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San Lazzaro al Trionfale

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San Lazzaro al Trionfale is a 12th century hospital church with a postal address at Via Trionfale 148. The actual location is Borgo San Lazzaro 3. This is in the Della Vittoria quarter. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons are here.

The dedication is to St Lazarus.



The church stands on the final stretch of the ancient pilgrim route of the Via Francigena, one of the main ways into Rome for pilgrims from northern Europe. Locally this is followed today by the modern Via Trionfale. Substantial numbers of pilgrims started to travel to Rome in the later 10th century, as law and order began to be re-established in Europe towards the end of the Dark Ages.

The foundation story is that a French pilgrim was healed of his leprosy in Rome in 1187, and in gratitude funded the foundation of a leprosarium or lazar house for sufferers of the disease. This was on the site of a small wayside shrine dedicated to St Mary Magdalen, allegedly established in the 10th century, and the new church took its dedication as Santa Maria Maddalena.

The name of the pilgrim seems unknown; also, the existence of the leper hospital at this early stage is undocumented.

Middle agesEdit

The first documentary reference to the church is from 1278, referring to it as Sanctae Mariae Magdalenae ad Pedem Montis Mali.

In the Middle Ages, there was an inn next to the church which marked the start of the final stage into the city for those walking. Also those riding either had tackled, or were about to tackle, the gradients of Monte Mario, the ancient Clivus Cinnae, over which the road ran (the hairpin bends were not there then).

As the final staging post on the pilgrim route, the inn became the traditional place for welcoming very important people travelling overland to the city, of the sort who would expect an escort when entering the city itself. These included newly-elected popes who were abroad when elected.


The asylum for lepers emerges into history in 1480, which was probably when it was actually founded. The dedication was changed to St Lazarus, the patron saint of lepers, and the little hamlet around the church became the Borgo San Lazzaro. This is first mentioned in records in 1551.

The complex was ruined in the Sack of Romein 1527, but was restored by one Domenico Garison in 1536. By then, leprosy was heading for extinction in Europe so the hospital took in other infectious cases needing isolation.

The church was also then made parochial. It served a parish that was very large in area, but thinly populated. It roughly covered the area west of the Tiber and north of the Via Aurelia. The next parish church to the north-west was San Pancrazio alla Isola Farnese, which is a long way away. The priest in charge was appointed by the Chapter of St Peter's, which was also responsible for maintenance.

In 1598, a confraternity of vinedressers was established here which was in charge of the altar dedicated to St Mary Magdalen. Many vinedressers worked in the locality around the church, as everybody except the poorest in the city drank wine produced in vineyards located within and just outside the city walls.

Pope Paul V restored the complex in 1621. In 1645 the hospital was put under the control of that at Santo Spirito in Sassia, which remained in charge until abandonment.

Modern timesEdit

The hospital was abandoned at the start of the 19th century when it was wrecked in a storm, and the church was recorded as being desecrated in 1828 when the parish was suppressed. It remained in this state for over a hundred years. 

The ruins of the hospital were cleared away in 1936 to make way for a car park.

A restoration begun in 1975 led to the church being re-consecrated in 1981. A further thorough restoration of the fabric followed from 1997 to 2004, so the edifice is presently in sound condition.

The church is dependent on San Giuseppe al Trionfale, but has its own priest. The priest in charge since 2011 has been Mons. Bruno Pirolli.



The church has a nave with side aisles, all under a single gabled and tiled roof. The plan is very irregular, in the shape of a trapezoid approximating to a square and not one wall is parallel to another. The right hand side wall has a slight outward curve, and is at an acute angle to the frontage. The much shorter left hand side wall has a sharp bend at the far end, where a side chapel to the left of the main altar was added on at some stage. The two side walls diverge slightly on approaching the back of the church. The back wall is at a sharp acute angle to the right hand side wall.


The façade has three disjunctive zones, marking the frontages of the central nave and the two aisles. The nave frontage is in naked red brick above, and has courses of tufa blocks in the lower part. These must be older than the upper part.

