Santa Maria della Pietà in Camposanto Teutonico is a 16th century confraternity and national church regarded as being in Vatican City, but not territorially part of it. The church is just south of St Peter's, on Via Tunica but with a postal address of Via dei Protmartiri Cristiani. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia page here.
This is a national church of Germany.
The territorial situation here is peculiar.
The boundary between Italy and the Vatican City runs alongside the north and west sides of the church and adjacent cemetery, then curves around the west wall of the Audience Hall to the south. Hence, the church is in Italy. The audience hall is certainly extraterritorial and is administered by the Holy See, and so also is meant to be the church and college.
However, a doubt arose recently when an act of violence occurred in the college and caused a dispute as to which police force should investigate it.
The church is traditionally listed as being in the Vatican, not in the Borgo. Access is controlled by the Swiss Guard on duty at the barrier by the Porta Cavalleggeri.
A map exists here on Wikimedia Commons which makes the territorial situation clear.
The church is attached to the Camposanto Teutonico, an ancient German cemetery. A fictitious legend alleges that the graveyard was originally consecrated by St Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine, in the early 4th century. She was meant to have covered the plot with earth from the Holy Land (hence the name "Holy Field"), but this story actually belongs to Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.
In reality, the cemetery has its origins in the 8th century. In that period, colonies of expatriates had settled around Old St Peter's. These included Greek, Syrian and Armenian monks in several monasteries, whose presence was maliciously airbrushed from Rome's historical awareness in the early Middle Ages. Four kinds of Germanic barbarians established colonies also, the Schola Langobardorum for the Lombards at the lost church of San Giustino to the north of the basilica (the site is under the north colonnade of the piazza); the Schola Frisonum for the Frisians to the east, at what is now Santi Michele e Magno; the Schola Saxonum for the Saxons further to the east, at what is now Santo Spirito in Sassia, and the Schola Francorum for the Franks to the south of the basilica.
The Schola Francorum was founded by Charlemagne and Pope Leo III in 799 (the actual year is subject to scholarly debate), and primarily served as a hospice for pilgrims and expatriates . A reasonable surmise is that a cemetery was established for those who died at Rome, but not on the site of the present one which is thought to have been occupied by a bath-house at the time.
The original site and layout of the Schola cannot be securely traced. It has been thought, unprovably, that the present church of San Pietro in Borgo originally served the Schola, with the name San Salvatore in Ossibus. West of the Schola was probably the Palatium Caroli or emperor's residence, and south-west of that was the Balneum Leoni built by Pope Leo III. This latter building was about where the present church is now.
Early Middle AgesEdit
Documentation in the first two centuries of the schola's existence is thin, not helped by forgery, but the institution was being administered by the neighbouring monastery of San Martino al Vaticano by 854. This convent had been founded by Pope Leo III, and its church was by the top left hand corner of the basilica near its apse.
In 1053, Pope Leo IX regularized the funerary responsibilities of the four Scholae. The Lombard one had to bury deceased pilgrims from Italy, the Saxon one those from Britain and the Frankish one, those from north of the Alps. The present cemetery might date from this period.
The "north of the Alps" description was taken to refer to German-speaking subjects of the Holy Roman Empire, and this was part of the development of the modern German and French national identities then starting.
The scholae all slowly failed in the Middle Ages, and went extinct by the 14th. The Schola Francorum had its last documentary reference in 1360, by which time the monastery of San Martino had vanished and San Salvatore in Torrione, the putative church of the Schola, was under the charge of the chapter of St Peter's. (This church, the present San Pietro in Borgo, might have been founded as a parish church in the 10th century and so have hand no connection to the schola.)
This was the period of the residence of the popes at Avignon in France, when most religious institutions in Rome either decayed or collapsed.
Santa Maria dell'AnimaEdit
The 15th century saw the growth of a prosperous German expatriate community in Rome, but its devotional focus was not here. Rather, it was around the church of Santa Maria dell'Anima.
The remote origins of this particular church lie in a private hospice for Dutch pilgrims founded by a married couple from Dordrecht in the Netherlands, Jan and Katharina Peeters, after the Holy Year of 1350. They called it Hospitium Beatae Mariae Animarum (Guest-House of Blessed Mary of Souls), and it proved a complete success. in 1386 it was established on the site of the present church, and in 1399 It received papal approval. In 1406 Pope Innocent VII brought it under immediate papal jurisdiction, declared it to be the national institution for expatriates and pilgrims from the Holy Roman Empire and established a confraternity to run it.
