San Giacomo in Augusta is a parish, titular and former hospital church built at the dawn of the 17th century, at Via del Corso 499 near Piazza del Popolo in the rione Camp Marzio.
The remote ancestor of the church also had this name. When the present church was built, it took the name of San Giacomo degli Incurabili and this is how it is still often referred to in modern publications. The people who worship there would prefer that everyone uses the official name, for fairly obvious reasons.
The first sacred building here was a chapel attached to a hospital originally dedicated to the care of poor sick pilgrims, which was founded in 1339 by means of a legacy from Cardinal Pietro Colonna in memory of Cardinal Giacomo Colonna. The Colonna family was to keep an interest in the institution.
An epigraph in the old hospital courtyard reads:
Hoc hospitale ad laudem Dei et sub vocabulo Beati Iacobi pro anima R.mi Patris et Dni, Dni Petri de Columna, Sci. Angeli quondam dyaconi cardinalis fundatum fuit.
There seems to be uncertainty about where the chapel actually was. Christian Hülsen claimed that there were two chapels dedicated to St James in the locality, the hospice one on the present site of Santa Maria in Porta Paradisi, and another on the site of this church. The former he claimed was called San Giacomo in Augusta, but he doesn't give a full name for the latter. Further confusion arises from a church known from the sources as Santa Maria in Augusta, which might have been either one but was more likely to have been the later Porta Paradisi.
In 1451 the institution was entrusted to a confraternity based at Santa Maria del Popolo nearby.
The hospice was recognized by Pope Leo X in 1515 as an Archispedale dei Poveri Incurabili, hence the alternative name for the church of San Giacomo degli Incurabili. Initially it seems to have been intended for lepers and plague sufferers, but it quickly specialized in the care of those of both sexes with incurable syphilis. This was a real charity, since the disease in Italy back then was extremely virulent, and faces and limbs as well as genitals were liable to rot away.
The hospital was then run by a confraternity of the same name. In 1550, it was granted the revenues of the chapel of Santa Maria dei Miracoli (the predecessor of the present church of the same name), and the miraculous icon was taken to the hospital for safe-keeping. It is now in the church, the one in Santa Maria dei Miracoli being allegedly a copy.
Rebuilding began in 1519, and continued (with breaks) for sixty years. It was patronized by Cardinal Antonio Maria Salviati. In 1575, the plan of Du Pérac-Lafréry shows a single range along the present Via Antonio Canova, with a church on the site of the present Santa Maria in Porta Paradisi. This had a campanile to the left of the façade (artistic licence?), and is labelled on the plan as Hospitale S. Iacobi. On the site of the present church of San Giacomo is a small building labelled S. Iacobi, which seems to have been a chapel.
The project to rebuild was completed in 1579. In 1583, the plan of Tempesta shows two long hospital ranges with frontages on the Via di Ripetta, one running along the Via Canova and one parallel to it to the north. These two ranges bracketed the site of the new church on the Corso, except that the south range did not reach that street but stopped at a gate tower on the Via Antonio Canova. The latter edifice was later demolished and the range extended to the Corso.
From 1579 to 1584, St Camillus de Lellis was director of the hospital, and it was here that he gained the inspiration to found his religious order, the Camillians. He left after he was ordained in order to pursue this project.
St Camillus went to confession to St Philip Neri, who took a great interest in the hospital and encouraged his disciples to help out with the nursing there.
Foundation of churchEdit
At the end of the 16th century, the hospital buildings having been finished, Cardinal Antonio Maria Salviati sponsored a project to provide the hospital with a proper church on the site of the little chapel noted by Du Pérac-Lafréry. Construction started in 1592, and the work was initially overseen by Francesco da Volterra assisted by Filippo Breccioli. However, he died and Carlo Maderno took over. The church was completed in 1600, a Jubilee year, but apparently the interior arrangements were only finished two years later.
The hospital remained functional as part of the city's hospital network until the 21th century, administered until 1870 from the Ospedale di Santo Spirito in the Borgo.
The church was made parochial in 1824, as part of a major re-organization of parishes in the centro storico. Most of this involved shutting down tiny parishes which could not properly support a priest, so the creation of a new parish church was unusual at the time.
In 1843, the hospital was given into the administration of the Brothers Hospitallers of St John of God, who remained in charge until the institution was taken over by the State after 1870. It was almost entirely rebuilt at the same time, the architect being Pietro Camporese.
