Santa Bonosa was an ancient parish church (5th century?), now demolished, situated on the north-west corner of Piazza de Santa Bonosa in the Via dell’Olmetto, which is south of the Lungotevere degli Anguillara in Trastevere. A picture of the church on Wikimedia Commons is here.

The dedication is to the very obscure St Bonosa (nothing to do with the martyr venerated at St Martin's Church at Louisville, Kentucky USA).


Evidence of originsEdit

An inscription exists indicating that a church existed here already in the 5th century. It was found here in 1870, and read:

Ego Deusdedit, amator loci Sancti Botum, fecit feliciter. ("I, Deusdedit, lover of the place of St "Botum" [sic] happily did this [work].")

This looks as if it might have been the foundation inscription.

Mariano Armellini claimed to have found evidence of 8th and 9th century fabric in the building, with remnants of a fresco of the same period showing youthful saints' heads. This was under the cantoria or singers' balcony on the left hand side. There was also possible 5th century coloured plasterwork in a room off the right side of the church.

He surmised that the origin of the church was the house of a martyr called St Bonosa, who is otherwise unknown, and that the room mentioned was part of it.

St BonosaEdit

Armellini's argument derives from the date of the inscription, since in the 5th century no martyrs' relics were being brought into the city from the catacombs. There is, however, an obvious and serious problem with the inscription. Sancti Botum is masculine, and it is probable that the original saint venerated here was not named Bonosa at all, and was not a woman. Armellini was presuming that the epigraphist was sub-literate, but if he was not then Botum would be an undeclinable foreign name. He just might have been a Syrian or Egyptian expatriate monk, because numbers of these were arriving in Rome from the mid 4th century.

However, there was a Bonosa martyred at Porto with SS Eutropius and Zosima at an uncertain date (same feast day as our Bonosa, July 15th), and they had a basilica on the Isola Sacra. This may be our saint, and it is possible that she supplanted Sanctus Botum because the latter was too obscure.

The relics of Bonosa were placed in a new shrine in the church in 1480, although Armellini indicated that the remains concerned were “discovered” then and hence may have been spurious. The legend of the saint was written by the parish priest in 1589, and is a work of fiction.

Her feast-day was August 20th, and she became a local patron against small-pox.

Middle agesEdit

The first historical mention of the church is in a papal bull of 1121 by Pope Callistus II, who listed it as one of the dependent chapels of the parish of San Crisogono. It later became a parish church in its own right. In 1256 the origins of the church and its saint were already described as ancient and uncertain.

A story grew up that the famous 14th century demagogue Cola d Rienzo was buried here. This was false, as the floor tomb effigy of the period thought to be his actually belonged to one Niccolò Vecca. Rienzo had had his body burned, and his ashes "thrown to the winds", after his execution.

Armellini transcribed another interesting tomb epigraph, from a bereaved husband whose (red-head?) wife from Verdun in France had died:

Claudia Ruggeri de Verduno de Lorena, cosiderando il fine di questa vita e benemeriti ricevti, ricevti fece fare questo sepolcro per Quintio di David, già coiuge e diletto suo marito per se stesa e cinque figli loro già. Defunti anno Domini 1570.

Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605) suppressed the ancient parish, and transferred its territory to that of what is now Santa Maria della Luce (then San Salvatore della Corte).

The church was restored in 1604, when a new roof was put on it and the walls frescoed at the expense of the priest in charge, Ariedeno Roncone from Siena. In this period it was also known as Santa Venosa.

The shoemakersEdit

In 1662, the Università dei Calzolari or guild of shoemakers took control of the church. They originally had a church on the site of the present Sant'Egidio in Trastevere which was dedicated to Santi Crispino e Crispiniano, because the saints Crispin and Crispinian are the patrons of shoemakers. When the Colonna family wished to endow a new convent of Discalced Carmelite nuns next door, their church was in the way and was appropriated. So, the guild had to leave in 1630 and came here twenty-eight years later.

They thoroughly restored the church, and provided a Baroque façade. Also, they changed the dedication to Santi Crispino e Crispiniano. The relics of St Bonosa were moved to Sant'Apollinare alle Terme, and an altar at Santa Maria della Luce was dedicated to her. By 1677 the parish was suppressed, and the pastoral responsibilities of the church were united to those of Santa Maria della Luce.

