Santa Maria in Trivio is a 16th century conventual and former parish church of ancient foundation with a postal address at Piazza dei Crociferi 49 (the convent next door), in the rione Trevi. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia page here.
Do not confuse this church with Santa Maria del Trivio in Velletri.
Although there is no archaeological evidence, this little convent is one of the oldest of its sort in Rome. It was founded at or just after the year 537 by Belisarius, one of the greatest military generals in history.
The emperor Justinian I had a policy of reclaiming the lands of the Roman Empire lost to the barbarians, and Belisarius was his military supremo in implementing this. After an amazingly successful campaign against the Vandal Kingdom in North Africa, Belisarius had a much more difficult task in conquering Italy from the Ostrogoths in the Gothic War from 535 to 554. During the course of this, he deposed Pope Silverius and replaced him with Vigilius in 537.
Just after he founded a xenodochion on the site of the present church, one of two that he established in the city. The word is Greek, meaning a guest-house, and was Latinized in the entry in the Liber Pontificalis for Vigilius. This reads: Fecit autem idem Belisarius xenodochium in Via Lata, et aliud in Via Flaminia. The institution was intended for poor pilgrims; the Via Lata is the present Corso.
The tradition is that this benefaction was in reparation for deposing Pope Silverius, but this is probably ben trovato on the part of papal historians. Belisarius would have had a lot more on his conscience than that.
It may be noted here that modern historians like to describe Belisarius as a general of something called the "Byzantine Empire". He himself, the emperor Justinian and all the inhabitants of the Empire at the time (including the inhabitants of Rome) regarded themselves as belonging to the same Roman Empire as founded by the emperor Augustus.
The functioning of the xenodochion is not described in the sources, but it mutated into a small parish church sometime in the 10th century. This was when the large parishes of the ancient tituli were broken up and many little parish churches built in the then built-up area. The first documentary reference is from 1019, in the archives of the nearby Santa Maria in Via Lata.
The scribes had trouble with the name, which appears in the above reference as Isichineo and is listed in later mediaeval catalogues as Sinixeus, Sinikeo, Sinicheo, Sinodorta, Sinodochno, Sinodochio or Synodochio. The last two amount to a fairly intelligent but wrong guess -synodochium was a word for "monastery". The present name Trivio, or variants of it, appears from the 15th century.
On the right hand side wall, facing the Via Poli, is a 12th century inscription recording the foundation by Belisarius. This used to be over the doorway of the mediaeval church.
The allegation in published descriptions that the church was also called Santa Maria in Fornica is erroneous.
In 1571, the mediaeval church was granted to an Italian religious order called the Ordine dei Crociferi. Several congregations of various kinds have shared this name in ecclesiastical history; this one was founded in 1140 -although it claimed Pope Cletus of the 1st century as its founder. It was also known as the Portacroce. There is a good German Wikipedia page on the order here.
The headquarters of the order were at Bologna, at Santa Maria di Morello. However it immediately set about erecting a small convent as its Roman base, and the church at Santa Maria in Trivio was rebuilt between 1573 and 1575 as a result. The architect was Jacopo del Duca. Structurally this is the building that we have today, although there was work done on the interior in 1644.
The parish was temporarily dissolved in 1601.
Pope Alexander VII formally suppressed the order in 1656, stating that its further existence was of no use to the church. This was after several attempts at reform had failed.
In 1657, the convent and church were granted to the Clerks Regular, Ministers to the Sick who are better known as Camillians. They established their noviciate here and extended the convent buildings, with the help of a large cash donation from Pope Alexander.
Beware -the Camillians were also known as Crociferi, with obvious confusion resulting.
In 1669, the parish was re-established. In 1670 the Camillians had the ceiling vault frescoed, and in 1675 they formally dedicated the church to the Immaculate Conception. This is the first church in Rome with the dedication. In 1677 the sanctuary and high altar were re-ordered in a lush Baroque style.
In 1832, the parish was definitively suppressed in a massive re-organisation of parishes in the Centro Storico. There were too many small, weak parishes extant.
In 1839, the Camillians moved to the nearby church of Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio a Fontana di Trevi. The vacated complex was granted to the Minor Clerks Regular, who were established at San Lorenzo in Lucina.
Finally, Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) granted it to the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, who still serve the church. Their founder, St Gaspar del Bufalo (a native Roman) is enshrined in a side chapel.
There was a restoration in 1999, especially to the ceiling frescoes.