The church was sacked by a mob led by Angelo Brunetti in 1849 during the Roman Republic, and its interior fittings burned in a bonfire in the Piazza del Popolo together with those of other churches nearby. Then it was converted into a stable. As a result, a complete re-fitting was needed after papal power was restored in that year. This was commissioned and paid for personally by Pope Pius IX, and completed in 1863. The architect was Gaetano Morichini. A further series of re-fittings took place between 1890 and 1912.
The church remains parochial. However, the hospital (latterly an out-patients clinic) was finally closed down in 2011. It had been modernized in 1953, but the buildings were hopelessly unsuited to the needs of modern medical practice.
In 2014, the church was made titular. The first cardinal priest is Chibly Langlois.
Layout and fabricEdit
The plan is elliptical, with the major axis of the ellipse being that of the church. There are three external chapels on each side, and a sanctuary with apse.
The fabric is in brick, mostly rendered in a pale tan with architectural details in travertine limestone. The main nave has a pitched and tiled roof in several sectors, with much lower separate roofs covering the chapels. These are separated by massive external buttresses supporting the upper nave wall -four on each side. The sanctuary is also external, with one high bay having its own roof leading into a semi-circular apse with a lower roof.
The hospital still exists behind the church, and many visitors have been misled by the façade of a ward on the Via di Ripetta which was designed to look exactly like another church.
The two identical bell-towers were a novelty in Rome, as the normal type of bell-tower was (and remains) a single campanile somewhere to one side. They are located either side of the sanctuary, and are in bare red brick. Each has two storeys, the first a simple brick cube and the second with a large round-headed soundhole on each face. Each roofline has a little triangular pediment and on top is a cupola in lead.
They are invisible from the street, and are perhaps best appreciated in the views from the Pincio or the dome of St Peter's. For a modern church emulating this design of a pair of campaniles, see San Giovanni Bosco in via Tuscolana.
One oddity in the church's plan is that its major axis parallels the Via Antonio Canova, and hence the original hospital buildings. This puts it at an angle to the Corso, so in fact the façade is not at ninety degrees to the church. Not many visitors notice this, but try looking through the entrance door from the other side of the street.
The façade itself is in travertine limestone, and is in two storeys. The lower storey is by Francesco da Volterra, while the upper was completed in 1600 by Maderno.
The architectural orders are used according to classical principles, with the heavier rectangular Doric pilasters on the lower level and the lighter Corinthian ones on the upper. There is a pair of separate pilasters each side of the entrance, and these support an entablature with the frieze decorated with triglyphs. The entrance itself is flanked by a pair of Ionic green marble columns in the round, and these support a segmental pediment. The upper storey also has two pairs of pilasters, but the inner pair is doubletted to make it look as if another pair is partially hidden behind. These support a triangular pediment containing the carved coat-of-arms of Cardinal Anton Maria Salviati; unusually, this is tilted downwards so as to be visible from the street (the narrowness of the Corso here makes it difficult to view the façade properly).
In the centre of the upper storey is a recessed arched window with a scallop shell carved on its conch, and set into a frame crowned by a pediment broken at the top. The scallop shell is a reference to the patron saint, St James the Great whose attribute it is. The window is preceded by a balustraded balcony, and either side of this storey is a gigantic single volute.
The upper storey is actually false, as it is wider than the nave of the church behind.
Layout and fabricEdit
The church was the first in Rome to be built on an elliptical plan, and has three chapels on each side entered through arches. The central ones on either side are larger, and are flanked by Composite pilasters in what looks like red marble. These support an entablature with its frieze in the same stone and modillions on its cornice, which runs round the entire church including the apse.
The smaller chapels have alabaster panels above their arches. In between these smaller chapels and the sanctuary on one side, and the entrance on the other, are four doorways with triangular pediments and niches containing statues above them. These doorways are flanked by further red marble pilasters, making a total of six on each side.
The dome rests on an attic above the entablature cornice. It has three window lunettes on each side, the central one being larger, and these are embellished with scrollwork. The dome surface is completely occupied by a fresco showing the Apotheosis of St James by Silverio Capparoni.
