Oratorio del Santissimo Crocifisso is a 17th century oratory (actually now a small church) located at the Piazza del’Oratorio 70 near the Corso, in the rione Trevi. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia page here.
The dedication is to the Holy Cross (despite the name, "Holy Crucifix").
Traditionally the edifice has been referred to as an oratory. Strictly speaking, this term refers to a building where prayers such as the Divine Office are recited in common but where Mass is not celebrated. Hence, oratories used not to have an altar. However by the 17th century the distinction between an oratory and a chapel was blurred, and this one had an altar from the start as well as a campanile.
As a result, the Diocese now considers it to be a church and refers to it as Chiesa Annessa Santissimo Crocifisso al Corso. The annessa means that is is subordinate to a parish church (here, Santa Maria in Via) and does not have its own priest.
The oratory was built in memory of a miracle that occurred in 1519, when the local parish church San Marcello al Corso burned down. A crucifix miraculously survived the fire when everything else was destroyed, and in 1522 Cardinal Guillermo de Vich arranged for it to be carried in solemn procession to San Pietro in Vaticano during an outbreak of plague. (He was the titular at San Marcello.) The epidemic immediately stopped, and it was this that made the crucifix an object of intense popular devotion
A Confraternity was founded as a result in 1526, called the Archconfraternity of the Most Holy Crucifix (Arciconfraternita del Santissimo Crocifisso in Urbe). This was dedicated to promoting the veneration of the Cross, and attracted many influential and important members -it has spread worldwide in the centuries following.
An oratory was proposed early on, as a headquarters for this confraternity and as a place where the miraculous crucifix could be enshrined, but was only finally built by Giacomo della Porta in 1568. (He is more famous for his façade at the Gesù.) After the edifice was finished, the interior walls were given a very important fresco cycle based on the Legend of the True Cross to be found in the Legenda Aurea (based on earlier sources) of Jacobus de Voragine, and several artists worked on this for six years from 1578. The patrons were Tommaso dei Cavalieri and Girolamo Muziano.
This oratory became famous in the 17th century for its contribution to the new forms of religious music. Musical concerts started here in 1639, when the first performances of fifteen musical oratorios by Giacomo Carissimi and Emilio de' Cavalieri occurred here. The word "oratorio" in musical parlance actually derives from "oratory".
Since 1740, the crucifix over the altar has been a copy. The original was taken back to San Marcello, where it is to be found.
The ceiling of the oratory had been carved by Flaminio Boulanger, who had also been responsible for that at San Giovanni in Laterano. It was stupidly destroyed in 1798, and only replaced in 1879 as part of a major restoration. A plaque recording this is to be found on the left hand side wall, under the prophet Joel.
In the late 20th century the complex was taken over by a female missionary order, the Missionaries of Jesus the Eternal Priest (Missionarie di Gesù Eterno Sacerdote) which was founded in 1947 and has a strong presence in the Philippines. It received papal approval in 1975. However, the sisters relinquished possession around the turn of the century and are now based at Via Trionfale 7585.
The oratory was restored by the government in 1999, and continues to be a noted music venue.
Layout and fabricEdit
The oratory is a simple rendered brick box, with a pitched and tiled roof. The far end, all of the left hand side and part of the right hand side abut onto, and are incorporated into, neighbouring buildings. There is a small apse.
The brick campanile is invisible from the street. It consists of two open arches, side by side, perched on the junction of the left hand side wall with the neighbouring building, about halfway down.
The façade is attributed to della Porta, although there has been some debate about this. It has two storeys, and is in pink brick with the architectural details in limestone.
The first storey has four pilasters supporting a strongly projecting cornice rather than a proper entablature. They are vaguely Doric and are tripletted, but the central element of the triplet has an odd device rather like a triglyph (actually a tetraglyph here) placed over its capital.
The single entrance is accessed by a flight of stairs. It has a molded doorcase, and a triangular pediment raised on strap corbels. Between the pairs of pilasters on either side is a low window, and over this is an empty round-headed niche with a molded frame and a segmental pediment supported by triglyph corbels.
The second storey again has four tripletted pilasters. These do not have capitals, but only beading where they meet a cornice. The inner pair flanks a large inscription on a marble tablet, which commemorates the financial contribution from Cardinal Farnese that made it possible to build the oratory. This tablet is embellished with sprays, swags, ribbons and a winged putto's head. Between the pilasters are two windows with ornate Baroque frames, capped by triangular pediments with broken cornices.
Above the cornice of this storey is the coat-of-arms of the Farnese family (featuring fleurs-de-lys) in a large recessed lunette with more flower sprays and ribbons and with a cardinal's hat. On top of this lunette is a crowning triangular pediment containing another winged putto's head, which is supported by a pair of squat Doric pilasters flanked by a pair of gigantic curlicues. The crowning finials are various; the outer pair are flaming torches, the inner pair on the pediment gable are flaming urns and the central one is the metal cross traditional in this position in Roman churches.
