Santa Lucia del Gonfalone is an 18th convent, titular and former confraternity church on earlier foundations at Via dei Banchi Vecchi 12 in the rione Regola. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia page here.
This church should not be confused with the nearby Oratorio del Gonfalone, which has been deconsecrated and is now a concert hall.
Santa Lucia VecchiaEdit
The original church here was parochial, known as Santa Lucia Nuova, and was the descendant of an older church on a different site called Sant Lucia Vecchia.
The latter old church was first mentioned in the list published in 1187 of dependent parish churches attached to the basilica of San Lorenzo in Damaso. Back then it was known as Sanctae Luciae a Captusecuta. The source of the name is unknown, and later mediaeval scribes were obviously puzzled by it as they gave varying versions. Also, the name Sanctae Luciae iuxta Flumen ("by the river") occurs.
This church seems to have been too near the river, and so vulnerable to water damage. As a result, a new parish church with the same dedication was built nearby some time in the early 14th century (the first mention dates from 1352). This was Santa Lucia Nuova. However, the old church was left standing as Santa Lucia Vecchia, and the reason for this was possibly owing to the wish to preserve burial rights.
Origins of confraternityEdit
The remote origins of the Arciconfraternita del Gonfalone, the confraternity that took over both churches, was the Ordine degli Accomandati di Madonna Santa Maria. This was founded by supporters of Papal rule in Rome in 1264, was approved by Pope Urban IV and was initially based at Santa Maria Maggiore. The membership was made up of two canons of that basilica, along with twelve Roman nobles. The purpose was penitence and prayer in common. A set of constitutions was drawn up by St Bonaventure, and approved in 1267. A later name was the Congregatione dei Raccomendati.
Pious confraternities for laypeople were very popular in the high Middle Ages. This one spawned many imitators in Rome and in other Italian cities.
The original headquarters was the church and hospice of Sant'Alberto all'Esquilino. This was located between Santa Maria Maggiore and Santa Pudenziana, around the west corner of the present Piazza dell'Esquilino.
Pope Martin V (1417-31) moved the headquarters of the confraternity from Sant'Alberto to Santa Lucia Nuova, although one of the progenitors of the 16th century confraternity was already involved at the latter church since at least 1352 or shortly after its construction.
In 1486 a consolidation of the Raccomendati with other allied Roman confraternities created a new Arciconfraternità del Gonfalone ("of the banner") which set up its centre of activities at Santa Lucia Vecchia in order for them not to clash with parochial functions at Santa Lucia Nuova. However, it was running a hospice for pilgrims adjacent to the latter church by 1492.
Over the centuries this confraternity dedicated itself to various charitable activities, including participation in religious processions and celebrations as banner carriers (wearing white gowns with peaked blue hoods). One of its responsibilities was the putting on of a Passion Play at the Colosseum every Good Friday, which explains the decorative scheme of the oratory. This performance was suppressed by the pope in 1539 because of disorder, and replaced by the Stations of the Cross.
The confraternity demolished the ruinous Santa Lucia Vecchia in 1544 to build their Oratorio del Gonfalone.
Other names in catalogues of the 15th and 16th centuries are Santa Lucia in Pescivoli and Santa Lucia in Chiavaca. However, the present name of Santa Lucia del Gonfalone was first recorded under Pope Pius V (1566-72).
17th and 18th centuriesEdit
There was a major restoration of the church in 1603.
In the 18th century the church, now ex-parochial was being run by the confraternity, with a small college of secular priests attached. It had become a major centre of devotion to St Lucy in the city, especially as regards her patronage of those with eye problems.
The edifice was virtually rebuilt between 1761 and 1765 by Marco David. This resulted in the present structure, although older fabric might survive in the walls. The financial patron of the work was Cardinal Flavio Chigi.
A major re-ordering of the parishes of the Centro Storico took place in 1824, under the bull Super Universam issued by Pope Leo XII. The church was made parochial again under this scheme.
Under the aegis of the confraternity, there was a major restoration of the interior between 1863 and 1867 by Francesco Azzurri. As a result, the interior is almost all 19th century.
However, in the 1890's the confraternity started a serious decline after its capital was sequestered by the Italian government. Collapse came early in the following century. The parish was suppressed in 1905.
As a result, the disused complex was given over to the Claretians who established a small convent here.
They are still in charge of activities here, and the convent is now the provincial headquarters (the Generalate is at Sacro Cuore Immacolato di Maria ai Parioli). However, the church is not formally in their possession.
There was a recent restoration after the turn of the millennium, which has left the façade looking neat.
The church was made titular on 21 October 2003.
The first cardinal deacon was Cardinal Francesco Marchisano, appointed on the same day. He was raised to the dignity of cardinal priest on 12 June 2014, and died on the 27 July. After a four-year vacancy, Aquilino Bocos Merino was appointed in 2018.
The church is on a street corner, with the entrance on the Via dei Banchi Vecchi and with the Via delle Carceri running down the right hand side. There is a single nave of three bays, and a separate sanctuary of a single bay ending in a semi-circular apse.