The large and impressive main altar, with four Corinthian columns in black and white veined marble supporting a triangular pediment, is by Carlo Maderno. The columns were allegedly plundered from the Tomb of Augustus. The altarpiece of the Trinity is by Francesco Grandi, c1860, and is lit by a pair of side windows. It depicts the Father and the Holy Spirit accompanied by angels; the Son is in the tabernacle below. This work replaced a lost painting by Giovan Battista Ricci featuring the same subject.
The frescoes on the apse wall flanking the altar are by Francesco Nappi and Vespasiano Strada, and date from the church's original construction. Nappi did the Evangelists to the top left, and Strada those to the top right. The panels flanking the altar show The Manna in the Desert to the left, and Abraham and Melchizedek to the right, but these have been heavily restored. Also, an epitaph and coat-of-arms in bronze of Cardinal Salviati have been stuck over them in a very crude way.
The chapels are described in anticlockwise order, beginning with the right hand side at the entrance.
Chapel of the CrucifixionEdit
The first chapel on the right is dedicated to the Crucifixion, and has a 19th century wooden crucifix as the altarpiece which apparently replaced a lost painting by Cristoforo Roncalli. The altar has a pair of black marble Corinthian columns, and is flanked by two statues of angels in niches with scalloped conchs.
The side walls have two paintings, The Souls in Purgatory and A Soul Delivered from Purgatory by Ettore Ballerini. The same artist executed the frescoes of angels in the pretty cupola, there being an angel in each of the eight sectors which are divided by garlanded ribs.
Outside is a memorial to Antonio Vincentini, 1800.
Chapel of Our Lady of MiraclesEdit
The second chapel on the right is dedicated to Our Lady of Miracles, and is claimed to contain the original icon a copy of which is in the nearby church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli in the Piazza del Popolo. It is thought to be 15th century. In the early 18th century it was inserted into a large, superb marble relief sculpture by Pierre Le Gros the Younger, which features St Francis of Paola venerating the icon being held by putti.
The two paintings on the side walls, featuring miracles performed by St Francis of Paola, are by Giuseppe Passeri.
Chapel of St JosephEdit
The third chapel on the right is dedicated to St Joseph, but confusingly the altarpiece features The Baptism of Christ by Domenico Crespi, Il Passignano. This replaced a lost work depicting the saint. There is a marble relief of the same subject on the wall, a memorial to a Polish priest called Alfred Wroblewski. The lunettes have 19th century frescoes depicting The Escape to Egypt and The Death of St Joseph.
Chapel of the Sacred HeartEdit
The third chapel on the left is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the altarpiece depicting The Sacred Heart Appearing to St Margaret Mary is by A. Buzzi, 1911. This replaced a work by Francesco Zucchi. The pictures on the side walls are by Ballerini again, and feature The Supper at Emmaus and The Agony in the Garden.
The vault features angels carrying the Instruments of the Passion.
Chapel of St JamesEdit
The second chapel on the left is dedicated to St James the Great, and the altarpiece is a white marble statue of the saint by Ippolito Buzzi.
Chapel of Our Lady of the RosaryEdit
The first chapel on the left is dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary. The altarpiece used to be a work by Antiveduto Grammatica which shows The Adoration of the Shepherds. This has been moved to a side wall, and replaced by a copy of the icon of Our Lady of Pompei. Below this on the altar is a picture of St Joseph with the Christ-Child. The scallop-headed niches flanking the altar contain modern statues of St Francis and St Rita.
The other picture on the side walls is a copy of the Immaculate Conception by Murillo.
The vault is a dome with pendentives, frescoed by Ballerini with angels in the former and prophets on the latter. Unfortunately, the rain has got in and done some serious damage.
Outside is a memorial to Onorato Vincentini, 1830.
The church is open (according to an unofficial source in 2016):
8:00 to 12:00, 16:00 to 19:00.
Mass is celebrated (ditto):
Weekdays 8:30, 17:30;
Sundays 8:30, 10:30 11:30, 17:30, 18:30. This schedule is liable to be reduced in high summer.
The patronal feast of the church is that of St James the Great, 25 July.
On the first Sunday in the same month the feast of Our Lady of Miracles is kept.
There is a Saturday Mass at 18:30 at Santa Maria Porta Paradisi on the Via di Ripetta round the back, which used to be the hospital's house chapel. This is a good opportunity to visit a beautiful little church which is otherwise almost never open.
History of hospital (pdf)