San Giovanni della Malva in Trastevere is a19th century devotional church which is a familiar landmark on the Trastevere side of the Ponte Sisto, in the piazza of the same name -Piazza di San Giovanni della Malva. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons are here.
The dedication is to both St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist as well as Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, which is unusual. The full name is Santa Maria Immacolata e Santi Giovanni Battista ed Evangelista, which deliberately echoes the official dedication of San Giovanni in Laterano which is Santissimo Salvatore e Santi Giovanni Battista ed Evangelista.
The earliest documentary evidence of the church is from 1123, when it was called San Giovanni alla Porta Settimiana, changed by the 14th century to San Giovanni al Gianicolo. The church is certainly older than this, but its origins are unknown. By the time it received its first documentary notice, it was parochial.
Where the present name of Malva comes from is a mystery; the word means "mallow", but it has been thought that it may be a corruption of mica aurea, after the golden sand of the Janiculum.
The old church was a small basilica, having a nave with aisles and four pillars on either side in the arcades. There was no separate presbyterium, but a small segmental apse. A short Romanesque campanile was next to the left hand aisle.
The parish was prosperous enough for one of its confraternities to found a nearby oratory, Santissimo Sacramento in San Giovanni della Malva, around the beginning of the 18th century. However, it fell into serious decay in the latter part of that century. As a result the ruinous church was demolished in 1818, and the site left vacant.
Oddly, given that Trastevere has never been short of churches, it was rebuilt by 1851 from a design by Giacomo Monaldi and paid for by the Grazioli family. The motivation seems to have been Marian piety, as witnessed to by the new dedication.
The church was granted to an Albanian expatriate worshipping community in 2004, the first such church in Italy.
The plan is based on a Greek cross, with a central dome (the original church was rectangular).
The façade is rendered in stucco to look like white travertine limestone, very crisply carved. Four gigantic pilasters of a derivative Composite order support an entablature and triangular pediment containing a papal shield. The frieze of the entablature has a dedicatory inscription in gilded letters, giving the full dedication.
The plain doorcase has a raised triangular pediment, and a vertical rectangular window on each side. Above the entrance is a rectangular panel featuring a relief of St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist venerating Our Lady. The very unusual iconographic feature of this is that Our Lady is not holding the Christ Child, but is being venerated on her own. Above the windows are two square panels featuring hexagonal medallions decorated with ribbons. One depicts a lamb as the symbol of the Baptist, the other an eagle as that of the Evangelist. The pediment contains the heraldic shield of the Grazioli.
Layout and fabricEdit
You enter a vestibule with a flat coffered ceiling and a chapel to the left, before passing between two large ribbed Composite columns to reach the main body of the church below the dome.
The plan of the church is based on a Greek cross, with the inner corners chamfered. Each arm has a bay of identical depth, roofed by a barrel vault coffered geometrically round three blank hexagonal panels. The two side chapels only go as far as this, but the sanctuary has an added apse with a conch.
Each of the four arms has a pair of ribbed Corinthian pilasters, attached to the walls next to the chamfers, which support an entablature from which the vaults spring. The cornice of this has modillions and rosettes. Each side wall has a little gallery or cantoria for solo musicians, eight in total, over doors with doorcases in violet-veined marble.
The dominant colour is a pale bluish grey. The ribs of the pilasters are gilded, and the chamfer surfaces, chapel far walls and apse wall have panels painted to resemble puce-veined white marble.
The floor is laid in an attractive spoked-wheel pattern in white, red and yellow ochre tiles.
The interior of the dome is decorated with a geometric pattern of linked trapezoids, and there is a glazed oculus at the top. Each of the four pendentives supporting the dome has a tondo containing a text extolling one of the patrons, and around the bottom rim of the dome itself is the text Domum tuam decet sanctitudo, Domine, in longitudine dierum (Holiness is fitting to your house, Lord, for length of days). This is the last verse of Psalm 93 (Hebrew numbering), and originally referred to the Temple in Jerusalem. Here, it is applied to Our Lady.
The sanctuary bay is continued apse, which has a conch decorated with trapezoidal forms and is bounded by a further pair of pilasters. The entrance to the sanctuary is guarded by a low screen with black marble balusters, and the floor at the entrance is in polychrome marble.
The Baroque altar is itself of polychrome stonework. The aedicule has a pair of Corinthian columns in veined red marble supporting a segmental pediment, and enclosing an altarpiece of the two Johns venerating the Holy Family. The work is anonymous (Diego Angeli writing in 1903 gave it as Giacinto Brunoli, who seems to be otherwise unknown).
Chapel of the Immaculate ConceptionEdit
The chapel on the right in the vestibule is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, and has a spectacular neo-Baroque altar in polychrome stonework.
Chapel of St CamillusEdit
The right hand side chapel is dedicated to St Camillus, and has an altarpiece of the saint by Gaetano Lapis. The aedicule here is more neo-Classical than Baroque, with a pair of peach-coloured Corinthian pilasters supporting a low triangular pediment. The pilasters contrast with a violet-veined marble surrounding the altarpiece, which has a frame in pinkish marble with green and red panels.
Chapel of Our Lady of GuadalupeEdit
The left hand side chapel is now dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the altarpiece is a copy of the famous icon. The aedicule is similar to, but not the same as, that of the altar opposite.
There is one Mass advertised, at 17:00 on Sunday in Albanian.
Nolli map (look for 1203) (shows old church)