The street corner that the church occupies is also the northernmost corner of the rione Regola. Further on, you are in the rione Ponte. For this reason, if you look round the corner of the church to the right of the façade you will see a boundary tablet for the rione Regola on the wall.
Structurally the nave has narrow side aisles at a lower elevation, but these are divided into nave side chapels by blocking walls. As a result, there are three nave chapels on each side.
The right hand side elevation, down the Via delle Carceri, shows the nave in three bays, each of which has a large lunette window above a blank rendered wall. The bays are divided by blank tripletted pilasters. Above the "aisle" roofline are a series of buttresses dividing the bays, in the form of gigantic incurved volutes.
At the far end of this side elevation is a side entrance to the church, which has a doorcase molded in deep relief with a vertical oval window above. This is sheltered by an omega cornice set on high Baroque posts themselves set directly onto the doorcase lintel.
The attractive tardobarocco (late Baroque) campanile is to the right of the apse. It is above the convent premises to the far right hand side of the church.
The bellchamber projects above the premises above mentioned, and is on the plan of a square with rounded corners. Each face has a pair of Doric pilasters supporting a simple cornice above which, on each of the four sides, is a segmental pediment. These bound an onion-domed cupola in lead.
Each face of the campanile has a large arched sound-hole, the molded archivolt of which springs from Doric imposts. The keystone of this archivolt is occupied by a motif consisting of inverted acanthus leaves with tassels.
The simple Baroque façade has two storeys, and since the recent restoration has been rendered in pale blue with architectural details in white. There are three vertical zones, the central one fronting the actual nave and the narrow side ones fronting the side chapels. The side zones are slightly set back.
The first storey is on a limestone plinth. The central zone has two pairs of Doric pilasters flanking the single entrance, and a further pair folded into the angle between this zone and the side ones. The side zones have a pair of pilasters each at the outer corners. These ten pilasters support the dividing entablature, which has a blank frieze.
The entrance has a pair of Corinthian semi-columns supporting an entablature and a strongly protruding segmental pediment which contains a winged putto's head. The cornice of this is continued as a string course behind the pilasters. The four wall panels in the side zones outlined by the pilasters and this string course have Baroque frames with incut corners.
The second storey has four Composite pilasters supporting a triangular pediment with dentillation which has a larger segmental pediment behind it. These pilasters stand on an attic plinth which runs the full width of the frontage, and which has ten posts corresponding to the pilasters in the first storey. A pair of sweeps, slightly set back, flank the second storey and end at the top in Composite capitals. A further pair of pilasters is folded into the corners next to these.
This storey has a large rectangular window, the fenestration being substantially recessed. It has a circular flower wreath over it, sheltered by an omega cornice and containing the cross emblem of the Confraternity. The molded lintel of this window is continued as a string course behind the pilasters.
There is a single nave, with three side chapels on each side. Then comes a sanctuary of a single bay slightly narrower than the nave, and finally a semi-circular apse with a conch.
The church has a crypt, occasionally used for functions.
The side chapels form arches, which are separated by very broad rectangular Doric piers. There is a floating entalature running above the keystones of the arches, which also runs uninterrupted across the counterfaçade and round the sanctuary. This has modillions (little brackets) on its cornice, and its frieze is decorated with urns and swags.
The wide nave piers feature frescoes of prophets by Mariani, which are identified by the putti holding scrolls depicted above them. They are: Tobias (with his fish), Nehemiah and Ezra to the left, and Daniel, Zerubabbel and Jeremiah to the right. The first two in the series are on the engaged piers flanking the counterfaçade.
The counterfaçade itself has three large tablets describing the 19th century restoration, two flanking the door and one above. The latter is accompanied by frescoes of Deborah (to the left) and Judith. Above are female allegories of Art and History flanking the window.
The holy water stoups are very attractive 18th century works in red, black and white marbles, and feature winged putto's heads. They are by Innocenzo Spinazzi, who was put in charge of the sculptural elements of the church in the 18th century rebuilding
The ceiling is barrel-vaulted, and springs from the entablature with three window lunettes on each side. It was frescoed by Antonio Nepi, and features three octagonal panels with angels and putti, the central one also having a heraldic shield. These are flanked to either side by round medallion scenes in green monochrome, supported by pairs of heroes. In between the lunettes are four allegorical figures.
The triumphal arch is fitted into the nave vault, springs from the entablature and is supported below by a pair of square ribbed Corinthian piers. Behind, the vault of the single bay is decorated in the same style as that of the nave, except here we have one large circular tondo within a wreath.
The side walls of the sanctuary bay have two ornate balustraded cantorie or opera-boxes for solo musicians, on volute corbels. They are over two sacristy doorways with triangular pediments also on volute corbels, except that these curve in the opposite direction.
