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Sant'Apollinare alle Terme is an 18th century former collegiate church of ancient foundation located at Piazza di Sant'Apollinare 29 in the rione Ponte. It is titular, a minor basilica and part of the Prelature of Opus Dei. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia article here.

The dedication is to St Apollinaris, bishop of Ravenna and martyr. 


According to its website, the full name of the church is Sant'Apollinare alle Terme Neroniane-Alessandrine; this refers to the Baths of Nero, which were in the area. The Diocese seems to think that this smells of bella figura, and prefers the simple name Sant'Apollinare.

The longer title is actually that of the cardinalate, and it should be remembered that the title attached to a titular church is not necessarily identical to the name of the church itself. If so, it should not be used when referring to the church. 



By tradition, the church was formed by rebuilding an ancient temple dedicated to Apollo. The archaeologists have not been able to confirm or deny this, nor the other assertion that ancient architectural elements (spolia) were included in its construction. However, surviving descriptions of the mediaeval church indicate that the latter statement was true at least as regards columns. The baths after which the church was named were not here, but on the other side of the Via Recta (marked by the modern line of the Via dei Coronari), and what was in this part of the ancient Campus Martius is not well known. Apparently, when Sant'Agostino was built nearby a massive stone foundation was uncovered, which could have been part of a podium of an unrecorded temple.

The baths survived until the Renaissance as a recognizable ruin, hence the Terme designation, but then swiftly vanished at the hands of recyclers.

The church itself was founded in the early Middle Ages, possibly in the late 7th century although it seems to be first mentioned in the Liber Pontificalis under the entry for Pope Hadrian I (772-795). (Armellini mentions the niggling possibility that this entry, and the following one in the Liber for Pope Leo III, could refer to Sant'Apollinare ad Palmata, which was demolished in the 17th century to make way for the new St Peter's.)

The first church was described as attached to a monastery of Byzantine-rite monks who had fled from persecution during the reign of the iconoclast emperor Leo the Isaurian at Constantinople. There were several monasteries of these expatriate Basilian monks from the Eastern Roman ("Byzantine") Empire in Rome in this century, and they were influential to the extent that the Papal Curia was largely Greek-speaking. At this time the Empire ruled Rome from Ravenna, hence the dedication. (Western European historians with a tendentious bias have tended to pretend that the Byzantine Empire was a different political unit from the Roman Empire; on the contrary, 8th century Romans recognized no such distinction.)

Another function that the church took on from its foundation was the enshrinement of martyrs' relics taken from the catacombs. As the countryside around Rome was given up to Muslim and Lombard marauders, the catacombs were abandoned and forgotten (except for San Sebastiano fuori le Mura).

Middle Ages[]

The church is mentioned in a document of 1281, referring to a canon of Sant'Apollinare. The old Basilian monastery would have lasted until the early 11th century at the latest, and by the year referred to the church was being run by a college of secular priests. In the Catalogue of Turin in 1320 it is listed as a papal benefice, with eight priests (this meant that the pope filled vacancies -and could remove incumbents, which proved useful).

The church was described as being a small basilica, with a nave and aisles separated by arcades having re-used ancient columns. There was a transept, then an apse which contained a mosaic. In front of the church entrance was a loggia, in which was a venerated icon of Our Lady. This was installed on the testamentary instructions of Cardinal William d'Estouteville in 1484, the year after his death (this cardinal is more well-known for his artistic patronage of Sant'Agostino). He had his Roman residence in a palazzo to the right of the church, where the college is now.

At the end of the 15th century, according to the story, some soldiers of the army of the French king Charles VIII bivouacked in the church loggia. The fires that they lit to keep warm blackened the walls, which were then whitewashed. In the process, the icon was painted over.

Towards the end of the 16th century, the loggia had been walled up but the arcade of three arches with Doric pillars was still visible. Above the loggia was a range of domestic accommodation blocking the façade of the church. Attached to the left hand side of the nave was a tall campanile with, unusually, crenellations on its parapet.

Under the church's high altar was a collection of martyrs' relics, and their names have been preserved: Tibertius, Eustrasius, Auxentius, Eugenius, Mardarius (or Bardarius) and Orestes.

The church was made parochial in 1562, but this seems to have caused problems with the secular canons. By the 16th century, secular canons in Rome had a poor reputation for idleness and lack of pastoral awareness, and St Philip Neri (among others) was not sparing in his criticism.

German College[]

St Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, had the idea of establishing a seminary college in Rome which would train missionary clergy for the German-speaking lands. Pope Julius III gave the Collegium Germanicum  a charter in 1552, but the new college had to wait twenty-two years for a permanent home. In 1574, Pope Gregory XIII  gave it the church and adjoining priests' house, which amounted to a small palazzo. The pope arranged vacant possession by granting each of the secular canons a pension, and telling them to go away. The process took a further year, and then the students and their Jesuit teachers could move in. In 1580, the college was united with the failed project for a Hungarian seminary, and the German-Hungarian College remained a Jesuit institution on this site until 1773.

