San Girolamo della Carità is a 17th century confraternity church, and is at Via Monserrato 62/A near the Palazzo Farnese in the rione Regola. The piazza next to it has two more churches, Santa Catarina della Rota and San Tommaso di Canterbury. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia page here.
The remoter origins of the church, if it has any, are unknown. By tradition it was built on the site of the house of St Paula, where St Jerome lived from the year 382 when he was secretary to Pope Damasus I.
However, the first documentary evidence for it dates to 1419. In that year, Pope Martin V authorised the Franciscan Observants to build a hospice with a chapel. It is not known what sort of chapel they put up, but in 1508 they replaced it with a new church. In 1524 they then rebuilt the hospice as a convent with a cloister, but didn't stay in residence for long.
In 1536 the friars moved to San Bartolomeo all'Isola, and the complex was taken over by the aristocratic Confraternita della Carità. This had founded in 1518 for charitable works by the future Pope Clement VII, when he was still Cardinal Giulio de' Medici. Its first base was Sant'Andrea de' Azanesi nearby, which is now Santa Maria in Monserrato degli Spagnoli, but the Franciscan convent was granted to it by the cardinal after he was elected pope. This was in 1524, so the friars and the confraternity shared the complex for twelve years.
The confraternity developed a pastoral concern for convicted criminals, and was in charge of the Carceri Nuove nearby in the 17th century.
St Philip NeriEdit
After the friars left, the confraterntiy allowed a sodality of secular priests to inhabit the convent, which became known as Preti di San Girolamo. One of these was a young, newly ordained Florentine priest who arrived in 1551 and was to become famous as St Philip Neri. He quickly attracted disciples, and his followers used to meet with him in the convent here from 1561 until they established a base at Santa Maria in Vallicella -the later Chiesa Nuova- in 1575. Hence the church here was the location of the foundation of the Oratorians, which is taken to have occurred in 1558. It was in that year that a special suite next to the church was fitted out for St Philip and his followers, who had used his own small private bedroom up to then. This set of rooms became known as the First Oratory (Primo Oratorio).
Here he received visits from many influential people (the frequentatori), notably SS Ignatius of Loyola, Felix of Cantalice and Camillus de Lellis, as well as from ordinary citizens and boys whom he catechized.
St Philip tried to remain in residence here after the erection of the convent at the Chiesa Nuova, but the pope told him that this was not appropriate and forced him to join his disciples in 1583.
St Philip was in large part responsible for the very high musical quality of the liturgical celebrations here in his time, something that the church maintained afterwards.
Nothing remains visible of the old church erected by the Franciscans. It is thought to have been on a classical basilical plan, with a nave and side aisles separated by arcades, a transept and an apsidal sanctuary. In 1587 a decorated wooden ceiling was inserted by Andrea Tozzi, and in 1597 this was painted and gilded by Simone Raggi and Giovanni Paolo Gentili.
The convent was gutted by fire in 1631, which damaged the church's apse and transept. Fortunately, the fire spread no further and the nave ceiling was undamaged. Instead of a simple restoration, it was decided to rebuild the church as a single nave with side chapels patronized by noble families. The suggestion was by Cardinal Virgilio Spada, who was an Oratorian described as an architetto dilettante.
The confraternity's architect was Domenico Castelli, who begain in 1654 and had finished the body of the church by the time he died in 1657. It used to be thought that the façade was then added from a design by Carlo Maderno in 1660, but it is now concluded that the design was by Castelli, too. The nave ceiling was kept.
Carlo Rainaldi was responsible for the high altar and for supervising the completion of the façade, and Virgilio Spada for the famous Cappella Spada with the collaboration of Paolo Maruscelli. Other architects involved in the side chapels were apparently Paolo Pichetti and Carlo Fontana.
The musical quality of the celebrations here continued to be very high throughout the 18th century, but disaster struck in 1798 at the beginning of the Napoleonic period, when the Confraternity was suppressed and the church looted of valuables. After both were restored on the restoration of the Papal government, the musical scene never recovered its former brilliance although notable oratorios were still composed for performance here until the last one in 1866.
