San Primitivo refers to a ruined 4th (?) century church at Gabii, and a very late 19th century public chapel at Via Valle di Castilglione, which is in the suburb of Valle Castiglione. This is in the San Vittorino zone.
The dedication (unique to Rome) is to St Primitivus, identified with one of the seven sons of St Symphorosa.
Note that the name is sometimes given as San Primo.
Gabii was an ancient city in its own right, which enters the records as a political entity in the 6th century BC. It was built on the south shore of what was then a circular lake, Lacus Gabinus, which occupied the crater of an extinct volcano. The road to it was initially called the Via Gabiana, but was to become more familiar as the Via Praenestina.
The place was most famous for a high-quality tufo rock called lapis gabinus, identical to the modern pietra sperone and extensively quarried in the vicinity in ancient times.
However, the proximity of Rome meant that the city had declined into a market town for the local private villas by the start of the first millennium AD. As such, it acquired a bishop in the 4th century and occupants of the see are mentioned in records until the 9th century (the name is still that of a titular see).
The extant ruins of a late 4th century or early 5th century church are confidently pointed out as the cathedral, which was built in the city's forum. To the benefit of posterity, the Christians did not burn the forum's statuary for lime but buried them instead.
The cathedral was probably abandoned with the rest of the town in the 9th century.
The ruined church shows evidence of conversion into a fortified farmhouse in about 1200, which is probably why the ruins are fairly substantial. However, in the Middle Ages the focus of population (such as it was) shifted from the old city on the south-east shore of the lake to a location on the north-east shore which has a higher elevation. This Castrum Castellionis was granted to the monastery of Santa Prassede by Cardinal Pietro Capocci in 1259, and amounted to a defensible farmstead with a surviving tower.
In 1527, the monks of Santa Prassede lost possession of the Casale di Castiglione to private owners.
Modern times Edit
In 1792, the cache of forty statues, buried probably in the early 5th century, was dug up by Gavin Hamilton. He also noted the existence of the ruined church, although he left no write-up of his activities because archaeology was still basically treasure-hunting in his day.
The locality entered the modern age when the lake was drained for farmland in 1890 -a minor environmental catastrophe. The old Casale with its mediaeval tower was replaced by a new farmstead just to the north-west, and a chapel was provided for this which took the dedication of the ruined church.
Professional archaeological investigation of the city began in the early 20th century, and became systematic from 2007 with the "Gabii Project" which includes a restoration of the fabric of the ruined church. The site of the ancient city is now the Parco archeologico di Gabii, and is administered by the same city office that runs the Colosseum (Soprintendenza Speciale per il Colosseo).
In the Sixties, part of the farm of the Casale was illegally developed as the suburb of Valle Castiglione, including a section of the former lake bed. This messy little rat-hole of a place gave the 19th century chapel some pastoral justification, although there seems to be some doubt as to its present status.
Oddly, the chapel is administered by the Roman parish of Santa Maria di Loreto a Castelverde even though it is in the territory of the diocese of Tivoli. The parish lists it as a Mass centre, although no other references to it as a working chapel seem to exist and visitors have reported that it seems disused.
There are some hopes being expressed that the lake might be refilled.
Appearance of church Edit
The ruins of Gabii have two structures which stand to any height. The first is the famous Temple of Juno, and the second is the church which is some way to the east. The latter is just to the north of the ancient route of the Via Praenestina, which preserves its ancient cobblestones here -the modern road runs parallel to the south.
The church was substantially altered when it was converted into a farmstead. What survives to some height are the side walls of the central nave, which had five bays. These are in rough tufo blocks, and have been propped up with scaffolding for some years. The foundations of a segmental apse survive at the west end.
To the east, there are foundations of what seemed to have been quite a deep narthex. Further east are remains of a transverse rectangular building with an apse to the east, which might have been a baptistery or a subsidiary church. Attached to the south side of this is a massive and rather squat tower, in rough tufo blocks and standing almost to its full height. It has a cornice with dentillation made up of marble fragments, and eroded remains either of tall crenellations or a top windowed chamber. This tower is regarded as having been the old campanile, perhaps cut down to its present height when converted into a little fort.
Appearance of chapel Edit
The 19th century chapel is a simple rectangular structure, in brick with an overhanging pitched and tiled roof. The style is vaguely Gothic. The walls are rendered in off-white, and are peeling. There is a naked brick plinth, and brick pilasters at the corners.
The side walls each have two single-light Gothic windows in each side, which have a brick frame.
The single entrance is flanked by a pair of similar windows, and has a brick Gothic relieving arch in the fabric above it. This is continued down as a pair of pilasters forming the door-case, a brick lintel also being provided. Above the arch, a simple brick string-course runs under the gable to create a false pediment.
There is a tiny campanile perched on the right hand side of the façade, in the form of a gabled brick Gothic arch with simple imposts.
Old church Edit
The old church is part of the archaeological park. At present, access is free during daylight hours but you need to contact the administrators beforehand to warn that you are visiting. Contact details are here (click for drop-down).
The park includes the old Casale with its well-preserved mediaeval tower, which is at the end of the main access track running through the site. When up there, you are very close to the 19th century chapel -but the few tens of metres of land in between is private, and you need to go all the way around the former lake to get there!
19th century chapel Edit
This one is not easy to find. The Via Valle di Castilglione is a street that runs eastwards along the north side of the little suburb of Valle Castiglione, from its junction with the Via Polense. Persist in following the street where it becomes a country lane, until you pass a farmstead with a farmhouse attached to the far end of a long shed.
The chapel should then be visible to the right, just before the lane becomes someone's private driveway.
Mass is allegedly celebrated at the Casale chapel on Saturdays (for Sunday) at 16:00.
This is according to the parish website (June 2018) -which merely mentions San Primitivo in Valle Castiglione, without giving an address.
So, the Mass might be celebrated somewhere else than the chapel, if at all, as at 2018. A recent photo here does not raise hopes that the edifice is still in use (note, however, that the bell is still hanging).