Sant'Eustachio in Campo Marzio is a minor basilica and titular church with a postal address at Via di Sant'Eustachio 19. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons here. There is an English Wikipedia page here.
The dedication is to the Roman martyr St Eustace.
- 1 Location
- 2 Legend of St Eustace
- 3 History
- 4 Exterior
- 5 Interior
- 6 Access
- 7 Liturgy
- 8 External links
Many famous historical monuments surround Sant'Eustachio, among which are the dome of Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza by Borromini, the Collegio della Sapienza associated with it, the Palazzo Cenci Maccarani and the Palazzo Madama. Furthermore, the Pantheon is 200 meters away to the east. If you've become disoriented in the tangle of streets around here, note that the church is oriented south to north.
In front of the church is the Piazza di Sant'Eustachio, on which is the famous eponymous coffee bar claimed to make the Best Coffee in Rome. It's actually quite good, although you are better off leaving the mystique and the fiddly concoctions to the tourists (the alleged recipe involving goat droppings is an urban myth).
Legend of St Eustace
St Eustace is one of those early Roman saints venerated as martyrs, whose true stories have been lost. The revised Roman martyrology merely lists him as a martyr of unknown date.
The legend concerning him is pure romantic fiction.
According to it, he was a 2nd century Roman general (army officer) named Placidus prior to his conversion to Christianity. During his service as a general beforehand, he fought for Emperor Trajan. His conversion to Christianity began when he saw a deer with a cross on its head during a hunt. Later that night, he had a prophetic dream that he would suffer for Christ. Following this he was baptized as Eustace, consequently denounced as a Christian and was reduced to abject poverty after being dismissed from public office.
However, he called up for military duty once again as he was still a capable army officer and, as such, successfully defeated a barbarian enemy. Upon his return to the city, he was ordered to sacrifice to idols in thanks for the military victory, which he refused to do. Hadrian, the emperor at the time, ordered him to be thrown to the lions as a result. However, the ferocious lions, at the sight of St Eustace, turned as docile as cats. Ultimately he was martyred, together with his wife Theopistes and his two sons Agapitus and Theopistus, by being roasted inside a hollow bronze bull. This allegedly occurred in the year 118, with his house subsequently becoming a church.
The Brazen Bull as an instrument of torture was invented at the ancient Greek colony of Akragas in Sicily, and its inclusion in this legend is interesting.
The stag with a cross between its horns became the attribute of St Eustace, and the heraldic symbol of the rione Sant'Eustachio. You can see it on the top of the church's façade.
The early history of the church is unknown, and the first documentary reference dates to the reign of Pope Gregory II (715-31). By then, it was already a diaconia or a centre of the Church's charitable activities on behalf of poor people. So, it appears feasible that the church was founded when the flood-plain of the river meander (occupied in ancient times by the Campus Martius) was colonized by refugees from the hills. When the aqueducts ceased to function, these people would have had to move in order to be near a source of water -even if it meant that they were regularly flooded out. (In ancient Rome the area had a low residential population, and was largely occupied by ceremonial and public buildings.)
An educated guess at the year of foundation is about 600, and there is a hint of this in the tradition that Pope Gregory the Great ordered building work here.
The church was parochial in the Middle Ages and after, although it is not any longer. As such it was much more important locally than it is now, especially since there are so many other churches of later foundation around. Restorations were ordered by popes Stephen III in the mid 8th century, and Gregory V at the end of the 10th.
A name that survives from the 10th and 11th centuries is Sant'Eustachio in Platana, which indicates that a landmark plane tree grew next to it back then. This must have been a notable tree, because there has only been one church dedicated to the saint in the city and no suffix was strictly needed.
In 1196, Pope Celestine III ordered a major restoration involving the provision of the present campanile, and the enshrinement of the relics of the saint. A surviving epigraph relates that the pope performed the latter with his own hands. Apparently, the restoration involved the provision of a "circular" (semi-circular?) confessio or crypt where pilgrims could venerate the relics. This was mentioned in a document of 1406.
The church has never been conventual, but in the past was served by a college of secular priests. They were provided with a residence next door, which had a courtyard with covered walkways around its sides (in other words, like a monastic cloister). This was mentioned in the same 1406 document.
The Sapienza worshipped in this church before Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza was built.
