Sant'Andrea Apostolo alla Tomba di Nerone is a mid 20th century parish church at Via Cassia 731, in the suburban zone of Tomba di Nerone. It is accompanied by an 17th century chapel on the same site (number 735), which the new church succeeded. A picture of the old chapel at Wikimedia Commons is here, and some of the new church here.

The dedication is to St Andrew the Apostle,


Tomba di Nerone Edit

In ancient times the locality was on the sixth milestone on the ancient Via Cassia, and a mansio called (predicably) Ad sextum was located here. No certain remains of this have been traced.

Just here on the roadside is a well-preserved 3rd century sepulchral monument belonging to one Publius Vibius Marianus, a procurator of Sardinia born in Tortona, and his wife Regina Maxima. It is in the form of a large marble sarcophagus on a restored plinth now faced in brick, having a gabled lid and with relief-carved acroteria at the corners. The side facing the modern road is blank, which raises the suspicion that the original ancient line of the Via Cassia was on the other side.

The carved long side of the sarcophagus bears a shallow relief epitaph executed as a tabula ansata or tablet with handles. Unfortunately it is undated. It reads: D[is] m[anibus], s[acer] P[ublio] Vibi P[ublii] f[ilio] Mariani, em[inentissimo] v[iro], Proc[onsule] et praesidi prov[inciae] Sardiniae, primipilari bis trib[uniciae] cohh[ortes] X pr[aetoriae] XI urb[anae] IIII vig[ilum], praef[ecto] leg[ionis] II Ital[icae], p[rimi]p[pili] leg[ionis] III Gall[icae] frumentariae, oriundo ex Ital[ica] Iul[ia] Dertona, patri dulcissimo et Reginiae maxime matri Karissimae, Vibia Maria Maxima c[uravit] f[ieri] fil[ia] et her[es].

  The epitaph is flanked by relief carvings the Dioscuri with spears and horses. (This side of the sarcophagus has some restoration towards the top right, where robbers broke a hole open to look inside long ago, so one horse is gone). The acroteria are carved with winged genii making offerings, and round the corners above the short sides they are shown with eagles fighting snakes. The two short sides each bear a relief of a winged lion, and a man holding a large fish is in between the acroteria.

The present plinth, which has battered brick sides, is a modern restoration. The sarcophagus was perched precariously on the rubble core of its original plinth as late as the start of the last century (a photo is here) which was left after the marble revetting was stolen.

Mediaeval legend mistakenly attributed this tomb to the emperor Nero, which is odd since a better contemporary tradition for the location of Nero's tomb put it at the site of Santa Maria del Popolo. So the monument gave its name to the locality, and hence to the suburb when it began to develop in the early 20th century.

Old chapel Edit

A chapel was founded here in 1690 by Cardinal Antonio Maria Pignatelli, who later became later Pope Innocent XII , as part of a proposed country villa complex. Construction of this villa for the Pignatelli family lasted from 1690 to 1695. It was known as the Casal Saraceno.

There is some suspicion that this project replaced a farmstead with mediaeval fabric, but the hypothesis is based on loose carved stonework found here rather than on any documentary or archaeological evidence.

The villa passed into the patrimony of the Vatican Chapter (the college of priests in charge of the running of St Peter's), which oversaw a restoration in the mid 19th century. The present campanile dates from this, as does the façade.

The Casal Saraceno was bought by the Ursuline Sisters of the Virgin Mary Immaculate of Gandino in 1933. This branch of the Ursuline religious family (Suore Orsoline di Maria Vergine Immacolata or OMVI) had been founded at Gandino in 1818 for the purpose of educating girls, and so they adapted part of their new Roman convent as an elementary school called the Istituto Santissima Vergine. The chapel served the convent and school, and also the growing suburb which was one of the more distant from the city centre in the earlier 20th century. The parish church then was Gran Madre di Dio -quite some distance away.

New church Edit

However the chapel became too small for pastoral needs so, in 1941, a parish was set up by Pope Pius XII. The new church was designed by Tullio Rossi, and opened in the same year. It was originally in the care of diocesan clergy, but was later entrusted to the Doctrinarians (Padri Dottrinari).

The old chapel continues to serve the school and convent, but is now private and not part of the parish complex. It is apparently only open to the public on special occasions.

Exterior of the Old ChapelEdit

Layout and fabric Edit

The old chapel is part of the 17th century villa complex, which faces onto a paved area away from the road. There is a well-preserved two-storey wing to the left, separated from the chapel by a tiny entrance courtyard with stairs, and this has a low crenellated tower behind it. However, behind the chapel and this wing the rest of the villa has had substantial alterations in order to convert it into a school. This includes a large three-storey block onto which the chapel backs, and this has intruded a low tower campanile which is at the top right hand corner of the chapel.

The bell-chamber of the campanile is above the chapel roofline, and is entirely in brick. Each side has an arched sound-hole with imposts, and there is a high pyramidal cap also in brick which has a mushroom finial bearing a cross.

