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La Maddalena is a 17th century convent church at Piazza della Maddalena 53, in the rione Colonna. This is just north of the Pantheon. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia page here.
The dedication is to St Mary Magdelene.
The full name of the church, as given by the Diocese, is Santa Maria Maddalena in Campo Marzio, but this is very rarely used. Modern published writings usually refer to it simply as Santa Maria Maddalena.
The usual local name of La Maddalena is actually owing to devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Since St Mary Magdalen was a penitent sinner, there is an old tradition in Italy of referring to her only by her surname so as to avoid any hint of disrespect to Our Lady.
Beware of confusion in modern publications between this church and Santa Maria Maddalena delle Convertite, which was a convent church on the Corso before its demolition.
The church is served by the Congregation of Clerks Regular, Ministers of the Sick also known as Camilliani or Camillians. They actually built it and the adjacent convent, which remains their international headquarters.
Also, the church is the regional church (Chiesa Regionale) in Rome for expatriates from the Abruzzo.
It is not a minor basilica, nor is it titular.
This is often described as being the only church in Rome in the Rococo style. Actually, Rococo never really featured in Rome and scholarly attempts to distinguish a period for this style in the city are rather thin.
The distinction between Baroque and Rococo is blurred. Basically, the latter is distinguished by geometric architectural and decorative forms losing their mathematical integrity and becoming free-flowing in imitation of fire or liquids. This can be seen in parts of the church, notably the façade, counterfaçade and sacristy, but the rest is more straightforwardly late Baroque (tardobarocco).
This is the second church on the site.
The origins of the first church are unknown, and a 14th century foundation dates is a guess. The first documented reference is in a private will of someone called Madonna Rosuccia, dated 1403. Later that century it emerges as Santa Maria Maddalena dei Battuti, and was attached to a hospital being run by a Confraternita dei Disciplinati.
By the mid 16th century, the complex was in bad repair. Topographical maps of the period show a single-aisled building with an ornately pedimented doorcase approached by steps (hinting at a crypt). A pair of windows flanked the entrance, and a large round window was above it.
St Camillus de Lellis was a disciple of St Philip Neri when the latter was still resident at San Girolamo della Carità, and under his influence founded the Clerks Regular, Servants of the Sick in 1582. Four years later, he obtained a lease from the Gonfalone Confraternity of the old hospital complex as their first headquarters. In 1621 Pope Gregory XV authorized the purchase of the freehold for 14 000 scudi, giving the Camillians the sole possession.
Plans for rebuilding the entire complex must have been entertained straight away. However, the first stage was the creation of the present piazza by demolishing the properties across the street, and this was authorized in 1628 by Pope Urban VIII.
The construction of the present church and convent began in 1631, the architect being Giovanni Francesco Grimaldi. From 1640 to 1642 Giacomo Mola was in charge. In 1673 Carlo Fontana saw to the transept (the left hand chapel there is his), but then there was a pause. The brethren seem to have concentrated on the convent buildings in this period, which were begun in 1678 by Paolo Amato, then continued between 1680 and 1707 by Carlo Francesco Bizzaccheri.
In 1694 Giovanni Antoni De' Rossi continued work for a year after being in nominal charge for twenty years, but he died and Giulio Carlo Quadri continued until 1699 with the help of Francesco Felice Pozzoni.
It is now thought that Quadri built the first storey of the façade before work stopped again. This time, it was put on hold and the Camillans had the church finally dedicated in 1727. The rebuilding had taken almost a hundred years.
As funds became available, the Camillians were able to improve the interior. In 1738 to 1741, Carlo Marchionni finished off the decorative elements in the church, and built the famous sacristy with the help of Girolamo Pesce.
The next major intervention was by Francesco Nicoletti between 1753 and 1758, to whom belongs much of the polychrome marble revetting of the interior. He also refitted the right hand transept chapel, and created the Chapel of the Crucifix. This was finished in 1764.
