San Giuliano dei Fiamminghi is a 18th century national and titular church at at Via del Sudario 40 in the rione Sant'Eustachio, in a minor street to the east of the Largo Torre Argentina which also contains Santissimo Sudario di Nostro Signore Gesù Cristo. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here.
The dedication is to St Julian the Hospitaller.
This is the national church of Belgium.
According to tradition, the church was founded when Flanders converted to the Christian faith, during the pontificate of Gregory II (715–753). This would have been in the context of the mission of St Boniface to the Germanic-speaking parts of the territories ruled by the Franks (the future Frankish Empire). Back then, Flanders had no political identity and was merely the coastal region between the Strait of Dover and the Scheldt Estuary inhabited by Germanics. The name seems to have the same etymological root as the English "flood" -the area was low-lying, marshy and was under water every time a storm surge hit the North Sea.
It may be noted here that the County of Flanders as a political unit only came into existence as a fief of the Frankish Empire in 862.
A church might have been here at the end of the 11th century, when Flemish crusaders stayed at a hospice for Flemish expatriates and pilgrims in the city. However, there is no hint of evidence that this was on the present site.
In 1444, a charter was issued for a Flemish expatriate confraternity called the Confraternita dei Fiamminghi by Pope Pope Eugene IV. Membership was restricted to those born in the County of Flanders. The confraternity was given permission to run a hospice on the site -but still with no mention of a church. However, the hospice would have needed a chapel from its foundation and apparently had two.
The first catalogue listing for the church dates from 1492. It is thought significant that previous catalogues did not list it, and so it is thought that the church was only consecrated as such in 1491.
At that time, the Low Countries including Flanders had mostly been under the rule of the Duchy of Burgundy as the so-called Burgundian Netherlands. The church and hospice served pilgrims and expatriates from this region, although formally it was for those from the old County of Flanders.
When the duchy was divided between France and Spain in 1477, Spain took control and ruled the area known as the Seventeen Provinces until half of it declared independence as the Netherlands that we know now in 1568. This was a hardline Protestant state from the start, and was not interested in a pilgrimage hospice in Rome.
Since that time, the church and its attached hospice was administered for the people of the remainder of the Low Countries, which was ruled by Spain and so known as the Spanish Netherlands. During this latter period, the church was rebuilt in 1675 and the hospice extended with the help of Spanish money.
The church was refitted on an elliptical plan in the early 18th century. The major benefactor for this was an expatriate pharmacist from Ypres called Nicolaas van Haringhen, who moved to Rome to set up a business in 1659. He was a leading light in the expatriate confraternity, and a major sponsor of Flemish artists who came to Rome to find work. One of those he helped was Dirck Helmbreker, who executed the altarpiece for the high altar in 1695. When Nicolaas died in 1704, he left his entire estate to the project of embellishing the church interior.
The architects of the refitting were Antonio Maria Boroni and his brother Asdrubale, and the structural work must have been finished by 1727 which was when the former's career in Rome ended. This work included the provision of the ceiling vault, frescoed by the English artist William Kent.
The Spanish Netherlands became part of the Hapsburg Empire in 1714, owing to dynastic inheritance. From then on it was known as the Austrian Netherlands. Unfortunately, it seems that the Confraternity and the hospice complex did not do well in the latter part of the century. There was a scheme to turn the hospice into an artists' academy , but it came to nothing.
The Austrian Netherlands were annexed by France during the Napoleonic period, so the church wsa briefly under the charge of the imperial French government.
After the final defeat of Napoleon, the Austrian Netherlands was annexed to the Calvinist Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815. The Dutch government still took religion seriously back then, and so began to harass its new Catholic subjects. Despite the hard-line Protestant attitude, the kingdom was given legal title to the church and hospice.
The Catholic natives hated the attitude of the Dutch, so they finally declared independence as Belgium in 1830. Then the church was re-named San Giuliano dei Belgi after the title to the property was transferred to the new Belgian government.
Initially, the former hospice was made the home of the Belgian College (seminary), but it was too small and the College moved to Santi Gioacchino e Anna alle Quattro Fontane in 1846 (it has since fled to the suburbs).
The church was favoured by Xavier de Mérode, who had an important and controversial role in administration in the dying years of papal government at Rome (he himself died as a cardinal in 1874). He oversaw a restoration in 1860.
The complex continues to be administered by the Stichting St.-Julien-der-Flemings, a secular foundation which is the descendent of the old confraternity. It obtains its income mostly from four 18th and 19th century apartment buildings, and its brief remains the welfare of Belgian expatriates and pilgrims.
The historical title of the church was restored in 1975, when it received the Crown of Belgium as patron.
The church is for both Walloon (French-speaking) and Flemish Belgians, despite its name. This corresponds to the situation in the early days, when the confraternity included French as well as Flemish speakers.
Layout and fabricEdit
The little church does not have its own roof, but is inserted into a larger building. This has a frontage painted in a pinkish orange with architectural details inwhite, to which the church façade is added.
The Baroque façade is flanked by four windows, a pair of circular ones over a pair of rectangular ones. These, however, are not part of the design.
The façade proper has two storeys. Both of these are bounded by a pair of blind pilasters in white -that is, they lack capitals. The lower pair support not a proper dividing entablature, but a protruding molded cornice. The upper pair support a matching protruding triangular pediment with a blank tympanum.
The elaborate stone doorcase has a pair of pilasters topped by swags and lions' masks inside curlicues, and on the lintel is a carving of the lion rampant from the shield of the County of Flanders. The cornice above is brought forward slightly as posts over pilasters and heraldry.
Above this is an large arched niche with an elaborately carved stone frame, containing a modern copy of a 17th century statue of St Julian the Hospitaller. The original, now kept in the Foundation's meeting room, was carved in elm by Jodocus Haerts in 1634.