Appearance before rebuilding
Data survives about the appearance of the church before its 18th century rebuilding. In the early 17th century, it had a portico of five arches on Ionic columns, stretching the width of the basilica behind. The roof of this was tiled , and sloped upwards to the central nave façade.
The latter had an odd design. There was a large round-headed central window, flanked by four Ionic pilasters which only reached slightly halfway up to the crowning triangular pediment and were continued by posts. This seems to have been as a result of a late 16th work restoration, perhaps.
For the interior layout and artworks, see the description reproduced by Armellini ("External links"). This includes a list of the six side chapels. Many charitable confraternities chose St Eustace as their patron in the Middle Ages, and hence sponsored chapels in his church.
Being built on the river's floodplain took its toll, and damp penetration seriously damaged the fabric in the 17th century. A campaign of rebuilding was begun in 1650, under the architect Cesare Corvara (or Crovara). He was in charge until 1706, when Giovan Battista Contini took over and designed the side chapels and portico. After a pause in the work, from 1724 to 1727 the apse and transept was constructed firstly by Antonio Canevari, and then by Nicola Salvi. Giovanni Domenico Navone applied finishing touches in the following year.
In 1734, the new church was consecrated. However, work continued on the sacristy and the choir chapel by Giovanni Moscati, from a design by Canevari. Melchiorre Passalacqua supervised further work on the interior decoration in the second half of the century.
At some stage, the arcaded courtyard of the canons was lost.
Restorations had to continue, as the problem with damp has never been solved. Work in 1855 by Filippo Martinucci involved re-laying the floor and consolidating the crypt (which is inaccessible to visitors).
In 1861, Filippo Cretoni restored stucco work in the interior, and Carlo Ruspi gave attention to some of the paintings.
From 1930 to 1940 there was a long campaign of restoration, the most notable result of which was the decoration of the Chapel of the Sacred Heart by Corrado Mezzana. The same artist also executed the woodwork of the confessionals in the transept.
Finally, there has been a recent restoration of the campanile which restored its original appearance.
The ancient parish was suppressed in the later 20th century, as part of the consolidation of the many small parishes in this area which could not support their churches.
The title of cardinal deacon was, as mentioned, established when the church was founded. Among its titulars were the popes Gregory IX, Alexander IV, Pius III and Paul III as well as the antipope John XXIII.
St Raymond Nonnatus was cardinal here, and is still venerated.
The current titular deacon of the church is Cardinal Sergio Sebastiani, who was appointed on February 21, 2001.
A full list of cardinals is in the "External links".
Layout and fabric
Before the 18th century the edifice had a straightforward basilical plan with a nave, side aisles and apse. As a result of the rebuilding, the plan is not so straightforward.
Firstly, there is an entrance loggia as wide as the central nave, and this is embedded in a block of ancillary accommodation. Then comes the short nave with aisles, of three bays. The aisles are divided into side chapels, three on the right but only two on the left because the central bay here opens into a large external chapel on a rectangular plan (Chapel of St Michael). Then comes the transept, on the plan of a transverse rectangle as wide as the nave with chamfered corners. Finally, there is the large semi-circular apse.
The fabric is brick, rendered in white. You can see some of the right hand side walling if you go round to the Via di Sant'Eustachio, but most of the church is hemmed in by other buildings. The roofing is rather complicated, partly because there is a range of second-storey rooms on both sides of the transept. The nave has one tiled roof, and the transept (with its false dome) and apse is under another, slightly higher one.
The church's campanile or bell-tower is all that remains of the original early medieval church. It is located behind a domestic building to the left of the façade, between that and the Chapel of St Michael.
It is in red brick, and the two storeys above the roofline of the aisle used to have two pairs of tall, narrow soundholes on each of their sides. Each pair is separated by an ancient marble Corinthian column. At some stage the openings in the lower storey were completely blocked up, while the top storey ones had half their height blocked. The recent restoration has removed the latter blocking. The top storey is also embellished with pottery dishes glazed in different colours. There is a tiled pyramidal cap.
As it now is, the façade (by Corvara) is dominated by a two-storey block of ancillary accommodation, looking rather like a Palladian villa with a flat roof and a balustraded parapet.