The style of the church was going out of fashion by then, and by the end of the century was attracting sneering comments from Neo-Classical idealogues. The detailing was referred to as "icing sugar" by some -in other words, applied decoration with no function. A serious proposal to demolish the façade and replace it with one in a "correct" style was entertained in the early 19th century. Nibby wrote in 1838 that the façade was tutto è destatabile per la moltiplicità dei risalti, dei scorniciamenti e cartocci di pessimo gusto, which is pretty hostile language.
There was a restoration in 1870, when the first chapel on the right was re-fitted.
After being unfashionable for about two hundred years and suffering neglect in guidebooks, the church is now much better appreciated by discerning visitors to Rome. It has also kept uninterrupted its status of the mother church of the Camilllian religious family.
The church has an unusually complex layout, perhaps best visualised as a beetle.
The beetle's abdomen is the nave, which is a longitudinal ellipse flanked by two shallow bays, one at the entrance and the other leading into the transept. The latter is the beetle's thorax, and has a square crossing with a dome above. The shallow ends are of the same depth as the last bay of the nave. The sanctuary is the beetle's head, and has a shallow rectangular bay followed by an apse.
The nave has no side aisles.
Flanking the sanctuary bay is a pair of square vestibules leading into the sacristy (left) and Chapel of the Crucifix (right).
The convent is to the north of the church, and has a central cloister with arcading on three sides (not the east). There used to be a central fountain, but the garth is now a car park.
The fabric is in brick. You can see this in the Via delle Colonelle, where the right hand side wall of the church is exposed. It is in naked brick, with gigantic Corinthian pilasters supporting a roofline entablature and three large round windows in between with wide frames. A side entrance (rarely open) with a molded doorcase and protruding triangular pediment is at the far side of the nave side wall.
This wall is straight; the interior elliptical curves of the sides of the nave are taken up into the thickness of the side walls. However, the upper part of the nave (above the side chapels) shows the curvature on the outside. You cannot see this from the street.
The roofing is in tiles, and is complex. The two rectangular nave bays are pitched with ridges, but the elliptical part of the nave is pitched with a double hip. The transept sides and the sanctuary are singly hipped.
The dome has a low circular drum, with three windows at the cardinal points excluding the east (over the sanctuary). The dome itself has a very shallow slope, and is tiled. There is a tall ornate lantern, on a square plan with four windows and gigantic applied curlicues at the corners. The lead cupola is ogee shaped, with a ball finial.
There is a campanile, but it is invisible from any public place including the streets. No photos seem to exist of it online.
It is located near the south-east angle of the cloister, to the left of the sacristy beyond the left hand side of the apse. It is a tower which abuts one of the convent buildings, and has a large rectangular soundhole on each face. The pinnacle is formed of four gigantic curlicues in a cluster.
The Rococo façade has recently been completely restored. It is coved (concave), and there are two storeys of the same width since the church has no side aisles. Nowadays the stucco rendering is in yellow, with architectural details in white and carvings in travertine limestone.
The façade was completed in 1735. It is now thought that Quadri was responsible for the first storey, and Sardi for the second with about twenty-five years between them. Sardi's contribution displays the design feature of opposing arcs, a favourite device of Borromini which you can see in his church of Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza nearby.
However, there is an alternative theory that excludes Sardi. From 1732 for two years the Portuguese architect Emanuele Rodriguez dos Santos was in charge of the church construction project. He was also responsible for Santissima Trinità dei Spagnoli. The theory is that he finished the façade, not Sardi. Unfortunately, documentary evidence to elucidate the point seems lacking.
The first storey does not have a curved surface, but rather is in three zones with the two side zones set at a slight angle to the central one. It is on a stone plinth, so the entrance is approached by a set of semi-circular stairs.
