|San Martino ai Monti|
|English name:||St Martin's in the Hills|
|Dedication:||St Martin of Tours|
|Type:||Titular church, Minor basilica|
|Titular church||Cardinal Razafindratandra|
|Built:||4th cent., rebuilt 6th and 9th cent., restored several times|
|Architect(s):||Filippo Gagliardi, Pietro da Cortona|
|Artists:||S. Castelli P. Nadini, G. Poussin, G. Greppi et.al.|
|Address:|| 28 Viale Monte Oppio |
|Phone:||06 47 83 166|
|Fax:||06 48 73 190|
San Martino ai Monti is a 9th century minor basilica, a parish and titular church on ancient foundations dedicated to St Martin of Tours, a 4th century monastic founder and bishop of Tours in France. The postal address is Viale del Monte Oppio 28 in the rione Monti . Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons.  There is an English Wikipedia page. 
The official name is Sant Silvestro e Martino ai Monti, and this is used by the diocese and by some published sources. The parish is administered by the Calced Carmelites.
3rd century building -Aula a sei vaniEdit
The oldest structure on the site is not actually under the church, but is under the ground outside the left hand side wall. The access is via a passage from the confessio or crypt, the entrance to which is in front of the main altar.
The edifice dates to the first half of the 3rd century AD, and centres on a large hall measuring 11 by 18 metres. Two massive piers divide the space into two wings each of three bays (hence sei vani or "six spaces"), with the bays being cross-vaulted. To the south-west there used to be three large doors separated by two more piers, which exited into a vestibule that in turn used to exit into the original street (the Clivus Suburanus). To the north-east is the chamber into which the passage from the church leads, and this has an archway into the central hall and also into a barrel-vaulted chamber to the east. The latter has two doorways into the central hall, and seems once to have formed three rooms.
Despite the evidence of ancient Christian use to be found here, it is fairly clear that this was not built as a church. Rather, it is thought to have had a commercial function originally. A corner of it is shown on a fragment of the Severan Marble Plan. The fragments of painted decoration are all Christian, but the remnants of mosaic flooring, in black and white with a chequerboard pattern, is original.
Predecessors in written sourcesEdit
As stated, the present church is a 9th century basilica. What was there beforehand is a tricky problem of interpretation of the sources. The first reference is in the Liber Pontificalis for Pope St Sylvester (314-335), which reads:
Fecit in urbe Roma in praedio cuiusdam presbiteri sui qui cognominabantur Equitius, iuxta thermas Domitianas quam titulum romanuomo [sic] constituit et usque in hodiernum diem appellatur titulus Equitii. ("He made [it] in the city of Rome, on a piece of land belonging to a certain priest of his called Equitius next to the baths of Domitian, which he set up as a Roman titulus which is called the titulus Equitii to this day.") A titulus was roughly equivalent to an ancient parish church, usually in a private house.
The trouble starts in the same source, which states that the same pope instituted a titulus in his own name in the same locality (in regione III iuxta thermas Domitianas qui cognominatur Traianas). So, we may have here two tituli, or one with two names which the scribes muddled somewhat, or one which changed its name, or one succeeded by another. The evidence does not allow a conclusion.
In 324 and again in 326 the pope is recorded as holding local synods at titulus S.Silvestri to prepare for and implement the decrees respectively of the Council of Nicaea. The further tradition that he was resident here when the emperor Constantine was baptized is false, being part of the confected mediaeval legend associated with the forged Donation of Constantine.
Then, Pope Symmachus (498-514) is described as building "from the foundations" (a fundamento) a basilica dedicated to Pope St Sylvester and St Martin. The acts of a synod held in his reign, in 499, mention a church Equitii. The next bit of evidence is from the so-called Fragmentum Laurentianum, written about 516, which records the foundation of a church dedicated to St Martin only, near Sancti Sylvestri. The synod of 595 mention a church dedicated to St Sylvester.