The conch of the apse has a large fresco depicting The Assumption of Our Lady in the Vision of St Bonaventure by Mariani 1863, over a panelled attic separating it from the entablature cornice. The saint is depicted as having the vision at the foot of an altar, dressed as a Franciscan friar but with his cardinal's hat on the step. Two putti are encouraging him to write about his vision..
The polychrome marble high altar, by Giuseppe Rinaldi, is against the wall of the apse. It is dedicated to Our Lady. An outer pair of ribbed Composite pilasters in white and gold supports a horizontal entablature. An inner pair of columns in the same style supports a pair of posts attached to the entablature, which in turn support an archivolt above which is a triangular pediment. The latter is flanked by flaming torch finials on box plinths, is embellished with a bronze acanthus leaf fringe and has the Immaculate Heart of Mary in bronze in its tympanum.
The archivolt encloses a fresco of God the Father. The altarpiece is an icon of the Madonna and Child, Salus Populi Romani which is a copy of the famous icon at Santa Maria Maggiore.
Under the altar are enshrined the relics of SS Felix and Faustus, obscure catacomb martyrs.
The aedicule is flanked by a pair of ribbed Corinthian pilasters, and the apse wall to either side of these is occupied by two large frescoes by Mariani illustrating events from the history of the Confraternity. To the left is Pope Sixtus V Blesses Captives Ransomed from the Muslims, and to the right The Vow of Giovanni Cerroni At His Election as Prefect of Rome.
Side chapel designEdit
The six side chapels have identical designs, being amost square with rounded corners and each having a lunette window above the altar which fits into the barrel vault. The four rounded corners are occupied by blind pilasters with their curved surfaces embellished by grotesque decoration in gilt. The four chapels in the corners of the nave all have round-headed altarpieces without aedicules, but the altars of the two central chapels do have aedicules.
The description is anti-clockwise, beginning at the right of the entrance.
Chapel of SS Francis de Sales and Thomas of VillanovaEdit
The first chapel on the right is dedicated to SS Francis de Sales and Thomas of Villanova. The altarpiece shows them venerating the Madonna and Child, and is ascribed to Salvatore Monosilio from Messina.
To the right is a neo-Classican memorial to Nicola Nicolai by Giuseppe De Fabris 1833, with a good bust.
Chapel of St LucyEdit
The second chapel on the right is dedicated to St Lucy. It has a statue of her in a round-headed niche within an aedicule in white marble, which has a pair of Corinthian pilasters also with grotesque decoration in gilt. The saint is shown wearing a wreath of roses, and with her eyes on a metal plate (her repellent legend is that she gouged them out herself to put off an importunate young man). This scupture was designed by Innocenzo Spinazzi and Ferdinando Lisandroni.
Many ex-voto offerings are displayed in cabinets to each side, and the side walls have frescoes of Chastity and Charity.
Chapel of SS Peter and PaulEdit
The third chapel on the right has an altarpiece of SS Peter and Paul by Mariano Rossi. The work depicts the final meeting of the apostles before their respective martyrdoms at Rome.
Chapel of St Francis of AssisiEdit
The third chapel on the left is dedicated to St Francis of Assisi. The altarpiece showing him appearing to St Bonaventure is described as having been executed by Georg Caspar von Prenner, "a Muscovite" (actually Austrian).
Chapel of the CrucifixEdit
The second chapel on the left has a crucifix with a 16th century black wooden corpus, venerated by the confraternity before the 18th century rebuilding and hence kept. It is within an aedicule with ribbed Corinthian pilasters in white and gold, supporting a triangular pediment.
Chapel of St Charles BorromeoEdit
The first chapel on the left is dedicated to St Charles Borromeo. The altarpiece shows St Gregory Barbarigo having a vision of him and the Christ-Child, and is described as being by "Eugenio Porretti of Arpino". Another attribution is Ermenegildo Costantini.
The elliptical picture on the altar shows St Anthony Mary Claret having a vision of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
The sacristy has an altarpiece by Ermenegildo Costantini.
Recently five new pictures have been installed in the church, on the side walls of the chapels. They are:
Blessed Piergiorgio Frassati by Carlo Bertocci. The beatus was a university student at Turin who loved mountaineering, hence the theme.
The Little King (Our Lady Crowns the Child Jesus) by John Kirby. This is in a very realistic and rather challenging style; the Child is a naked boy, and Our Lady looks like an Italian housewife of the 1950's.
St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) by Anna Keen. The chimneys and wire fence in the background are of Auschwitz, where she was gassed.
The church is open (church website, June 2018):
Daily 7:00 to 12:30, 17:00 to 19:00.
The church, in effect, functions as a subsidiary parish church to the Chiesa Nuova.
Mass is celebrated (church website, June 2018):
Weekdays 7:30 and 18:30,
Sundays 11:30, 18:30.
Opportunities to go to Confession or talk to a priest are available from 9:00 to 12:00 on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
- Official diocesan web-page
- Italian Wikipedia page
- Nolli map (look for 661)
- Church's web-site
- "De Alvariis" web-page on Flickr
- Info.roma web-page
- Roma SPQR web-page