The side zones have a pair of Composite pilasters each, at the corners with the facing edges of each pair doubletted. The inner two pilasters have in front of them a pair of free-standing Composite columns, with their capital volutes curling upwards and with diapered craticulation wrapped around them above their bases. Pilasters and columns support an entablature with a stepped molded architrave, and this entablature is brought forward slightly over the outer pilasters and strongly over the columns. Over the latter is a triangular pediment with slightly incurved diagonal edges, which is folded into the corners between central and side zones and which has its central portion well recessed.
In between the pilasters on either side is a round-headed niche containing a statue of a saint. SS Camillus and Philip Neri are featured, sculpted by Paolo Campana (these are his only known works in Rome).
So far, all this is standard Baroque and is presumably originally by Quadri. The rococo comes in with the fantastically curvaceous decorative features above and below the statue niches, also around the epigraph tablet above the entrance and on the upper part of the doorcase. These seem to be by Sardi. The epigraph reads:
Ave spes unica, piis adauge gratiam. ("Hail, the only hope, add more grace to the pious").
This is addressed to the Cross, which is the symbol of the Camillians. Above the tablet sit a pair of angels venerating an actual cross, which is in the tympanum of the pediment.
Above the door, below a six-winged seraphic putto's head is this inscription:
Indulgentia plenaria quotidiana perpetua pro vivis et defunctis. ("A perpetual plenary indulgence, obtained any day, for the living and dead.")
This applies to the altar and shrine of St Camillus within.
The second storey, by Sardi, also has two side zones angled to a central zone. Here, the side zones are slightly incurved and the central zone strongly so, making it apsidal. Four Corinthian pilasters correspond to those in the storey below, except that these have their capital volutes curled downwards. The inner pair is tripletted. These pilasters stand on a pedestalled attic plinth with sunken panels, and support an entablature which follows the façade curves.
The large central window has a slightly curved lintel, and is set in a bowed (concave) aedicule consisting of a pair of Corintian columns in front of doubletted pilasters supporting a cornice. Above is another Rococo panel featuring swags, putto's heads, curlicues and distorted cornice fragments. The glass in the window features a red Latin cross which is the Camillian symbol.
The theme of the central zone as an apse is continued above the entablature, where there is a conch with curved diapered coffering. This has a molded frame with a central cross finial, and is sheltered by an ogee-curved cornice broken at the top where the finial is. A pair of flaming torch finials are at the outer corners of the entablature.
This storey also has two statues in round-headed niches with Rococo decorations. To the right is St Martha, and to the left is St Mary Magdalen. The latter is displaying her bare right leg, well above the knee. These statues are by Joseph Canard, who also has work at San Giovanni dei Fiorentini.
The nave is elliptical, with two add-on rectangular bays at either end. The elliptical part has four side chapels, in wide but shallow arched niches on the diagonals. Either side of these are gigantic Corinthian pilasters with gilded capitals and revetted in red and grey marble (portosanto?). These support an entablature that runs round the interior, which has a wide frieze in the same stone and prominent decorative modillions supporting the cornice.
An unusual design feature is that the archivolts of the chapels cut into the entablature, and are crowned by decorative panels in yellow marble embellished with garlands, curlicues, festoons and putto's heads. Above these are shallow molded arcs springing from the cornice, followed by a total of four large windows (one above each chapel). These have the red cross motif in their fenestration, already seen in the façade window.
Either side of the chapels are a total of six allegorical figures representing virtues, in round-headed niches with triangular pediments. The first statue on the left, of Humility, is by Carlo Monaldi 1698. It is thought that Paolo Morelli was the supervising artist for the set. Those on the left are marble, but those on the right are stucco. The budget was badly out.
The ceiling is barrel-vaulted over the rectangular bays, and is a shallow dome over the elliptical part of the nave. The latter is deeply incised by trapezoidal window lunettes. The fresco panels in the vault are by Michelangelo Cerruti, and depict scenes from the life of St Mary Magdalen. The central fresco depicts The Raising of Lazarus at the Prayer of His Sister Mary.
Note the simple but attractive floor of the church, laid in yellowish brown, black, white and light grey. It enables the geometric layout of the church to be appreciated at a glance.