After the conquest of Rome by Italy in 1870, the Confraternity remained in possession but had to be reorganized according to secular law and is now the Patronato di San Girolamo della Carità (the name it has had since 1982).
In 1962, the Suore di San Filippo Neri (a Florentine congregation of sisters) took charge of the First Oratory and the care of the church. Their Rome headquarters was in part of the complex, at Via di San Girolamo della Carità 63 between the church and the Via Giulia. Unfortunately, this is no longer listed by the Diocese and so is presumably closed. The congregation has another convent in Rome, at Via Monte Pertica 23, but only one sister is in residence.
In 1985, the complex became an annexe of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, run by Opus Dei and which has its headquarters next to Sant'Apollinare alle Terme. The university's library, research centre and professorial offices are located here. The priest in charge of the church is now a member of Opus Dei, and the church is being described as the chapel of the university library.
To further its distinguished musical tradition, the confraternity has set up the Accademia di San Girolamo della Carità.
The church was only made titular in 1965.
Layout and fabricEdit
The architect of the 17th century rebuilding was Domenico Castello. He worked on a rectangular plan involving a three-bay navewith external side-chapels, a transept amounting to a fourth bay and a small rectangular apse flanked by a pair of chapels of the same depth. The nave roof is pitched and tiled. The transept and apse with its chapels is incorprated within a larger structure, part of the confraternity palazzo, which has a much higher pitched roof.
The church's campanile (invisible from the street) is a gabled brick slab on the roof of the palazzo just to the south of this, standing parallel to the church's major axis. It has a pair of openings for the bells, side by side.
The two-storey white travertine façade was added by Carlo Rainaldi in 1660, from a design left by the deceased Castello. The street is too narrow for it to be easily appreciated. The upper part of this is entirely false, towering above the little nave behind (as can be easily seen from the piazza). This design feature, anathema to modernists, is quite common in Baroque churches but usually not to this extent.
The entrance is flanked by two pairs of Corinthian pilasters, the inner pair doubletted, and there is another pair on the corners of the first storey. The doorcase is crowned by a raised segmental pediment with a broken cornice, and into the gap is insterted a pentagonal tablet decorated with a maiden's head above, a scallop shell below and volutes and swags on either side. There are no pilasters for the doorcase, but instead a pair of strap corbels support posts which in turn support the pediment.
The pilasters support an entablature with a projecting cornice, except above the entrance where there is a Baroque tablet based on a horizontal rectangle. Above the line of the cornice over the entrance is a segmental pediment, intruding into the second storey. The latter has a large arched central window just above, with a pair of Composite half-columns supporting a triangular pediment with a broken cornice. On top of the window arch is a putto's head with swags, and above it a tablet inserted into the pediment. This storey has two pairs of Composite pilasters with prominent volutes, supporting an entablature and double pediment which has a segment inserted into a triangle. The entablature is again broken by the insertion of a tablet. There is a pair of gigantic double volutes flanking this storey, and flaming vases at its corners. The central finial bears the iron cross traditional in this position.
Side façadeEditThe side wall of the church facing the piazza has another entrance. The doorway is crowned by a narrow rectangular tablet under a raised cornice, and is flanked by two pairs of Corinthian pilasters with the inner pair doubletted. These support an entablature and an undersized pediment containing a motif of a cross in a circle. The apex of the pediment reaches the roofline of the external chapels, which is embellished by a stone attic or solid parapet. A pair of Corinthian pilasters occupies of the outer corners, and in between each of these and the side entrance bay is an area of brick walling topped by a lunette window lighting a chapel, above which is the attic.
Above the, the side wall of the central nave is interrupted at one point by a little cylindrical lantern with a rectangular window and tiny hemispherical dome.
This side entrance is the one used when the church is open.
The nave has four chapels leading off it, two on each side, entered through arches springing from Doric pilasters. In between each pair of chapels is a gallery with a bowed balustraded balcony, supported by a pair of Ionic semi-columns in yellow Siena marble. Unlike the flanking chapels in their arches, these galleries are in rectangular voids flanked by gigantic Corinthian pilasters supporting horizontal lintels just below the ceiling. The right hand gallery is over the side entrance, and the left hand one over the door to the sacristy.
The length of the nave is 19 metres, and its width 9 metres.
