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San Giovanni dei Fiorentini

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San Giovanni dei Fiorentini
San Giovanni dei Fiorentini exterior
English name: St John the Baptist of the Florentines
Dedication: St John the Baptist
Denomination: Roman Catholic
Type: Titular church, Minor basilica
Built: 1509-1734, facade 1738
Architect(s): Jacopo Sansovino A. Sangallo Michelangelo
Artists: Antonio Raggi
Contact data
Address: 2 Via Acciaioli
00186 Roma
Phone: 06 68 89 20 59
Homepage: Official site
41° 53.976' N 12° 27.897' E

San Giovanni dei Fiorentini is an early 16th century minor basilica, parish and titular church, situated at Via Acciaioli 2 which is at the north end of the Via Giulia in the rione Ponte. It is also the regional church for expatriates from Florence. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons. [1] There is an English Wikipedia page. [2]

The dedication is to St John the Baptist. Its official name is San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini.


Sancti PantaleonisEdit

The basilica had a predecessor, which has its first mention in a papal bull of Pope Urban III in 1186 as a dependency of San Lorenzo in Damaso. The name given was Sancti Pantaleonis iuxta Flumen, or "St Pantaleon next to the river". This would have been one of the small parish churches that proliferated in the then built-up area in the late 10th to early 11th century, a massive church-building campaign that has left hardly any record.

The parish here failed earlier than most (too many churches were built), and in 1218 it was combined with that of Santi Celso e Giuliano which remained the local parish church until the 20th century. A transcription of a lost epigraph preserves a record of a restoration or rebuilding in 1344.


The remote origins of the present church are in 1448, when a group of Florentine expatriates founded the Compagnia della Pietà dei Fiorentini in response to an epidemic. The main motivation was to help their sick confreres, and to arrange funerals for those who died. There was a flourishing expatriate Florentine community in Rome at the time, especially featuring the bankers and artists for which the city was famous. It was concentrated in the bend of the Tiber.

Initially the confraternity met at the nearby Santa Lucia del Gonfalone, and then moved to San Salvatore in Lauro before arriving at San Pantaleone sometime before 1508.


Giovanni-Batista dei Fiorentini -from other side of river

From other side of river.

Pope Julius II ordered the Via Giulia to be cut through the network of filthy alleys between Via di Monserrat and the river in order to relive dangerous congestion caused by crowds of pilgrims, and this project was initiated in 1508.

Immediately, in the same year, the confraternity decided to build a magnificent church on the prime site at the north end of the new street occupied by their little edifice, and organized a competition for an architect. The best talent in Rome in the 15th century was attracted, and four architects competed: Raphael, Giuliano da Sangallo, Baldassare Peruzzi and Jacopo Sansovino.

Sansovino won, and started construction in 1519 after Pope Leo X approved the demolition of the old church (the pope also raised the status of the confraternity to that of an archconfraternity). However, he ran into serious trouble with the foundations at the river end. He was trying to build on an old sandbank, and the logistics overwhelmed him. Further, he suffered a bad fall in 1521 and basically gave up. 

Back then, there was no such separate profession as architect. Many artists also practiced as architects, only some successfully.

In 1523 a Florentine was elected as pope in the person of Adrian VI, and he ordered work to be restarted under the supervision of Antonio da Sangallo the Younger. Sangallo was a military engineer as well as an architect, so he succeeded with the foundations. However, the Sack of Rome in 1527 caused another long pause until 1534. Then Sangallo worked on the project until he died in 1546, upon which the Florentines put matters on hold again.

During the long pause before the actual church edifice was begun, Michelangelo Buonarroti proposed five separate schemes for the church based on a Greek cross plan. This was in 1559, with the collaboration of Tiberio Calcagni. Nothing came of them.

St Philip NeriEdit

One of the Florentine expatriates in Rome in the mid 16th century was the young St Philip Neri, who was ordained priest in 1551. In 1556 he was living at San Girolamo della Carità when he formed his disciples into the infant Oratorians, but in 1564 was made priest in charge of the (yet unbuilt) church. There must have been a temporary church here, the 16th century equivalent of the huts to be found awaiting permanent church edifices in the suburbs nowadays.

He was in charge here until 1575. In the previous year, the Florentines built a headquarters for the Oratorians next to the church site. However, St Philip remained resident at San Girolamo until forced to move to the Chiesa Nuova by the pope.

Erecting the fabricEdit

Giacomo della Porta finally started work again in 1584, staying with the original plan on a Latin cross. He was in charge until 1602, when Carlo Maderno took over. He made alterations to produce the edifice that now stands, discarding plans to end the presbyterium and transepts in semi-circular apses. He has been criticized for leaving the church's riverside frontage looking "mean", but money was apparently running out. He finished the dome in 1612, and the church was finally completed in 1620 -except for a proper façade.

Francesco Borromini was responsible for the layout of the east end of the interior. Finally, Alessandro Galilei was responsible for the entrance façade, which was only finished in 1738. He who died the year before it was completed.

The result was a triumphant demonstration of Florentine pride and wealth, contrasting with most of the other expatriate Italian churches in Rome which are small. The Florentines were especially pleased at showing up the Sienese, their deadly rivals, in their little church of Santa Caterina da Siena a Via Giulia down the street.

Subsequent historyEdit

The expatriate community that ran the church founded a hospital and hospice next door in the early 17th century, which became the Ospedale della Nazione Fiorentina. For most of its history, the church was reserved for the use of Florentine expatriates.

However, in 1906 it was made parochial, by taking over the former parish of Santi Celso e Giuliano. In 1918 it was made a minor basilica, and Pope John XXIII established the church as a cardinalite title in 1960. It has had three titular cardinals since then. The current titular is Carlo Cardinal Caffarra, archbishop of Bologna.