The confessionals date from 1762, and are very fine carpentry.
The counterfaçade has a gallery containing the organ. The superb Rococo gallery, involving gilded wooden carving and allegorical statues in white stucco, was finished in 1758 and is on large brackets over the entrance. It was executed in 1736 by a German called Hans Conrad Wherle, whose name in the Italian sources is mutated (somehow) into Giovanni Corrado.
This is considered to be the most ornate organ gallery in any Roman church. The organ itself was considered a very fine instrument when it was installed.
The transept, with its two side chapels, forms a Greek cross when considered together with the last bay of the nave and the sanctuary bay. This evokes the cross symbol of the Camillians again.
The interior of the dome has a fresco showing an empyrean or a view into heaven, around the central oculus containing the Dove of the Holy Spirit. This has a wide gilded ring-garland as a border. A very unusual design feature is that there are three large circular windows over the nave and the ends of the transept, but not one over the sanctuary. At this point is the Apotheosis of St Camillus, with the Father and the Son.
The dome fresco, and the four frescoes of prophets on the pendentives, are by Étienne Parrocel. The dome cornice features the Camillan cross again, interspersed with rosettes and straps.
The high altar is against the far wall of the apse, against the curve of which the aedicule is fitted. This has a pair of wide Corinthian pilasters revetted in yellow marble, supporting a curved triangular pediment with modillions which has a cut-out arc at the top. In the tympanum of this is a stucco pair of angels holding the Cross. The design is thought to have been by Maderno originally, 1673, but the present arrangement is by Nicoletti 1757.
The altarpiece depicting The Penitent Magdalen Adoring the Cross is by Michele Rocca. He is more famous for his nudes. On the shelf above the altar are four impressive portrait-bust reliquaries in silver-gilt.
The apse conch fresco, by Aureliano Milani 1732, shows The Preaching of Christ. St Mary Magdalen is the bionda to Christ's right.
The high-relief marble sculptures flanking the altar are by Pietro Bracci, and depict St Mary Magdalene arriving at the empty tomb with the other two Marys, and encountering Christ in the garden (Noli Me Tangere).
Chapel of St Francis of PaolaEdit
The first chapel on the right is dedicated to St Francis of Paola, and was re-fitted in 1870 by Antonio Cipolla. It has a pair of gilded and ribbed Corinthian columns supporting a triangular pediment, in a neo-Classical idiom.
The altarpiece shows the saint eliciting the miraculous healing of a small child, and is by Pietro Gagliardi. The lunette above the altar has a fresco of the saint adoring the Madonna and Child.
Chapel of Our Lady of HealthEdit
The second chapel on the right is dedicated to Our Lady of Health (Madonna della Salute), and was designed by Francesco Claudio Ferruzzi in 1718. The pair of Composite columns in the aedicule are in an unusual stone, a pinkish-grey brecciated marble with black inclusions.
The icon, an object of veneration by the Camillian order throughout its history, is a 16th century version of the original Byzantine Hodegitria icon-style. It was bequeathed to one of the early Camillians by one Settimia De Nobili in 1614. Here it is enshrined in a very elaborate gilded acanthus-leaf frame, above which is a gilded relief of a pair of putti holding a crown.
The figures in the icon used to have jewelled crowns, renewed in 1868 by the Vatican Chapter, but these have been removed. Many, if not most, of the highly venerated icons of Our Lady in Roman churches used to have these crowns, but the tradition has falled completely out of favour and most have gone in restorations.
Chapel of St CamillusEdit
The shrine of St Camillus is beneath the large altar on the right side of the transept, which is dedicated to him. The chapel was re-fitted by Nicoletti in 1757, after the saint was originally beatified.
The relics are in a gilded bronze sarcophagus accompanied by a pair of angels, which has a central circular relief plaque of the saint in silver gilt. This shrine is by Francesco Giordani and Valention Consalvi.