The floor, containing tomb slabs (some with polychrome stonework), was laid in 1660 by Alessandro Sarti who also provided the two shell-shaped holy water recepticles at the entrance.
The superb 16th century flat wooden ceiling is coffered, and richly carved in gold with a blue background. The central panel contains a carving of the Ecce Homo, the symbol of the Confraternity, while the two large flanking panels contain the coat-of-arms of Cardinal Giulio Antonio Santori. The other coffers contain Instruments of the Passion.
When the church was refitted after the 17th century fire, the nave ceiling was extended into the transept. The first section displays the Dove of the Holy Spirit in a coffer in the shape of an incurved square, and the second section by the sanctuary shows a carving of SS Jerome and Philip Neri, flanked by two sets of the coat-of-arms of the Renzi family members whose monuments are in the sanctuary.
The transept is not entered through a triumphal arch. Rather, a pair of clustered Corinthian pilasters support posts which flank the coffer of the Dove.
The high altar is within a little rectangular apse with a barrel vault, the underside of the arch being decorated with rosettes within octagonal coffers. The walls are richly decorated in polychrome, and a pair of stucco angels are sitting on the triumphal arch.
The altar was originally designed by Carlo Rainaldi, but is now a rather fantastic and top-heavy design -which was not his fault. Two Ionic columns in pink French marble (two more are set back behind) support the outer fragments of a broken triangular pediment, over which is a curvaceous Baroque dedicatory tablet in black marble flanked by gilded putti. Over this in turn is a segmental pediment containing a gilded winged putto's head, and the cornice of this second pediment flows over the tablet in a serpentine manner.
The second storey of the altar, including the epigraph and second pediment, was added in 1737 to Rainaldi's more sober work.
The enormous altarpiece is a copy by Antonio Corsi of a painting showing The Last Communion of St Jerome by Domenichino, which the saint is receiving from Pope Damasus. The original painting was looted by the French, and when returned was sent to the Pinacoteca Gallery of the Vatican where it still is.
The side walls have monuments to Fantino and Scipione Renzi, with bronze busts.
The following description of the chapels is anticlockwise, from the bottom right hand side of the nave.
The utterly spectacular Cappella Spada is the first on the right, and if you are interested in the Roman Baroque you must see it.
It is dedicated to Santa Maria Liberatrice (a peculiarly Roman title of Our Lady, based on an icon at Santa Prassede). By tradition it was designed by Francesco Borromini, who was allegedly commissioned by the Spada family in 1660. However, a recent revisionist controversy has modified this opinion.
The chapel is first recorded in 1595. After the fire, Cardinal Virginio Spada, who was an early disciple of St Philip Neri, had the chapel re-fitted and it seems that he shared in the responsibility for the design. In 1634 he appointed Paolo Maruscelli as a collaborator, and work went on until 1658. Also involved was Francesco Righi. The polychrome marble work was by a team comprising Giovanni Battista Scala, Giovanni Somazzi and Giovanni Maria della Monaca.
The same cardinal certainly employed Borromini to work on his palace, and this seems to be where the scholarly suggestion involving him came from.
All the architectural elements are hidden behind the decorative polychrome stonework, mainly in red jasper and white marble pietra dura with a scrollwork pattern -patterned flock wallpaper in stone! The entrance pilasters are revetted with grey and white striped marble from Greece.
The altarpiece is an unremarkable icon of the Madonna and Child in an intricately carved wreath of green verde antico marble within an outer wreath of white marble. This has no aedicule, but is flanked by a pair of white marble cameos portraying SS Francis and Bonaventure. The altar itself is flanked by a pair of urns in red jasper and black marble, and from these hang what look like two parchment scrolls -except that they are of marble. One of the epigraphs on them records the foundation of a friary in 1597 dedicated to a holy Franciscan of the family called Bl Guido Spada who died in 1340. The other, however, is much more interesting. It records that St Francis was mugged and left naked in a field outside Gubbio in 1206, whereupon members of the Spada family took him in, cared for him and gave him a new tunic to replace the one stolen. Then they converted their house into a Franciscan friary.
