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Domine Quo Vadis is a 17th century conventual and devotional church at Via Appia Antica 72, in the Appio Latino quarter. The postal address is at number 51. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia page here.
The dedication is to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The official name of the church is Santa Maria delle Piante, which literally means "St Mary of the Soles of the Feet". It is often translated as "Our Lady of Weeping", but that would be dei Pianti.
However, the connection to the story of an attempted escape from Rome by St Peter has given the church the nickname Domine Quo Vadis, by which it is universally known and which is accepted by the Diocese.
An old version of the name, Sanctae Mariae in Palmis, often occurs in modern publications. This is a mistake.
The chapel stands at the site where, according to the legend, St Peter met Christ when he fled from Rome to escape martyrdom. He asked: Domine, quo vadis? ("Lord, where are you going?"), and Christ answered: "To Rome, to be crucified again." This helped Peter overcome his fear of martyrdom, and he returned to face his persecutors.
The authenticity of the story, from the apocryphal Acts of Peter, is uncertain. However, it is a good story that shows St Peter in the way that we know him from the Gospels - afraid and confused, but always obedient in the end.
The text from the Acts reads:
And he obeyed the voice of the brethren and went away alone, saying: "Let none of you come away with me, but I will go away alone, having changed the fashion of my apparel." And, as he went out of the city, he saw the Lord entering Rome. And, when he saw him, he said: "Lord, where are you going?" And the Lord said to him: "I go into Rome to be crucified." And Peter said to him. "Lord, are you being crucified again?" He said to him: "Yes, Peter, I am being crucified again." And Peter came to himself and, having seen the Lord ascending into Heaven, he returned to Rome rejoicing and glorifying the Lord. For he said: "I am being crucified", the fate which was about to befall him.
The church stands at the junction between the Via Appia and the Via Argentina, two important ancient roads. For this reason alone it can be surmised that a high-status building occupied the site in ancient times, such as a temple.
The Campus Rediculi, a sacred enclosure dedicated to the god Rediculus, was either here or very close by. There is no archaeological evidence for the existence of a temple to this god under the church, but if the building ever needed substantial restoration then the archaeologists would be very keen to look at the foundations.
The first documentary evidence for the church comes from the monastery of Sant'Alessio all'Aventino in the 9th century, and describes the church as ubi Dominus apparuit ("where the Lord appeared"). The circumstances of its actual foundation are unknown, but it is reasonable to surmise that it was in response to the legend in the Acts of Peter just quoted.
The name of the church subsequently had three variants. Sanctae Mariae ad Passus or ad Transitum refers to a walk (the former literally meaning "footsteps"), Plantarum means "soles of the feet" and de Palma means either "of the palm tree" or "of the palm of a hand". The first variant later gave Santa Maria del Passo in Italian, the second Santa Maria delle Piante which is the present official name, and the third Santa Maria in Palmis.
All three variants might conceivably refer to the marble slab venerated in the church as bearing the footprints of Christ when he ascended back into heaven after meeting St Peter. (However, palma in Latin can only refer to the hands, not the feet.)
This slab was originally an ancient memorial slab or pagan ex-voto, of which other examples exist -you can see one at San Silvestro in Capite. The one here was probably an ex-voto, and might have been given as an offering to the god Rediculus after a successful journey and return (the feet are in sandals, not bare).
The church was abandoned and in ruins by the early 16th century, and the footprint slab was taken to San Sebastiano fuori le Mura.
At the end of this century, Cardinal Francisco de Toledo oversaw a restoration and provided a priest to serve here.
However, in 1620 a priest from Castelfidaro provided the funds for a complete rebuilding and this is the edifice that we have now. It has a small convent attached, part of the same project. In 1637, Cardinal Francesco Barberini paid for a new façade, as the church was on the pilgrimage route to San Sebastiano which he was restoring.
In 1537, Cardinal Reginald Pole of England paid for the erection of a chapel further down the Appian Way. This was when the church was derelict, and the foundation might have been in order to preserve the pilgrimage tradition associated with the locality. However, the actual motivation is now unclear. See Cappella di Reginald Pole.
