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Sant'Antonio dei Portoghesi is the 17th century national church of Portugal, which is also titular. It is located at Via dei Portoghesi 2, in the rione Campo Marzio (this rione meets those of Ponte and Sant'Eustachio at a point in the street outside the left hand side of the façade). Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here. (Note the embedded gallery link). There is an English Wikipedia article here.

The dedication is to St Anthony of Padua.

The official title of the church, according to the Diocese, is Sant'Antonio in Campo Marzio.



The remote ancestor of the present church was a pilgrimage hospice founded for her fellow nationals by Guiomar da Lisbona in 1363, during the reign of Pope Urban V. She was a Portuguese expatriate lady at Rome. The establishment was located near the present church of Santa Maria dei Monti. It was dedicated to the Madonna di Betlemme, although it certainly did not have its own church and was just a house. The pilgrims in residence used the local parish church of Santi Sergio e Bacco.

There was also a similar pilgrimage hospice in the Campo dei Fiori owned by the cathedral chapter of Lisbon, although details of this are scarce.

Cardinal Antão Martins de Chavez, bishop of Porto and cardinal of San Crisogono, took up residence in Rome in 1439 and set about founding a consolidated hospice for the Portuguese on a new site. He bought land from the church of Sant'Agostino and began construction, which continued until his death in 1447. The church was apparently built first, and was then dedicated to Our Lady and SS Vincent and Anthony of Egypt.

The new foundation was confirmed by Pope Paul II in 1467. The older properties were kept, and used for rental income.


The original foundation was placed under the protection of the Portuguese ambassador to the Holy See. By the end of the 16th century it was decided that the premises were too cramped, and so the institution obtained several neighbouring properties and set out to rebuild from 1624. The present church is a result of this, and was finished in 1638 by Martino Longhi the Younger

Significantly the new church was re-dedicated to St Anthony of Padua, who was originally Portuguese (many people forget this).

In 1640 a large coat of arms of the new royal family of Portugal was added to the façade (the country had been ruled by Spain from 1580), and from 1657 Carlo Rainaldi and Cristoforo Schor did further work. The former was responsible for the dome, and the latter for the apse and main altar.

Chapel of St John the Baptist at Lisbon[]

The chapel of St John the Baptist at the church of São Roque in Lisbon, Portugal is one of the masterpieces of Baroque art in the city. Oddly, the commission to build it was given to craftsmen at Rome in 1740 by King John V (1706-50). The Portuguese embassy to the Holy See oversaw its construction as a prefab, under the artistic direction of the architects Luigi Vanvitelli (1700–73) and Niccolo Salvi (1697–1751). Hundreds of different artists and craftsmen worked on it. Then it was assembled to be consecrated by Pope Benedict XIV in 1744 in the church of Sant'Antonio, but work on the decoration continued until 1747. In September of that year, the chapel was dismantled, transported to Lisbon in three ships, and reassembled in São Roque in what had been the 17th-century Chapel of the Holy Spirit. The reassembly of the chapel was overseen by Francesco Feliziani and Paolo Niccoli (or Riccoli), along with the Italian sculptor Alessandro Giusti (1715–99). At the time of its completion, it was said to have been the most expensive side-chapel of any church in Europe.

18th century[]

Several popes, including Clement XI and Clement XIV, have visited the church, mainly for diplomatic reasons. The relations between Portugal and the Holy See were tense in the 18th century, and successive popes tried to create a better atmosphere. The so-called Catholic monarchs of Europe considered that the Pope's responsibilities for governing the church were incompatible with absolutist ideas of government, and succeded in seriously reducing Papal power and prestige. With Portugal, the main problem was the so-called Padroado whereby the Pope left the administration of the Church in Portugal and its colonies to the monarchy. This was serious, since Portugal was in charge of a substantial number of missions in Asia and the problems that resulted there lasted until the late 20th century.

There is a strange story that Clement XIV gave a gift of polychrome marbles to the church, which were originally intended for Sant'Ignazio but which were seized by the papacy when the Pope suppressed the Jesuits in 1773. This is allegedly one of the reasons why the interior decoration is so rich.

19th century[]

After the Napoleonic occupation of Rome, the church and hospice were closed in 1799 and the property auctioned off. It was restored to the Portuguese government in 1814, and the church was restored and reopened in 1842.

