San Giovanni Battista al Castello della Magliana is the 15th century chapel of an old castle at Via Luigi Ercole Morsell 11, which is off the Autostrada to Fiumicino Airport east of its junction with the Grande Raccordo Anulare (Circonvallazione Occidentale). It is the only place of worship in the Magliana Vecchia zone.
The dedication is to St John the Baptist.
Middle ages Edit
The castle comes into the records in the 11th century, as an estate called Malianum. It was granted to the Bishop of Porto by Pope Benedict VIII in 1018, and this was confirmed by Pope Leo IX in 1049.
A document in the archives of the Benedictine nunnery of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, dated 1184, refers to a church called San Giovanni de Maliana, and this particular reference is thought to be to this locality. Certainly the nuns were in possession by the 13th century.
By the 11th century, the previously hopeless security problem had improved which had afflicted the Roman Campagna with raids by various marauders and pirates including Muslim ones. As a result, systematic agricultural activity began to take place and Magliana was probably founded as a farm headquarters. There is no evidence that it was ever a monastery.
The development of the farmstead as the first country villa of the popes began just after 1460, when Niccolò Forteguerri as Cardinal of Santa Cecilia had a hunting lodge built. This is a reminder that the extensive marshlands of the lower Tiber flood-plain were then a wilderness. In the next decade Girolamo Riario, nephew of Pope Sixtus IV, was entertaining and arranging hunting parties here.
No fabric of this period seems to survive in the present buildings.
Pope Innocent VIII (1484-92) obtained a lease from the nuns on behalf of the papacy (they kept the freehold), and had the property rebuilt in 1490 as a country villa. Giàcomo da Pietrasanta was the architect, and he seems to have got rid of all of the mediaeval fabric. His surviving work demonstrates a rather late mediaeval architectural preoccupation with questions of security rather than the expansive attitude of the Renaissance which was about to follow here. Given that, the crenellations on the façade roofline are for show not defence.
In the early 16th century, Pope Julius II (1503-1513) and Pope Leo X (1513-21) both used the property extensively. They commissioned rebuilding works, and had the chapel and state apartments decorated with frescoes. The architect was Giuliano da Sangallo, and his are the belvedere, the porch, the "Salon of the Muses" and the fountain in the courtyard -which bears the coat-of arms of Pope Pius IV. The chapel was remodelled by Bramante. Designs were started for the chapel frescoes by Michelangelo, but execution of these was by Raphael and his school (or just his school, as has been concluded) with Gerino da Pistoia who was of the school of Perugino.
Pope Sixtus V (1585-90) was the last pope to reside here, apparently.
Two factors arranged the downfall of the complex. The first was that increasing fear of malaria in the 17th century led to the superstition that to spend any time in the Campagna was a guarantee of catching it. The 18th century summer villas of the rich and famous either lurked in the open country within the city walls, or were in the hills. The second factor was that farming in the Campagna was ruined by the papal government's policy of buying food to feed the citizens through cash purchases in the newly-emergent European commodity markets. This left the Campagna as the derelict, over-grazed and treeless sheep-walk that so delighted romantic visitors in the 19th century.
The villa was handed back to the nuns of Santa Cecilia, and went back to functioning as a farm. Despite reports of decline and ruination in the early 19th century, some money must have been spent on the fabric which remained in overall fair condition.
Looting of frescoes Edit
However, the nuns improved their finances in mid-century by selling moveable items, including the chapel frescoes:
The Raphael fresco of God the Father in the apse conch was removed in 1858, and ended up in the Louvre in Paris in 1873. The work shows an old man in a mandorla with heads of putt, accompanied by two angels hurling thunderbolts. Photo and details are here.
The cartoon of the figure of God the Father was discovered in 1913, and definitively attributed to Raphael. It is fairly certain that the actual work was executed by his school, however.
In 1959 the entire complex was bought and restored by the Knights of Malta, who use it as the administrative headquarters for a neighbouring hospital of theirs called L'Ospedale San Giovanni Battista.
The Associazione Onlus Mons. Azelio Anzetti has taken an interest in the chapel, in memory of Azelio Anzetti who was a Chief Chaplain of the Knights. They are sponsoring copies of the plundered frescoes, and have commissioned a copy of the apse fresco by Stefano Lucà.
Access and liturgy Edit
Access is only by guided tour. These occur once a month. Details of the 2016 schedule should be here.
This amounts to a private chapel, and no public liturgical events seem to be advertised.
(Online photos of the interior seem not to exist.)