This chapel is itself now derelict (technically -it is actually a bat sanctuary, and as such has a useful purpose).
The little church has been basically a pilgrimage shrine ever since, because there has never been any appreciable local population apart from the very old inn opposite.
Towards the end of the 20th century the convent became the Rome headquarters of the Polish Congregation of St Michael the Archangel. Access has improved as a result. This congregation is also responsible for the parish church of Santi Ottavio e Compagni Martiri.
Layout and fabricEdit
The church is basically a rectangular brick box with a gabled tiled roof. On the right hand side wall you can see a side chapel between two brick buttresses. The left hand side wall abuts the little convent next door.
There seems to be the remains of a campanile or bellcote at the top right hand corner of the roof, but this is invisible from the road.
The simple façade has a single storey, and is rendered in pale yellow with architectural details in white. The corners are occupied with a pair of very wide blind pilasters, which are doubletted along their inner edges. Each has a narrow recessed central panel. These pilasters support a triangular pediment which is stepped vertically over them, and in the tympanum of this is the shield of the Barberini family with its bees. There are five finials, the usual central metal cross and four flaming torches.
The molded Baroque doorcase has pilaster strips applied to its sides, with chevron and tassel ornamentation at their tops. Above is a raised triangular pediment containing a six-winged seraph's head, over a short dedicatory inscription.
Over the entrance pediment is a large rectangular window, the frame of which intrudes into the crowning entablature. A curlicued scallop shell occupies the space between the frame and the entrance pediment below. The frame also has bounding pilaster strips, with doubletted tasselled block posts at their tops supporting a pair of curlicued pediment fragments within the tympanum of the crowning pediment.
Layout and fabricEdit
There is a single nave, of three bays. The entrance bay and sanctuary bay are slightly narrower than the middle bay. In the latter, each side wall has an arched recess originally intended as a side chapel, with a molded archivolt on Doric imposts and flanked by a pair of Doric pilasters. These support a deep entablature, which runs round the interior. The ceiling is barrel-vaulted, and springs from the entablature. There are shallow lunettes over the chapel, which contain very low rectangular windows (the left hand one is false).
The decoration is very restrained, basically white and light grey.
In the centre of the floor just inside the entrance door is a small 17th century marble slab carved with a pair of feet in sandals. This is a copy of the original slab in which, according to the legend, the footprints of Christ appeared after he had met St Peter.
The original, a basalt stone matching the Roman paving slabs on the Via Appia, can be seen at San Sebastiano fuori le Mura. This is almost certainly a pagan ex-voto.
The slab here is now protected by a metal grille, but previously was walked upon and this has caused wear and damage to the epigraph surrounding the feet.
The church has no other artworks of interest.
To the left just inside the entrance is a memorial to the Polish author Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846-1916) and winner of the Nobel prize for literature. The Polish expatriate community in Rome set up this monument, with its bronze bust, in 1977 because of the fame of his historical novel Quo Vadis?
Beyond this either side of the nave are two round-headed niches containing 19th century frescoes of Christ and St Peter.
The left hand side chapel has a fresco of St Francis of Assisi as patron of Italy. The right hand one now contains a confessional.
The side walls of the sanctuary have frescoes of Christ and St Peter crucified, the latter upside down.
The vault of the sanctuary over the high altar has a 20th century fresco, badly faded, showing the symbols of the Evangelists with the Lamb of God in the middle.
The wall either side of the sanctuary window above the altar has 19th century frescoes of the meeting of Christ with St Peter.
The Baroque altar looks as if some of it has gone missing. A pair of thin Corinthian pilasters with revetted red marble panels support an entablature with a frieze in verde antico, and a slightly oversized segmental pediment with a broken top. These pilasters enclose bare wall, with a central little round-headed niche containing a fresco fragment of the Madonna and Child which looks 15th century.
The polychrome marble tabernacle is the highest quality item in the church.
In the mid 20th century, finding the church open was an event. However, matters have since improved.
A notice on the church door gives the following opening times:
Weekdays 8:00 to 18:30,
Sundays 8:15 to 18:45.
In summer, the church closes an hour later.
Mass is celebrated:
Sundays 9:00, 11:00, 18:00 (19:00 in summer).