Sant’Antonio da Padova a Via Merulana is a 19th century college, conventual and titular church of the Franciscan Friars Minor at Via Merulana 124, which is very near the parish church of Santi Marcellino e Pietro. It is also a minor basilica. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia page here.
The dedication is to Anthony of Padua.
The church website uses the name Sant'Antonio al Laterano. This is because of a puzzling brief reference in the biography of St Francis of Assisi by St Bonaventure, where the saint and his early companions were at a church or chapel of St Anthony near the Lateran. This is the only historic evidence for such a church in the locality at the start of the 13th century (Sant'Antonio Abate all'Esquilino was founded later). However, the Diocese prefers the name Sant'Antonio da Padova in Via Merulana.
The main Franciscan (OFM) convent in Rome used to be attached to the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli on the Campodoglio, and overlooked the Foro Traiano. The convent buildings were historic, basically mediaeval in construction with a small two-storey cloister. They were sequestered by the Italian government in 1870, and completely demolished to clear the site for the Vittorio Emanuele II monument in 1885.
Meanwhile, the Franciscan Friars Minor built a new Generalate (headquarters of the order) on the Via Merulana, and completed the church in 1887. The site was originally part of the gardens of the Villa Giustiniani, and was substantial. It is a whole city block, bounded by the Via Merulana, Viale Alessandro Manzoni, Via Matteo Boiardo and Via Aleardo Aleardi. Here also is the seminary for the entire order, the Collegio di Sant'Antonio da Padova, and the Pontificia Università Antonianum.
The architect of the complex of the convent with its church was Luca Carimini. The interior frescoes and paintwork was by one of the friars, Bonaventura Loffredo da Alghero, who finished the work in 1890. Unfortunately it did not meet with universal approval, and the church's website mentions that the use of blue especially was considered "strident".
The church narrowly escaped becoming parochial in the early 20th century. A papal commission recommended this, but the new parish was centred on Santi Marcellino e Pietro al Laterano instead in 1906.
The church was declared to be a minor basilica in 1931, the seventh centenary of the death of St Anthony.
The Generalate of the order moved to Santa Maria Mediatrice in 1950, leaving this church as the main centre of devotion to St Anthony of Padua in the city. In the same year the interior was restored, which meant the loss of much of Loffredo's paintwork. There was another re-ordering in 1960, when the choir was enlarged.
Very unusually for a modern church that is not parochial, it was given a cardinalate title in 1960. The present cardinal is Cláudio Hummes.
Carimini provided a long, narrow nave with aisles and a five-sided apse for his neo-Romanesque design. The fabric is in red brick with white stone detailing. The church has an ancillary convent building attached on each side, and sits on a crypt so that it is well above street level.
Campanile and spireEdit
There is a little campanile attached to the far end of the left hand aisle, the cubical bellchamber of which is perched at
the nave roofline. It has a double arched soundhole on each side, invisible from the street. Above this is an octagonal storey, with a arch on each face having a stone archivolt and with two little tondi above. There is a projecting dentillate cornice, and above this a segmental tympanum on each face. Then comes perhaps the most interesting thing about the exterior of the church, a stumpy spire in polychrome tilework mostly in gold but with purple and green zig-zags. There is a ball finial.
This spire is a puzzling feature in some views of the city, since it is not well-known and not very easy to see from the street.
The façade is monumental, and since it is raised above the street level it is accessed by a pair oflongitudinal flights of stairs which double back. The narthex and archtectural details are in white stone, while the wall is in red brick. The staircases have iron railings, which look late 20th century.
The projecting narthex is entered by five archways, and these are separated by six Doric columns with high plinths. They support an entablature with the frieze decorated with Eucharistic symbols alternated with triglyphs, and with a projecting cornice. The outer corners of this are supported by a pair of square pilasters in the same style. The narthex ceiling is vaulted, and the roof is pitched and tiled.
On the façade above the narthex is a row of five arched windows with projecting molded archivolts resting on corbels, and above these is a row of six tondi containing relief sculptures of the symbols of the Evangelists, the Lamb of God and the Sacred Heart. Then there is a molded cornice, running from one aisle side roofline to the other. The aisle end rooflines are sloping, and the cornice is turned back to run along these. The nave frontage above the aisles has a circular recessed window flanked by a pair of arched ones, and finally the whole composition is crowned by a blank triangular pediment with a stone Greek cross on the pinnacle. Below the cornice of the pediment is a dedicatory inscription: SS Trinitate in memorian S. Antonii, AD MDCCCLXXXVI.
A bronze statue of St Anthony is placed in the middle arch of the narthex.
The spectacular interior has an eight-bay nave with side aisles, and then a presbyterium with a high apse. There are five side chapels in each aisle.
The aisles are separated by seven monolithic Corinthian columns of grey granite on each side, which support entablatures instead of arcades. This because above the aisles are galleries, which themselves have matching Ionic granite columns. This makes the nave roof very high; there is no ceiling, but the inside of the roof is panelled and coffered with gilded rosettes (although the wood is unpainted). The central nave walls above the colonnades have eight round-headed windows on each side.
The polychrome marble pulpit on the left hand side of the nave is of 1939, and is by the firm of Gazzeri di Querceta who also did the attractive bas-relief Stations of the Cross in the aisles.
The nave floor is of marble, in a geometric pattern of circles and squares.
The main altar used to have a marble balustrade in front of it, but this was removed in 1960 when the altar was moved forward to make room for more choir stalls. It has a very large slab, and a relief carving of the Last Supper as a frontal. The latter is a work by Caramini himself.
Behind the altar is the choir, and above the stalls are now a set of Byzantine-style icons of saints.