Back then, there was no nationalist distinction between the Germans (as now understood), the Dutch and the Austrians but all were counted as Germans. There was not even a recognized standard for the German language -that came with Luther in the 16th century.
In 1431 a full-sized church was built to replace the former small chapel, and this has been the German national church ever since.
Revival of Campo SantoEdit
There was one big drawback with Santa Maria dell'Anima. As a new foundation, it had no cemetery. Hence, the German expatriates took an interest in the old schola graveyard next to St Peter's.
A group led by somebody called Fredericus Alemannus or "Frederick the German", actually Friedrich Frid from Magdeburg, built a wall around the cemetery and a house for a custodian during the reign of Pope Martin V (1417-31). Then, in about 1440, they erected a little chapel dedicated to Our Lady. This was the forerunner of the present church. However, the property remained in the possession of the Chapter of St Peter's.
In 1443 Pope Eugene IV authorized the foundation here of a hospice for poor female Germans, run by the Ospedale di Santo Spirito. Then in 1446 is a mention of a church on the cemetery dedicated to St George -San Giorgio al Vaticano (not to be confused with Our Lady's chapel).
In 1448, the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mercy was founded with the principal purpose of burying poor expatriate Germans. This ended up taking over the site and building the present church, but they had to struggle to do so. It received official recognition in 1454.
In 1472 the confraternity took over the womens' hospice, and seems to have closed it by 1496.
In 1476 it initiated a project to build a new church, but there was little progress until Pope Alexander VI awarded an indulgence to supporters in 1496. Thereupon progress was rapid, and in 1500 the new church was consecrated. It replaced both the chapel of Our Lady, and the church of St George.
In 1513, a dispute with the Chapter over property rights was finally settled in favour of the confraternity who were left in possession of the freehold of the church and graveyard.
In 1576 revised constitutions specified that membership of the confraternity was limited to Germanic expatriate citizens of the Holy Roman Empire, living in Rome. In modern terms, this meant those speaking German, Dutch and Flemish as the Netherlands and Belgium used to be part of the Empire.
In 1597 the name was changed to the Arciconfraternita di Santa Maria della Pietà nel Campo Santo dei Teutonici e Fiamminghi -in German, Erzbruderschaft zur Schmerzhaften Muttergottes der Deutschen und Flamen.
In 1630, the Treaty of Westphalia ending the Thirty Years' War established the principle that only subjects of the Holy Roman Empire as a political unit were to have burial rights in the cemetery. Oddly, this excluded Switzerland and so the Papal Swiss Guards lost their connection with the church.
Unfortunately, the membership restriction meant that the fortunes of the confraternity were tied to those of the expatriate German community, and in the 17th and 18th centuries the German presence in the city declined. In the early 19th century, the church had fallen into disrepair.
19th century revivalEdit
A major revival in the fortunes of the church came about when Anton de Waal was appointed rector of the Campo Santo in 1873. He was a gifted archaeologist (according to the standards of the time) and a noted Church historian. He immediately had the church restored, and had the constitutions of the confraternity revised.
With the co-operation of the confraternity, he founded the Collegio Teutonico del Campo Santo in 1876, where German-speaking priests could study for a maximum of three years while ministering at the church. This involved much building, the result being an L-shaped complex to the south and west of the cemetery which incorporated the church within it. There used to be a private confraternity oratory to the south of the cemetery, which was demolished in the process.
In 1888, the Görres-Gesellschaft zur Pflege der Wissenschaft (the "Gorres Society for the Promotion of Science") opened a branch here with an extensive library. This society had been founded in Koblenz, Germany in 1876 and is now based at Cologne. Also, the "Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother" took on the administration of the sacristy. This congregation had been founded at Rome by German expatriates in 1885 -see Cappella delle Suore della Santissima Madre Addolorata.
While the confraternity retained ownership, it was decided that administration should be in the care of a so-called Nationalstiftung ("National Foundation") chaired by the Emperor of Austria (since 1918, the President of Austria) and with a cardinal of the Curia also on the board.
During World War II, the complex was damaged by a bomb. According to the story, this was dropped by an Italian plane painted with German identification marks, as part of a scheme that the Fascists had cooked up. It was intended for San Pietro in Vaticano but for some reason - either owing to an error or reluctance on the part of the plane crew to bomb the world's greatest church - it hit the church in the shadow of the basilica instead. The damage has been made good, but can be discerned by visitors.