One condition of the transfer was that the Jesuits had to maintain the new parish, which they did.

The college church immediately became famous for its music, initially executed by the students under the Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria and his successor Annibale Stabile. Other celebrated music masters here were Annibale OrgasLorenzo RattiGiacomo Carissimi and Ottavio Pittoni, and this series of musical maestros made the church an internationally famous centre for Baroque music well into the 18th century.

In 1645, during a small earthquake, two boys and a soldier took refuge in the church loggia and saw the plaster coating covering the icon of Our Lady in the loggia fall off. The picture thus revealed became the focus of intense devotion on the part of the local faithful.

A little later, the relics of St Bonosa arrived from the old church of Santa Bonosa in Trastevere after the confraternity taking over there wished to change the dedication. She went home in 1838, but is now in Santa Maria della Mercede e Sant'Adriano after her church was demolished in 1888.


In 1742, Pope Benedict XIV commissioned Ferdinando Fuga to rebuild the church, and it was rededicated in 1748. The architect waived his fee. In the same campaign, the college building or palazzo was also rebuilt. The style is considered to be transitional between late Baroque (tardobarocco) and neo-Classical.

Modern times, and Opus Dei[]

The Jesuits were suppressed by a decree of Pope Clement XIV in 1773. The College continued its life under the administration of secular priests, with Dominicans providing some of the professors, but standards crashed. The church was entrusted to the Lazarists, however. The college somehow managed to survive until 1798, when the French occupiers of Rome finally forced its closure. When it was revived in 1818, it did not return here.

In 1824, Pope Leo XII finally formalized the status of the church and college by granting the complex to the Roman Seminary. This remained here until 1848, when it moved to the Collegio Romano. The grant involved the suppression of the parish. After 1848, the complex was occupied by a school called the Pontificio istituto di Sant’Apollinare.

In 1990, after the school moved to the Viale Vatican (where it still is, under the old name), the complex was granted to Opus Dei to be the headquarters of their Pontificia Università della Santa Croce. This institution has proved a great success, and in respose Opus Dei restored the church and re-modelled the palazzo between 2004 and 2007. The university chaplain is responsible for liturgical activities here.

Opus Dei has three other churches in Rome: San Giovanni Battista in CollatinoSan Josemaria Escrivà and Sant'Eugenio.

Treasury of Relics[]

After 1824, the Cardinal Vicar of Rome had his offices in the palazzo until he was moved to the Lateran in 1962. Part of his responsibilities was the administration of the Treasury of Relics, which is the Church's central collection of saints' relics not enshrined. As may be expected, it is an enormous collection. The notoriously spurious St Philomena was here for a while (or were here, since her bones came from two people). 

Enrico De Pedis[]

A crypt under the palazzo courtyard contains, among others, the tomb of Enrico “Renatino” De Pedis, a member of the organized crime syndicate known as the Banda della Magliana who was murdered by rival gangsters in 1990. The oddity of his internment here has led to much sensationalist speculation; a tendentious 2012 article in an online newspaper fond of conspiracy theories is at this link here. It's worth reading for a laugh.

The gist is that the body of a girl kidnapped for sexual abuse ended up sharing the tomb with the gangster. As any mafioso can tell you, if you want to get rid of an unwanted body you don't put it in someone's tomb in a church. Instead you bury it in concrete foundations, mix bits of it with other trash bagged up for landfill or feed it to the porci (remembering to remove any teeth first, they can't digest those).

The church and college have extraterritorial status and are owned by the Holy See, hence burials are possible here.


The title Sant'Apollinare was created in 1517 by Pope Leo X, and the first cardinal was Giovanni Battista Pallavicino. However the title was suppressed in 1587, and transferred to San Biagio dell'Anello which was the ancestor of San Carlo ai Catinari.

The church was made titular again in 1929, with the title Sant'Apollinare alle Terme Neroniane-Allessandrine. However, it had to wait until 1934 for its first cardinal who was Domenico Jorio

The next to last titular was Aurelio Sabattani, who passed away on 19 April 2003. He had been appointed titular deacon of the church in 1983, and made titular priest pro hac vice in 1993.

The last titular priest was Jean-Louis Tauran, who was appointed deacon on 21 October 2003 and became cardinal priest pro hac vice in 2014. He died in 2018, and the title is currently (2018) vacant.


Layout and fabric[]

The church occupies the entire south side of the Via dei Pienellari. It has three completely distinct architectural elements, as follows:

Firstly, there is a large and unusual entrance vestibule, cigar-shaped on a transverse axis and having apses at each end. One of these is occupied by the famous icon of Our Lady.