The church was also known as San Bonosa de' Calzelai in this period.

The little church of Sant'Aniano dei Ciabattini in the Velabro belonged to another guild of footwear makers. The difference between them was that the Calzolari made proper shoes with heels, while the Ciabattini made slippers without any. You can see women wearing raw-hide moccasins in many 19th century prints of Roman street life; not having heels to your footwear meant that you could carry things on your head. (Many modern Romans obsessed with the bella figura would like to forget all this.)

The guild moved out of this church before 1838, and took over the nearby church of San Salvatore in Trastevere instead. They took the dedication with them, which causes some serious confusion to historians. If you come across a church called Santi Crispino e Crispiniano in the sources, check which one it is.


In 1838, after the shoemakers had moved out, the relics of St Bonosa were ceremonially brought back to her own church. This was brought about by a pious confraternity associated with Santa Maria della Luce, the patrons of which were the Immaculate Conception, St Francis of Assisi and St Anthony of Padua. As a result, the three side altars in the church were given these dedications when the confraternity took over its running.


A well-known painting by Ettore Roesler Franz features the church, and hints at the serious poverty in this part of Trastevere in the middle of the 19th century. The riverside zone from San Crisogono to San Salvatore and south to Santa Cecilia had become a notorious slum, and remained a rough area until the 1970's.

The church was demolished during the building of the Lungotevere degli Anguillara in 1888. It was not on its course, so seems to have been condemned during slum clearance. If any archaeological investigation was made before redevelopment, no record seems to have been kept of it.

St Bonosa now Edit

St Bonosa was initially put in store at the Vatican. However when a new convent church was built for the Canossian Daughters of Charity at Via Tirso in the Salario quarter, she was enshrined there and the church given the dedication of Sante Felicita e Bonosa. Rather sadly the church was then re-dedicated as Santa Maria della Mercede e Sant'Adriano when it was rebuilt in 1958, although she is still enshrined there.


The address of the church used to be Piazza di Santa Bonosa. This is long gone.

When the area was cleared and redeveloped, a new street was created running from Via della Lungara to Via dell'Olmetto. This preserves the name of the church, being the Via di Santa Bonosa. At the north end, you will find a large apartment block with a big limestone doorway facing down the street. This is the site of the church. The corner of the façade was a little further to the right than the pair of windows on this side of the entrance.


Exterior Edit

When the painting mentioned above is compared with surviving photos, it is shown to be an accurate depiction.

The church was almost on a street corner, but not quite. It was surrounded on three sides by domestic buildings, and the one on the left was a very narrow lean-to structure huddled against the wall of the church. This church had a very simple plan. It was a straightforward brick box, without any apse or side chapels. Many small mediaeval Roman churches would have looked like this, but the vast majority were rebuilt or added to. This one was not, which makes its demolition even more tragic.

The façade, in stucco, was rather grand and in style was Baroque leaning towards the neo-Classical. It was added by the shoemakers, and was slightly lower than the roof of the church. In depictions, you can see the gable of the roof over the pediment. To the left of the façade was the campanile, which was a turret perched on the corner of the church having a large arched opening on each face and an ogee cupola with a ball finial. There was no corresponding campanile on the other corner, which meant that the whole façade was off centre. The entrance doorway was to the right of the church's major axis.

Four gigantic Doric pilasters supported an entablature with a dentillated cornice, above which was a triangular pediment also with dentillation. The architrave of the entablature was broken in between the inner pair of pilasters, and here was a large square window over the entrance. There was nothing in the tympanum of the pediment. In between each pair of pilasters was a round-headed niche, placed high up and decorated with garlands above. The plain doorcase was topped by a segmental pediment containing a coat-of-arms.

Interior Edit

Inside, there were three side altars. Descriptions of the interior seem to be lacking.

On Lanciani’s 1901 Forma Urbis Roma, the church is represented with a plain interior and an off-centre entrance door. There is no articulation of the walls save for the strict orthogonal outline on this plan, unfortunately.


Armellini, Le chiese di Roma dal secolo IV al XIX , Roma 1891

External linksEdit

Italian Wikipedia page

De Alvariis gallery on Flickr

Article on the saint


Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.