San Rocco is a 17th century church built for a hospital, located at Largo San Rocco 1. This is in the rione Campo Marzio. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here.
The dedication is to St Roch, and the full official name is San Rocco all'Augusteo.
A small church on the site (although not on the present church's footprint) called San Martino de Pila or San Martino de Posterula was first recorded as a dependency of Santa Maria in Via Lata in 1026.
The remote origins of the present church lay in an outbreak of bubonic plague which affected Italy from 1477, and caused high mortality in Rome. In response, a confraternity of innkeepers and boatmen based at the nearby Porto di Ripetta conceived a scheme to found a hospital for their ill and infirm members and to dedicate it to St Roch. He was the patron saint of plague sufferers, and depictions of him often show him pointing to a bubo or plague boil on his thigh.
The Confraternita degli Osti e Barcaroli was not a small outfit. Before the building of the Tiber embankments, the Porto di Ripetta was one of the very few convenient places on the river in the city where people and merchandise could transfer from boat to land, and as such it was a very busy place. The brotherhood had the resources to purchase a site for the proposed hospital from the adjacent Slavic college of San Girolamo dei Croati, and joined to it some land rented from the estate of a private individual known as Giovanbattista Galliberti. The little church of San Martino was demolished to clear the site, with the proviso that a chapel to St Martin was to be provided in the new church. There is still one here.
When the work was completed, a new pious confraternity was founded in 1499 by Pope Alexander VI in order to administer the new institution. This was the Confraternita di San Rocco, which had under its care the church, a hospital for men only to the north and an oratory for the private use of the confraternity to the east. The church was completed in 1503.
At first the whole institution was for men only, but later a maternity wing for women working on the Tiber boats and barges was added. With time, this section of the hospital came to be used mainly by poor unmarried expectant mothers. A storey was set aside for those who did not wish to give their name, and the patients were even permitted to wear veils to protect their anonymity.
The boatmen would have been well aware of the problem which this charitable outreach addressed. Such women might be tempted to commit suicide by jumping into the river, or they might conceal their pregnancy and drop the new-born baby into the river instead. The decaying bodies would end up floating for the boatmen to find. A bad 18th century joke: "Why are the Trasteverani like Kronos, who ate his children? They throw their babies into the river, the fish eat the babies and then they eat the fish. Quod erat demonstrandum."
In 1654 a copy of the famous icon of Santa Maria delle Grazie, the original of which was first venerated at Santa Maria delle Grazie al Foro Romano, was reported as having performed miracles. As a result of the devotion this caused, the confraternity was able to attract enough money and interest to rebuild the church. This was completed in 1657 to a design by Giovan Antonio De' Rossi, the major donor being Cardinal Odoardo Vecchiarelli. The major additions were the dome, the sacristy and a new chapel for the miraculous icon.
However, the confraternity ran out of funds before completing the façade. This was only added in 1834 by Giuseppe Valadier, in a very accomplished Neo-Classical style. The interior was restored in 1885.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the hospital was closed because the buildings were hopelessly inadequate for modern medical purposes. Then, in the 1930's, the complex apart from the church was demolished during the clearances around the Mausoleum of Augustus.
This disastrous intervention on the part of the Fascist government was part of the determination to remove all later accretions from the architectural survivors of Rome's imperial glory, now matter how old the additions themselves were. The Mausoleum was surrounded by close-packed buildings, many of them mediaeval, and all these were destroyed. The Second World War intervened to prevent a further scheme to cut a wide road through to the Pantheon, and also stopped the rumoured conversion of the mausoleum to house Mussolini's corpse (the same rumour is told about Santi Pietro e Paolo). The church was left rather forlorn in an urban wasteland that the area of the mausoleum then became; the area is only about now finally reclaimed as part of the civic environment.
There was a restoration in 1940, when the bridge linking the church to the Croatian college was built across the street to the right. A further restoration has just been completed.
The Confraternita di San Rocco survived all vicissitudes, and is still in charge. They have an international outreach known as the Amici di San Rocco.
Hospital and oratoryEdit
Originally, the church had the hospital buildings in a narrow single block to the north, running from the street (the Via di Ripetta) as far as the southernmost point of the mausoleum. At least the street frontage of this had six storeys, including the attic. The half of the block nearest the street was for men, and the half nearest the mausoleum was for the women.
In between the church and hospital was a passage than ran into a very narrow courtyard, which still however found room for a fountain. To the south of this courtyard and east of the church's apse was the oratory of the confraternity, also dedicated to St Roch and separate from the church. It was a simple rectangular room, oriented north to south, but had a richly decorated interior.
Church layout and fabricEdit
Structurally, the church has a nave and aisles, followed by a crossing and apse. The nave is of three bays, and has arcades leading into the aisles. However, the latter have blocking walls inserted in order to create three self-enclosed chapels on each side. The whole composition of nave and aisles is on a roughly square plan.
The crossing or transept is slightly narrower than the nave and has a central dome. Beyond is the apse, on a square plan.
Apart from the façade, the exterior is now rendered in orange and white over brickwork. The side chapels are lit by a row of three large lunette windows on each side. The central nave walls are supported by buttresses, in between which are windows with slightly curved tops.