There was another campaign of restoration finishing in 1873, when stained glass windows were inserted and the dome frescoes painted. The architect was Francesco Vespignani.


The Portuguese government has maintained the institution since 1842, even after the Portuguese revolution in 1910 which overthrew the monarchy and which was bitterly anti-clerical. As a result of this, the pilgrimage hospice was converted into a secular college which is now called the Instituto Portoghese di Sant'Antonio in Roma or IPSAR. This runs the church.

Up to fairly recently, the church served not only Portuguese expatriates in Rome but also those from the other countries of the Lusitanian world (the former Portuguese colonial empire). These Portuguese-speaking states are Brazil, Cape Verde Islands, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé Principe, Angola, Mozambique, Goa, Macao and East Timor. Nowadays, the Brazilians have a mission at Santa Maria della Luce with a Mass at 17:30 Sunday, and the Cape Verdeans meet at the chapel of the convent of the Sisters, Missionaries of the Sacred Heart at Via Siciliana 215. They have a Mass there at 19:00 every Sunday.


The church was made titular in 2001. The present cardinal priest is Manuel José Macário do Nascimento Clemente, who is the Patriarch of Lisbon.


Layout and fabric[]

The church is completely surrounded by other buildings, with only the façade being visible from the street.

The plan is based on a Latin cross inserted into a rectangle. The nave is of three bays with structural aisles, the latter being converted into self-contained chapels by blocking walls. Then comes a transept with a central dome, and finally a single-bay presbyterium with a segmental apse.

The dome is not easy to spot in views of the city. It is not hemispherical, but flattened into a hemi-ellipsoid and is of lead with eight broad ribs converging on a tall lantern on the plan of a chamfered square. There are four large round-headed windows in the larger sides of the lantern, an ogee-curved cupola ending in a ball finial and (unusually for Rome) a railed walkway around the base. The drum of the dome is an octagon with curved sides, each side alternating with a buttress and an elliptical window. 


The Baroque façade (1636-1638) is considered to be by Martino Longhi the Younger, athought there seems to be some doubt as to the extent of his involvement. Cristoforo Schor modified it slightly in 1695.

It has two storeys, with the central vertical zone occupied by the main entrance slightly protruding. The first storey has bunched Doric pilasters in a rather severe style occupying the outer corners and the corners either side of this main entrance. They support an entablature with a blank frieze, and a strongly protruding cornice decorated with fronded modillions (liitle brackets).

There are three doorways, with the central one being much larger than the other two and having a raised triangular pediment (tympanon in Italian) with a winged putto's head in its tympanum. Below this, the strongly molded doorcase is decorated with a scallop shell, dangling flower swags, knotted cloth drapery, fronds and curlicues. Don't miss the charming little figure of a pilgrim just above the door, and below the scallop shell. The side entrances have raised segmental pediments with similar putto's heads and flower swags.

The façade is protected by a set of wrought iron railings, which are worth a glance. Wrought iron makes excellent decorative railings because it can be cast into interesting shapes, but it is rarely produced nowadays.  Modern iron railings are of steel, which is not very satisfactory for the purpose because it cannot be cast. This is why modern iron railings are usually ugly.

The second storey has bunched pilasters in the Composite style at its corners which support an entablature with a strongly projecting cornice (but no modillions), and a pair of pediments. A triangular pediment is inserted into the two halves of a divided and separated segmental pediment, and these halves have a pair of large angels sitting on them. The storey is bounded by a pair of curlicues which mutate, charmingly, into a pair of Tritons at their tops. Above these curlicues is a pair of blank screen walls, which do not work at all well in the design.

There is a large central window, containing stained glass depicting St Anthony with the Holy Child by Antonio Moroni (1825-86), who also did the other stained glass in the church. Above this is the coat-of-arms of the Royal House of Braganza, executed in florid high relief with a prominent crown. 


Layout and fabric[]

Carlo Rainaldi was responsible for most of the interior, although there has been much embellishment since his time. Opinions on it are divided. Some think that the Baroque designs are of inferior quality, while others think very highly of them - in one e-mail I have received it is described as: "One of the most perfect examples of monochrome (sic) Middle Baroque". Other remarks have been: "Proof that the white man once had a soul", "What the prison in Hell for modernist architects looks like", "The Louis-Farouk style in architecture", "Like a Brazilian call-girl's bling-box turned inside-out".

No matter where one's taste runs, the church is worth visiting for its works of art.

