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San Giacomo a Scossacavalli

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San Giacomo a Scossacavalli was a very late 16th century former parish and confraternity church that used to stand in the Piazza Scossacavalli, to the south-west of Santa Maria in Traspontina in the Borgo.

It was dedicated to St James the Great.



The church seems to have its first documentary reference in the reign of Pope Leo IX (1049-54), when it was called San Salvatore in Bordonia. It was also called San Salvatore in Portico, because it was just east of the main gateway into the precincts of Old St Peter's. Then, at the end of the 12th century, we find Coxae caballi (Catalogue of Cencio Camerario) or Coxa cavalli (bulls of 1157 and 1186).

The first references to the dedication to St James are in 1275 and 1277, where the name is given as Scossa Cavallo (or Cavalli) and the dedication apparently noted as recent (quae modo ecclesia Sancti Iacobi nuncupatur). The church was then also known as San Giacomo in Portico.

What the name Scossacavalli means is a mystery.The word literally seems to translate as "shaken horse". There are four theories.

One, that it refers to Scottish knights (cavallieri Scoti).

Two, that it is a corruption of the Latin coxa cavalli or "horse's hip", referring to a fragment of ancient statuary; this is supported by the ancient sources, but there is a suspicion that the mediaeval scribes were Latinizing the name as a back-formation.

The third theory is that the name refers to an incident when a group of knights had serious trouble with their horses outside the church, and delighted the onlookers by falling off. The event might have been especially memorable if the knights concerned were despised foreigners.

The fourth story was a fictitious pilgrim's tradition recounted by Nibby in the early 19th century. According to it, St Helena the Empress collected two stones from Jerusalem, one on which Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac and the other where Our Lady put the Christ Child during his Presentation at the Temple. When the cart taking these to St Peter's passed the church, the horses refused to go any further and so the stones had to be unloaded here.

Parish churchEdit

This was a small parish church from the beginning, whenever that was, and it seems that the original orientation was perpendicular to the later one with a frontage on the Borgo Vecchio. This hypothesis is supported by the odd plan of the later church, which was broader than it was long.

The administration was in the care of the Chapter of St Peter's in the Middle Ages, but responsibility for the building was transferred to the parochial Confraternita del Santissimo Sacramento in 1520. This became an archconfraternity in 1568, and was initially based at Santa Maria della Purità in Borgo nearby.

The church was completely rebuilt at the turn of the 17th century, about 1601. In the process, the confraternity provided a separate Blessed Sacrament chapel just to the east, with an entrance off the Borgo Vecchio and access from the main church to its presbyterium via the sacristy. This chapel was substantial, as long as the main church was wide and with a triumphal arch. The altar was dedicated to St Sebastian, hence Armellini lists it as San Sebastiano a Scossacavalli although it was not an independent church. The chapel of Santa Maria della Purità was given up as a result.

The architect was Giovanni Battista Cerasa.

A visitation of 1662 describes all the parishioners as being "very poor". It also noted that the Blessed Sacrament chapel had not been finished, the façade being incomplete, and that the confraternitty was having trouble maintaining it. It never was completed.


The church and chapel were demolished in 1936 to make way for the Via della Conciliazione. Some of the frescoes that it contained survive in the Museo di Roma.


Find the Palazzo Giraud on the north side of the Via della Conciliazione, and take a line across the road from the middle window to the right of the main entrance. This marks the line of the church's façade. The church was in what is now the main throughfare.


Layout and fabricEdit

The church was on the east side of the Piazza Scossacavalli, on the corner with the Borgo Vecchio. It had an odd plan, which was based on a parallelogram wider than it was long. The side walls angled slightly to the left from the façade. There was no apse or separate sanctuary.

Despite being so short, the layout was that of a nave and aisles of three bays. The central nave was twice as wide as the aisles, and the arcades supporting the three barrel vaults over them were on two Doric pillars on each side. The aisle vaults had two corresponding pilasters attached to the side walls.

The aisle vaults were half the height of the nave vault, but unusually had rooms above them which were accessed by stairs beyond the back wall of the church. The right hand aisle had three identically sized rooms, but the left hand aisle had one smaller room and one larger one in place of two. These two sets of rooms were lit by three vertical rectangular windows each in the side walls, which on the exterior were above three square windows inserted into the springing of the aisle vaults. There was a large lunette window over the entrance and another over the altar, but none in the nave walls above the arcades.

The Blessed Sacrament chapel had a rectangular nave, and a little transverse rectangular apse. The internal access to it was through the sacristy, the door to which was to the left of the main altar of the church.


The façade had two storeys, the first much higher than the second which only fronted the attic between the central nave vault and the roof. The whole was rendered in pale orange, with architectural details in white.

The first storey had six gigantic Doric pilasters, three regularly spaced either side of the entrance with two on the corners. These supported an entablature. The entrance had a raised pediment broken at the top, and above this was the large lunette window in a wide frame, and a molding ran from the bottom corners of this across the façade, being interrupted by the pilasters.

There were four round-headed niches between the pilasters on either side, two below the molding mentioned and two above. The outer ones had a window each, the lower pair of which lit the ends of the aisles and the upper, the front rooms of the ranges above the aisles.

The second storey had a false pediment formed by the gable, and a molding running from the side rooflines across to lines taken from the inner edges of the inner pair of pilasters of the first storey. There it was interrupted by an enormous tablet in a Baroque frame bearing a short dedicatory inscription. Above this was a coat-of-arms in relief, inserted into the point of the gable. Four stumpy Doric pilasters flanked this tablet, their capitals covering the molding, and the inner pair ran on up beyond their capitals to the gable. The effect was quite playful.

The façade design was replicated around the corner on the side wall facing the Borgo Vecchio; the corner pilaster was doubletted round the corner, and this and three other pilasters supported an entablature running along the roofline. These pilasters had no plinths.

Beyond this side wall was a domestic building, presumably the priest's house, and then the uncompleted façade of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. This had a rectangular window below a triangular pediment.


The main altar was against the far wall, as there was no sanctuary. It had an altarpiece showing the Last Supper by Giovanni Battista Ricci da Novara or his school, and a tabernacle of polychrome marble by Giovanni Battista Cioli. There were two side altars. The left hand one was dedicated to the Circumcision of Christ, and the altarpiece had the same provenance as did that of the right hand one which was dedicated to the Nativity of Our Lady. The frescoes around the latter altar were by Ambrogini.

The Blessed Sacrment chapel had a ceiling vault fresco showing God the Father, and the side walls showing The Four Latin Doctors. Both were by Vespasiano Strada. The altarpiece of the single altar showed St Sebastian, and was by Paolo Guidotti.

External linksEdit

Italian Wikipedia page

Romeartlover web-page

Romasparita gallery

Painting of church

Paintings of church being demolished (Beware, first painting shows three pillars in arcades. There were two.)

Plans and elevations on Paolo Marconi website

Nolli map (look for 1228)

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