Above the stalls is a fresco of the Apotheosis of the Saints of the Franciscan Order, the surviving work by Loffredo. Above this in turn is the organ in a niche framed by a pair of Corinthinan columns in pink granite. The conch above this is blank whitewash (apparently a mosaic was planned), but the barrel-vaulted ceiling of the presbyterium bay is coffered and gilded in a Classic style with rosettes in square coffering panels.
Behind the apse is the sacristy, which has a copy of the Pinturiccio fresco of St Francis in Santa Maria in Aracoeli by Pignet again.
Side chapels and baysEdit
The church has eight bays in each aisle. Two bays on each side have confessionals, whilst five bays on each side have altars. The remaining bays have no altars, but do have paintings. Either side of the santuary is a chapel. As the previous description of the chapels on this site differs in order somewhat from what this author observed in October 2019, it is possible that various altarpieces and paintings have been moved in recent times.
The description is anti-clockwise, from the bottom right hand side.
The first two bays on the righthand side contain confessionals.
The third bay on the right contains a painting by Silvia Polizzi commemorating the 700th anniversary of the death of Bl. John Duns Scotus who died in 1308. It depicts the Madonna and Child in the centre crushing the head of a serpent (a reference to the Immacuate Conception, of which Duns Scotus was a great defender), with Bl. Duns Scotus kneeling in prayer. These figures are flanked by Pope's Paul VI and John Paul II who hold in their hands two of the titles given to Duns Scotus - The Sublte & Marian Doctor and The Doctor of the Immacuate. This bay also contains two icons - one of Duns Scotus, the other of Venerable Maria of Jesus of Ágreda.
The fourth bay on the right is the first proper chapel as it contains an altar; the altarpiece is The Death of St Joseph by Giuseppe Rossi, a Franciscan friar.
The fifth bay on the right is a chapel (with a tabernacle on the altar) dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, and the altarpiece is Our Lady with SS John and Margaret of Cortona by Francesco Szoldaticz.
The seventh bay on the right is a chapel dedicated to St Bonaventure. The anonymous altarpiece shows SS Bonaventure, Michael and Raphael.
The eighth bay on the right is a chapel dedicated to St Bernardine, and has an altarpiece showing SS Bernardine, John Capistrano and James of the Marches by Michelangelo Cianti who was one of the friars. He was inspired by the famous fresco by Pinturicchio in Santa Maria in Aracoeli.
At the top of the right aisle is the entrance to the Chapel of St Anthony of Padua which flanks the sanctuary. This is a great centre of devotion to the saint and a box is provided for petitions addressed to him. The main feature is a polychrome statue of Saint Anthony and the Child Jesus with Children. On the walls of the chapel are two paintings signed De Meo 1987. They show St Anthony Preaching to the Fish and St Anthony and the Miracle of the Mule. This chapel gives access to the sacristy through an anteroom containing numerous ex votos for favours received from St Anthony.
On the other side of the sanctuary, at the top of the left aisle is the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. Above the tabernacle hangs a San Damiano Cross. There are a number of icons in this chapel. The small altar and ambo are also decorated with icons. There is access into the sanctuary from a doorway on the right of this chapel.
The eighth bay on the left is a chapel dedicated to St Louis of Toulouse. It is not clear whether the altar piece is that by Caio D'Andrea SS Louis, Diego of Alcala and Francis Solano (it does show these 3 saints) or whether as the church's website advises that this has been replaced at some stage by one by Eugenia Pignet. This wealthy late 19th century female secular tertiary of the order was a noted religious painter and copyist of antiqities, and here she was inspired by the Pinturicchio work at Aracoeli.
The seventh bay on the left is a chapel dedicated to St Francis, and the altarpiece showing SS Francis, Paschal Baylon and Peter of Alcantara is by Franz von Rohden. The two other saints were noted reformers of the Franciscan order.
The fifth bay on the left is a chapel with an altar and tabernacle. The altarpiece shows the Sacred Heart flanked by St Louis of France and Elizabeth of Hungary.
The fourth bay on the left is dedicated to St Claire, and the altarpiece showing St Clare Exposing the Blessed Sacrament to Raiding Muslims is by Giuseppe Bravi (1864-1936) and was presented to the church on 10 December 1891
The third bay on the left does not contain an altar. It contains an image of Blessed Gregory Grassi and Companions. They were martyred during the Boxer Rebellion in China. This was painted by T Ridolfi in 1946. There is also a painting of Bl. Gabrielle Allegra painted by Bruce Dalzell Atherton in 2002.
The first and second bays on the left contain confessionals.
The crypt amounts to a lower church, and itself has aisles separated by travertine columns and an apse. In here are an amazing total of forty-five altars, which used to be used by the Franciscan priests studying here. Before 1970 the Latin rite had no concelebration at Mass by several priests, so each priest without a public ministry had to say his own Mass in private every day. The reason for the number of altars was that there should only be one daily Mass on any altar (this ancient rule is now often ignored). The layout here is now a historical curiosity.
The church is open:
6:45 to 12:00, 16:00 (summer, 17:00) to 19:00.
The liturgical activities here are extensive for a non-parochial church.
Mass is celebrated:
Weekdays 7:00, 8:00, 9:00, 18:00 (18:30 in summer);
Sundays 7:00, 8:30, 10:00, 11:30, 18:00 (18:30 in summer).
Confession is available 7:30 to 12:00, 16:30 to 19:00 but starts an hour later on Sundays for both time-slots.
There are devotions to St Anthony after the Masses on Tuesday.
Eucharistic adoration takes place on Sundays.