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San Basilio agli Orti Sallustiani is a 17th century monastic church at Via di San Basilio 51/A north-east of the Piazza Barberini. This is in the rione Trevi. Picture of the church on Wikimedia Commons are here.
Italo-Greek Catholic ChurchEdit
The Italo-Greek Catholic Church (also referred to as the Italo-Greek rite) claims direct descent from the ancient Greek cities of southern Italy, an area which was ruled by the Roman and Byzantine empires until the mid 11th century. The area used the Latin rite until 726, however, before Emperor Leo III transferred the administration of the churches in the area of south Italy that he ruled from the Pope to the Patriarch of Constantinople. The Byzantine rite was then introduced to most areas, although not to all. The policy became coercive after 968.
The authority of the Pope was re-established in the mid 11th century, when southern Italy was conquered by the Normans. The policy of the papacy was, however, to respect the Byzantine rite and this was partly because of a widespread flowering of Byzantine monastic life in the region in the previous century. These were governed by a monastic rule written by St Basil, and are hence known as Basilian.
A further factor in the contemporary respect for the Byzantine rite on the part of the papacy is that the iconoclastic policy of Emperor Leo III and others led to a major exodus of Byzantine monks to Italy and Rome in the 8th century. Those in Rome became very influential, because of their literacy and high level of education, and this even led to the Curia speaking Greek. Several monasteries in Rome were Byzantine, for example Santa Maria in Cosmedin and San Saba.
The Latin rite was re-introduced cumulatively after the 11th century, and the Byzantine rite was a historical curiosity in the region by the 18th century. A major reason was the virtual extinction of Greek as a spoken vernacular.
From the 15th century, many Byzantine-rite Albanians have emigrated to Italy. Historically they and their descendants have been regarded as part of the Italo-Greek rite, hence the Italo-Greek Catholic Church has been known as Italo-Albanian or Italo-Greek-Albanian. This has led to some dispute, as especially the Abbey of Grottaferrata and the church of San Basilio have had no historical links with Albania. The latter have occasional Eucharists at Sant'Atanasio a Via del Babuino. (To be fair, many of the vocations to the abbey in recent times have been Albanians.)
Abbey of GrottaferrataEdit
A late Byzantine rite foundation in the vicinity of Rome was the abbey of Grottaferrata near Frascati, which was consecrated by Pope John XIX in 1024. It had been founded in 1004 by St Nilus the Younger, a Calabrian expatriate. By this time the Byzantine rite monasteries in Rome were collapsing, and being replaced by Benedictines.
The vicissitudes of history and the dominance of the Latin rite in Italy have meant that it is the only Byzantine-rite monastery to have survived in the country to modern times. It almost became Latin-rite in the late Middle Ages, when it was a degenerate institution ruled by laymen ("commendatory abbots"), but in 1608 it was made the mother house of the Italian Baslilan Order of Grottaferrata (OSBI). This monastic congregation was founded by Pope Gregory XIII, who united under its authority all the monks under the Rule of St Basil in Italy.
Roman presence Edit
The abbey established a small foundation in Rome in response to its congregational status, and initially this was at the little church now called Santa Maria del Buon Consiglio ai Monti. However, the premises were unsuitable and so the monks moved to Santi Venanzio ed Ansovino in 1634. But this church in a heavily built-up area proved unsatisfactory as well.
Foundation of San BasilioEdit
In order to establish a proper Generalate (or headquarters for the new Order), Apolemone Agreste the abbot of Grottaferrata bought a house on a rural site in the rione Trevi in 1660. This was then on the outskirts of the built-up area. In 1682 the abbey had a small church built, and dedicated it to the patron of its order. The architect was Carlo Francesco Bizzaccheri, more famous for his vault at Santa Maria del Soccorso al Monte di Pietà.
Then the abbey built a monastery, a college, a seminary and a library here to the east of the church. The project went on into the middle of the 18th century, and it seems it was never completed. Much of the original fabric survives.
Tellingly, the new church was designed for the Latin rite. There were two side chapels, and the main altar was inserted into an apse. Also, apparently, there was no iconostasis. All this is not compatible with celebrations of the Eucharist in the Byzantine rite, and shows that this rite was being supplanted even among the Basilian monks.
There was a major restoration in 1862.
The college and seminary prospered until the conquest of Rome by the Kingdom of Italy in 1874. Then, as with all other convents in the city, the complex was sequestered by the government and converted into a training school for electricians. However, the monks were allowed a tenancy of the church and part of the old monastery and remain in charge of it. However, the Generalate of the order was permanently moved to Grottaferrata.