Pope Adrian I, in 772, provided for the restoration of a ruined basilica dedicated to St Sylvester, and also for a church dedicated to St Martin iuxta titulum Sancti Silvestri. Two churches are distinctly mentioned in the Itinerarium Einsiedlense, but finally at the start of the 9th century Pope Leo III is described as endowing the diaconia Sancti Silvestri et Sancti Martini.
So, to summarize, it seems that there were two churches here, side by side. It is thought that the aula a sei vani was that dedicated to St Sylvester, and that the present church was originally dedicated to St Martin only. There remains some controversy over the location of the Titulus Equitii. It may have been located under the latter, or at another place in the area (Santa Maria in Aquiro has been suggested, for no good reason). No matter which is correct, it is the case that this church is historically and geographically linked to the titulus in tradition.
9th century basilicaEdit
The present church was built by Pope Sergius II (844-847) in 845. The basilical plan was preserved, and the twenty-four antique columns now in the nave were presumably re-used from the church built by Symmachus.
Many relics of early martyrs were then brought here from the suburban catacombs, which were threatened by raiders including Vikings and Muslims. Among these were the relics of St Sophia of Rome from the Catcomb of Gordianus and Epimachus. Also, the relics of SS Artemius, Paulina and Sisinnius, which were translated from the Catacomb of Priscilla, were put under the high altar. They were joined by the relics of Pope St Martin I 649-655), who died as a martyr in the Crimea.
In the crypt are the relics of many more martyrs, including those "whose names are known to God alone". Notable are those of Pope St Soter, which were brought here from a church on Via Appia before that church was destroyed in the 8th century. Also there are relics of Popes Sylvester, Victor I and Fabian.
Foundation of the monasteryEdit
Pope Leo IV (847-55), the successor to Pope Sergius, adorned the interior with frescoes and mosaics, now lost. However, an inscription by him in the apse was transcribed before its destruction in the 17th century. It read:
Sergius hanc caepit praesul quam cernitis aedem, cui moriens nullum potuit conferre decorem, sed mox papa Leo Quartus dum culmina sistit romanae sedes, divino tactus amore perfecit solio melius quam coepta manebat, atque pia totam pictura ornavit honeste coenobiumque sacrum statuit monacosque locavit qui Domino assiduas valeant persovere laudes, talibus ut donis caelestia scandere possit regna, quibus Martinus ovans, Silvester at almus praefulgit, gaudetque simul cum praesule Christo quorum pro meritis haec templa dicata coruscant.
("Sergius the leader began this house which you see, but he died and could not ornament it. However, when Pope Leo IV inherited the dignity of the throne of Rome he was touched by divne love and finished it better than it had been begun, and decorated all of it with holy images. Also, he founded a holy monastery and placed monks there who may be able to perform assiduous praises. By such gifts may he be able to ascend to the heavenly kingdom, where Martin the shepherd and kindly Sylvester shine beforehand and rejoice together with the leader Christ. Because of the good deeds of them these famous temples shine.")
The new basilica included two ancient pulpits or ambones, which dated back to Pope Leo. These were also lost in the 17th century, but had two original inscriptions which also survive in transcription:
Salvo Domino nostro beato Sergio Papa Iuniore. ("To the blessed Pope Sergius the junior, saved by our Lord.")
Scandite cantantes Domino, Domino legentes ex alto populis verba superna sonent. ("Go up, those singing to the Lord, those reading from on high to the people. May the exalted wordss sound out.")
The first of the two hints that Pope Sergius had just died when it was carved.
In the reign of Pope Innocent III (1198-1216), the church was restored by Cardinal Uguccione, and the pulpits received another inscription, in verse:
Uguitio sumens a cardine nomen honoris, presbyter haec sponsae dedit ornamenta decoris. Tempus habes operis venientis salvatoris, annum millenum primum coniunge ducentis.
The monastery concerned would have become Benedictine in the 10th century. It seems to have failed in the Middle Ages, since it is recorded as being served by secular clergy when it was granted to the Carmelites in 1299 by Pope Boniface VIII. He simultaneously made the church titular, and established the parish. The Benedictines in Rome had suffered a massive and shameful collapse of religious life earlier in that century. The Calced Carmelites have been here ever since, and their tenure was confirmed in 1559.