The aedicule has four ribbed Composite columns set diagonally, with gilded capitals and ribbing. There are stucco angels sitting on the coved and ogee-curved pediment, venerating the Cross. The altarpiece showing the saint having a vision of the Madonna and Crucified Christ is by Placido Costanzi, 1749 in the style of Domenichino.
If you have a devotion to St Camillus, you may want to visit the 19th century church in the rione Sallustiano dedicated to him, San Camillo de Lellis, which is also run by the Camillians.
Chapel of the Crucifix Edit
To the right of the sanctuary is a rectangular chapel, entered via an antechamber off the sanctuary bay. This was fitted out by Nicoletti in 1764 to house a miraculous crucifix. According to tradition , the corpus on this leant forward to the saint on his deathbed in 1582 to embrace him with one arm.
The rather small painted wooden crucifix is enshrined in a glazed capsule-shaped niche over the altar, which has red and white marble drapery on either side accompanied by putti.
In this chapel is kept an unpainted wooden statue of St Mary Magdalen, holding a pot of unguent. It is 15th century, and is the oldest thing in the church.
Chapel of the RelicsEdit
To the left of the sanctuary is the so-called Chapel of the Relics, which is also the antechamber to the sacristy. The most important relic kept here was the heart of St Camillus mounted in a monstrance (security concerns might now have entailed its move to the museum).
The rococo sacristy is famous. It is now ascribed to Carlo Marchionni, 1738 to 1741. The ceiling vault was frescoed by Girolamo Pesce, and is mostly taken up by a large central panel depicting The Apothesis of SS Peter Neri and Camillus. The latter was the disciple of the former. The springing of the vault has delightful renditionings of putti and flowers in vases, in natural colours.
The wardrobes and presses in here are in the so-called rocaille style, with the wood painted to resemble marble.
The altarpiece is a painted wooden crucifix.
Chapel of St NicholasEdit
The left hand chapel in the transept is dedicated to St Nicholas of Bari, and is by Carlo Fontana 1673. However, it was embellished by Carlo Francesco Bizzaccheri in 1696. There are four Corinthian columns in pink and grey portosanto marble, set diagonally with the inner ones recessed. The segmental pediment that these support is strongly stepped vertically twice, and is embellished with rosettes.
The altarpiece showing The Vision of St Nicholas is by Giovanni Battista Gaulli, Il Baciccia, 1698.
Chapel of St Lawrence GiustinianiEdit
The second chapel on the left is dedicated to St Lawrence Giustiniani. The design of the aedicule is similar to that of the previous chapel, but the columns are in black marble.
The altarpiece depicts the saint having a vision of the Nativity, and is by Luca Giordano. Tradition claims that he painted the canvas in just one night, and as a result he acquired the nickname Luca Fà-Presto. The side wall paintings are by Bonaventura Lamberti.
Chapel of the AssumptionEdit
The first chapel on the left is dedicated to the Assumption of Our Lady. The polychrome marble decoration is very rich here, and the brecciated marble Composite columns show an interesting colour change from white and red to white and green towards their tops (the colours are caused by copper).
The altarpiece showing The Assumption is by Pesche.
St Camillus lived in the adjacent convent, and died in a room here in 1614. This has now been made part of the Museum of the Camillians. There are many interesting sacred objects and printed works on display, and you can also visit the so-called Cubicolo di San Camillo which was converted into a little Baroque chapel by Nicoletti in 1755.
Admission is free.
The church is open (unofficial source):
Mondays to Fridays, 7:00 to 12:00, 17:00 to 20:00
Saturdays opens 9:30.
Sundays and solemnties 9:00 to 12:30, 17:00 to 20:00.
Mass is celebrated:
Weekdays 8:00, 19:00.
Sundays 9:30, 10:30 (in Portuguese), 11:30, 19:00.
During Mass the church is closed to all except worshippers, so do bear these times in mind when planning a visit.
Leaflet on church (pdf) (The 1500 engraving reproduced is of the Convertite church.)
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