The left hand one reads:
B. Guido Spada Gentilitia, in S. Franciscum pietate eiusdem Ordinem professus, facundia zelo et miraculis concionator insignis, obiit Bononiae An. Sal. MCCCXL ubi corpus, publicae venerationi expositum, in ecclesia conventualium requiescit. In cuius memoria Ventura de Spadis, ex Cattanis Vallis, amonis Iacobelli trinepos, in Foro Zataliae, provinciae Romandiolae, An. Sal. MCDXCVII, templum eidem S. Francisco extruxit et fratribus conventualibus addixit.
The right hand one reads:
Sanctum Franciscum Assisiatem, in ipsis conversionis suae primordiis, a latronibus in Agro Eugubino spoliatum et male mulctatum, Iacobellus Antoninus et Federicus de Spadis, alerani ab nepotes, domi sua in civitate Eugubii officiose exceperunt, foverunt et nova tunica donarunt, anno Dominicae Incarnationis MCCVI, et postmodum domus ipsa in ecclesiam eidem sancto dicatam conversa est ac fratribus conventualibus attributa.
Several members of the Spada family are buried here, and their busts and statues are all of the school of Bernini. Each side wall has a reclining marble effigy in a rectangular niche of yellow marble backed by an epigraph in black marble. To the left, Bernardino Lorenzo Spada is by Ercole Ferrata, and to the right Giovanni Spada is by Cosimo Fancelli. Above each effigy are three cameo medallions. Ferrata executed those of Mutio and Antonello Spada, while the others are by Antonio Raggi, Francesco Baratta, Giuseppe Perrone and Paolo Naldini.
At the entrance of the chapel is a pair of white marble angels holding a cloth carved in striped red jasper, as if they are about to cover a table with it. This composition is by Antonio Giorgetti, and seems to block access to the chapel. However, their wings are of wood and can actually swing out of the way.
The floor of the chapel is also spectacular pietra dura work incorporating flowers, with a central tondo bearing an inscription that reads: Quod sacellum Horatius Spada die X Octobris A. B. S. MDXCV fundavit, hoc Clemens Spada Veralli A. MDCCCLIX restituit. This records a restoration in 1859, and covers the entrance into the burial vault.
Next on the right hand side is the side entrance lobby.
The second chapel on the right hand side is dedicated to the Crucifixion. The large painted wooden crucifix is 15th century, having belonged to the Franciscans here, and according to tradition spoke to St Philip Neri while the latter was saying Mass. There is a little 17th century fresco depicting the event on the right hand wall.
In 1717, Romolo Speziali funded a restoration of the chapel, recorded by the epigraph on the left hand wall. Although not as lush as the Spada Chapel, the polychrome stonework here is also rich and involves much use of alabaster. This stone has been cleverly used in inlay around the crucifix to produce a rayed effect.
The archivolt of the entrance arch has scenes of the Passion in stucco.
The chapel to the right of the sanctuary is dedicated to St John the Baptist. It was sponsored by the Mariscotti family from the end of the 16th century, and so shows an earlier artistic style to those already examined. The frescoes are all by Durante Alberti, and fortunately escaped the 17th century fire.
The altarpiece shows The Madonna and Child with SS John the Baptist and John the Evangelist. Above, the sumptuously stuccoed and gilded vault has a central fresco of the Ascension, surrounded by four oval tondi depicting the Evangelists.
On the entrance pilasters there used to be an Annunciation, but this work was unfortunately destroyed in the 18th century when the entrance arrangements of the chapel were altered to match those of the Cappella Antamoro on the other side of the sanctuary.
A picture of St Josemaria Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei, has been put on the altar here.
The Chapel of St Philip Neri, otherwise known as the Cappella Antamoro, is to the left of the main altar, and was originally designed by Geronimo Caccia. However Filippo Juvarra re-fitted it in 1710, and the result is probably his best work.
The altarpiece is a large marble statue of the saint in ecstasy by Pierre Legros, with an oval window behind which has a sunburst fenestration and a gilded frame. The effect is spectacular, like an oversized halo. Frolicking marble putti above the window add a charming note, and find their way into the oculus of the little cross-vaulted ceiling. The main group of them are in front of an arc of rosette coffers, which is supported by a pair of diagonally placed posts over two Composite columns in red marble which flank the altar. The vault ribs have gilded floral decorations, and the walls are revetted in polychrome marble.