16th century restorationEdit
In 1570, St Charles Borromeo had some alterations made including the provision of a new ceiling. He had been appointed Cardinal here in 1559 when aged only twenty-one, and still a layman. Also, he paid for a new entrance doorway. The façade then was very plain, with a simple large rectangular window and a smaller round one in the gable. The new entrance had a pair of Ionic columns supporting an entablature decorated with swags. Above that were two halves of a broken segmental pediment, flanking a square tablet with a heraldic device and topped by a crown. This tablet had volutes on either side.
17th century restorationEdit
A major restoration was effected in 1650 by Filippo Gagliardi, who was a painter by profession not an architect (and it shows). The General Curia or headquarters of the Carmelite Order had been established here, and the Prior of the Order, Giovanni Antonio Filippini, spent an enormous sum including his personal fortune on the project. The ceiling was dismantled, and the coffering panels obtained by St Charles were re-inserted into a new frame. The crypt of the martyrs under the high altar was given an Baroque makeover, and to focus attention on its entrance the floor of the nave was lowered. As a result, the columns now stand on rather stupid-looking box plinths. In the process of restoring the crypt, the old aula a sei vani was cleared of rubble and dirt and made sound. Unfortunately, the restoration entailed the loss of ancient decorations and fittings from the basilica.
The façade had to be rebuilt shortly afterwards, in 1676, on the instructions of the then prior Francesco Scannapieco.
From 1687 to his death in 1720, Bl Angelo Paoli was resident at the convent. He was beatified in 2010, and his shrine is in the church.
In the 18th century, the church and convent were still surrounded by gardens and vineyards on all sides. The present Viale del Monte Oppio was a very narrow country lane, which led to the monastery. The main buildings of this were right in front of the church, where the piazza now is, leaving no view of the façade. A dead-end driveway led south from the present Via San Martino ai Monti to the staircase and entrance next to the apse (the present Via Equizia did not then exist).
In 1873, in common with almost all other convents and monasteries in the city, the Carmelite convent here was confiscated by the government. The old convent was demolished to widen the road and create the piazza, and the Carmelite Curia moved to new premises just west of the church. They remain there. Also next to the church is the Social Centre of St Martin, an institution aiding the poor.
The church has been titular since 1299. A full list of cardinals is available in the External Links below.
William Allen, the English cardinal during the Reformation under Queen Elizabeth I of England, was the titular here.
St Giuseppe Maria Tomasi was briefly cardinal here before his death in 1713. He was initially buried in the church, but because he was a Theatine his order managed to exhume him and enshrine him in their church of Sant'Andrea della Valle.
In 1921, Achille Ratti became titular of the church. The next year, however, he was elected pope and took the name Pius XI. In his turn, Giovanni Battista Montini became titular of the church in 1958. He was elected pope in 1963, taking the name Paul VI.
Layout and fabricEdit
This church has a classic aisled basilical layout, with the main nave under one long pitched roof and with the right hand aisle having a lower pitched roof. However, the left hand aisle has a range of former convent rooms over it, with a flat roof. There is an impressive semicircular external apse, which is a prominent feature on the Via Giovanni Lanza. The fabric is mostly re-used brick and render, but if you go down the Via Equizia you will see that the lower part of the right hand side wall is made of large blocks of tufa. This is thought by some to be a remnant of one of the two churches set up here by Pope Sergius, and the blocks would have been robbed from some ancient structure such as the Servian Wall nearby. It is more likely to have belonged to the church put up by Pope Symmachus.
Before the Viale del Monte Oppio was widened in the 19th century, access to what we would regard as the main entrance was not very convenient. The main entrance for visitors would have been at the far end of the right hand side aisle, to the right of the apse (left, if you are looking at it from outside), and the entrance arrangement here dates from the 17th century. There is a flight of stairs leading to a simple but tall and stately doorcase with a raised triangular pediment, and above this is a round-headed window partly hidden by the pediment. This window has been altered at some stage, as it was ellipitical in the 18th century. Also altered has been the staircase, which is now longer than it was owing to the building of the Via Giovanni Lanza. The ball finials at the bottom gate are late 19th century.