Then comes the nave, under its own pitched and hipped roof. This has aisles, but they are divided into three chapels on each side.

Finally there is the presbyterium, square in plan with a transverse rectangular apse. The presbyterium has a saucer dome, and this is lit by a large cylindrical lantern with four round-headed windows and a lead cupola in the form of a segment of a sphere.

The campanile is next to the bottom right hand corner of the nave. It has two storeys above the roofline, each with a pair of arched openings on each face (those in the top storey are blank). There is a tiled pyramidal cap.

The palazzo or college is to the south. It has a cortile with colonnades on the north and west sides, which you can see through the main entrance to the south of the church. The palazzo contains two interesting Baroque fountains, one by Bernini.


The façade was completed in 1742, by Fuga. The style is rather retro and a little boring, resembling that of the late 1500's with Baroque elements added. It has two storeys, rendered in ochre with the architectural elements picked out in white.


The first storey has six Ionic pilasters, the inner pair doubletted and the middle pair tripletted. The capitals are embellished with a crown and palm fronds (symbols of martyrdom), a row of egg-and-dart with a rosette above and beading on the volutes. They support an entablature with a blank frieze. The single entrance has a Baroque doorcase with a single tassel on each side, and a raised triangular pediment (tympanon in Italian) above. The tympanum of the pediment contains a relief of palm fronds tied with a ribbon. In between lintel and pediment is a proclamation of a plenary indulgence for pilgrims, flanked by a pair of tasselled panels bearing stylized poppies.

In between the middle and outer pilasters is a pair of vertical rectangular windows. Each has a raised segmental pediment over a pair of rosettes.

The second storey is on an attic plinth which contains a segmental lunette window. It has four Corinthian pilasters, the inner pair doubletted and the outer pair tripletted, which support an entablature and a double pediment. The latter has a triangular pediment inserted into a segmental one, and both have vertical steps breaking up their outlines. There is a large rectangular central window with a balustrade, and this has a raised segmental pediment with the crown and palm motif in its tympanum.

The façade has been designed to look as if it has a nave with lower side aisles behind it. This is not the case and, to disguise the fact, the second storey has been given two outer screens at its corners which curve forwards to end in two corner pilasters without capitals. The entablatures of this pair of add-ons do not correspond with that of the second storey of the façade, but have a different design. The effect is not happy.


Vestibule, and the Miraculous Icon[]

As mentioned,  when you enter you do not find yourself in the church but in a large vestibule chamber, long high and narrow, which corresponds to the loggia of the old church. This functions as the church's Chapel of Our Lady, and is a liturgical space in its own right. It is decorated in a cool Baroque style, with a colour scheme in white, pale lemon and cream.

If you look to the left on entering, you will see the apse containing the detached and enshrined 15th century fresco of Our Lady, Queen of Apostles. The green marble pedimented frame with golden stucco cherubs below was added by Peter Anton von Verschaffelt, who is more famous for his statue of St Michael on top of Castel Sant'Angelo. The apse is revetted with polychrome marble, and has a conch in white and gold rosetted coffering. Unusually, this is above the level of the horizontal beam where you would expect to find a triumphal arch.

Above the icon is a large lunette window in clear glass, with an archivolt with rosettes on which a pair of stucco angels sits.

The icon itself shows the Madonna and Child being venerated by St Paul (on the left) and St Peter, and is in a Mannerist style described as Roman-Umbrian. Below her is an inscription added when she was invoked against a local outbreak of bubonic plague in 1657:

Santa Maria, Reparatrix nostrae concordiae omnium fidelium Christianorum, tu intercede pro nobis apud Deum ut liberemur a peste epidemia et ab omnibus malis presentibus et futuris. Amen.

This icon has its own feast-day, 13 February, which is the anniversary of the earthquake which caused its rediscovery.


 There is a single nave, with three self-contained chapels off each side. There are no proper arcades, but rather trabeations supported by Corinthian pilasters. This means that a continuous entablature supported by the pilasters runs above the chapels on both sides, and each side chapel is made to look as if it is entered through an arcade arch by the insertion of barrel vaults under the entablature which begin with spandrels. The pilasters and entablature are revetted in a grey veined marble.

The pavement of the nave has an inlaid list of past cardinals of the church.

The barrel-vaulted ceiling has lunette windows over the side-chapels, in between which are vault springers meeting at a fresco of The Glory of St Apollinaris by Stefano Pozzi, one of the Jesuits. The paintwork is white and grey, with a golden frame to the fresco. The overall effect is light and airy.

The church organ is over the entrance in front of the counterfaçade, and sits on a wide balustraded gallery with a bowed central section and coved wings. It can be played from a consol by the right hand pilaster of the triumphal arch.

There are two 18th century confessionals in the church.