The Generalate (headquarters) of the Congregation is now at Viale di Porta Ardeatina 66 in Ostiense, and its seminary and provincial headquarters is at Via Narni 25. See Cappella dei Missionari del Preziosissimo Sangue for the large and impressive chapel at the latter.
Layout and fabricEdit
This is a small church, with a simple rectangular layout of four bays with an additional rectangular apse.
The 17th century convent buildings abut it to the left, and a range carries over the façade. The convent entrance is the first doorway on the left, with a prominent inscription on the lintel saying Cruciferorum.
The right hand side wall of the church is visible on the Via Poli. It is of thin yellow bricks, left unrendered, on a limestone plinth, and has four rectangular windows with Baroque stone frames just below the roofline.
You can see the simple campanile from the street. It is a gabled brick slab on the roofline and parallel with it, and has two round-headed bell openings side by side.
The early 12th century epigraph recording the foundation of the church is on the wall here. It reads:
Hanc vir patricius Vilisarius, Urbis amicus, ob culpae veniam condidit ecclesiam. Hanc hidcirco pedem sacrum qui ponit in aedem, ut miseretur eum, saepe precare Deum. Janua haec est templi Domino defensa potenti.
("Belisarius, a friend of the City, because of his faults founded this church. Therefore he who puts a foot in the sacred temple, pray often to God to have mercy on him. This is the door of the temple, defended by God the almighty".)
From the text, we know that this tablet used to be over the entrance. It is the only surviving remnant of the mediaeval church.
The façade looks as if it has been glued onto a residential house, because the 17th century fabric of the convent impinges on it to the left and also above.
It has two storeys, the second half the height of the first, and stands on a limestone plinth. The fabric is in unrendered brick, with architectural details in limestone. The first storey is divided into three parts by four gigantic Ionic pilasters in limestone, and these support a dividing entablature which is unusually deep. The architrave of this is molded, and the cornice strongly projecting with dentillations. The frieze in between has panelling in shallow relief, with three small windows -two rectangular, and the central one oval.
There is a single central doorway, with a triangular pediment over a lintel decorated with scrollwork and a central fronded bracket with a putto's head. The pediment is embellished with a pair of nodding curlicues, connected by swags to a little plinth within the tympanum. Above the pediment is a coat-of-arms in high relief.
The entrance is flanked by two rectangular false windows with triangular pediments. Three smaller rectangular windows are inserted below the entablature, the central one with a floating cornice. and two string courses run across the façade behind the pilasters, one below the smaller windows and one above the larger ones and the entrance.
Between the larger and smaller windows on each side are two tablets, with epigraphs. Together these read:
Ecclesiam hanc Beatae Mariae Virginis, olim a Belesario constructam, vetustate collapsam, Ordo Cruciferorum a fundamentis erexit anno Iubilei MDLXXV, sedente Gregorio XIII Pont[ifice] Max[imo].
("The order of Crociferi built this church of the Blessed Virgin Mary from the foundations, once erected by Belesarius and ruined with age, in the Jubilee year 1575 in the reign of Pope Gregory XIII")
The upper storey has an attic plinth and a pair of pilasters with triglyph capitals, embellished with tassels and shield bosses, supporting a crowning triangular pediment. These pilasters flank an empty round-headed niche which is within an early example of a rectangular Baroque frame embellished with thin curlcues. There is a winged putto's head below this. The sides of the storey have small sweeps, and a pair of obelisk finials at the outer ends. On the pediment are three flaming torch finials.
The façade design is continued round the right hand corner, where there are two pilasters flanking a disused side entrance with a triangular pediment.
No cross finial?Edit
Those familiar with Roman churches might have noticed that the historic ones almost invariably have a metal cross for the central finial at the top of the façade. There used to be a diocesan rule about this, which was taken seriously in the 19th century. This is one of the few historical churches in Rome where the original stone central finial has not been replaced with a cross.
The small, intimate cloister of the convent is to the left of the church. It has arcade walks on the west and south sides only, with blind arcading on the other sides.
The interior is in the Baroque style, of the 17th century mostly. It has a single nave, with four shallow arched niches on each side within the fabric of the side walls. The arches form two arcades, and are separated by ribbed Ionic pilasters supporting an entablature which runs round the church. The two niches nearest the entrance used to be side exits, while the other four are side chapels.
The barrel-vaulted ceiling rests on the entablature, and has two windows within lunettes in each bay. It was painted by Antonio Gherardi in 1670, and his fresco work depicting scenes from the life of Our Lady covers the entire surface. His mastery of perspective is impressive.