Layout and fabricEdit
The plan is a simple rectangular box without any side chapels, but with a small apse in the form of an arched niche without a conch. The arrangement allows for the spectacular fresco cycle on the side walls.
Over the entrance there is a musicians' gallery, accessed by a rather rickety set of steps and supported by a pair of columns in what looks like red marble. Above this is a frieze embellished with painted winged putto's heads and rose-and-lily garlands; 19th century, of course.
The 1879 flat wooden ceiling is intricately carved, and gorgeously painted. The central panel shows The Second Coming of Christ, and the two side panels show the emblem of the Confraternity and the coat-of-arms of Pope Leo XIII.
The stalls along the side walls are for Confraternity members.
The frescoes were painted by some of the great artists at Rome in the late 16th century, and demonstrate the evolution of figurative religious painting from the Mannerist style towards Baroque theatricality. The subjects depicted are the story of the miraculous crucifix at San Marcello, the Legend of the True Cross and the history of the Confraternity.
The description is anticlockwise, from the right hand side wall near the entrance.
Each side wall has three large panels depicting events. To the sides of these are smaller panels depicting figures of prophets (with their names) and sibyls, and above are other smaller panels showing angels and personified virtues venerating the Cross.
Right hand side wallEdit
Giovanni de' Vecchi received the original contract for the fresco cycle in 1578 and was to have executed the entire work, but did not manage to get very far. The first two panels are his. Firstly, St Helena Overthrows the Idols and Finds Three Crosses. The empress St Helena had to demolish a pagan temple before her workers found three crosses thrown into a pit. Secondly, St Helena and Bishop Macarius Puzzle Over Which of the Crosses is Christ's. De'Vecchi also painted two prophets here and one Sibyl.
Niccolò Circignani , nicknamed Il Pomarancio, then took over. He executed the third panel on the right hand side, showing The True Cross is Disclosed When It Cures a Paralytic.
The polychrome high altar is set against the far wall of the little apse, with the 1740 copy of the miraculous crucifix above it. Above this in turn is a lunette with a fresco of God the Father, anonymous of the 16th century. Above him in the barrel vault is The Holy Spirit as a dove.
Between the altar and the crucifix is a little icon of the Madonna and Child, which was removed from the altar of the church of Santa Maria del Sole when it was deconsecrated.
The side walls of the apse have two paintings by Cristoforo Roncalli: St John the Evangelist and St Mary Magdalen. Beware, this artist is also nicknamed Il Pomarancio.
The triumphal arch is flanked by six Corinthian pilasters, revetted in red marble and with gilded capitals supporting entablatures which are extensions of the arch imposts. The paintings above these entablatures are all anonymous. There are two panels which look like curtained windows, and at the level of these are the four Evangelists. Above the windows are two small panels showing The Sacrifice of Abraham and The Bronze Serpent (which are regarded as Old Testament prophecies of the Crucifixion). Over the arch are two angels bearing a motto: In Cruce gloriari oportet, in qua est salus ("It is necessary to glory in the Cross, in which is salvation").
A new altar has been installed to provide for Mass facing the congregation; it was donated by Cardinal Ugo Poletti.
Left hand side wallEdit
The first two panels on the left hand side wall are by Circignani again. They are: The Emperors Heraclius and Chosroes Fight Over the Cross. The Sassanid Persian emperor Chosroes II had conquered and sacked Jerusalem in 614, and taken the True Cross as war booty. Heraclius managed to defeat him (only for the Muslims to arrive later). And, An Angel Appears to Heraclius Carrying the Cross Back to Jerusalem. This allegedly occurred in the year 629. The angel told him that it was inappropriate for him to carry the cross on horseback, dressed as an emperor.
The final panel on the left is the latest in the series, and shows Heraclius Carrying the Cross into Jerusalem, dressed as a penitent. This panel is by Cesare Nebbia.
The frescoes at the entrance gallery have as a theme the foundation of the confraternity. There are two on each side, one on the actual counterfaçade and one on the end of the side wall making a corner with it.
On the left are two by Roncalli: Foundation of the Capuchiness Convent and The Miracle of the Unburnt Crucifix. The convent concerned was Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini, which has now been demolished.
Liturgy and opening hoursEdit
The Feast of the Recovery of the True Cross used to be celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church on 3 May, and that of the Exaltation of the Cross on 14 September. Since 1970 only the latter feast has been celebrated in the revised Roman rite.
Normal opening hours are:
Daily 07.00–12.00 and 16.00–19.00.
Mass is celebrated:
Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation 08.00.
As mentioned, the edifice now has the status of a public church and not a private oratory.