The loggia is entered through three rectangular apertures, the middle one wider, which are separated by a pair of Ionic columns in travertine with oversized volutes on their capitals (rather like the proboscis of a butterfly). The style of these is echoed by a pair of pilasters flanking the entrance, and another pair at the outer corners of the block. Columns and pilasters support a horizontal entablature, and over the entrance is a triangular pediment with a blank tympanum.
Peeping over this block is the frontage of the central nave, dominated by a large central window with a slightly bowed top and cornice. This is flanked by four Corinthian pilasters supporting an entablature and pediment. In the pediment is an oculus or round opening, and you can see the sky through it. The actual roof ridge of the nave only reaches the pediment. On top of the pediment you can see St Eustace's stag peering over, with the cross on its head.
A pair of empty round-headed niches with scallop decorations is in between the pilasters. The sides of this storey sport two enormous volutes, with exaggerated spirals echoing the capitals of the entrance columns.
The original iron railings of the loggia are worth examining; they were installed by Contini. The loggia itself contains several memorial tablets mostly of the 19th century, but it is worth spotting a survivor from the old church which records the baptism of a pair of twins, Alessandro and Carlo Farnese, in 1545.
On entering, you will be struck by the rich, intricate and gilded stucco work of the interior, which is slightly unusual in containing no vault frescoes. The side arcade arches have garlands on their intradoses, and are separated by gigantic ribbed Corinthian pilasters which support an entablature that runs round the church. The frieze of this has a dedicatory inscription on a gold background, and the cornice is embellished with strap modillions and rosettes.
The entablature, in turn, supports a barrel vault. There are three window lunettes on each side, and these lunettes are exaggerated so that each pair is only separated by a garland rosette. This gives the impression of a false cross vault. The surfaces of the vault have stucco scrollwork on a gilded background.
Over the entrance is a gallery with a completely gilded and intricately fretted wooden balustrade, and in this is the 18th century organ. The instrument was erected in 1749 by Celestino Testa and Giuseppe Noghel, and enlarged in 1767 by Johann Werle.
The façade window over the organ has a stained glass window showing The Penitent Magdalen, and is late 19th century. It makes a change to have the saint depicted as a dusky brunette (which she was in real life) instead of a bionda.
EIther side of the entrance are the memorials to Costantino Karkeriuk, 1718 (left), and Giovanni Angelo Magnoni, 1705 (right).
The polychrome marble pulpit attached to the last pier on the left is a late addition, of 1937.
The transept has a shallow elliptical saucer cupola, the pendentives of which are cut into by arches over windows set diagonally. The dome itself sports a swirling design of rosetted coffering around the Dove of the Holy Spirit, looking rather like the lid of a contemporary snuff box.
The pendentives are actually undersized, and their ribs don't quite meet. If you look at the triumphal arch of the apse, you will see why. It is actually double, the upper arch being pointed (Gothic!) and the lower circular, with more scrollwork in the panel in between. The curtailed pendentives themselves have the Chi-Rho symbol within garlands.
Below the diagonally set windows are four cantorias, or opera boxes for solo singer and musicians. They are attractively designed, with circular balustrades and acanthus sprays in the arched niches behind.
The ends of the transept have two large paintings by Giacomo Zoboli, executed in 1737. The right hand one shows St Jerome in the Desert; he is depicted as a hermit in a cave. The stone that he is holding is for hitting himself in penance, the result being that an angel is giving the Devil a beating. The left hand one shows The Visitation of Our Lady to St Elizabeth.
The sanctuary is divided from the nave by a low balustrade in polychrome marble sporting the coat-of-arms of Cardinal Neri Maria Corsini.
The sanctuary itself is a large apse with conch, flanked by a pair of doubletted pilasters in the same style as the nave ones and containing a further pair tripletted. The latter flank the enormous altarpiece by Francesco Fernandi (NOT Ferdinandi), depicting The Martyrdom of St Eustace. The family is being loaded into the bronze bull.
Below it, following the curve of the apse, are the stalls of the canons, carved in walnut from Sorrento by Giovanni Moscati in 1726.
Over the altarpiece is a floating wooden canopy designed by Fuga in 1749, which has the Dove of the Holy Spirit on its underside.
The apse conch has a white stucco relief depicting The Adoration of the Cross by Galileo Parisini.
