|San Cosimato in Trastevere|
|English name:||St Cosimatus in Trastevere|
|Dedication:||SS Cosmas and Damian|
|Address:||Piazza di San Cosimato/Osp. Nuova Regina Margeritha|
San Cosimato in Trastevere is dedicated to SS Cosmas and Damian, although the latter saint is not remembered in the name (there is no such saint as St Cosimatus). The old entrance is at the south end of Piazza San Cosimato, and the church is now part of the Ospedale Nuovo Regina Margherita. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons.
The site used to be occupied by the Naumachia of Augustus, which was a special flooded amphitheatre where sea battles could be re-enacted. The first church here was built in the 10th century for a Benedictine monastery called Santi Cosma e Damiano a Mica Aurea. The odd suffix means "Golden Crumb", a reference either to the sands of the Janiculum hill nearby or to the discovery of the remains of an ancient goldsmith's shop. However, the complex was quickly nicknamed "San Cosimato" or "Little St Cosmas" to distinguish it from the basilica in the Forum. This monastery fell into serious decay in the 13th century, and was annexed to the Camaldolese reform in 1230. This was apparently a disaster, and the complex was forcibly granted to the Poor Clares in 1234, making it one of their earliest nunneries. They were able to rebuild and enlarge their convent substantially from 1475, the date of the present church, because Pope Sixtus IV had a sister there and paid for the work. The convent formed a pair with that of the Franciscan friars nearby at San Francesco d'Assisi a Ripa Grande, who provided the sisters with chaplains. It remained the major convent of Poor Clares in Rome until the sequestration of all the property of contemplative religious communities in Rome by the Italian government in 1870. The buildings were leased to the municipality, which turned them into an almshouse for poor old people. This survived until 1970, when it was incorporated into the new hospital. The sisters refused to become extinct, and after much trouble founded another monastery at San Cosimato in Ostiense, preserving the ancient nickname.
Layout of the MonasteryEdit
Despite vicessitudes, the plan of the original Benedictine monastery, and the Poor Clare additions, survive very well. The original 12th century gatehouse is on a triangular piece of land which is now the south part of the Piazza di San Cosimato. This started as a mustering-ground for the 10th century monastery (men bearing arms were not then allowed into monasteries), and quickly became a market which endured through the centuries. From here, tracks led through open country to Trastevere (the complex remained on the edge of the built-up area until 1870). The gatehouse consists of a solid stone-arched doorway with a rough relieving arch in Roman tiles above it, and a gabled porch with an archway supported by a pair of ancient Composite marble columns. Above the porch gable is a chamber with a pyramidal roof, and the "portarius" or gatekeeper had his cell in here.
Going through the doorway (not possible now for visitors), one enters the monastery's narrow rectangular outer courtyard or "curia", formerly outside the enclosure and where the monks and nuns would deal with craftsmen, vendors and other seculars on business. At the east end of this is the façade of the little church, and to the south of the church is the large mediaeval cloister which dates to c1200 when the monks were still in occupation. The narrow brich arches of the arcades are supported by double columns with conical capitals, and the cloister garth (the garden in the middle) contains many fragments of inscriptions, columns, sarcophagi and other carved stonework from the old church which repay inspection. Usually you will find old people from the almshouse sitting here. The cloister used to have two storeys, but the second storey galleries were replaced by walls in the Renaissance re-ordering in order to create more accommodation for the nuns. Since the church only occupies half the length of the north side of the cloister, it is obvious that the original mediaeval church was at least twice the length of the one there now. The Renaissance cloister added by the nuns after 1475 is to the east of the church, with its south-west corner abutting on the north-east corner of the mediaeval cloister. There is a set of stairs linking the two. The arcade pillars of this cloister are octagonal, and their capitals are exceptionally well carved with plant motifs.
Exterior of the ChurchEdit
The Classical façade was designed by Andrea Bregno, and badly remodelled in the early 19th century. The doorcase is decorated with delicately carved swags and fountain motifs, and the wooden door has carvings of scenes connected to the Franciscans. There is a triangular pediment above the lintel. Above the doorway is a round window, with a large arched window on each side (there used to be just two rectangular windows before the 19th century). A pair of Corinthian pilastes occupies the outer corners. There is no proper pediment; a string course above the windows supports a pair of stumpy pilasters at the outer corners which run up to the gabled roofline, which is dentillated. The nave of the church was substantially rebuilt in the 19th century restoration.
To the left of the sanctuary is a Renaissance altar with the relics of several martyrs. The main altar is 18th century, with black marble pillars framing a modern icon of Our Lady in Byzantine style displayed on a red marble background.
The tabernacle was moved here from Santa Maria del Popolo.
Antonio da Viterbo's Madonna and Saints is from the 15th century. There are also paintings by Pinturicchio, and a fragment of an original fresco cycle by Antonio di Massaro showing Our Lady between St Francis and St Clare..
The main gateway door is kept closed. Next door is the almshouse entrance, where you may be allowed to enter if you call at the porter's lodge. Even if he lets you through it can be difficult to find the church, but if you speak some Italian the old people usually found sitting in the mediaeval cloister will be only glad to assist you.