In 1881, Pope Leo XIII finally ordered the restoration of the Byzantine rite in its pure form. This entailed the insertion of a wooden iconostasis, and the removal of the side altars. There was a further restoration at the start of the 21st century.
The church is regarded as part of the abbey of Grottaferrata, which itself was made an abbey nullius of the Italo-Greek Catholic Church in 1937. However the latter has not yet had a formally constituted hierarchy set up (despite recent discussions), and hence it functions under the authority of local ordinaries. The church here is listed as a dependency of the parish church of San Camillo de Lellis.
The church is completely surrounded by higher buildings except at each end, hence its fabric is invisible from the street. It is small and rather narrow, with a nave of three bays and a rectangular apse. Side altars are in shallow niches in the middle bays. The exterior roof is flat.
Over the top of the façade can be seen the little campanile, perched on the bottom left hand side wall of the nave. It is in the form of a triumphal arch, having a molded archivolt on imposts, a triangular pediment and two bells hung one over the other.
Careful observers may notice that the campanile is at an angle to the façade. This is because the major axis of the church is at an angle to the street, and hence also to the façade facing onto it.
The monastic buildings are to the right and at the back, where there is a small cloister with arcades on the east and south sides. The former connects with a doorway to the left of the main altar. The church's rectangular apse, with a single-pitched roof, is on the north side.
The façade, by Bizzaccheri, has two storeys and is now painted in pale blue with the architectural details in white.
A pair of wide tripletted Doric pilasters occupies the corners of the first storey and supports a full entablature with a blank frieze and a dentillate cornice. The plain molded doorcase has a dedicatory inscription above it: Sancto Basilio Magno, Anno Domini MDCLXXXII. Above this is a segmental pediment on incurved strap corbels, which has a blank tympanum.
The second storey has a pair of dumpy pilasters in the same style, supporting a triangular pediment into which is inserted a segmental pediment. Below the latter is a rectangular window decorated with a pair of triglyphs with tassels. The façade does not end with the pediment, but continues upwards to a horizontal roofline. The actual roof of the church and the campanile, at an angle to the façade as explained, can be seen rising behind this.
Layout and fabricEdit
The church has a single nave of three bays, with an apse. To provide for the Byzantine liturgy, the presbyterium is separated from the nave by an iconostasis which cuts off the back third of the last bay.
Each bay has a shallow arched recess in both side walls, and those of the central bays used to have altars. These recesses are separated by tripletted Ionic pilasters with swagged capitals, and these are revetted with what looks like yellow alabaster. This contrasts with adjacent revetting in what looks like green (verde antico?) and red (portasanta?) marbles.
There are also several inscriptions commemorating monks and prelates who studied at the adjacent college.
The first bay is separated from the body of the church by a striking open metal screen, made in a grid pattern with each square divided into four by spikes. The central zone has the squares horizontal, while the side zones are diapered. This screen turns the first bay into a narthex, which is traditionally required in a Byzantine church. It is the customary place for catechumens, penitents and unbelievers.
The body of the nave has moveable chairs for the congregation. Pews are not appropriate to a Byzantine church, since everybody except the ill and infirm are expected to stand during the liturgy.
The flat ceiling is decorated with the emblem of St Basil, which is a burning column surrounded by the motto Talis Magnus Basileus ("The great Basil is like this").
Former side chapelsEdit
To the left used to be the Chapel of Our Lady, with an altarpiece showing The Madonna and Child with Saints. The one presenting the model monastery is St Nilus. To the right is the former Chapel of St Joseph, with an altarpiece showing The Death of St Joseph. The altarpieces were kept when the altars were removed. They are anonymous, and were commissioned in the 17th century when the church was built.
The vault of the presbyterium apse is painted a rich blue, with golden stars and the Dove of the Holy Spirit in a glory in the centre.
The iconostasis is in a traditional style familiar in Orthodox churches, of varnished wood. The inscription running across the top is in Greek, and reads: "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord of Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of your glory". Above this is a depiction of the Last Supper, and on top is a Calvary.
In the apse is the site of the former Latin-rite altar. It has an altarpiece of St Basil, possibly by Gregorio Stasi. The Byzantine-rite altar is free-standing in front of this, square as is traditional and revetted in alabaster. There is a gabled canopy on spindly columns, decorated on each gable with angels venerating the Cross.
You need special permission to go through the iconostasis to visit the presbyterium. If you are a woman, you should be aware that the Byzantine-rite tradition prohibits any woman to enter here -except an empress.
Opening times and details of liturgical events are not readily available.
The Feast of St Basil is celebrated on 5 January. In the Roman calendar it is on 2 January, jointly with St Gregory Nazianzen, and this is also usually marked in some way.