|San Francesco Saverio del Caravita|
|English name:||St Francis Xavier of Caravita|
|Denomination:||Roman Catholic (?)|
|Address:||Via del Caravita 11A|
The dedication is to St Francis Xavier.
San Nicolò de ForbitoribusEdit
The site concerned used to be occupied by a mediaeval church named San Nicolò de Forbitoribus, which was possibly first mentioned in 1192. There is a definite reference in a bull of Pope Urban V (1362-70), and in 1405 it was recorded that the campanile fell onto the church during a storm.
The name Forbitoribus refers to the guild of cutlers or knife, razor and scissor makers, but it is unclear whether this was just a nickname deriving from workshops round about, or whether the guild had actual rights in the church.
In 1551 the Camaldolese were granted the church, which had fallen into ruins, and they built a small monastery next door. The dedication was changed to Sant'Antonio (St Anthony of Egypt). The monks were here until 1631, when the Jesuits were able to obtain and demolish the entire complex by offering property near the Piazza Venezia in exchange. The Camaldolese re-established themselves at San Romualdo.
Pietro Garavita Edit
The oratory was built by the Jesuit Pietro Garavita, after whom it was named, in 1631. He was interested in evangelizing the farm-workers of the Roman Campagna who came into the city, usually either to frequent the markets or to help out with the hay harvest in summer. In the latter period, they lived in shanties and caves around the Forum and the Esquiline, and were notorious for their lack of religious instruction. This was hardly their fault, as the countryside around Rome was in a semi-derelict state and was infested with malaria. There were very few working churches or chapels back home for them, and almost no clergy wishing to minister to them.
The new oratory was dedicated to Our Lady of Pity (Santa Maria della Pietà) as well as the famous Jesuit missionary St Francis Xavier. It was intended as the headquarters of the Missione Urbana, a group of priest dedicated to this evangelization, and was funded by charitable donations.
It was rebuilt in 1677, to a plan large enough to make the building bigger than many old Roman churches. However, its former status as an oratory rather than as a church can be spotted by noting the lack of a campanile. However, the Diocese now regards it as being a church.
Mantelloni and afterEdit
It was later used by the Congregazione della Santissima Communione Generale or Mantelloni, a secular penitential confederacy at the Collegio Romano. They used to flog themselves (and allegedly each other) in the oratory before going out in procession in voluminous black cloaks, hence the nickname. The intention was to foster regular reception of communion at Mass, but the extreme nature of their public penance led to disorder and their activities had to be controlled. There was a lot of local gossip in the 18th century as to how penance had become a subsidiary motive for what was going on.
The Society of Jesus was suppressed between 1773 and 1813. Afterwards, the Jesuits used the building as the centre of activity for all the Jesuit lay associations in Rome. It was also used for concerts of music (of very high quality) and also for regular expositions of the Blessed Sacrament. There was a restoration in the latter 19th century.
The oratory fell into disuse in 1925, but was restored again in 2000. Since then, it has been mostly used by an English-speaking group mainly consisting of American expatriates (some of them religious of high status), who refer to themselves as “International Catholics” and who are associated with the Anglican worshipping community at All Saints. They have ecumenical links with non-fundamentalist Protestant communions, but it seems that their attitude to the Eastern Churches is, at best, one of studied indifference.
The founder was one Keith Pecklers, a Jesuit theologian since exposed as a child abuser in his youth.
Their focus seems mostly to be liturgical (although they claim to be involved in charitable activities among the city's poor people), and their theme seems to be that the doctrines and worship of the Catholic Church should conform to the expectations of secular society (specifically, to that of the United States of America) in order to avoid alienating modern people.
This so-called "Caravita Community" is under the protection of the Jesuits, and hence is not subject to the direct authority of the Diocese. The liturgy as celebrated by them is not guaranteed to be according to the norms as laid down by the Roman Catholic Church for the Latin rite, and it has been reported that Mass has been celebrated in a way which renders it sacramentally invalid (to be fair, this needs documentation). The actual liturgical organization, and the music used, are claimed to be of high quality.
This is the only instance in Rome of a Roman Catholic place of worship coming under the control of a worshipping group which does not seem to have respected the authority of the Magisterium in liturgical matters (although overtly dissident opinions do not seem to be publicly promulgated by them). The group as a whole is not linked to the so-called "American Catholic Council", which is an alliance of American dissident "Catholic" groups which has recently proclaimed formal apostasy at a meeting at Detroit ("the Pope and Curia is in schism from the Church"), even if individuals associated with it may be so allied -and boast of the fact.
A Mexican group also apparently worships here, having liturgies in Spanish, but their online presence seems to be nil.