The presbyterium is entered through a triumphal arch supported by a pair of Corinthian verde antico pilasters. A heraldic shield supported by angels is on the crest of the archivolt.

The small dome, a spherical saucer on pendentives, was constructed in 1748 and decorated with stucco in grey and white. The pattern is based on a Greek cross, with eight sectors alternating as diapered coffering and broad rays with a flower swag in the centre. In the lantern is a dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit.

The high altar was commissioned by Pope Benedict XIV. It is placed against the far wall of the apse, which has its own little barrel vault with a pair of lunettes and a symbol of the Trinity. The walls are sumptuously revetted in polychrome stonework, with panels of alabaster and verde antico. High on each side wall is a cantoria, or box for solo singers.

The altar has two ribbed Corinthian columns in verde antico, with the ribbing inlaid in gilded bronze and supporting a triangular pediment on which angels sit. The stucco decorations are by Bernardino Ludovisi. The early 17th century altarpiece depicts The Consecration of St Apollinaris as Bishop of Ravenna, and is by Ercole Graziani. It is a duplicate of a painting by the artist at Bologna Cathedral. The consecrator depicted is St Peter, which detail relies on the saint's completely fictitious legend which was composed in the 7th century.

The altar itself is in the form of an ancient bath fabricated in a dark blue stone claimed to be lapis lazuli, with gilt bronze fittings. 

Side chapels[]

The chapels are described from the near right hand side, proceeding anticlockwise.

The first chapel on the right is dedicated to St Aloysius Gonzaga, and has an altarpiece of the saint by Ludovico Mazzanti.

The second chapel on the right is dedicated to St Joseph, and has an altarpiece of The Holy Family with Angels by Giacomo Zobolli.

The third chapel on the right is dedicated to St Francis Xavier, and has a marble statue of the saint by Pierre Legros. This used to be holding a wooden crucifix, but that has apparently "gone missing" (and might have been replaced by now). Note the large bronze crab to the left. The story is that the saint lost a crucifix overboard while on a ship, but had it brought back to him by a crab when he was standing on a beach after the voyage.

This chapel is richly decorated in alabaster and verde antico, with a pair of putti sitting on the altar pediment. Note the IHS monogram in the gilded stucco barrel vault; this is a symbol of the Jesuits, and derives from the Greek form of the name of Jesus (IHΣYΣ).

The third chapel on the left is dedicated to St Ignatius of Loyola with an altarpiece of St Ignatius Venerating the Madonna by Carlo Marchionni. Here is the funerary monument of Francesco Antonio Zaccaria, writer and archaeologist, who died in 1795.

The second chapel on the left is dedicated to St Josemara Escrivá, and has an altarpiece of the saint by Angelo Zarcone. The work is in a refreshingly realistic style, and shows the saint saying Mass. This chapel used to be dedicated to the Crucifix.

The first chapel on the left is dedicated to St John Nepomucene, and has an altarpiece by Placido Costanzi.


The opening times have changed more than once in recent years, and remain restricted. Beware of erroneous opening hours still being advertised online.

Monday to Friday: 7:30 to 9:00, 12:00 to 13:30. (The lunchtime opening is unusual in Rome.)
Saturdays, Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation: The church is CLOSED.

The church does not cater for visitors, and for most of the time that it is open a Mass is being said. Please don't wander about during the Mass, but instead look at the artworks before it starts (in other words, 7:30 to 8:00, 12:00 to 12:45). There is little time available between the end of Mass, and the time at which the verger wishes to lock up.

Ordinary tourists are perhaps better off avoiding this church altogether.


Mass is normally celebrated 8:00 and 12:45, Mondays to Fridays only. On Thursday the Mass is in Latin.

There is now NO MASS on Sunday.

Confessions are heard 7:30 to 8:20, and 12:00 to 12:40, Mondays to Fridays only.

The church's sacraments are now intended for those commuting to work in the area, not for residents. Many of these are high-status professional people, who in Italy are starting to abandon the tradition of a main meal at mid-day in favour of a light lunch and better-quality work in the afternoon. This explains the Mass at 12:45, which is an odd time to find a Mass in Rome.

According to the church's website, the feast of St Apollinaris is celebrated with solemnity on 23 July. It used to be 24 July, but was moved recently to make way for St Brigid of Sweden.

The saint was deleted from the general liturgical calendar of the Catholic church in 1970, but was put back recently on 20 July.

This is the station church for the last Thursday in Lent.

External links[]

Official diocesan web-page

Italian Wikipedia page

Website of the church

Website of the university

Interactive Nolli map (look for 515)

Info.roma web-page

Roma SPQR web-page with gallery

"Romeartlover" web-page

De Alvariis gallery on Flickr

Gennaro Leonardi's gallery on Flickr


Roman Despatches blog with gallery