The free-standing altar was designed by Salvi in 1739. It is in the form of a red marble (?) sarcophagus, with an opening covered by an ornate bronze grating behind which are the relics of St Eustace and his family. The altar is backed by a low screen in polychrome marble, upon which are a set of matching bronze candlesticks and a crucifix. A pair of impressive bronze candelabra featuring angels flank the steps.
The Paschal Candlestick is a column of green marble with the coat-of-arms of Cardinal Basilio Pompilj, its donor.
The side chapels are described in anti-clockwise order, beginning at the bottom right.
Chapel of the Holy Family
The first chapel on the right is dedicated to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and was re-fitted in 1854. The altarpiece, provided then, shows the Holy Family outside the Temple in Jerusalem and is by Pietro Gagliardi.
A survivor of the restoration is a very fine Baroque wall monument to the right, of 1673 and commemorating Luigi Greppi. To the left is a statue of St Raymond Nonnatus, who had been cardinal here. The vault was re-frescoed at the start of the 20th century, and features the Dove of the Holy Spirit.
Chapel of the Annunciation
The second chapel on the right became the Ciogni family funerary chapel in 1874. The altarpiece is worth viewing, as it is by Ottavio Leoni about 1620. The style is rather archaic for the period. Above, there is a stucco representation of the Madonna and Child in the split pediment of the altar.
Chapel of the Sacred Heart
The third chapel on the right is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and was completely re-fitted in 1937. Before then, it was dedicated to SS Nicholas and Alexis. The paintings are by Corrado Mezzana, in a realistic style. The altarpiece depicts The Sacred Heart, the left hand wall has The Last Supper and the right hand wall has Longinus Pierces the Breast of Christ. The vault shows God the Father. The stained glass window depicts The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and was executed by Picchiarini to a design by Mezzana.
Chapel of the Crucifix
To the left of the sanctuary a little chapel is tucked away which is dedicated to the Crucifix. Here is also a statue of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, as well as a memorial to a former parish priest called Pirro Scavizi who died in 1932. He was very highly regarded, and had a reputation for holiness. He may be beatified in due course.
Chapel of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
The second chapel in the left hand aisle (there are only two) is now dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, although it used to be dedicated to St Francis of Paola. It was fitted out by Melchiorre Passalacqua in 1771, with the stucco work done by Agostino Penna.
The fine Baroque altar has two Corinthian columns of verde antico marble, supporting a triangular pediment into which a wreathed tondo is inserted. This contains the monogram of Our Lady, and is venerated by a pair of stucco angels. Alabaster is used as panelling for the sides, and for the altar frontal.
There are two altarpieces, the major one being an icon of the Immaculate Heart which is a copy of a work by Giovanni Battista Casanova installed in 1848. It is in a Baroque glory inhabited by stucco putti. Below it is a representation of St Francis Paola (or was, as it seems to have been removed for restoration).
On the left hand wall is The Flight into Egypt by Etienne de Lavallé, 1774. The right hand wall has The Holy Family by Tommaso Conca, from the same year.
The ceiling vault depicts the Assumption of Our Lady.
Chapel of St Michael
The 1818 altarpiece by Giovanni Bigatti of St Michael Subduing the Devil is quite famous, and appears on prayer cards. It is flanked by a pair of ribbed Corinthian columns, and on the other side of these are depiction of St Raymund Nonnatus again and of St Frances of Rome.
The side walls have Corinthian pilasters revetted in alabaster. To the left is a monument to Teresa Tognoli Canale, 1807, and to the right that to Silvio Cavallieri, 1717. The neo-Classical design of the former makes an interesting contrast to the Baroque style of the latter.
Chapel of St Julian the Hospitaller
The first chapel on the left is dedicated to St Julian the Hospitaller, and is richly decorated in polychrome marble. The work was done in 1706 by the Confraternity of Hotel-Keepers, who also commissioned Biagio Puccini to paint the altarpiece featuring the saint.
The vault features God the Father again.
The baptismal font is in a tiny room at the bottom end of the left hand aisle, and is a reminder that the church used to be parochial. The font itself is 16th century, and the stained glass window featuring The Baptism of Jesus is another collaboration by Mezzana and Picchiarini.
The church is open, according to the Diocese:
7:45 to 12:00, 16:00 to 20:00. CLOSED IN AUGUST.
Mass times are (not August):
Sunday 12:00, 18:00.
The feast-day of St Eustace is celebrated with solemnity on 20 September.