The stucco decorations are by Giuliano Corsini and Andrea Bevilacqua. Some alterations were made by Francesco Vespiginani in the mid 19th century restoration. 

There are two chapels on each side of the nave, and two more at the ends of the transept. They are described in anticlockwise order, starting at the bottom right hand side.


The nave has arcade pillars with Ionic pilasters attached, revetted in red and white Sicilian jasper (the same stone also makes a high-profile appearance at San Marco) and supporting a barrel-vaulted ceiling. The stucco decoration on the barrel vault is fantastically elaborate, gold on white with vine tendrils running riot. It frames a central fresco depicting The Apparition of the Crucifixion to King Alfonso I Henriques of Portugal. He was the first king of Portugal, and in 1139 at the Battle of Ourique smashed a superior Muslim army and established the independence of Portugal. In the process, he had a vision of Christ and his cross and, in thanksgiving, designed the royal shield which you saw over the church door. This has five smaller shields in the form of a cross, and these contains thirty silver coins which were Judas's reward.

The organ above the entrance is in the Rococo style, the case and balustraded balcony being completely gilded. This is a seriously good organ, and IPSAR has given it its own website. Regular recitals are held.

Note how the balustrade of the balcony curves sinuously, to front two side balconies inserted into the arcade arches of the first bay of the nave.


The dome was completed by Rainaldi in 1657. It is lit by four elliptical windows in the drum. The interior is decorated with more lush gilded stucco in the form of a Greek cross, with the ribs meeting at a wreath around the lantern oculus, and in the quadrants are four tondi with depictions of Blessed Sancha of Alenquer, Joanna of Portugal, Mafalda of Portugal and Teresa of Portugal. None of these holy ladies has been canonized yet.

On the dome pendentives appear Pope St Damasus and SS Victor, Gerald and Mancius of Evora. All these dome frescoes were executed in 1870 by Francesco Grandi (1831-91).


The sanctuary was begun by Longhi, but completed by Schor.

The conch of the apse is decorated in gilded stucco again, showing tendrils and diapered latticework, and with the royal arms on top of the triumphal arch. The marble work in the apse is all genuine stone (not always the case in Roman churches), with red jasper again, green verde antico marble, yellow marble from Siena -which is not as richly coloured as the giallo antico from Tunisia, also used here (allegedly). The strongly banded yellowish stone is alabaster, and the grey-veined marble is fior di pesco from Carrara.

The marble revetting was added in 1774 by Francesco Ferrari, using a design by Francesco Navone. The stone came from the consignment allegedly looted from the Jesuits when they were suppressed.

The high altar is by Schor, and is stepped inwards vertically in three planes. There are four Corinthian columns in red and white portasanta marble with gilded capitals, which support a segmental pediment showing the steps and which is broken at the top. The frieze of the entablature and some panelling is in verde antico. On the two pediment curves is a pair of reclining angels, and in the tympanum is a heavenly group holding up a cross in glory. Three putti have escaped from this, and fallen down over the entablature. The Roman sculptor of these is anonymous.

The main altar frontal is in rosso di francia and brocatello marbles, with alabaster. The "altar of the people" in front is in gilded wood, and shows the AM monogram (Ave Maria) flanked by a pair of stylized Towers of David (another Marian symbol) and the royal coat-of-arms again.

The altarpiece shows The Virgin handing the Holy Child to St Anthony, and was executed in 1707 by Giacinto Calandrucci (the attribution to Venusti seems to be an old mistake). On the side walls are depictions of Blessed Teresa and Sancha by Giovanni Odazzi to the left, and Blessed Joan by Michelangelo Cerruti to the right. Above these two paintings are two cantorie or balconies for solo singers, and above the entablatures in turn are two stained glass windows designed by Vespignani and executed by Moroni.

Chapel of St Catherine of Alexandria[]

The first chapel on the right is dedicated to St Catherine of Alexandria, who is popular in Portugal. Near it on the right is a memorial to Oranzio Maria Battaglia, of 1639.

The chapel has been re-ordered at least twice. At some stage the original 17th century altar was dismantled and re-erected, and the walls revetted with polychrome marble. This work was probably done in the 18th century. In 1937 the vault was re-decorated with the scrollwork and angels now to be seen there.

