San Matteo in Merulana is a lost monastic church, possibly 4th century, on the Via Merulana in the rione Esquilino at its junction with Via Machiavelli.
It was dedicated to St Matthew the Evangelist.
Despite apparently being unimpressive, this might have been a very old church.
It was established perhaps in the 4th century as one of the tituli, having the name titulus Matthaei and being listed as such for a synod of 499. Mention of it ceases in the 6th century, and it has been suggested that the title was transferred to Santi Marcellino e Pietro al Laterano. This opinion is now discredited, and there is no actual direct proof that the titulus was here at all -apart from the name.
The monastery church was restored by Pope Paschal II in 1110, which is the first direct documentary evidence for the church. In the reign of Pope Innocent III, in 1212, it was restored again and a hospice established next to it on the south side. This became the place of residence for infirm members of the papal household when the Pope was resident at the Lateran Palace.
The complex was entrusted to an order of friars known as the Crociferi in Italian, and the Crutched Friars in English. This religious order became seriously degenerate towards the end of the Middle Ages (it had to be suppressed in 1656), and the church was removed from their care in 1477 after it had been corruptly sequestered by seculars. It was given over to the Augustinian friars.
in 1499 a Byzantine icon of the Madonna and Child was enshrined here, after it had been allegedly stolen from its original church in Crete by an Italian merchant. This icon was to have a glorious future -it is that of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.
Until 1575, the church was on the only road between the Lateran and Santa Maria Maggiore. This, the Via di San Matteo, began on the same line as the southern end of the present Via Merulana but then veered right and continued in a straight line to the Trofei di Mario in what is now the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II. The entrance of the church was on this road, and there was a colonnaded portico.
In that year, Pope Gregory XIII laid out the present Via Merulana, as a straight line between the two papal basilicas. This joined the line of the old road about the present junction with Via Alfieri, and cut through behind the church. In response, the church's orientation was reversed and the portico demolished to be replaced by an apse.
In the reign of Innocent X (1644-55) the church was recorded as being derelict, and lost its relic of the arm of St Matthew to Santa Maria Maggiore. There was a restoration under Pope Clement IX (1667-9), however.
The area remained open countryside well into the 19th century, although some palatial villas in extensive grounds were hereabouts built in the 17th and 18th centuries. In the time of the Nolli map of 1748, the surroundings were still either vineyards or hayfields for feeding the horses of the nobility. The Augustinian friars were then Irish.
The complex was demolished in 1810 during the French occupation, ostensibly in order to widen the Via Merulana. However, the church was not in the way of that road and the reason why the French should have destroyed it and the convent seems to be a minor mystery. The site was simply left vacant, until the suburban developments after 1870.
After the restoration of Papal rule a little chapel was built on the site, the benefaction of one Agosto Senatra. This in turn was demolished towards the end of the 19th century.
The small devotional church or chapel of San Matteo delle Muratte was regarded as the successor of the demolished church after 1810, for the purposes of the veneration of the evangelist at Rome. This was itself demolished in 1913. He now has a parish church dedicated to him -San Matteo Apostolo ed Evangelista.
The site of the apse is in the Via Machiavelli just south-west of the junction with Via Giusti. The modern church of Sant’Elena all’Esquilino is on the site of the nave.
This was not a large church, nor a grand one. The plan was a simple rectangle, with a small and shallow rectangular apse with a triumphal arch. This, as mentioned, stood on the site of the former entrance portico on the Via di San Matteo. There were two side chapels facing each other, but these were not external. They were marked out by a pair of pilasters each.
The entrance from the Via Merulana was via a courtyard open to the street with the single entrance at the far end. To the right of the façade was the entrance to the convent. This had two wings in the shape of an L; one was along the south side of the church, and the other along the west side of Via di San Matteo. An arcaded walkway ran from the main entrance, along the south side of the former wing and the west side of the latter wing to another entrance on the Via di San Matteo. The friars' garden was in the triangle between the two streets to the south.