Sant'Ignazio al Convento Sant'Antonio alle Terme is an early 17th century convent and devotional chapel, its fabric being part of a 16th century edifice. The latter is at Viale Guido Baccelli in the rione San Saba.
The locality emerges into history in the 16th century as the Vigna Antoniana (or Antoniniana), a vineyard just to the west of the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla. This was not named after St Anthony, but after the emperor Caracalla responsible for the baths, whose proper name was Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus.
In 1555 the Society of Jesus purchased the property, with its small villa or casino. This was just before the death of the founder, St Ignatius, in 1556. The motivation was to provide a place of retreat for the city's Jesuits, and especially for students of the Roman College which had been founded six years previously.
St Ignatius is on record as having celebrated Mass here during his residence as an invalid just before he died, but not in the present chapel. The original chapel has been lost in subsequent remodelling. However, his room was converted into a chapel in his memory after he was beatified in 1609. This epigraph was placed over the door: Beati patris nostri Ignatii cubiculum ("The bedroom of our blessed father Ignatius").
Just after 1681 when he arrived at Rome, Andrea Pozzo SJ frescoed the chapel. The work counts among his earliest in Rome. Depicted are episodes from the life of the saint and of other early saintly Jesuits. His much more famous work is at Sant'Ignazio di Loyola a Campo Marzio.
The Jesuits remained in possession until 1773, when they were suppressed. The property passed by default to the Apostolic Camera, which sold it on to private owners.
In 1822 the the Seraphicum, the university at Rome of the Franciscan Conventuals, bought the property and used it as a hall of residence for its students. Back then, the Seraphicum was in cramped premises at Santi Apostoli.
In the Twenties, the convent was remodelled in response to a scheme to establish a missionary college here -the Scuola Apostolica per le Missioni. A pious union called the Crociata Missionaria Francescana ("Franciscan Missionary Crusade") was founded in 1924 to sponsor foreign missionary activity by the Conventuals, and this was to be in charge. The chapel was extended by the addition of an adjacent room in 1920, and a new altar and altarpiece provided. An extra storey added to the convent in 1925.
The Viale Guido Baccelli was built through the convent's grounds in 1938, the previous access having been a long driveway along the side of the bath ruins (this is now the Via Antoniniana).
The Crociata was suppressed at the end of the Fifties, and the convent is now affiliated to the Seraphicum.
The edifice used to have three storeys, and the addition of a fourth is obvious at a glance. It is a solid four-square block, not very interesting in itself although there is a little annexe consisting of an upper storey over a three-arched loggia.
If you go round the north side, you will see two porthole windows in the third storey. These light the chapel.
The interior displays Pozzo's talent at trompe l'oeil painting which gives the illusion of three-dimensional depth where none exists.
The modern altar has its mensa supported by a row of four little columns in brown-veined marble. The vertically oval altarpiece, supported by a pair of Pozzo's angels, depicts The Immaculate Conception. This rather naïve work is an exact copy of a painting by Pasquale Sarullo, a Franciscan Conventual religious artist of the 19th century.