The altar has two Ionic columns in what looks like grey granite, supporting a triangular pediment. The altarpiece showing St Catherine with SS Engratia and Irene is unattributed, but is thought to have been an early work of Giovanni Battista Maino.

The right hand wall has a monument to Alessandro de Souza Holstein by Antonio Canova, executed in 1806. The deceased was a Danish ambassador to the Holy See, with Portuguese ancestry. The piece is typical of Canova's neo-Classical style, showing a weeper at a bust in marble of uncompromising whiteness (in ancient times, an equivalent memorial would have been painted).

The left hand wall has a memorial to a Portuguese ambassador, Giovanni Pietro Miguels de Carvalho, of 1853. It uses alabaster and what is, again, meant to be giallo antico. If the latter is true, one wonders where the sculptor got hold of it as this is one of the rarest ancient marbles known.

Chapel of St John the Baptist[]

The second chapel on the right is dedicated to St John the Baptist. Its decoration is mostly the result of the patronage of Giovanni Battista Cimini, a rich perfumer who died in 1682, and his widow Caterina Raimondi who paid for continuing work over the subsequent ten years. Their combined heraldry is inlaid into the floor. The overall design was  by Cesare Crovari, and the stonemason was Pietro Antonio Ripoli. The result is very rich and colourful.

The altar has a pair of Corinthian columns in what looks like Sicilian jasper, red, orange and white, with gilded capitals. They support two halves of a split, separated and angled segmental pediment on which a pair of putti are sitting comfortably. The panelling behind the columns is in the same stone, together with green and violet marbles; the colour combination works better than it sounds. The altarpiece is of the Baptism of Christ, by Calandrucci again.

Over the altar is a stained glass window by Moroni, showing winged putto's heads flying about in heaven. The effect is incongrous; Baroque coloured glass was enamelled, not stained.

Calandrucci also executed the frescoes in the lunettes over the side walls. On the left is the Beheading of St John the Baptist, and on the right The Holy Family with St John the Baptist. On the left hand wall is a painting showing the Birth of St John the Baptist by François Nicolas de Bar, nicknamed Nicolò Lorense. The monument to Giovanni Battista Cimini below it has a bust attributed to Andrea Fucigna, 1686. On the right hand wall is The Preaching of John the Baptist attributed to Francesco Graziani, nicknamed Ciccio Napoletano, and below this the memorial to Caterina Raimondi by Fucigna again, dated 1717. Finally on this wall is a memorial to Antonio Guglielmo de Figueiredo, 1868.

Under the altar is enshrined the relics of St Felix, one of the many dubious martyrs excavated from the catacombs. Up to the 20th century, it was thought that a little glass bottle inhumed with the remains was a sure sign of a martyr because it symbolized the shed blood having been gathered up. There is absolutely no historical evidence for this, and so the "martyrs" identified by this means are spurious.

Chapel of St Elizabeth of Portugal[]

The chapel in the right arm of the transept is dedicated to St Elizabeth of Portugal. The decoration is not original, but  was done between 1789 and the closure of the church by the French. The architect was Francesco Navone, who provided a coved altarpiece with two ribbed Ionic columns in red and white portosanto marble supporting an entablature with the frieze in the same stone and a triangular pediment. On the pediment sit two allegorical figures, depicting Peace by Giovanni Gross on the left, and Charity by Giacomo Galli on the right. These were virtues that the saint especially displayed. The panelling of the altarpiece is in yellow Sienese marble and verde antico.

The altarpiece depicts St Elizabeth Reconciling her Husband and Son. She was married to Denis the king of Portugal, who had his son Alfonso rebel against him. The queen prevented a civil war. The work is by Luigi Agricola, 1801. Under the altar is an urn of green brecciated marble from Egypt, a very rare type of stone mentioned by Pliny. He calls it marmor Augustanum or Tiberianum according to the pattern. Interestingly, he also calls it memphites after the fabulously ancient city across the river from Cairo, and the source of this could only have been the ruins being plundered for rare stone by the ancient Romans. Are there bits of green stonework in Rome originally quarried by the pyramid-builders? (However, the stone is not so rare nowadays -a green breccia from Egypt is nowadays available commercially, and comes from a quarry in the Wadi Hammamat near Qena which is down the river from Luxor. The locals call it Fawaqir.)

The ceiling vault was decorated in the second half of the 19th century by Giuliano Corsini and Andrea Bevilacqua, and the stained glass is by Moroni again.

