San Pantaleo is a 17th century convent church located on the Piazza di San Pantaleo in the rione Parione, although the postal address is Piazza dei Massimi 4 which is round the back. The church is a familar landmark on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. Pictures of it at Wikimedia Commons are here.
The dedication is to St Pantaleon, a 4th century martyr who is a patron saint of the medical profession because by tradition he was a doctor.
The church was built in the Dark Ages, but it is uncertain when. It is first recorded in 1186, as a parish church dependent on San Lorenzo in Damaso and having the mysterious name of San Pantaleo in Pretecarolis. Nobody knows what this means.
It is described as being restored and re-consecrated under Pope Pope Honorius III in 1216, and granted as a collegiate church to a community of "English priests". It seems unclear who these were, and also there is confusion in the sources between this church and San Pantaleo iuxta Flumen which was an ancestor of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini.
In the later Middle Ages, the church and parish were in the charge of a chapter of secular priests.
The parish failed in the 16th century, and in 1607 the complex was granted to the Basilian monks of Grottaferrata. However, they did not stay there long and made their Rome headquarters the church of San Basilio agli Orti Sallustiani.
Then, Pope Paul V granted the convent to St Joseph Calasanctius (1557-1648) as a headquarters for his new religious congregation, the Poor Clerks Regular of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools, better known as the Scolopi or Piarists .
The church was rebuilt for them in 1681 by Giovan Antonio de' Rossi, the major change being the reduction of the number of nave side chapels from six to four and the provision of a semi-circular apse instead of a rectangular one.
There was a recent restoration during which, incredibly, the church façade sported a huge placard advertising a Bacardi cocktail.
The Piarists remain in possession, and the convent is their congregational headquarters.
The church is small, with a short single nave having two chapels on either side. The single-bay presbyterium has a tall semi-circular apse.
There is no proper campanile but a bellcote over the far wall of the sanctuary, on the left hand side before the apse. This is a simple tall arch under a gable.
The church has convent accommodation over it, sheltered by a pitched and tiled roof covering both nave and sanctuary. This roof has a hip at the façade, to stop the gable showing over the latter.
The façade that was added in 1806 is by Giuseppe Valadier. It is of two storeys, rendered to give the impression of being built from large marble blocks with prominent recessed joins (a style known as rusticated). Both storeys are dominated by a large arch recessed into the façade, and reaching almost to the dentillated triangular pediment.
The single entrance is flanked by a pair of Ionic columns in the round, and has a decoration of swags on the lintel. These columns support a dedicatory inscription, and over this is a triangular pediment.
The two storeys are separated by a wide frieze displaying a relief of a medley of liturgical and sacred items depicted as if they had been washed up in a flood, which the architect described as "military-religious". This work was by Pietro Aurelj. The cornice above this is decorated with egg-and-dart moulding.
The second storey has a large rectangular window tucked in between the cornice mentioned and the top of the arch. There is a small circular window in the crowning pediment.
The rest of the convent is an undistinguished group of buildings to the left of the church, on a triangular plan and built around a little central cloister which has the shape of an irregular pentagon (a square with one corner cut off). This is a pleasant spot, with arcades on all sides. Some of the arcading is blind, springing from double Doric pilasters in limestone, but two sides have vaulted walkways and here the arcades have proper limestone columns.
The lack of a garden must have been a trial to the brethren, which this small cloister must have done little to alleviate.
Upstairs is the convent house chapel, the Oratorio dell'Apparizione, in which St Joseph Calasanz had a vision of Our Lady. It now has paintings by Antonio Calcagnadoro 1925. Off it are the room of the saint, and the former sacristy which is a now a chapel containing relics of him.
Layout and fabricEdit
In contrast to the rather stark façade, the interior is richly Baroque. The single nave has four bays, the first and fourth being narrower. The two middle bays have chapels on each side. The sanctuary is a single bay with an attached apse with conch.
The side chapels are in four large rectangular niches with trabeated rather than arched tops. They are flanked on each side by rectangular piers made to look as if they are revetted with yellow Siena marble. A ribbed Corinthian pilaster is applied to each of these, in grey with gilded ribs and capitals; the capitals are duplicated for the tops of the rest of the piers.
These piers support an entablature running round the interior and over the tops of the chapels, and which has a yellow frieze and gilded modillions.
The far corners of the chapels have yellow pilasters folded into them, and the chapels themselves are connected by arched side portals.
The barrel-vaulted ceiling springs from the entablature, and has four windows on each side in lunettes. The outer windows are smaller, since these bays are shallower. The vault is frescoed illusionistically by Filippo Gherardi, the subject being the Glory of the Name of Mary. This was finished in 1692.
