieri Interannati 1579, obviously re-located here, and to Cardinal Ambrogio Bianchi 1864 (he died in 1856). The entrance from the church emerges through the right hand side wall near the deep triumphal arch, again to a simple design.
The sanctuary is raised, and is decoratively a complete contrast. It is on a square plan, and has a dome on pendentives which spring from an entablature supported by four ancient Ionic columns in cipollino marble standing in the corners. The entablature frieze has an epigraph stating that the cardinal endowed the chapel in honour of the ancient icon of Our Lady enshrined here.
The lower walls are revetted in polychrome marble work, and the upper walls and dome have frescoes by Giovanni Battista Ricci da Novara 1600. The dome features a Deesis, with Christ Triumphant accompanied by Our Lady and St John the Baptist, and surrounded by the heavenly host. The pendentives feature angels and putti with symbols of martyrdom, and more putti with saints decorate the archivolts. The lunettes have Evangelists and Prophets.
The altar is in an arched niche, and has a triangular pediment supported by two ancient Corinthian columns in a marble described as giallo e nero antico. This was sourced from what is now Chemtou in Tunisia. The altarpiece is a copy of the original St Gregory at Prayer by Annibale Carracci.
The sanctuary side walls have similar arched niches, but narrower. The one on the right has a late 7th century icon of the Madonna and Child, in a style noticeably different from the Byzantine. Tradition claims that St Gregory prayed before this picture, and that the Madonna spoke to him. However, the work seems too late for that -also, it has been heavily repainted. The epigraph on the sanctuary's entablature refers to the tradition. The icon is in a stone frame, and has angel attendants in fresco.
To the left of the altar is a superb aumbry or holy-oil cupboard, commissioned by Abbot Gregorio Amatisco in 1469 and executed by the school of Andrea Bregno, It is in marble with gilded details, and represents a triumphal arch in trompe l'oeil style. The central arch, in false perspective, contains the Madonna and Child, the two little side arches feature SS Andrew and Gregory, and above these are two tondi depicting The Annunciation. The top frieze shows the Miracle of Castel Sant'Angelo. The legend of this states that St Gregory led a penitential procession in response to an epidemic, and during it saw St Michael the Archangel sheathing his sword while standing on the apex of the Castel. In a lunette on top there is God the Father.
Ricci da Novara executed a fresco above the aumbry when it was re-erected here, repeating the theme of the Miracle.
It may help to note that the English call a holy-oil cupboard like this one an aumbry, but the Italians call it a ciborio. A ciborium in English is a vessel in which consecrated Hosts are kept. Confusingly, ciborio and ciborium are also both used in reference to a baldacchino.
As the chapel is now used by Romanian Catholics of the Byzantine rite, a simple wooden iconostasis has been installed which divides the sanctuary into two.
Chapel of the Immaculate Conception
The third chapel on the left is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady. The altarpiece is by Francesco Mancini, 1739, and is an allegory of her creation by God the Father. Satan is depicted as a defeated dragon. This is the Cappella Fioravanti.
The second chapel on the left is the Cappella Gabrielli, patronized by a family from Gubbio and dedicated to certain of its holy members. The altarpiece by Pompeo Batoni of 1739 shows four of them, venerating the Madonna and Child. The bishop is Rudolf of Gubbio, a monk of Fonte Avellana under St Peter Damian who became bishop of his native city. He is venerated there as a saint, but his cult has never been confirmed and he is not in the Roman Martyrology. The monk in front is Blessed Fortis Gabrielli, also of Fonte Avellana, whose cult has been confirmed. The monk and nun behind are Castora and Peter Gabrielli, the latter being a brother of Rudolf and the former a penitential Franciscan tertiary who died in 1391. Their cults are not confirmed.
Chapel of Bl Michael Pini
The first chapel on the left is dedicated to Bl Michael Pini, a Florentine Camaldolese hermit and spiritual author who died in 1522 and whose cult is not confirmed. The altarpiece shows him having a vision of Christ, and is by Giovanni Battista Ponfreni 1745. In it, Christ is shown bestowing the Camaldolese Crown, a rosary devotion which Bl Michael propagated and wrote about.
The garden to the left of the portal, up another flight of stairs, is the alleged site of the burial ground of the old monastery (although there seems to be no archaeological evidence for this). There were two chapels here in mediaeval times, set at an angle to each other, the left hand one being dedicated to St Barbara and the right hand one to St Andrew. The latter was traditionally the site of the church of the monastery founded by St Gregory.
Cardinal Caesar Baronius commissioned a restoration in 1603, and simply in order to create a symmetrical composition he had a third chapel built to the right, identical to St Barbara's and dedicated to St Silvia the mother of St Gregory. The architect was Flaminio Ponzio, and the work was completed about 1607.
If you look at the group of chapels from the Clivus Scauri, you will see that the façades of St Barbara's and St Sylvia's are false. The actual chapels have much lower roofs; architecturally, the buildings are like saloons in a cowboy town.
These three chapels were the first parts of the complex to be restored in the ongoing programme of restoration work. The central one, Sant'Andrea, is now considered to be a church and is used for weddings. The other two are not used for liturgical purposes.
