San Romano ai Monti is an obscure early 20th century deconsecrated school church formerly listed by the Diocese at Via degli Zingari 13 in the rione Monti.

The dedication was to St Romanus.


Casa Stefanoni Edit

The enormous premises here, occupying a flank of the Viminal Hill and elevated above the street, seem to have originated in the 16th century as the Casa Stefanoni which had a tower attached. It seems to feature on the city map by Antonio Tempesta, and is noted under this name on the Nolli map of 1748.

By that time the premises had been rebuilt as a multi-occupancy palazzo -an early version of a high-class apartment block. It was provided with a monumental entrance stairway with a nymphaeum at the top, dated to the early 18th century.

However the area to the west, the Suburra, had been low-class since ancient times and was to remain so.

Lasallians Edit

In 1839, the premises were bought by the Apostolic Camera (Papal treasury) from the Gervasi family, and leased to the De La Salle Brothers to run as a day-school for the local poor children. This was the Istituto Sant'Antonio. The undertaking received great assistance from the famous and erudite Cardinal Angelo Mai, then head of the Vatican Library (he was made a cardinal in 1838).

In 1856 the congregation purchased the property, and extended it by adding a block to the left of the entrance, on the corner with the little dead-end street now called Via San Giovanni Labre. This contained a chapel, which had a frescoed interior depicting the Apostles and Evangelists. A separate boarding school was set up, the Istituto Immacolata Concezione, and in honour of the Immaculate Conception a statue was inserted into the entrance nymphaeum.

Salesians Edit

In 1861, the property reverted to the Camera but the boarding school continued. In 1870 it was taken over by the Salesians, who added a third storey to the main block of the complex and left it flat-roofed.

The Cardinal was first commemorated in the school's name in 1891, and it became the Istituto Angelo Mai in 1902. In 1908 a private theatre was added.

In 1923, there was a re-ordering which involved the conversion of the theatre into a new chapel. For some reason, this was given the status of a church which would have meant that there was some sort of free public access (Info.roma thinks that this was from the end of the Via San Giuseppe Labre). The former chapel was converted into a gym, and its frescoes were whitewashed.

Decline Edit

The last remodelling of the premises was in 1940. From the on, the story was one of steady decline as the neighbourhood started to lose its lower-class families with large numbers of children. The decline was slow at first, but became precipitous towards the end of the 20th century and the school was formally closed in 1990 when the last pupils were taught. Vocational courses of various sorts continued until 2002, when the premises were finally mothballed.

Commune Edit

In 2004 the empty complex was illicitly occupied by thirty homeless families. This occupation quickly morphed into an artists' commune, which described itself as an "open laboratory of art and culture".

A notable installation which resulted from this was Francesco e Lorenzo by Olaf Nicolai 2006, which was a cluster of illuminated plastic lemons attached to the frontage of the church.

Limbo Edit

The artists and other squatters were evicted by the city authorities in 2006, as the freehold of the property had reverted to the city. This was the start of a project to convert the premises for use by a local public school, the "Istituto Viscontino".

However, this initiative stalled because the costs ran massively over budget, and funds dried up. Ten years later (2017) the premises are still empty, and deteriorating.

The diocese continued to list San Romano as a subsidiary church of Santa Maria dei Monti, but deleted it in 2012. It is certain that it was desecrated or deconsecrated well before then, probably the former in 1990. That is, instead of formally deconsecrating the building the Salesians contented themselves with removing the altar and moveable fittings.

Layout Edit

The former school has the original premises in the shape of an L, standing above the Via degli Zingari on the slope of an outlier of the Viminal Hill. The short wing of the L turns near the Via Clemente to the east, and at its end there is an entrance alleyway from that street (this is now well barricaded).

The L encloses a large courtyard, which used to be a garden before 1940 but is now a messy area with some trees away from the main building. A third wing occupies the west side of this courtyard, which is well above the level of the Via degli Zingari. The church is a rectangular edifice occupying the end of this wing.


Portal Edit

The 18th century main entrance on the Via degli Zingari is monumental, but very simple. The metal railing gateway (permanently locked) is in a portal surrounded by blank walling, and above the portal is a marble plaque giving the name of the former school. This is sheltered by a short length of floating molded cornice.

Behind the gate is a staircase leading up to the nymphaeum, with the actual entrance to the left at the top.