The entablature on the counterfaçade is supported by a pair of ribbed and gilded pilasters, over which is applied the floating organ gallery on corbels, which has outcurving wings. Above the entablature is a large window, flanked by a pair of frescoed angels, and on it is a super-gallery or walkway which curves round to above the first pair of chapel piers.
The organ has a very pretty gilded Baroque case, embellished with a mob of putti. The organ itself was installed in 1925.
The last bay of the nave has a pair of floating balconies on corbels over side doorways. These are cantorie, for solo musicians and singers.
The tall triumphal arch is supported by another pair of gigantic Corinthian pilasters, this time made to look as if revetted with rosso antico marble (is it real?). The semi-circular archivolt fits into the ceiling vault, and springs from a pair of pedestals on the entablature above these piers. The entablature frieze here, and around the apse, is also red rather than yellow as in the nave.
The conch of the apse is rayed, and coffered with recessed hexagonal gilt panels with rosettes.
The huge high altar is coved (convex), and has four rosso antico columns matching the pilasters of the triumphal arch. Instead of a painted altarpiece there is a small icon of Our Lady set in a marble relief, with rays of glory and supported by angels. Below this is depicted St Joseph Calasanz presenting a pair of schoolboys to her.
The saint is interred beneath the altar, hence the church is a centre of his veneration. He is in an elliptical porphyry sarcophagus, although this is not the genuine Imperial porphyry from Egypt which the ancient Romans used.
The aedicule was designed by Carlo Murena1764 (the year he died), and the bas-relief executed by Luigi Acquisti after a commission by Prince Giovanni Torlonia in 1802. However, the altar itself was consecrated by Pope Innocent XII in 1692.
The side chapels are described in anticlockwise order, beginning to the right of the entrance.
Memorial to Aurora BertiEdit
Immediately to the right is a small late Baroque polychrome marble memorial to Aurora Berti 1720. She was a consecrated virgin from Perugia, hence her tondo portrait relief shows her with a veil. The epigraph describes how she had a devotion to an icon of Our Lady that she owned, and wished to be buried in front of it. Hence, she donated it to the church in 1688 and it was enshrined over the altar.
Chapel of the CrucifixEdit
The first chapel on the right is dedicated to the crucifix. Like the other chapels, the one here is painted to give the impression that it contains a polychrome marble aedicule with flanking columns.
The 18th century painted wooden crucifix has an unusual kneeling figure of St Mary Magdalene, depicted on her own and without a halo. The perished fresco landscape background is 19th century.
An interesting epigraph records the donation and enshrinement here in 1716 of a collection of saints' relics originally gathered by Angelo Francesco di Perronis.
Chapel of St JosephEdit
The decoration of this chapel is of better quality than that of the others, and looks as if it were re-fitted by Busiri Vici when he built the façade. The altar itself is in the form of an ancient sarcophagus in red marble with gilded bronze handles and crossed palm branches.
The triangular sacristy has a vestibule which is entered through the archway in the far left hand corner of the nave. Here is a statue of St Joseph Calasanz. Also, here is hung a picture by Cristoforo Roncalli, Il Pomarancio which depicts SS Justus and Pastor.
Chapel of St AnneEdit
The second chapel on the left is dedicated to St Anne, has an altarpiece of St Anne teaching Our Lady as a little girl to read. St Joachim is in the background. The artist is given as "Bartolomeo Basi".
Chapel of St PantaleonEdit
The first chapel on the left is dedicated to St Pantaleon, which has his own chapel because the high altar is dedicated to St Joseph Calasanz. The altarpiece showing the saint curing a baby is by Tommaso Amedeo Caisotti, a copy of a work by Mattia Preti.
Memorial to Alfonso BorelliEdit
To the left of the entrance (or to your right as you leave) is a memorial to Giovanni Alfonso Borelli, a polymath and a great scientist of his time. He died in 1679.
Camera di San GiuseppeEdit
The convent preserves the room of the saint, with many relics and objects associated with him.
The actual room is the one in which he lived for thirty-six years and died in 1648. Unlike other saints' rooms in Roman convents, decorated with precious marbles, gilding and stucco, has not been embellished but retains its original furniture, fittings and items for personal use.
Apparently, when he died the brethren were rightly convinced that he would be canonized and so locked the room up instead of clearing it out for another occupant.
Next to the room is another little chamber which used to be the convent chapel sacristy. This was converted into a chapel in its own right, the "Chapel of the Relics". Here is kept a reliquary containing the saint's viscera, and many personal items in display cases which occupy the walls.
In 2011, the church was open from 7:00 to 8:00 and 11:00 to 12:00 on weekdays.
The earlier time is best, as the city is then very quiet and there is little traffic noise.
There is a Mass at 19:30 on Saturdays, and 11:30 and 19:30 on Sundays.