There are three central scenes: The Presentation of the Child Mary at the Temple, The
Assumption and The Circumcision of the Child Jesus. The lunettes have angels and allegorical figures, while the six scenes between the lunettes are: The Birth of Our Lady, The Visitation, The Escape to Egypt, Christ With the Doctors in the Temple, The Adoration of the Magi and The Holy Family. Over the entrance is another allegorical scene. The fresco panels are separated by ribs in gilded stucco, with putti and flower swags in gilt -the overall effect is very rich.
The counterfaçade has a stucco angel holding a heraldic shield sitting on the segmental pediment of the window, and two more standing to the sides of the latter.
The triumphal arch has a pair of ribbed Ionic pilasters, and over it is an intricate stucco relief by Gherardi, 1677 depicting The Triumph of the Cross. This is a reminder of the original Crociferi who built the church. The pictures on the side walls of the apse are by Cosimo da Castelfranco, apparently.
The high altar is in the little rectangular apse, which is delineated by a bowed polychrome marble balustrade. The aedicule has a pair of thin Ionic pilasters with gilded capitals supporting a triangular pediment, and is dominated by a large gilded Baroque gloria. This contains a pretty little panel painting of the Madonna and Child, of the Umbrian School and dating to about 1400. It was crowned by the Vatican Chapter in 1677, with an enormous gilt bronze crown in front of the pediment.
The organ is placed behind the altar, and is from the 18th century.
Pope John XXIII Edit
The first archway on the right is not actually a chapel, but was the side entrance which is now blocked up.
It now contains a tablet with an inscription that records a visit by Pope St John XXIII on 4 January 1963. The Holy Father came to the church to pray at the shrine of St Gaspar for the success of the Second Vatican Council.
Here also is an epigraph recording the donation of the church by Pope Alexander VII to the Camillians.
Chapel of St Maria De MattiasEdit
The first chapel on the right now has a modern altarpiece portrait of St Maria De Mattias, who was canonized in 2004. She founded the female institution corresponding to the Missionaries, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ.
This chapel used to be dedicated to Our Lady, and the side pilasters and archivolt have little fresco scenes from her life.
Chapel of the CrucifixEdit
In the second chapel on the right is a beautiful 14th century Venetian crucifix done two-dimensionally in carved and painted wood.
The archivolt is decorated with five scenes from the Passion, painted by Giovanni Francesco Grimaldi. The altar frontal is in intricate polychrome pietra dura stonework.
Chapel of CalvaryEdit
The third chapel on the right has an altarpiece depicting Calvary, with Christ crucified accompanied by Our Lady and SS John the Evangelist and Mary Magdalen. This is by Grimaldi also.
The altar here has been removed.
Chapel of St CletusEdit
The third chapel on the left is dedicated to St Cletus or Anacletus, the second pope after St Peter and the legendary founder of the Crociferi. The altarpiece shows his martyrdom, and is by the same Capuchin friar called Cosimo da Castelfranco who has a picture in the sanctuary.
A confessional has been placed in this chapel, and the altar removed.
Chapel of St Gaspar del BufaloEdit
The founder of the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, St Gaspar del Bufalo (1786-1837), is buried under the altar in the second chapel on the left, in a red marble sarcophagus topped by a gilded bronze effigy by Aurelio Mistruzzi. He was beatified in 1904 and canonised in 1954.
The chapel's altar aedicule is better decorated than those of the others, with a pair of Ionic columns in pale green brecciated marble. The altarpiece, in a sentimental style, looks early 20th century.
The chapel used to be dedicated to St John the Baptist, and there are little fresco scenes from his life on the pilasters.
Chapel of St Mary MagdalenEdit
The first chapel on the left is dedicated to St Mary Magdalen, and has an altarpiece showing her being given Communion by an angel. This is by Luigi Pellegrini Scaramuccia.
A tablet with an inscription recording the dedication of the church to the Immaculate Virgin in 1675 is preserved in the first arched niche on the left. This archway used to contain a doorway into the convent.
In the same niche is the tomb of Venerable Giovanni Merlini, third successor of Gaspar del Bufalo, who led the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood from 1847 to 1873. His process for canonization was introduced in 1927, but he was only pronounced Venerable in 1973.
The church is open (unofficial sources, June 2018):
Monday to Friday 8:30 to 12:30, 13:30 to 19:30;
Saturdays and Sundays 8:30 to 12:30, 16:00 to 19:30.
Mass is celebrated (060608 tourist website, November 2016):
Daily 18:30, also Sundays only 9:00 and 11:00.
The feast of St. Gaspare del Bufalo is celebrated on 21 October.
"Spanish Steps Apartment" blog-page (English)