Nymphaeum Edit

If you go west on the Via degli Zingari and look back over the portal, you can see the nymphaeum. This is late Baroque, in travertine limestone, and comprises an arched recess with the arch having thin molding but no piers or imposts. Within, the back surface of the little grotto is in very rough stone like volcanic lava. A little fountain (now dry) is at the bottom, surmounted by a stone scallop shell. A statue of the Immaculate Conception stands above this.

The arch is flanked by a pair of dangling festoons carved in relief, which hang from a pair of massive posts on which is a pair of large ball finials. In between the posts is an incurved length of entablature, the frieze of which is interrupted by the mask of a faun. A pair of swags is below this, to either side above the arch.

Exterior Edit

From the courtyard, the church is a simple flat-roofed single-naved edifice of six bays. The bottom end of the nave is attached to the west wing of the school. The fabric is rendered in a dull red.

The entrance is in the right hand side of the first bay, and has a lunette window over the door. The second, fourth and sixth bays each have a large white-framed round-headed window on that side.

The church is over a crypt which is exposed on the left hand side because of the slope of the hill. The fifth and sixth bays have an ancillary wing attached to them, but the first to fourth bays each have a large round-headed recess. These contain a round-headed window in the second and fourth bays.

Interior Edit

Nave Edit

For the alleged date of the interior, 1923, the interior decoration is amazingly rich and has been mistaken for 18th century Baroque. Many of the surfaces have been treated so as to resemble polychrome marble work.

The walls are low, with the bays separated by engaged rectangular piers. These are rendered with low black plinths, yellow corner strips and front and sides in pale tan faux marble. The Doric capitals are gilded, and each has a painted stucco heraldic shield inserted.

In between each pair of pilasters, the side wall has a faux marble dado in pale tan veined marble, and this supports a shallow arched recess. Some of these have windows, and those that do not look as if they were intended to bear frescoes.

From the pilasters spring transverse vault arches with a shallow curve, having molded intradoses decorated with stars. Each bay in between these arches is cross-vaulted, the ribs also molded but narrower with a central row of gilded dentillations. The sides of the vaulting incorporate lunettes over the wall arches. The ribs meet at gilded rosettes. The vault panels are in pale blue with each of the lunettes having a little symbolic device, and the ribs and intradoses are in white.

The floor looks as if it is mostly in whitish limestone slabs, except for a central strip in white marble edged with red. The pews have been removed.

Sanctuary Edit

The sanctuary comprises a very shallow bay with an apse, and is raised by one step. The apse is internal, and the curve conceals two tiny sacristies or store-rooms in the corners of the rectangular plan.

The triumphal arch has the same sort of very shallow curve as the nave vault, but springs from a pair of entablature fragments with yellow friezes. These are supported on two free-standing pinkish marble (?) Ionic columns standing on two high transverse plinths which are extensions of the nave wall dados. The outer ends of the entablature fragments are on matching Ionic wall pilasters. The springing of the arch on each side is embellished with stucco bunches of grapes and a volute, and the keystone has a blue heraldic shield with a bee (Barberini family?). This is flanked by a pair of gilded palm fronds.

Behind the triumphal arch columns, the sides of the sanctuary bay are covered by two little barrel vaults embellished with coffers having gilded rosettes. These vaults spring from continuations of the triumphal arch entablatures, which continue on to end either side of the altarpiece frame. The apse is narrower than the bay, the little far walls of which each have a pair of Ionic pilasters in pinkish "marble" on which the entablature rests. The nave wall dado also continues to here.

The apse curve on each side begins with a doorway into one of the storerooms, above which is a vertical elliptical tondo in a frame which once contained a painting. The back of the apse contains a round-headed niche which once contained an altarpiece painting (now gone), and the intrados of this niche forms a lunette in the apse vault. The niche is flanked by a pair of red "marble" Ionic columns with gilded capitals, set diagonally and with the entablature stepping back over them to be interrupted by the altarpiece niche.

The ornate apse vault is in seven stepped sectors. The central one, over the altarpiece lunette, has a fresco tondo with a depiction of The Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist (it shows a Host and chalice). The two pairs of sectors flanking this are frescoed with tassels in yellow and white, and the outer pair of sectors have two frescoes of angels.

External linksEdit

Info.roma web-page

Annas Rom Guide (in Danish)

"Francesco e Lorenzo"

Photo of interior on "Exibart"

Newspaper article

Article on "Roma Tre"

Picture of nymphaeum

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