Santi Urbano e Lorenzo a Prima Porta is the dedication of two churches with a postal address at Vicolo di Primo Porta 6 in the Prima Porta suburban zone. The main entrance is at Via della Villa di Livia 103. There is a small 17th century edifice, and a replacement modern parish and titular church adjacent. Pictures of the churches at Wikimedia Commons are here.

The double dedication is to Pope St Urban I and St Lawrence of Rome.

History[edit | edit source]

The locality is at the ninth milestone on the Via Flaminia, and here an ancient aqueduct supplying the Villa of Livia nearby crossed the road on an archway. In the Middle Ages the road was heavily used by pilgrims travelling overland to Rome especially through the Brenner Pass, and this structure was mistaken for a gate marking the suburban limits of the city. Hence the name Prima Porta was given to it, which subsequently became the name of the locality.

The old church was first certainly recorded as belonging to a pilgrim hospice on the site in 1243, but seems to have been the same as one recorded in the locality in 1109 which was dedicated to St Lawrence. The hospice was attached to Santa Maria in Via Lata, which owned property in the vicinity. The edifice fell into decay when the hospice was abandoned, perhaps as a result of the Sack of Rome in 1527.

In 1629 the little church was made parochial, with responsibility for a wide rural area around the Via Flaminia (much of which remains undeveloped). So, in 1631 the ruins were rebuilt and dedicated to SS Urban and Lawrence -Pope St Urban was the patron of Pope Urban VIII. The parish initially belonged to the diocese of Rome, but was transferred to the diocese of Porto Santa Rufina.

The church reverted to the diocese of Rome in 1945, and was then administered by diocesan clergy. It became inadequate with the growth of suburban development and so a new church was built in 1971, the architect being Giorgio Pacini. In the process, the old church was extended and is now the ferial (weekday) chapel.

The parish with its new church was first administered by the Oblati Figli della Madonna del Divino Amore, a local Roman clerical congregation based at the Santuario della Madonna del Divino Amore. However, in 2005 they were replaced by the Order of the Monks of St Paul the First Hermit. This marks the return of the Order to a church in Rome, after it lost San Paolo Primo Eremita.

The old Via Flaminia is here now called the Via della Villa di Livia.

The church was made a titular diaconate in 1995. The incumbent, Gilberto Agustoni, was a cardinal priest pro hac vice until his death in 2017. The title is currently (2019) vacant.

Old church[edit | edit source]

Exterior[edit | edit source]

The old church had a small floor area but is quite a high building, because it has a second storey that used to be the priest's house. It is attached to a brick pier of the ancient Roman arch. This pier is well preserved, and shows the springing of the arch that used to cross the road. Its matching pier was removed when the road was widened.

The church has a simple Classical façade in yellow with white architectural details, which is attached to the side of the original edifice (the major axis of which used to be parallel to the street).

The doorway has a molded marble Baroque doorcase and a segmental pediment above it, which is flanked by two tablets bearing long dedicatory inscriptions. Above is a string course, supporting three large rectangular windows. The middle one has a projecting stone lintel. The façade is crowned by a triangular pediment, and there is a little bellcote perched on the gabled roofline to the left.

There is a modern U-shaped extension in white concrete round the back, added when the new church adjacent was built. This extension involved rotating the major axis of the church by ninety degrees.

Interior[edit | edit source]

The small interior was completely changed by the addition of the extension. The former interior is now the entrance vestibule, and you can appreciate just how small it was. The former altar used to be on the right as you enter from the street.

Now, in front of you are three arches cut into the old wall, without decorative features. The central one is larger. The main body of the church has blank walls in raw concrete with the shuttering marks showing, which curve round at the back behind the sanctuary. However, there is not a proper apse because the two walls do not meet but the left hand terminates behind the right hand one to create a hidden door behind the altar just to the left. To the left of this is a window in the shape of a quarter-ovoid with abstract stained glass rather like a bead curtain, and to the left of this again is the way into the main church.

A tabernacle is set into the wall behind the altar, being a little square door in a polished coppe disc. Over it is a crucifix and a copy of the icon of Our Lady of Graces.

New church[edit | edit source]

Exterior[edit | edit source]

The new church is situated slightly back from the street. It has a geometrically complicated plan, based on an irregular pentagon with two parallel sides connected at the altar end by a back wall at right angles.

The walls are in white concrete with vertical shuttering marks showing and, have recessed rectangular panels of varying widths and heights with a few vertical slit windows. On the parallel side facing the street are attached two low U-shaped extensions in a pair, to the right of the entrance, and on the opposite parallel side is a semi-circular extension. The point of the pentagon is continued in a short extension with a semi-circular end, to the left of the entrance.

The entrance itself is in the lower right hand side of the church, not on the major axis. You find the altar to your right on going in.

The roof is an irregular mansard, having a pentagonal main pitch which slopes at a slight angle from left to right with a roofline to the right. There are more steeply pitched mansard pitches on the other four sides of the pentagon, and a horizontal slit window below the main pitch over the left hand mansard.

The campanile is a metal cage attached to a free-standing concrete pier on the roofline above the sanctuary. It incorporates a clock.

The whole geometry of the edifice has a quirkily irregular character about it.

Façade[edit | edit source]

The low entrance faces onto a raised stone-paved patio with a little garden to the right. Here is a statue of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which is an object of devotion.

The entrance itself has a horizontal canopy in dark red, with an upwards curve to the lower front edge.

Interior[edit | edit source]

The interior space is quite small, being a single nave. Down the left hand side is a large gallery with metal railings, and with the interior of the mansard sloping back behind it. The walls are in bare concrete, mostly.

There is stained glass in the roof window slit on this side, and a large panel showing The Vision of the Emperor Constantine on the left hand side.

The sanctuary is a platform paved in green marble, with matching seating for the ministers. Behind the altar is a spectacular glass polychrome glass screen depicting The Resurrection, not actually a stained glass window although there is a window behind it.

Liturgy[edit | edit source]

Church[edit | edit source]

Mass is celebrated, according to the parish website (July 2018):

Weekdays 8:00, 18:30 (these are usually in the old chapel, except Saturday evenings);

Sundays and Solemnities 8:00, 10:00, 11:30, 18:30.

Subsidiary Mass centres[edit | edit source]

The parish has three public subsidiary Mass centres, one being a cemetery church and the other two, chapels in wholly rural settlements. Mass is only celebrated in these on Sundays and Solemnities.

San Michele Arcangelo al Flaminio, 9:30;

Santi Nicola e Bernardino a Casale del Malborghetto, 10:00;

Sant’Isidoro Agricoltore, 11:30.

External links[edit | edit source]

Official diocesan web-page

Italian Wikipedia page

Parish website

Info.roma web-page

Beweb web-page

Roman Despatches blog

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