The right hand side of the chapel has puce walling, with a little rectangular window lighting the altar at the far end. The corner façade Doric pilaster in tufa is wrapped round the corner, and there are three other matching pilasters including one on the further corner. These three are rendered in grey, as are a dado and the architrave of the roofline entablature. A deep string course with a step, also in grey, is just above the dado. The left hand side is mostly occupied by the convent block, but has one matching pilaster.

Façade Edit

Because this is a working school there is no access to casual visitors, but the façade is easily visible from the street through the entrance gate.

There is one single storey, with wall surfaces also rendered in puce and architectural details in white travertine limestone. Four Doric pilasters in brown tufa stone support a triangular pediment with a broken cornice, which is decorated with the arms of the Vatican Chapter on a rectangular tablet enclosed by drapery hanging from a rosette in the apex of the tympanum.

These pilasters have high limestone plinths, and the tops of each pair of plinths are joined by a wide string course on which a square stone-framed window sits. A round window over the entrance intrudes into the break of the pediment cornice, and this also has a wide limestone frame.

The limestone doorcase is simple, without moldings. It has a dedicatory inscription over the lintel (Sancto Andreae apostolo dicatum) which is embellished with a tied ribbon and two St Andrew's crosses (X). Over this epigraph is a horizontal cornice supported on two strap corbels. The door is approached by a staircase with five steps.

There is a problem about the dating of the façade. A watercolour by Achille Pinelli dated 1835 shows the façade with the entrance doorway having a triangular pediment, above which is an arcade of three arched windows with little Doric piers. There are no pilasters. A fresco of Christ the Redeemer is in the tympanum of the crowning pediment. This artist was not very accurate in his architectural depictions, but the difference is so substantial that the façade must have been remodelled in the mid 19th century by Vatican Chapter which owned the property before the Ursuline sisters bought it.

Other bits Edit

The frontage of the villa to the left of the chapel façade bears elliptical tablets with the coat-of-arms of Cardinal Antonio Maria Pignatelli before he became Pope Innocent XII. Here is a very impressive main entrance to the villa, with eight clustered columns supporting a balustraded balcony.

The sisters' garden contains a rockery incorporating ancient and mediaeval relief carved stonework, but there is no good evidence as to the source(s) of these.

There is also a marble slab with a shallow carving of the heraldry of the Vatican Chapter, which was apparently part of the chapel altar before a remodelling of the sanctuary in the later 20th century.

Interior of the Old ChapelEdit

The interior is very simple, with a lack of decoration.

Over the altar is an icon of the Black Madonna, which was a gift from the Vatican Chapter to the Ursuline Sisters.

Exterior of the New ChurchEdit

Layout and fabric Edit

The new stands away from the main road, and is accessed by a shallow flight of stairs. It is an uninspired neo-Romanesque building, although having it built during the Second World War is probably an excuse for its lack of interest.

The plan is of a single nave of six bays, without aisles. The sanctuary has a shallow, narrower bay leading into a semi-circular apse. Each bay has a round-headed window in a white frame in each side, as does the sanctuary bay. The apse has no windows. Away from the façade, the walls are rendered in a pale orange-grey.

The nave roof is pitched and tiled, and the sanctuary has its own slightly lower roof which is integral with that of the apse which has three pitches.

The ancillary accommodation is attached to the right hand side of the church. This includes a tall slab campanile, with a deep round-headed bell aperture and a tiled top with a slight gable.

There is a little rectangular side-chapel attached to the left hand side of the church.

Façade Edit

The church faces onto an ample courtyard which is (unfortunately) used as a car park. This is raised above the main road (the cars access via the Via Tomba di Nerone to the left), and pedestrians reach it via a flight of stairs flanked by municipal planting.

The façade is boring. It has a gabled frontage rendered in a light grey, with light orange strips at the corners above a dado. There is an arched external porch with a gabled tiled roof, there being an undecorated arch in each of its three sides. Above the porch is a round window.

In the gable of the façade is a set of coloured tiles depicting the coat-of-arms of Pope Pius XII. This is unusual, as such items are usually carved in relief.

Above the door in the porch is a depiction of St Andrew, together with two scenes from his life.

Interior of the New Church Edit

The interior is all in white, with a dado in polished limestone for the walls. The nave bays are separated by undecorated engaged piers which support an open wooden roof with trusses and tie bars.

The triumphal arch is also entirely undecorated, and is very wide for its height.

The altarpiece is a traditional wooden crucifix.

Overall, not very interesting.


The parish has no website. According to the Diocese, Mass is celebrated:

Weekdays 8:00, 10:00, 11:30, 18:00;

Sundays and Solemnities 7:00, 8:30, 18:00.

The feast of St Andrew is celebrated on 30 November.

The old chapel is only open for special occasions and major feasts.

Exterior linksEdit

Official diocesan web-page

Italian Wikipedia page

Info.roma web-page

Roman Despatches blog with gallery

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