Santa Maria della Misericordia al Verano is the 19th century cemetery church serving the Campo Verano, the enormous municipal cemetery by the basilica of San Lorenzo fuori le Mura in the Tiburtino quarter. There is an English Wikipedia article here.

The dedication is to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under her title of Our Lady of Mercy.


The Campo Verano cemetery was originally founded by the French occupiers under Napoleon, who issued an edict in 1804 suppressing the previous burial practices in the city. These had not changed much since mediaeval times, and were regarded rightly as grossly insanitary. Various institutions had burial rights in various places. Primary among these were the parishes, most of which (not all) had a small cemetery usually adjacent to the church. Also, confraternities and religious orders buried their members in crypts or under the floors of the churches that they owned.

The situation by the 19th century was actually quite disgusting, as the old cemeteries were over-full and some churches had their under-floor areas packed with bodies and bones.

The various vested interests had prevented the Papal government from doing much about the situation previously, but the French had the power to ignore these and founded the new cemetery to take all burials from the city. However, little was done apart from obtaining the land before the Papal government was restored in 1815. Giuseppe Valadier had produced a proposed layout in the meantime.

Initially, the policy of the restored papal government was to restore all aspects of the city's life and government exactly as they were before the French arrived. This stupidity caused enormous harm to the Papacy, and it persisted until the accession of Pope Pius IX in 1846. He had the wisdom to recognise the need for a selective appropriation of the benefits of modern progress, and one of these was the implementation of the cemetery project.

However the project was actually re-awakened by his predecessor Pope Gregory XVI (1831-46), who was otherwise a confirmed domestic reactionary intent on preserving the power of the Roman nobility. Fear of cholera was the major factor in the renewed prohibition of burials within the city walls.

Pope Pius appointed Virginio Vespignani to lay out the cemetery and oversee the construction of its architectural elements. The church was finished in 1862, and completion of the project was in 1880. Initially the intention was to reserve burials for Catholics only, and to let Jews, Protestants and others to make their own arrangements. However, after Rome was conquered by Italy the government insisted on all citizens being buried here.

Although Santa Maria della Misericordia was originally built as a church, the Diocese now regards it as a chapel and does not have a web-page for it.

Layout and fabricEdit

The cemetery has a monumental entrance gateway, which leads via a short downward slope to the quadriporticus or funerary enclosure. This is an enormous arcaded courtyard in an ancient Roman style, with many interesting monuments in the arcaded walks as well as in the central space. The church is on the major axis at the far end of this enclosure.

2011 Campo Verano

It has a basilical plan, rectangular without an apse. The main edifice stands on a crypt, hence the approach to the entrance is via a flight of steps which stretches for the whole width of the church. These lead to a large external loggia, which is flat-roofed and trabeated. Four Ionic columns in grey marble support an entablature with a dedicatory inscription on the frieze noting that the pope consecrated the church in the fourteenth year of his reign.

Above this loggia the nave frontage is visible, having a row of three large round-headed windows. The walls of the church are rendered in yellow, and the nave roof is pitched and tiled. The frontage has a triangular pediment, and the tympanum of this used to have a fresco of Our Lady being adored by angels. This has faded to the point of invisibility.

The church has aisles, and a rectangular sanctuary which is the same width as nave and aisles together. The flat roof of the loggia continues at the same level all around the aisles and sanctuary. The clerestory and aisle windows are in the same style, being round-headed and containing two smaller arches separated by a large pilaster mullion.

Inside, the altarpiece depicts The Madonna and Child with St Lawrence and the Souls in Purgatory, by Tommasso Minardi 1861

Access and liturgyEdit

The cemetery is open from 7:30 to 18:00, closing an hour earlier in winter (October to March).

The church itself is administered by a Pia Unione. It is usually kept locked, but Mass is apparently celebrated in it at 10:30 on Sundays and solemnities. This seems to be a private arrangement.

Of course you may also find funeral Masses taking place here -but not as many as you may expect. The neighbouring basilica of San Lorenzo hosts quite a few of these.

External links Edit

(There is no official diocesan web-page.)

Info.roma web-page

"De Alvariis" gallery on Flickr

Roman Despatches

(There are no online photos of the interior.)

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