The weeds growing on the staircase should warn you that this entrance is now very rarely used.
The large apse is very impressive. Nowadays there are two rectangular windows, protected by iron grilles, but if you look at the fabric you can see that there used to be three round-headed windows. In the 18th century, two of these were intact and the middle one had been converted into a rectangular window. The latter is now completely blocked, as is the little square window below it which used to light the crypt. Presumably the alterations were carried out in the 1780 restoration.
On top of the apse on its left hand side (right, if you are looking at it from outside) is a two-storey Baroque bellcote with arched openings for three bells, two below and one above. There is a little triangular pediment on top, and two incurved volutes flanking the upper storey.
When looking at the apse, you cannot overlook the two mediaeval fortified towers which are adjacent. The Torre dei Capocci is the obvious one, standing on its own in the car park. It dates to about 1300, and has seven floors as well as a crenellated roof terrace. The other one is the Torre dei Cerroni, to the north-west on the other side of the road. It has been incorporated into a complex that is now a convent, and is about the same age. There are five storeys, as well as a basement and a terrace.
The Baroque stucco façade was thought to have been designed by Pietro da Cortona in 1650, but is now ascribed to Filippo Gagliardi. It is rather old-fashioned for its time, and the overall design is poor. The nave frontage is designed independently, and the two side aisle frontages are added on in a way which leaves the composition rather incoherent. Further, the façade now needs some restoration.
The nave frontage has two storeys. The first has four Composite pilasters on high plinths, tripletted and supporting a deep entablature. The frieze of the latter has an inscription proclaiming the presence of the Carmelite Generalate, and the year 1674. The tall entrance doorway is approached by a flight of nine steps, and has a slightly oversized triangular pediment broken at the top and supported by volute corbels. Into the break is inserted a scallop shell flanked by a pair of involuted crescent volutes; the motif recalls the earlier entrance set up by St Charles Borromeo.
In between the two pilasters on either side are florid Baroque aedicules carved in shallow relief, which contain trophy stands displaying two busts which face towards the entrance. These are of SS Sylvester (on the left) and Martin, and the stucco work is by Stefano Castelli.
The second storey has four tripletted pilasters in the same style as those below. They support an entablature with a dedicatory inscription on its frieze, above which is the crowning triangular pediment with a horizontal elliptical windown in its tympanum. This is wrapped around by a pair of large volutes, tied at the top with a crown.
The centre of this storey is occupied by a large round-headed window in a rectangular frame, which has a broken segmental pediment with corbels in the same style as the triangular pediment of the doorway below. To either side is a Baroque panel topped by an eight-pointed star (which features on the Carmelite coat-of-arms) and decorated with curlicues and swags. This pair of panels contain a device consisting of a crozier and processional cross in an X through a mitre and tied with ribbon.
The aisle frontages are rectangular. They are symmetrical, but the right hand one is false as you can see if you peep around the church down the Via Equizia. The left hand one hides the convent rooms on top of the left hand aisle. In ascending order each has an oeil-de-boeuf window, a large vertical rectangular window and a square tablet decorated with tassels and showing two palm fronds crossed through a crown. This device recalls the martyrs enshrined in the church. The tablet is flanked by a pair of square windows, and crowned by a segmental pediment without a cornice. On the left hand side these rectangular and square windows are genuine, but to the right they are false because there is nothing behind them.
The interior is richly decorated, but all the decoration dates from the 17th century and later.
The nave has aisles, and these are separated by twelve antique marble Composite columns (note the capital volutes) on each side. These form a set, and the building that they originally came from is unknown. It is now usually thought that they were looted for the church put up by Pope Symmachus, rather than that by Pope Sergius. The capitals have had some restoration.
The presbyterium and high altar are raised above the level of the name, and this draws attention to the magnificent entrance to the crypt below. The entrance to the aula a sei vani is to the left in the crypt.
There are three side-chapels in the left hand aisle, set in shallow arched niches, and five in the right hand one.
