Sant'Emerenziana is a mid 20th century parish and titular church on the Piazza di Sant'Emerenziana in the Trieste district, east of the Villa Ada, although the postal address is Via Lucrino 53. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons are here.

The dedication is to St Emerentiana.

History[edit | edit source]

Coemeterium Maius[edit | edit source]

The unusual dedication is to an obscure early Roman virgin martyr, who features in the story of St Agnes. She was originally enshrined in the so-called Catacomba Maggiore or "Great Burial-Place", which is an extensive catacomb on the Via Nomentana further along the road from the basilica of Sant'Agnese fuori le Mura.

The developed legend of St Agnes describes her as her foster-sister who was stoned to death by pagans while praying at her grave. She was in reality a martyr originally buried in the Coemeterium Maius at a locality referred to as ad Capream or "at the roe-deer [inn?]". The reference is from the Martyrology of Jerome of the late 6th century, and with her are listed as fellow martyrs Victor, Felix, Alexander and Papias.

A basilica dedicated to her was certainly here by the 7th century, when it was part of the pilgrim itinerary, but this church was destroyed in the 9th century when the relics of the saint were moved to join St Agnes in her basilica.

There has been some archeological investigation although not recently, and there is now nothing to see above ground. The modern entrance is at Via Asmara 6, but there is no regular public access. (The Vatican has published its requirements for arranging a visit here.)

Modern church[edit | edit source]

The church was planned the centrepiece of the Trieste suburb. The parish was founded in 1942, the same year in which the church was built. The edifice was initially designed by a collaboration of Francesco Fornari and Tullio Rossi, but the former dropped out before completion of the project.

The church was made titular in 1973. The present cardinal priest is Jean-Pierre Kutwa, appointed in 2014 after his predecessor Medardo Joseph Mazombwe died in the previous year.

The cardinalate title is Santa Emerenziana a Tor Fiorenza, not Sant'Emerenziana which is the name of the church. The two names are being confused online.

Exterior[edit | edit source]

Layout and fabric[edit | edit source]

The church is in a rather hesitant and wan moderne (rather than Modernist) interpretation of the Roman version of the neo-Romanesque style, mostly in blank brown brick with a few details in travertine. Compare this design with Sacro Cuore di Gesù a Castro Pretorio, the beginning of the fashion for this style in the city, and Santa Galla which is a good example of Thirties anti-Baroque fantasizing over mediaeval bare-brick basilicas. The church here is a dying whimper of a locally influential architectural ideology, killed by Modernism proper (although the death took a while).

It has a central nave with aisles of seven bays, and an attached semi-circular apse but no transept. Unusually, the pitched and tiled roof covers nave and aisles with one span, and this is achieved by having second-store external arcades above the aisles on both sides. These open onto elevated loggias, containing the windows of the central nave side walls. The arches of the arcades are entirely in brick, with no decoration, and stand on a band of travertine which runs down each side of the church. These arcades look rather like model railway viaducts above the otherwise blank side walls.

The apse has its own tiled roof, pitched in five sectors.

Façade[edit | edit source]

The windowless gabled façade is dominated by an enormous blank arch inset into the brickwork, reaching almost to the height of the side rooflines. This encloses three equal-sized entrances, the portals framed in travertine limestone simply faced as one surface on the piers, jambs and wide common lintel. The last has the date of consecration, 1942. Above the lintel are three tympanum arches, also framed in limestone forming a common surface with the lintel. The three tympana contain mosaics showing Christ in Glory (with the consecration date on the lintel below him), St Emerentiana holding a palm of martyrdom and St Agnes holding her eponymous lamb.

Where the large arch starts to curve is a wide stone string course which bears a simple dedicatory inscription, and which is continued by the plinths running under the arcades down the sides of the church. Above this in the arch is the relief coat-of-arms of Pope Pius XII as a rectangular stone tablet. The façade has no other decoration.

Campanile[edit | edit source]

Attached to the top left hand side of the church is the campanile, a simple square brick tower with a low pyramidal cap and with three sound holes on each side, two small arches above a large one.

Interior[edit | edit source]

Nave[edit | edit source]

The central nave has seven bays, and is separated from the aisles by arcades having square piers. These are clad in a bluish-grey marble, and have thin imposts but no capitals. The rest of the internal walls, as well as the ceiling, are in a creamy white. Above each aisle is a gallery, with a little grey marble Doric semi-column attached to each of the piers that separate the rectangular apertures. Above the galleries in turn are large round-headed windows, which look out onto the external arcaded loggias

The rather interesting ceiling vault has a transverse barrel-vault in each bay, having an arched curve so that the overall vault has a wavy appearance. The vault rests on blind springers between the windows. Over each window is a triangular lunette.

The triptych painting formerly in the apse, St Emerentiana in Glory by Olga Biancitti of 1944, has been moved to the counterfaçade wall over the entrances. It is a naïve work, not very good in execution.

The six side altars in the aisles are decorated with polychrome stonework.

Sanctuary[edit | edit source]

The nave ends in an enormous undecorated triumphal arch, and the sanctuary occupies the apse beyond.

The apse has no windows, but is completely filled by a striking and enormous (523 square metres) modern mosaic, Church Triumphant by Fr Ugolino da Belluno, a Franciscan priest who completed the work in 1968. Christ Triumphant, in a cross-shaped glory, is being venerated immediately by Our Lady to the left and St Emerentiana on the right, both supported by angels. Above is the Dove of the Holy Spirit, and at the top is the Manifestation of God the Father, not as a hand (the Hand of God) or as an old man (the Ancient of Days of the Book of Daniel) but as the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) or the Hebrew Name of God. Flanking the Holy Spirit are images of animals -Creation. Below Christ are the symbols of the Evangelists, and below that in turn is the Pope and a group of bishops, with to either side two vast crowds of ordinary people in contemporary dress. At the base is an Italian tag -Lui supremo primo nel tornare dalla morte alla vita.

Liturgy[edit | edit source]

The church has an unusually full schedule of public Masses:

Weekdays 7:20 (7:30 July, August), 9:00, 10:30 (not July, August), 18:30 (19:00 June to August);

Sundays and Solemnities 8:00, 9:00 (not July, August), 10:00, 11:00, 12:00 (not July, August), 18:00 (not June to August), 19:00.

The summer times might be prolonged into September -see parish website.

External links[edit | edit source]

Official diocesan web-page

Italian Wikipedia page

Parish website

Info.roma web-page

The mosaic

The triptych

"Roma Sotterranea" page on the catacombs

Roman Despatches blog with gallery

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