Layout and fabricEdit
The oratory is on the corner of a junction of two narrow streets, and is aligned north to south. There are two architectural elements. The entrance façade faces a two-storey block with a flat roof which contains the vestibule and upper rooms. The actual oratory is a rectangular nave with a large semi-circular external apse which is slightly narrower.
The fabric is in pinkish-yellow brick.
If you look down the street to the right of the façade, the Via del Collegio Romano, you will see a covered passage connecting the oratory and the College by means of a bridge over the street. This, the Arco dei Gesuiti, was built in 1716, and allowed college students to access the oratory without having to go outdoors.
The façade has two-storeys, of pinkish brick with architectural details in travertine limestone.
The first storey has four Doric pilasters supporting an entablature with a strongly projecting cornice, and a dedicatory inscription on the frieze. The latter reads: Matri Pietatis et Francisco Xaverio Indiarum Apostolum MDCXXXIII ("To Mary of Piety and Francis Xavier, Apostle of the Indies, 1633"). The entrance has a triangular pediment broken at the top. This storey also has a pair of large rectangular windows, with floating cornices over their lintels.
The second storey has a row of three rectangular windows, and above these a corresponding row of three quatrefoil windows. The roofline is horizontal.
The interior consists of a narthex or vestibule, and an aisleless nave with a barrel-vaulted ceiling into which dormer windows are inserted. The presbyterium is an apse with a conch, and the triumphal arch of this has an oculus which directs natural light onto the altar. Around the apse runs a passageway or ambulatory, and this is accessed via two pairs of doors on either side of the triumphal arch as well as by two curtained doorways flanking the main altar.
On the ceiling vault of the vestibule there is a fresco cycle by Lazzaro Baldi showing scenes from the life and visions of St Francis Xavier.
The two holy water stoups have a motif of a crab holding a crucifix in its claws. This alludes to a story that the saint, while on his way by sea to Malacca (now in Malaysia) threw his crucifix into the sea while praying for a storm to abate. When he landed on the beach (there was no harbour), he was met by a crab holding the lost crucifix.
The nave has four bays, marked by four windows on each side inserted into the ceiling vault.
The entrance from the vestibule passes under a gallery supported by a pair of Ionic columns, and the organ is here. The balustrade is ornate, with caryatids in place of balusters, and above this is a mesh screen to protect the anonymity of choral singers accompanying the liturgy (the Church's requirement in former centuries was that the liturgy was never treated primarily as a musical performance). The rectangular window over the organ pipes looks out over the flat roof of the vestibule block.
All interior wall and ceiling surfaces are frescoed in the Baroque style, some from the 19th century restoration. However, some 17th century frescoes by Baldassarre Peruzzi survive. The main panel in the ceiling vault shows The Apotheosis of St Francis Xavier. The side walls have non-figurative decoration which is painted to resemble stucco work -rather poor.
There is a shrine to St Francis Xavier to the right of the altar, comprising a 17th century silver bust-reliquary (the main shrine of the saint is at the Basilica of Bom Jesus at Goa, India). In the corresponding location to the left of the altar is a pretty Baroque painting of the Madonna and Child, in an elaborate oval frame designed as a garland of roses.
The stalls along the side walls, in carved walnut with gilded decoration, are originals from the 17th century. The "Caravita Community" has erected an altar in an odd location, the middle of the nave, and uses moveable wooden chairs for their liturgies (replacing stackable plastic ones which really were a disgrace). There is a floating pulpit sticking out from the left hand side wall, on brackets and accessed through a door in the wall.
The triumphal arch of the presbyterium is supported by a pair of gigantic Composite pilasters revetted in what looks like yellow brecciated marble (is this real?), and this design feature is replicated by four pilasters in the apse itself. The altarpiece shows St Francis Xavier Preaching in the Presence of the Holy Trinity by Sebastiano Conca, and the paintings on either side are of St Michael (left) and the Guardian Angel (right). The altar is right against the wall of the apse, and has no canopy. Instead, above the altarpiece is an icon of the Madonna and Child in a gilded stucco glory. In the conch vault are frescoes of angels, and two stucco statues of angel candleholders in the style of Bernini are on plinths flanking the altar.
Above the side doorways are cantoria or opera-boxes for solo musicians, with heavily ornate bronze screens above the balustrades.
The Ristretto degli Angeli, formerly an upstairs meeting-place for students from the Collegio Romano, has stucco work by Giovan Battista Maini and painting by Gaetano Sottino who was from Sicily. The silver reliquary bust of St Francis Xavier, already mentioned, used to be in another room called the Sacello di San Francisco Xavier.
To avoid offence, it is recommended that any English-speaking Roman Catholic visitor or pilgrim of the Latin rite take the trouble to study the "Caravita Community" website before attending any of their liturgical events.
Catholics of Eastern Rite and Orthodox are advised not to visit.