A major restoration was carried out between 1972 and 1975, when the church was largely returned to its presumed original mediaeval appearance.
The confraternity still exists, and is still in possession. The entrance qualification remains unchanged, and present membership stands at about one hundred. Language is the qualifier -you have to be Catholic, and be a native speaker of German, Dutch or Flemish.
The church is served by German clergy studying in the college.
Very unusually for the Centro Storico in Rome, the cemetery is still functional. Confraternity members have burial rites, as do members of certain other Roman institutions and religious bodies who satisfy the entrance criteria mentioned above.
In 2013, the Salvatorian Sisters took over from the Sisters of Divine Charity.
The church is now embedded in the buildings of the college, and has almost no external identity. The only exception to this is the external apse, which you can see in the college frontage on the Via Tunica.
The main point of external interest here is the German cemetery. It was originally established so that German pilgrims who died in Rome could rest among the martyrs. The name Camposanto means "Holy Field", and by tradition some earth from the Holy Land was brought and scattered here. Dignitaries from other countries in northern Europe having historical connections to the Holy Roman Empire are also buried here.
It amounts to a walled green oasis with mature trees, and is a very peaceful spot. Pope Benedict XVI could sometimes be found sitting in here when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger.
About 1400 internments are on record. The following note on the more famous ones is from the German Wikipedia:
Buried here are the artists Joseph Anton Koch, Wilhelm Achtermannshöhe and Johann Martin von Rohden; the theologian Anton de Waal; Saarland ethnologist Fr Michael Shu Lien SVD; the archaeologists Ludwig Curtius, Engelbert Kirschbaum SJ and Hermione Speier; the church historian Eva -Maria Jung-Inglessis; the writers Stefan Andres and John Urzidil, and the nun Pascalina Lehnert who was the former housekeeper to Pope Pius XII. From the German nobility are Friederike Charlotte of Mecklenburg, the first wife of the Danish King Christian VIII; Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, the partner of composer Franz Liszt; Prince Georg of Bavaria, and Baron Edmund Raitz von Frentz.
In the south-east corner is a small mortuary chapel, containing some old epitaphs. The oldest dates from 1500, to Hans III zu Rodenstein. The Stations of the Cross, with German captions, have colour scenes made up of tiles which look Meissen.
In the Piazza dei Protomartiri Cristiani in front of the cemetery there is a bronze plaque marking the original site of the obelisk now in Piazza San Pietro. Be careful if you look for it - there is quite a lot of traffic in and out of the Vatican at times.
The entrance to the church is in the loggia on the west side of the cemetery.
The bronze doors were made by Elmar Hillebrandt. Funds for this and the stained glass windows were donated by the President of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1957 .
The figurative panels in the doors depict the Madonna and Child to the left, and the Resurrection to the right. Also shown is the heraldic device of the confraternity, involving the Pietà and the double-headed eagle of the Holy Roman Empire.
Layout and fabricEdit
The little church is on a square plan, with cross-vaulting supported by four clustered piers each in the form of a cross with chamfered corners. These piers support four arches dividing the vault compartments. The bottom pair of piers stand free, but the top pair have blocking walls between them and the far wall in order to create a sanctuary and a pair of side chapels. The sanctuary has a semi-circular apse with its own arch. The side chapels are entered through smaller arches supporting screen walls.
Since the restoration of 1975, the interior has been rather stark. The piers and the archivolts are in naked pink brick, with molded limestone impost capitals. The walls and vaults are in creamy white, except in the left hand chapel which preserves its Baroque decoration.
The stained glass windows were made by Georg Meistermann (1911-1990).
The piers flanking the sanctuary have a pair of Baroque funerary monuments in a style recalling Bernini, featuring skeletons attending to cameo portraits of the deceased. They are, by far, the best things in the church.
The right hand one is of Georg Meisel 1710 by Lorenzo Ottoni, and is in white black and yellow marbles with a gilded cameo. A skeleton holding an hour-glass is modelling a rumpled shroud, and is accompanied by four putti. All these are in white marble. Above and behind the skeleton is a bunched velvet backdrop in black marble, with a bishop's hat on top sheltering the heraldic shield. The composition stands on a yellow marble shelf, below which is the epigraph accompanied by two winged skulls.
