History[edit | edit source]
This was not an old convent but was founded by Anna Colonna, the wife of Taddeo Barberini, in 1654. As one of the most powerful nobles of Rome in the early 17th century, she had amassed an enormous fortune under her husband's uncle Pope Urban VIII, but was forced into exile when Pope Innocent X objected to the corrupt means by which the money had been obtained. She was eventually allowed to return home, and spent the last years of her life occupied in the project to found a large and impressive nunnery. She was buried in a tomb in the new convent's church when she died at the convent in 1658.
The convent had the special privilege of reciting the Marian antiphon Regina Coeli every four hours in the church, with the prescribed signal being made on a church bell. Pope Benedict XIV extended the custom at this convent to the rest of the Catholic Church during Eastertide only from 1742. For the rest of the year it is replaced by the Angelus.
The nuns were exiled during the French occupation between 1810 and 1814, but returned and spent the first half of the 19th century in peace.
However, in 1873 the convent was sequestered by the Italian government, and the church was demolished in 1881. In 1900 the main prison for men for the city of Rome was opened here; it is unclear how much of the former convent's fabric survived to be re-used. The name was kept, hence the slightly sinister connotations attached to the name Regina Coeli in the city today.
Location[edit | edit source]
The large entrance door into the prison just south of the junction with the Via delle Mantellate is exactly on the site of the former church entrance.
The convent occupied the area now taken up by the two easternmost blocks of the prison, parallel to the Via della Lungara.
Appearance[edit | edit source]
Anna Colonna did not begrudge spending money on her project. This was a large convent, with an arcaded cloister south of the church which had two flanking courtyards, one to the north next to the church and one to the south. An extensive garden was to the west; the nuns were never allowed out, and so needed one.
The church was on a rectangular plan, with an aisleless nave having two external chapels and a rectangular apse. The architect was Francesco Contini, and the decoration that he provided was extremely rich.
The tomb of Anna Colonna was to the right of the high altar. It was of black marble, and was topped by a bust of her in gilded bronze. The high altar itself had a baldacchino of polychrome marble with statuary, and for most of the year had an altarpiece showing the Presentation of Our Lady at the Temple by Giovanni Francesco Romanelli. The nuns had a custom during the octave of the Assumption (15 to 22 August) of substituting this with a picture by Fabrizio Chiari showing the Assumption.