This is a mediaeval building, dating from the 12th or 13th century but built on re-used ancient foundations. The 16th century restoration left the façade with two corner pilasters with imposts but no capitals, supporting a segmental pediment on a broken cornice. The doorway has a triangular pediment, and over this is a window with a curved top. There is a blank elliptical tondo in the pediment. The inscription on the doorway lintel is Triclinio di San Gregorio, referring to a legend that this was originally a soup-kitchen run by St Gregory for destitute people.
Inside, the layout is rectangular with a semi-circular apse. Much of the floorspace is taken up with a large table at which twelve people were (according to the legend) invited to take a meal every day, being served by St Gregory personally. This table is 3rd century, and is made from a large marble slab resting on a fragment of granite column and with its end supports carved with lion-headed griffins.
The walls are covered with frescoes by Antonio Viviani of 1602. One of the panels relates the story of how an angel once arrived as one of the twelve poor people, disguised as one of them, and was entertained by the saint before suddenly vanishing. A short text celebrating the same event is carved on the table. The other frescoes depict: Our Lady Appears to St Gregory, St Gregory and the English Slaves, St Gregory Blesses the English Mission of St Augustine and Forty Monks, St Augustine and his Companions Before King Ethelbert, and Probus Is Elected as Abbot. The portraits of saints are of SS Flavia Domitilla, Nereus and Achilleus, Barbara and Gregory.
The apse contains a large seated marble statue of St Gregory in its own aedicule (where the altar used to be), which is by Nicolò Cordieri. The aedicule has a pair of Ionic columns in a brecciated pink marble, supporting the fragments of a split segmental pediment into which a tablet with its own triangular pediment has been inserted. This reads: Mirificavit Dominus sanctum suum ("The Lord has made his saint wonderful").
The church (no longer just a chapel) dedicated to St Andrew is the one in the middle, and is of the 11th or 12th century.
It has an open loggia occupying the entire width of the façade, with a sloping tiled roof on an entablature supported by four ancient Composite columns in cipollino marble. The entablature attaches to the chapels on either side. Above it, the windowless gabled frontage is topped by a triangular pediment with a broken cornice. In the pediment is a blank horizontal rectangular niche, decorated with a love-knot on top. There is a dedicatory inscription over the lintel of the entrance doorway: Oratorium S[anctae] Mariae Virg[inis] et S[ancti] Andreae Apost[oli], a S[ancto] Gregorio erectum, iterum restitutum ("The oratory of holy Mary the virgin and holy Andrew the apostle, built by holy Gregory, again restored").
The interior is a simple rectangular space, with the sanctuary delimited by low balustraded rails. The altar has a pair of Ionic columns in verde antico marble, supporting a segmental pediment. The altarpiece shows Our Lady with SS Andrew and Gregory, and is by Cristoforo Roncalli Il Pomarancio.
The side walls have two large frescoes. The Flagellation of St Andrew on the right is by Domenichino 1608, restored by Carlo Maratta. Guido Reni painted SS Peter and Paul standing either side of the altar, as well as St Andrew Being Taken to Martyrdom on the left. Giovanni Lanfranco was responsible for SS Gregory and Sylvia on the counterfaçade, together with the coat-of-arms of Cardinal Borghese there.
There is a coffered and varnished flat wooden ceiling, with gilded highlights. This was installed in 1608, and has a carving of the Cardinal's arms in the centre. The other carving shows angels with the cross of St Andrew. During the recent restoration, mediaeval fresco fragments were discovered between ceiling and roof which are 12th century at the latest and show a Christ Pantocrator with two angels and two prophets. These prove that the original mediaeval edifice had no ceiling.
This was newly built in the early 17th century, and has a façade and interior layout deliberately identical to that of Santa Barbara. The patron saint was the mother of St Gregory, and the statue of her in the apse by Nicolas Cordier is a pair to that of her son in Santa Barbara. However, she is shown standing. The aedicule has two porphyry Corinthian columns supporting a triangular pediment, and is embellished with panels in alabaster.
The ceiling is similar to that in Sant'Andrea, and also bears the arms of Cardinal Borghese.
The fresco depicting A Musical Concert of Angels in the conch of the apse is by Guido Reni. God the Father is the conductor. The statue aedicule is flanked by David and Isaiah by Badalocchio.
The monastery is quite near the Circo Massimo metro station. Tram route number 3 passes the entrance.
Recent unofficial sources give the church opening times as being 9:00 to 12:00 and 15:30 to 19:00 daily.
This church is unusual in Rome in having no direct and free access off the street, even when it is open. Entry is through the atrium, on the other side of the railings in the monumental façade at the top of the stairs. Visitors are required to ring the bell for the monastery on the right in the atrium, and ask for access from the duty doorkeeper.
If the gate in the railings is locked, the church is not open to visitors. Also, if there is nobody available to open the monastery door then the intercom will be patched through to one of the monks, who will have to tell you that you cannot visit. Please don't try to argue or negotiate, as the occurrence of this situation is not the result of choice. Also, please don't accost any monks whom you may see as they are now very busy people.
The garden chapels now have separate access arrangements. Sant'Andrea is advertised by the Diocese (May 2019) as open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 9:00 to 13:00.
Public Mass in the monastery church is celebrated on weekdays at 19:15.
The Missionaries of Charity have their weekday Mass at 6:30, and their Sunday one at 10:00. Visitors may attend.
Official diocesan web-page (Monastery church)
Official diocesan web-page of Sant'Andrea (the chapel in the garden)
Paolo Bedogni web-page (has good floor-plan of church)