The right hand one is even more ornate, and is to the Tyrolese engraver Lorenzo Rues 1690 by Giovanni Battista Giorgi. The smoking torches at the top, in red and grey marbles, are unusual. A winged skeleton is sitting on a sarcophagus and holding the cameo, accompanied by three grief-stricken putti and having a rumpled black marble backdrop. The epitaph below has two heads of cadavers.
The restored apse now has a small round window, flanked by two round-headed ones each having two Gothic lights separated by a colonnette mullion with a roundel at the top. These now contain more glass by Meistermann.
The altar itself has a white marble frontal carved in shallow relief, which is thought to have been part of an early mediaeval sanctuary screen -a pluteus.
The altarpiece is now in the form of a stand-alone screen behind the altar, having five panels. The work is now attributed to Macrino d'Alba, and has a Pietà as the large central panel. The four side panels show SS Paul and John the Baptist, St Anne with Our Lady, Christ and SS Peter and James. Above is hanging a large painted wooden crucifix which looks 18th century.
Blessed Sacrament chapelEdit
The right hand side chapel is now the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. It is now very stark, with a simple free-standing altar formed of a marble slab on an ornately carved ancient column capital. The far wall has a blocked two-light window in the same style as those in the apse.
The former 19th century decoration of this chapel was by an artist given as Giacomo von Hase, who also had paintings in the sanctuary and who was buried in the cemetery. Further frescoes were added here in 1900 by Gerolamo Robert da Francoforte.
Swiss Guards chapelEdit
The left hand side chapel, in contrast, is decorated in the Baroque style. It is a memorial to the Swiss Guards killed in the Sack of Rome in 1527.
The side wall frescoes are by Polidoro da Caravaggio.
The polychrome marble altar aedicule has a pair of black marble Corinthian columns with gilded capitals supporting a split and outwardly rotated segmental pediment. A pair of angels sit on the two pediment halves, venerating a fresco of Christ Triumphant in the gap. The altarpiece is a white marble bas-relief of The Resurrection.
The ceiling has a cross-vault preserves its 16th century fresco, in a grotesque style. The four side panels have putti with the Instruments of the Passion, and the central tondo has a Dove of the Holy Spirit, which is unusually not given a glory, accompanied by more putti. The panels are separated by very attractive garland strips in green herbage with white lilies.
The access and liturgical details given below were checked on the church's website in June 2018.
The following was written on this page about ten years ago:
It is possible to visit the church, but it is probably best to make arrangements ahead of your visit. As access is via the Vatican City, you can't simply walk in. I've only been there in the company of a priest who knew what to say to the Swiss Guards so that they would let us in right away, but it might be more difficult under other circumstances.
Since then, security for Vatican City has been seriously tightened up and you won't be able to visit in this way.
Access is now between 9:00 and 12:00 daily, officially only for those who speak German, Dutch or Flemish (the website doesn't make this clear). HOWEVER, there is no access on Wednesdays if a papal audience is being held in the Audience Hall adjacent. Also, the church is closed in August.
Germans may visit freely, but the other two nationalities may need to show their passports to the Swiss Guards on duty (presumably because Afrikaans is not acceptable). Present yourself to the guards at the gate on the Piazza Sant'Uffizio.
These access requirements also apply if liturgical events are being held in the church, including the weekday Mass at 7:00.
Apparently German-speaking employees at the Vatican are welcome to use the cemetery as a garden to relax in.
Serious scholars speaking non-Germanic languages could try negotiating with the confraternity to arrange a visit. This would involve the issuing of a pass to show the Swiss Guards, which is certainly not a formality.
If you are a casual visitor and cannot speak German fluently -forget it.
Comment added on February 16, 2016:
We have visited the cemetery and the church every time we're in Rome (at least once a year) for the last five years or so, lastly in December 2015, usually before noon. We just tell the Swiss Guards in German that we want to visit the cemetery. They salute and point the way. That's it... We are Flemish, but speak German and Italian. But I don't think that's a requirement, and nobody ever asked for any document. If you go beyond the cemetery you will be challenged.
Mass in German is celebrated on Sundays (except in August) at 9:00.
On weekdays, Mass is at 7:00. On Wednesdays is in Latin, and on Saturdays in Italian. On the other days it is in German.
Pilgrimage groups with their own clergy can have their own liturgical celebrations in the church, but this has to be arranged with the confraternity well in advance. There is an online application form here.