Chapel of the Immaculate Conception[]

In the left arm of the transept is the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, which until 1750 was dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows. Then it was rebuilt, to an original design by Luigi Vanvitelli, in a project that took two years from 1754. The architect was Carlo Murena

The altarpiece matches that of St Elizabeth opposite in being coved or concave. However the marble is monochrome, being pink with a pair of Corinthian columns having gilded capitals. On the pediment sit two allegorical figures attributed to Gaspare Sibila; Charity is to the left, and Purity to the right. The altarpiece was painted for the project by Giacomo Zoboli.

Again as with the chapel opposite, the ceiling vault was decorated in the second half of the 19th century by Giuliano Corsini and Andrea Bevilacqua, and the stained glass is by Moroni again. The monument on the right hand wall to Manuel Pereira de Samapio is by Filippo della Valle

Chapel of the Nativity[]

The second chapel on the left-hand side is dedicated to the Madonna of Bethlehem, and recalls the ancestral hospital in the rione Monti. The altarpiece is bowed (convex), with a pair of Corinthian columns in pink rosso di francia marble supporting a split and separated segmental pediment in yellow Sienese marble. A group of putti are having a riot in the gap.

It contains a set of paintings by Antonio Concioli of the Mystery of the Birth of Jesus with the subjects The Adoration of the ShepherdsThe Adoration of the Magi and The Flight to Egypt. The first one is the altarpiece.

Chapel of St Anthony of Egypt[]

On the left side, the first chapel is dedicated to St Anthony of Egypt. It is a reminder of the dedication of the original little hospice church on this site, and that church's original altarpiece hangs on the left hand side wall. It shows SS Anthony, Vincent and Sebastian, and is by Marcello Venusti

This work also used to be the altarpiece here, but at some stage after the late 17th century was replaced by the present one, the Madonna and Child with SS Francis and Anthony of Padua by Antoniazzo Romano which used to be at the convent of Santa Maria ad Nives di Palazzolo

Like the last chapel, the altarpiece has a split, separated and bowed segmental pediment but there is no putto party here. The entablature is supported by a pair of Corinthian columns in black marble and has a frieze in rosso di francia, the pediment is in Sienese yellow and there is much alabaster in the panelling. The present appearance of the chapel is the result of a re-ordering in 1937 by Ranieri Maria Apolloni.

The right hand wall has an 1846 memorial to Emanuele Rodrigues Gameiro Pessoa, and above it is an 18th century painted Pietà. The floor was re-laid in 1872 as a memorial to Princess Anna di Braganza.


The ceiling in the sacristy has a fresco of the Miracle of St Anthony.


Mass in Portuguese is celebrated on Sundays at 17:00.

As well as Portuguese expatriates, many from Angola and Mozambique also attend. As mentioned, the Brazilians now have their own Mass at Santa Maria della Luce in Trastevere (Brazilian Portuguese, at least as spoken, differs substantially from the metropolitan standard).

The feast of St Anthony of Padua is celebrated with solemnity on 13 June. Other solemnities celebrated here are the Immaculate Conception on 8 December, and St Martin of Tours on 11 November. Other celebrations are advertised via notices at the entrance of the church.

Those whose speak Portuguese can be married, and be baptized (or have their babies baptized) here. Contact the priest in charge, Monsignor Agostinho Da Costa Borges, via the Institute and using Portuguese in communicating.


The Instituto Portoghese di Sant'Antonio in Roma is adjacent to the church. It is the Portuguese cultural centre in Rome, and language courses, conferences and concerts are often arranged here. Some of the concerts are in the church; look for notices at the entrance. There is also a noted Portuguese library.

The Institute is proud of it church, and keeps it open for visitors (unlike the Spaniards at Santa Maria de Monserrato degli Spagnoli, who can't be bothered).

Opening times are:

Weekdays, 8:30 to 13:00; 15:00 to 18:00.

Saturdays, 8:30 to 12:00, 15:00 to 18:00.

Sundays, 9:00 to 12:00, 16:00 to 18:00.

External links[]

Official diocesan web-page

Interactive Nolli Link

Italian Wikipedia article

Church's web-page at IPSAR website

Organ's website

Roma SPQR web-page with gallery

"Romeartlover" web-page

Flickr search gallery

Glimpse of the dome

Youtube video by Nicomovies

Roman Despatches - blog with gallery

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