The niche is flanked at its bottom by the two halves of a split ogee pediment, which have their inner ends closed by curlicues.
The three coats-of arms-on hanging plaques are of the kingdom of Belgium on the right, and Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Schotte on the left.
Layout and fabricEdit
The interior is almost circular, being slightly elliptical on the transverse axis. This is obvious when you look at the domed vault.
The sanctuary is a little rectangular apse, and there are two side chapels in shallower apses. The decoration of the interior is mostly 18th century. There is a good series of funerary monuments.
As well as the entrance foyer, sanctuary and side chapels at the cardinal points, over which are arches, there are niches at the diagonal points which are trabeated with an entablature. This is supported by eight Ionic columns in a red and white brecciated marble.
The shallow cupola vault is prettily painted with a pink background and eight wide ribs in white tricked out with gold detailing. These meet at a central fresco by William Kent 1717, depicting The Apotheosis of St Julian. The four triangular vault lunette frescoes over the arches are also by him, and show geographical allegories. Flanders is over the sanctuary, Ypres over the entrance, Bruges to the right and Ghent to the left. The gilded shields of these four surround the central fresco.
Kent was much better known back home in England as a landscape gardner and architect, which is not surprising since these paintings show that his artistic talent was limited.
Over the entrance is a tablet describing the foundation of the church, embellished with gilded festoons.
The 18th century restorers were sensible enought to re-lay some tomb slabs. There are twenty-six of these in the floor, laid in a radial pattern.
The rectangular apse of the sanctuary contains an altar aedicule with two red marble (?) Corinthian columns supporting a horizontal entablature without a pediment. Above this is a large lunette window with stained glass depicting St Joseph with the Christ-Child. The altar was restored in 1851, which is the date of the stained glass which was by Jean-Baptiste Capronnier.
The altarpiece of St Julian is by Dirck Helmbreker 1695, who is often given the first name Theodoor.
The vault has a rather cute (or sick-making, depending on taste) fresco of putti in heaven, which is anonymous and was executed in the 1860 restoration.
The side walls have three monuments. To the left is that to Albert Florent Joseph Prisse 1856, which is actually over the door to the sacristy. It is in the form of a rectangular niche containing a figure of the deceased recumbent on his catafalque, and dressed in a military uniform -he had been a general in the infant Belgian army. Over the niche is a tympanum containing an oil painting of the Madonna and Child on a gilded background. This is allegedly a copy of a 16th century work at Sant'Onofrio al Gianicolo. The inscription on top reads: Exspecto donec veniat immutatio mea ("I wait until my tranformation comes").
The sacristy double doors contain modern stained glass in two historical scenes which look like life in mediaeval Flanders.
The right hand side wall has a memorial to Henri Fernand Jean Carolus, 1867. This is in a matching form, being a large tablet raised up over a rectangular niche with an arched tympanum containing a bust of the deceased.
In the niche just mentioned is the third memorial, to Cardinal Jan Pieter Schotte 2005. This is a tablet bearing his coat-of-arms in full colour.
The two side chapels are identically designed. Each has its walls revetted in red and white veined marble, matching the altar frontal. There is no aedicule, but instead the round-headed altarpiece is in a gilded frame with a wreath and lily sprays on top. The keystone of the entrance arch has a little Baroque plaque proclaiming its dedication.
The right hand chapel is dedicated to SS Peter and Paul. The altarpiece depicting them is anonymous, about 1700.
The left hand chapel is dedicated to Our Lady. The altarpiece is an anonymous copy of a Madonna with Sleeping Child by Sassoferrato. (A photo of the original is here.) This altarpiece is a small picture, and is surrounded by a glory dominated by clouds containing gilded putti. It looks as if the original altarpiece went missing at some stage.
The description goes anticlockwise.
The counterfaçade to the right of the entrance has a memorial tablet to Cardinal Xavier de Mérode 1874. At an angle to this is one to Jan Baptist Lodewyck Maes 1856 (a talented artist), done as a marble slab with his portrait scratched into it -unusual but effective. Above this is a memorial to Jacobo Sturm 1844, in the form of a cameo portrait medallion which is by Cornelius Jean Joseph Tuerlinckx.
Above the doorway to the meeting room in the far right hand niche is a memorial to Giovanni Museur, 1669. He had been the chaplain of the hospice. Also here is a memorial to Karl van den Steen, who died in 1846 as Belgium's ambassador in Rome.
The corresponding niche on the left hand side is taken up by the spectacular white marble sculptural monument to Ludovica Philippina Seraphina Felicitas de Timbrune-Valence, countess of Chelles, who was the wife of the Belgian ambassador when she died in 1828. The sculpture shows her on her deathbed, being invited into heaven by her pre-deceased daughter in the form of an angel. The work is by Mathieu Kessels.
The memorial to Winnoch de Wiel 1663 has a good bust on a strapwork corbel, with a scallop shell background. The painting of St Winnoc, an 8th century monastic founder in what is now French Flanders (Wormhoudt) is tentatively attributed to Luigi Primo, Il Gentile.
The monument showing an angel holding a scroll is to Louis-Charles de Marches, and to its left is a bust of Nicolaas van Haringhen 1704.
Access, apart for liturgical events, is by appointment only.
In 2013, the available times were 9:00 to 12:30 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
To arrange a visit, the confraternity secretariat needed to be contacted by phone in advance between 9:00 and 12:00 on these days, on
Concerts of music are held in the church, and some of these have featured on Youtube. Search "Guiliano dei Fiamminghi" for the videos.
The church's website advertises a Mass on Sunday at 10:30, but not during the months of July, August and September.
"Anna's Rom Guide" (excellent, in Danish.)
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