The columns of the colonnades are trabeated, that is, the horizontal entablatures are placed directly onto their capitals instead of on arcades. This was slightly risky structurally, but the church has survived for centuries. They stand on high box plinths that look very odd, but this arrangement was necessitated by the lowering of the floor in the 17th century. The entablature above the colonnades are painted with rows of instruments of torture and martyrdom; try to spot the Catherine wheel. Also there are scenes of Jewish worship in Old Testament times. Above the entablatures the nave walls have ribbed Corinthian pilasters corresponding to the columns below, and these support an entablature lacking a frieze which in turn supports the ceiling. There are three widely separated windows on each side and, oddly, these are provided with projecting balconies. The window on the far left hand side is false. In between the windows are large statues of saints in ornate aedicules, eight in all. Each statue is flanked by a pair of tondi containing heads of saints, affixed below the ceiling entablature. Below each of these is an amusing trompe-l'oeil device in fresco, which gives you an impression of looking through an archway into a set of rooms and passageways beyond.
Paolo Naldini was responsible for the statues of saints. Anticlockwise from the near right, we have SS Cyriaca, Stephen, Pope Fabian, Nicander (a doctor of medicine beheaded at Alexander in Egypt in the early 4th century), Theodore, Martin, Pope Innocent and Justa.
Daniele Latre was responsible for painting SS Anthony of Egypt and John the Baptist on the counterfaçade (the interior wall containing the entrance). Naldini was responsible for SS Peter and Paul there.
The flat wooden ceiling is coffered and painted in blue, white and gold. It displays the coats-of-arms of the authorities involved in the 16th century restoration, which were re-set when the ceiling was rebuilt in the 17th century. This explains the coat-of-arms of Pope Pius IV.
The presbyterium is elevated above the nave, and is approched by two staircases running up the sides of the cofessio or crypt void. Along the top of the latter is an open balustrade, and in front of the altar is an interesting device of seven large gilded rings in a row over the arch into the crypt proper.
The triumphal arch and the apse with its conch are decorated in white and gold scrollwork panelling, with frescoes inserted
The high altar has no altarpiece or canony, but instead sports a large tabernacle in the style of a circular temple with six columns and a cupola. It and the accompanying six candlesticks were made by Francesco Belli, famous silversmiths of Rome.
The small crypt was completely re-ordered and provided with a ceremonial staircase by Gagliardi (not Pietro da Cortona, as alleged) in the 17th century. The reason why the 17th century restoration focused the layout of the church on the crypt is because relics of a large number of sainted popes, among them Pope St Martin I, as well as a large number of un-named martyrs are enshrined here.
Straight ahead at the bottom of the crypt stairs is an aedicule topped by an impressive device comprising a large porphyry disc in a ring in white marble and in a rectangular frame filled with verde antico. It is flanked by Tuscan columns (an Italian form of the Doric style), and has a jewelled crucifix. The statues of saints are by Naldini again, made in 1655.
Aula a Sei VaniEdit
To the left in the crypt, you will see the door of the passageway into the 3rd century underground edifice. This was provided again in the 17th century restoration, when the aula was cleaned out and restored. The restorers had the sense not to adorn the architecture, but left things mostly as they found them except for erecting an altar in honour Pope Sylvester.
There have been complaints in recent years that the door is usually locked, and that nobody is available in the church to allow visitors access. On the other hand, some recent visitors have tried the door and found it unlocked. It seems that the main worry on the part of the church administrators is that people will go in there, and then leave the lights on.
At the end of the passage, the main hallway is straight ahead and the so-called vestibule is beyond that which was only discovered in 1930. To the left of the passage end is the ancillary chamber formed out of three former rooms.
There are decayed remnants of 9th century frescoes on the walls and vaults, and old drawings show these more clearly. The most famous is a 9th century fresco fragment showing Christ flanked by SS Peter, Paul, Processus and Martinian. Also of the same age is Our Lady between two saints, the Lamb of God with St John the Evangelist, a jewelled cross on a vault and some other fragments. Recently discovered has been a large fresco panel of the early 6th century, showing the Denial of St Peter, the Annunciation, an angel with a saint, three scenes with unknown saints and a saint receiving a crown from Christ.