There is a single entrance with an unmolded marble doorcase. The lintel of this has cracked. In front of the door is a pair of low side walls in stone, ending in a pair of weathered column drums, which served to protect the entrance from passing traffic when the church was on the main throughfare.

Above the lintel is a carved stone plaque showing the keys of St Peter, indicating the former responsibility of the Chapter of St Peter's. 

Above the door is a pair of windows with curved lintels in brick, set within recesses with crude brick archivolts having a shallower curve. There is a large round window just below the gable. The mediaeval roof timbers protrude at the roofline.

The side aisle frontages each have a square window in a stone frame, below which is a blocked side entrance. The left hand frontage is partly in naked brick, with the upper part rendered in brown and the dividing line showing the former aisle roofline. It continues as the street wall of the sacristy.

The right hand frontage is mostly rendered. There is a bellcote for a single bell perched on top of the right hand side of the nave frontage, and the wall of the right hand aisle frontage is raised above the roofline behind to form a buttress for the bellcote. The effect is not pretty.

Apparently the bellcote was once two-storey, with a smaller version on top of the one still here.



The original Romanesque interior has been preserved. It has a nave of four bays with aisles. There is no structural sanctuary. At the end of the right hand aisle is an altar, but the left hand side aisle has a structurally distinct chapel added to its end. There is a third altar on the side wall at the bottom of the left hand side aisle, and beyond this is the doorway to the square sacristy.


The central nave is separated from the aisles by arcades on reused ancient columns.

There are three of these columns on each side, and they do not match. Four are smooth, one spirally fluted and one fluted. There are no capitals, only imposts. Two of the columns are of grey granite, two of marmo bigio (grey marble) possibly from Africa, and two of marmo imezio which was sourced from around the Sea of Marmara in present-day Turkey. It has dark grey inclusions.

The arches and nave side walls above are all in brick, with small round-headed windows.

The trussed wooden roof shows traces of geometric painted decoration.


Remains of old wall frescoes have been discovered, notably one in the little round-headed niche over the high altar. This showed Christ, with the prayer Salvator mundi salva nos. 

The present 17th century altar arrangement involves a triumphal arch in creamy white, set against the far wall of the church and having Doric imposts but no pilasters. Over the horizontal top of this is a small triangular pediment containing a fresco of God the Father. Within the arch is an aedicule with a smaller arch flanked by a pair of Doric pilasters supporting a triangular pediment containing the Dove of the Holy Spirit. The altarpice in this smaller arch is a painted wooden crucifix. Hence the entire altar ensemble displays the Persons of the Trinity. Is this the dedication?

Frescoes of Our Lady and St John the Baptist flank the aedicule, and there is a white marble ciborium to the right.

 Side chapelsEdit

The side chapels at the ends of the aisles seem to be dedicated to St Blaise to the right, and St Lazarus to the left. 

The altar to St Mary Magdalen, at the bottom of the left hand side aisle, has a 16th century altarpiece of the saint, donated by the vinedressers.

The church has a venerated image of Our Lady, the Madonna di Bell'Amore.


The church is only regularly open on Sunday morning for Mass.

The Bogo San Lazzaro is a narrow dead-end street hidden away to the east of the Via Trionfale. Look for a signpost to the church, near the junction between the Via Trionfale and the Viale Platone.

There is no bus route past the church; the nearest buses are on the Circovallazione Clodia further down the hill. Perhaps the most useful route is the 495 from the Flaminio metro station, to the Trionfale-Clodia stop (outwards is west of the crossroads, inwards is east).


Mass is celebrated on Sundays at 10:30.

External linksEdit

Official diocesan web-page

Italian Wikipedia page

"De Alvariis" gallery on Flickr

Roma.archeologia web-page

"Vivendoaroma" blog-page

Romanatura web-page

Pilgramage journal with photos of interior

Archaeological article on church

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