Layout and fabricEdit

The church plan is based on a Latin cross, but the ground area it occupies is actually rectangular since the short transepts do not extend beyond the wide aisles which have the same width as the nave. The short presbyterium is square-ended. The roofs are pitched and tiled, and over the transepts and presbyterium are hipped. There is a row of five lunette windows high up on the aisle walls on each side, and the upper nave walls above the aisles have a row of horizontal rectangular windows each.

The dome was completed in 1634 by Carlo Maderno, who is buried in the church. It is in lead, slightly elliptical and ribbed, and is on an octagonal drum. Alternate sides of the drum have a rectangular window and an arched niche. There is a stone lantern, with arched slit windows.


The present two-storey façade is the last part that was completed, in 1738. It was cleaned and restored a few years ago. The first storey has four pairs of half-round Corinthian columns, the inner two pairs flanking the main entrance and supporting an entablature the frieze of which has a memorial inscription to Pope Clement XII and the year 1734. The smaller aisle entrances are between these inner pairs and the two outer pairs; they have segmental pediments, whereas the nave entrance has a triangular one. Above the latter is a coat-of-arms accompanied by statues of an angel and a muse. The corners of this storey are occupied by a pair of rectangular Corinthian pilasters, and the sections of the entablature supported by the columns are brought forward. In between each pair of columns is a round-headed niche, with a carving of a fleur-de-lis in a wreath below and a figurative scene in a square panel above.

The second storey has four Corinthian half-round columns with high plinths and supporting an entablature with a crowning triangular pediment. At the centre is a large arched window with a segmental pediment but no pilasters, and at the bottom of this is a balustraded balcony. The line of the top of the latter is continued by a thin string course over the tops of the pilaster plinths to two other balustrades over the outer end of the first storey. In between each pair of columns is a round-headed niche with a Greek cross motif above and a lion mask below. This frontage is bounded by swooping curves without volutes, and on these is a pair of crowned fleur-de-lys. The ends of the façade, above the balustrade, is decorated with six statues of saints.



San Giovanni dei Fiorentini interior

The interior has been described as a treasure-house of Baroque art, which is true but it has also been described as disappointing architecturally and decoratively. There is a nave and aisles, and five self-contained chapels on either side off the naves. The nave arcades have square pillars, with Doric imposts supporting the arches and Corinthian pilasters on their inner faces rising up to support an entablature with a projecting cornice below the ceiling. The decorative scheme is mostly white tricked out in light grey, including the inside of the dome which has very simple and non-figurative monochrome decoration. The side chapels are much more richly decorated, but the observant visitor will notice disquieting signs that the chapel roofs are not weathertight in places. There is a balcony above the high altar, and this is accessible to visitors who can thus enjoy an unusual viewpoint.


At the high altar is a sculpture of the Baptism of Christ by Antonio Raggi. The altar itself and the crypt is Borromini's last work, the crypt being the sepulcre of the Borromini family. The statue of Faith is by Ercole Ferrata, and that of Charity by Domenico Guidi. The high altar itself, in red marble, is topped by a statue of Justice by Michel Anguier and one of Strength by Leonardo Reti.

The third chapel on the left side contains an altarpiece of St Jerome by Santi di Tito, a St Jerome in his Study by Lodovico Cigoli and a Construction of the Church with St Jerome by Passignano. The left hand transept has an altarpiece of SS Cosmas and Damian at the Stake by Salvator Rosa, a very fine painting. To the left of the sanctuary is a chapel decorated by Giovanni Lanfranco with frescoes, paintings and stucco work. That on the right of the sanctuary is dedicated to Our Lady, and contains a much restored fresco of her by Filippino Lippi, which used to be in a street shrine in Vicolo delle Palle until brought into the church in 1640. The story attached to it is that a man playing boules lost badly, threw a boule at the image in fury and was paralyzed as a result for forty days. The fourth chapel on the right is the Bacelli sepulchre, and contains funerary monuments decorated by fat little cherubs carved by François Duquesnoy who became famous for this niche-genre after migrating from Flanders to Rome in 1618. The fifth chapel on the right is dedicated to St Philip Neri , and has frescoes by Pomerancio.

Over the sacristy door, in the third bay on the right, used to be a statue of a young St John the Baptist in 15th century Florentine style. It had been attributed to Donatello, which seemed likely because of both the style and the subject, but is now attributed to Michelangelo. This ascription relies on documentary evidence. The statue is now on display in the church's museum, with other masterpieces from the church such as two statues of the young Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Borromini is buried under the cupola, on the right, in the tomb of Carlo Maderno, but you will find a commemorative plaque on the left, because the pavement was changed in the 19th century.

Museo di Arte SacraEdit

As mentioned above, the parish has generously created a small museum to display the various treasures of sacred art formerly kept locked away in the sacristy. It is a small collection, but an impressive one, and is kept in a purpose-built structure opened in 2001. The museum's collection includes 48 works on display, and 20 in storage:

Special notesEdit

The faithful are allowed to bring their pets here to be blessed, and at Easter an annual ceremony where lambs are blessed takes place here.

The custodians have tried to keep the church open all day, which is unusual in Rome. However the church is in now in serious need of repair, and it may have to be closed for these as soon as the necessary funds are obtained.

External linksEdit

Official diocesan web-page

Italian Wikipedia page

Parish website

Italian Wikipedia page on museum

18th century Vasi engraving

"Treasures of Rome" page with photo gallery

Info.roma page with aerial photos

Wikimedia Commons has images related to

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