|San Giovanni Calibita|
|English name:||St John Calibytis|
|Dedication:||St John Calibytis|
|Address:|| Isola Tiberina 39 |
|Phone:||06 68 37 342|
|Fax:||06 68 34 001|
San Giovanni Calibita is a hospital and convent church dedicated to St John Calibytes, whose legend claims him as a young 5th century nobleman of Constantinople with a story suspiciously similar to that of St Alexius. It is located on the Tiber island opposite San Bartolomeo all'Isola. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons. 
The original site in ancient Roman times was occupied by a temple dedicated to Iuppiter Iurarius (Jupiter the Guarantor of Oaths), and ancient remains under the eastern part of the hospital attached to the church seem to belong to this. They were discovered in 1994, and on top of them were the remains of an old church which is identified with one described in the records as San Giovanni Battista.
The legend attached to this is that the future Pope Formosus (891-96) became bishop of Porto in 864, and moved his residence to this church for a short time in order to escape possible attacks by pirates. He brought with him relics of SS Hippolytus, Herculanus, Taurinus and John Calabytes, and allegedly re-dedicated the church to the last-named. If so, the change did not stick. The relics were enshrined in a re-used pagan sarcophagus, and an inscription added naming them.
The church itself is first securely attested to in papal records for 1018, and was dedicated to St John the Baptist as San Giovanni Battista Cantofiume. About this time it was taken over again to be the cathedral of the bishop of Porto, which it remained until the 13th century. The bishop had to abandon his original cathedral in what is now Fiumicino because of pirate raids. Amazingly, at the time he moved to here the boundary of the diocese of Rome ran up the Tiber, and both the Isola and the Vatican were in the diocese of Santa Rufina. The bishop of this diocese also resided on the island, at San Bartolomeo all'Isola opposite, until the two dioceses were merged in 1124. The cathedral of Porto Santa Rufina moved to Cerveteri.
At the start of the 14th century, the church was in charge of a college of five secular priests but was also described as virtually ruinous. Next to it, on the city side of the island, was another church called Santa Maria Cantu Fluminis which was occupied by a community of Benedictine nuns called the Santuccie. In 1366 these were moved to San Giovanni, which was restored, and Santa Maria was abandoned. The nuns remained in possession until 1573, when they moved to join those already at Sant’Anna dei Falegnami after apparently becoming tired of being continually flooded out by the river.
The church was then taken over by a confraternity of expatriates from Bologna. They only stayed ten years, before moving to the present Santi Giovanni e Petronio dei Bolognesi. Permanent tenants came along in 1584, when the Hospitallers of St John of God (nicknamed Fatebenefratelli) settled on the island and founded the hospital which survives to the present day. The church functioned both as the chapel of their convent, and of the hospital, and so it remains. Both the religious order and the hospital are named after St John of God.
It was completely rebuilt in 1640, which we now know was on a fresh site just to the south-east. Obviously it was more convenient to build the new church while the old one was still being used. When the body of St John Calibytes was found underneath the altar during the demolition of the old church, the new one was rededicated to him. This rebuilding was part of a massive expansion of the hospital.
The façade was thought to have been designed by Luigi Berettoni, as mentioned, but Romano Carapecchia is now regarded as also being involved. The architectural ensemble incorporates wings of the hospital on either side. The architectural details are in travertine, and the background walling rendered in a brownish yellow.
The entrance door has a raised segmental pediment, and on either side is a pair of Doric pilasters with a stone panel between them. The outer two are doubletted, as if another two are hiding behind. These pilasters support an entablature that stretches across the whole width of the composition, including the hospital wings mentioned, and which has a dedicatory inscription on its frieze. The cornice projects, but only on the portion of the entablature occupying the front of the church.
Above this, the second storey of the façade has a large rectangular central window with a raised lintel, and on either side at the corners a pair of pilasters with capitals in a derivative Composite style. These pilasters are doubled round the corners, into two recessed portions of the upper façade containing urns. The capitals incorporate an eight-pointed star, an emblem of the order, and larger stars are to be seen on top of the urns. These pilasters support an entablature and a blank triangular pediment, but there is a higher balustrade running across behind this and this is also decorated with stars.
Near the church, on the other side of the road, is an 11th century tower that belonged to a fortress. The church's campanile faces this, on the corner by the Ponte Fabricio, and has tall arched sound-holes and a little onion cupola.
The interior is small, but very richly decorated with much polychrome marble work. The plan is simple, a rectangle with an aisleless nave and presbyterium separted by a triumphal arch. There are two chapels on each side of the nave, and these are merely large arched niches from which the altars protrude. In between these chapels are side entrances; the right hand one is blocked, but the left hand one leads into the hospital.
There are very few illustrations of the interior online, but one is towards the end of "Resurveying the Religious Topography of Tiber Island" (PDF). See "External links", below.
The interior decoration, completed in 1742, is mainly by Corrado Giaquinto, notably the painting in the nave ceiling depicting the Life and Apotheosis of St John of God. This is matched by the painting in the presbyterium ceiling, showing St John of God Nursing a Patient, Helped by SS Sebastian, Augustine and John Calibytes. Also by him are allegorical frescoes of the Trinity, Charity and Humility. Further, he depicted St Veronica, St Anthony the Abbot, Our Lady with St John of God, the Martyrs of Porto and the martyr companions Marius, Martha, Audifax and Abacus.
A famous 13th century icon of Our Lady of the Lamp is preserved in the first chapel on the left. The legend is that it used to be outside, by the river, and was covered by a flood in 1557. The votive lamp provided for it continued to burn underwater, however. After the icon was taken into the church, a copy was put in its place.
The main altar is faced by a 17th century altar frontal in opus sectile marble and mother-of-pearl work, and has an aedicule with a pair of dark green marble Composite columns with gilded capitals. The altarpiece within this is The Death of St John of God by Giovanni Battista Lenardi (1656-1704), a large painting within a round-headed frame. The relics of St John Calibytes are enshrined under the altar.
The church is usually not open. The advertised times are (unofficially):
Sundays only, 10:00 to 12:00.
Apparently, if you want to visit during the afternoon on weekdays you can make an appointment to do so by contacting the hospital administration. See their website, link to which is in "External links" below.
Mass is celebrated, according to the hospital website (which should be up to date):
Weekdays 6:30, celebrated with Lauds.
Vespers with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is on Sunday, 19:00. Vespers (only) for the rest of the week is 19:30.
No visitors are allowed to view the church during Mass or Vespers.
The feast-day of St John of God is 8 March, and is celebrated here with solemnity.
Note that the times above differ from those advertised elsewhere online on tourist websites.