There are two mosaics of the late 5th century or early 6th century. The better preserved one is a mosaic of Our Lady with Pope St Sylvester.A badly damaged mosaic apparently of Pope Symmachus venerating Pope Sylvester has been preserved over a 17th century altar with stucco angels.
Other ancient and mediaeval carved fragments of architecture are scattered about, including an interesting medieval tomb slab showing the full-length effigy of a Carmelite friar. There is a small ciborium with some Cosmatesque decoration, and some fragments from the former medieval choir or schola cantorum that the restorers brought down here.
Aisles and side chapelsEdit
The landscape paintings in the aisles are by Gaspar Poussin; if you look, you will see that they actually illustrate scenes from the life of the prophet Elijah. The artist placed the little figures in sylvan settings, more romantic than devotional. The Carmelite Order claims the prophet as its spiritual founder; until as late as the end of the 19th century it went further and claimed historical continuity with him -a gross historical fantasy.
At the near end of the left hand aisle is a fresco by Jean Miel depicting St Cyril Baptizing a Sultan, executed in 1651. That is, Cyril of Alexandria. He seems to be here because the Carmelites used to pretend that he was one of them, but the Carmelites did not exist in the 5th century and were never in Egypt.
On the left-hand side, there are paintings of the interior of the Constantinian Basilica of St Peter and that of the Lateran Basilica, made by Filippo Gagliardi. They are important witnesses of the state of these edifices before their rebuilding and Baroque recasting respectively.
The near end of the right hand aisle has an Ecstasy of St Charles Borromeo by Filippo Gherardi.
At the third altar on the right is a depiction of St Martin Dividing his Cloak with a Beggar by Fabrizio Chiari. The work refers to a story that the saint met a naked destitute man on a freezing day while on army service, cut his soldier's cloak in half and gave him one of the halves. The half that he kept for himself ended up, by tradition, in a special chamber at Tours which was called the cappella (Latin for "little cloak") and was the first chapel. The same artist is responsible for a Baptism of Christ, although this has been overpainted by Antonio Cavallucci.
In the left-hand aisle, the first altar has a depiction of St Angelus in the Wilderness by Pietro Testa. He was a Carmelite from Jerusalem in the early days, when the order had been formed from hermits living on Mount Carmel. He travelled to Sicily and was beaten up by a knight whom he had accused of incest, dying as a result.
In the sacristy, not usually open to vistitors,a votive lamp in silver has been preserved, as well as a Papal tiara, and a set of liturgical objects that probably belonged to Cardinal Guala Bicchieri (1211-27). These comprise an episcopal mitre, and a maniple and lavabo towel embroidered with gold thread. The lamp is of sheet silver and is of the 5th century; it was once considered to have been made from the tiara of Pope Sylvester.
The church is normally open every day 07.00-12.00 and 16.30-19.00. It is part of the Centro Strorico marriage circuit, so expect it to be in use for this purpose especially on Saturdays.
This is an active parish church, so there is a good timetable for Masses. The times are:
Weekdays 7:30, 8:30, 18:00.
Sundays: 8:30, 10:00, 11:30, 18:00, 19:30.
Solemn Vespers are sung every Saturday afternoon at 18:45. On other days, it is joined with the 18:00 Mass.
The Rosary is said daily at 17:30.
The feast of St Martin is celebrated on 11 November. Another important feast in this church is that of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on 16 July, which is a solemnity as she is Patron of the Order. The prophet Elijah is also celebrated with a solemnity on 20 July, although he is now referred to as Father of All Carmelites rather than as their founder. Pope Sylvester has his feast on 31 December.
Devotion to Blessed Angelo Paoli, a Carmelite, is encouraged here and his feast is on 20 January. You should be able to pick up prayer cards featuring him, as the cause for his canonization is being promoted.
This is the station church of Thursday after the fourth Sunday of Lent.
Armellini, M: Chiese di Roma. Vatican, 1891.
Le Chiese Paleocristiane di Roma. RomArcheolgica 2003.