The floor is also superb, in polychrome pietra dura with a central epigraph recording the generosity of Tommaso Antamoro who paid for the work.
The second chapel on the left hand side is dedicated to St Charles Borromeo, and was taken over by the Magalotti family in 1612. Giulio Magalotti sponsored the refitting which was completed in 1634, but unfortunately the name of the architect is not known.
The aedicule of the altar is a simple Classical design of two Corinthian columns supporting a triangular pediment. The anonymous altarpiece shows The Madonna and Child with SS Charles Borromeo and Philip Neri. The wall around the altar is completely covered in fresco, depicting allegorical figures of Faith and Charity. This is by Girolamo Mengozzi.
To the left is a monument to Cesare Magalotti and his family, 1614. It has a painting of him, anonymous of the Florentine school.
In between the two chapels on the left hand side is the entrance to the sacristy, below the gallery holding the church organ. Over the far door is an epigraph recording that this was the place where St Philip Neri founded the Oratorians. It reads:
Suspice ac venerare locum suprapositum in quo S[anctus] Philippus Nerius Sac[ram] Oratorii Congregationem inchoavit, per pias exercitationes qua diu hic habitae a patrib[us], ob novam aedificationem alio translatae sunt. Non debet ignorari angulus, in quo manavit in orbem fons pietatis. XXXIII annis.
The side walls have two monuments with busts, to Francesco Malvenda, 1521 to the left, and to Buonsignore Cacciaguerra, 1566, to the right. The epigraph of the latter is flanked by two others, to Enrico Pietra and Pietro Spadaro; the three were early disciples of St Philip. Beneath the left hand monument is a long epigraph giving a history of the church in a red jasper frame.
The antechamber to the sacristy has several 16th century tomb-slabs set in its walls, fortunately saved when the floor was relaid in the 17th century. Notable ones are to: Silla Gori, Vincenzo Casali and a relative Michele, Ciriaco Saragoni and Giovanni Romano Algezira, 1528. The last was a Spanish nobleman -with an Arabic surname.
Just outside the sacristy is a pretty holy-water receptacle in red marble.
The sacristy dates from 1717 and is by Matteo Sassi. The carved woodwork was installed by Filippo Juvarra, and the altarpiece showing The Mother and Child with SS Jerome and Philip Neri is by Pietro Barbieri. He also executed the fresco in the central panel of the coved ceiling, which is otherwise very simply executed in white.
Stanze di San FilippoEdit
The First Oratory is up some stairs, and is located over the church transept.
St Philip originally used a room for meetings next to the church organ, over the side aisle of the church where the sacristy entrance now is. When he was forced to move to the Chiesa Nuova for the sake of discipline, this chamber was immediately restored in 1584. There was another restoration in 1605. However, after St Philip was canonized in 1622 it was decided to turn two rooms into a devotional area or oratory, the project being completed in 1638. The decoration was done by Ascanio Pantera at his own expense. There was a further refitting in 1732.
The first room contains a series of portraits of personages associated with St Philip. The second is fitted out as a chapel, plainly decorated in white and pale pink with an altarpiece showing SS Philip Neri and Camillus de Lellis.
The first chapel on the left hand side is dedicated to SS Peter and Paul, and was commissioned by Giovanni Sanpieri at the end of the 16th century. The altarpiece showing Christ Handing the Keys to St Peter is by Giovanni Francesco Romanelli, and the 18th century frescoes on the side walls are by Giacomo Mengozzi. The bronze Calvary to the right is by a sculptor called Thot, apparently.
Access and liturgyEdit
There is a Mass at 11:30 on Sundays, and the church should be found open at 10:30 beforehand.
Unfortunately, during the week the church appears to be kept permanently shut. Especially, the First Oratory appears to be completely inaccessible to ordinary visitors and there has been some concern among Oratorians that their patrimony is being compromised. If you have a demonstrable devotional interest and wish to visit, try contacting the priest-in-charge (details on the diocesan web-page, link below). But be aware that Opus Dei does not put simple art-lovers very high on its list of priorities.