The dome is elliptical, with a proportionately high drum in brick. At first sight it looks rather silly,
as it is disproportionally small in relation to the church building. However it is a neat design, with eight large rectangular windows in Baroque frames separated by pairs of Doric brick pilasters supporting an entablature with a dentillate cornice. The dome itself, in lead, sits on a plinth above this. The lantern is also carefully designed, with Ionic semi-columns separating narrow windows and supporting a cog-wheel entablature. The final cupola is onion-shaped.
Just round the corner to the right of the façade is a tall, thin marble slab showing the levels of some famous floods of the river. Before the embankments were built the river regularly visited the streets, and sometimes the floods were alarmingly deep.
The façade was planned from before the French occupation, but was only finally finished in 1834. Valadier lifted the design from the design by Palladio for the church of San Giorgio Maggiore at Venice, the vast Benedictine monastery on its own island visible from the Piazza di San Marco.
The church has a nave with lower side aisles, and most churches of this design in Rome solve the problem of the layout of the façade by dividing it into two horizontally and treating each storey as a separate design element. Palladio took two separate design elements, but put them one in front of the other instead.
Looking at San Rocco, we have the lower part of the nave and the side aisles fronted by a large triangular pediment supported on six Ionic pilasters. The two pairs at the outer corners are conjoined, but the inner two pairs are spaced apart. Placed in front of this design element is an enormous propylaeum, which incorporates the upper nave frontage. It has two pairs of ribbed Corinthian columns, each pair sharing a high plinth, supporting an entablature with swags, ribbons and tassels on its frieze. Above this is a triangular pediment with dentillation and modillons (appropriate to the Corinthian order of architecture), and in the tympanum of the pediment is a wreath with a ribbon.
There are three entrances, the central one being much larger than the two side ones. All three have projecting cornices supported by strapwork corbels, but the central doorway has strigillate decoration below the corbel and the coat-of-arms of Pope Gregory XVI above. Above the side doors are a pair of large tablets in frames decorated with zig-zags.
The left hand one reads: Sedente Gregorio XVI P[ontifeci] M[aximo] frons templi S[ancto] Rocho peste infectis opifero dicati, Iosephi Vitelli aede legato a fundamentis erecta absoluta AD MDLCCCXXXIIII ("During the reign of Pope Gregory XIV, the frontage of the temple dedicated to St Roch, the helper of those infected with the plague, was erected complete from its foundations by Joseph Vitelli, superior of the house, in the year 1834.")
The right hand one reads: Ne dira attingat mortalia corpora pestis, sordida ne foedent immortales animos crimina, precibus age tuis inclite Roche ("So that dangerous plague does not affect mortal bodies and dirty bad actions pollute immortal souls, act with your prayers O venerable Roche.")
In the centre of the façade, above the main entrance, is a large rectangular window. If the diagonal lines of the large lower pediment are continued across the propylaeum, they touch the upper corners of this window (although an optical illusion gives the contrary impression), and intersect in the middle of the floating cornice above it. In fact this cornice, together with the sunken frame which it tops, although a very minor part of the overall design, is the feature that unites the two major design elements.
Layout and fabricEdit
The church has a single nave, a domed transept and a square-ended presbyterium. As mentioned, there are three self-contained chapels on each side of the nave, entered through arcades springing from square piers, and also an altar at each end of the transept.
The church was a popular place for funerals, and many interesting memorial tablets decorate the interior. Most of these are 19th century, as are the very impressive wall and ceiling frescoes.
The decoration is rich, typically so for the Baroque style, and features Corinthian pilasters on the arcade piers revetted in pink marble and with gilded capitals, supporting an entablature with a strongly projecting cornice resting on modillions which runs round the entire church.
The ceiling is barrel-vaulted, with three shallow lunettes on each side for the windows in the central nave walls. The large central fresco shows The Funeral and Apotheosis of St Roch, and is by Achille Scaccioni, who was active in Rome from 1858 to 1866 and was well-known as a restorer of old paintings.
The carved organ case and balcony (cantoria) over the entrance doorway is impressive, and dates from 1721.
It is worth looking into the dome, which has a set of eight frescoes in a charming and rather naïve style, featuring angels playing musical instruments. These are separated by wide ribs in molded and gilded stucco. The pairs of ribbed Corinthian pilasters separating the windows in the drum echo the exterior design. These frescoes, and those of prophets on the pendentives, are by Francesco Rosa, 17th century. The lantern oculus contains the Dove of the Holy Spirit.
The pulpit to the left of the main altar, cantilevered out from the wall, has a superb curving staircase, with a balustrade having little pink marble balusters. Relief sculptures occupy the front and side.
The sanctuary is rectangular, with no curved apse. The ceiling has a barrel vault, with two large frescoes either side of a central panel containing a tondo of God the Father by Vincenzo Pasqualoni, 1870. The side frescoes are by Scaccioni again, and show The Multiplication of the Loaves to the left and The Healing of the Paralytic to the right.
The fresco in the tympanum above the altar shows Christ in Majesty by Scaccioni. The side walls have two frescoes by Cesare Mariani, 1885. The left hand one depicts St Roch in a Hospital and the right hand one, St Martin Sharing His Cloak with a Beggar. Above these are cantoria or opera-boxes for solo musicians.
The main altarpiece features The Apotheosis of St Roch, and is by Giacinto Brandi. It is set in a magnificent Baroque altar with two pairs of mottled pink and red marble Corinthian columns. The broken segmental pediment of the altar has a little aedicule set into it, containing an image of the Dove of the Holy Spirit in glory.
The side altars are described starting from the right hand side, and moving anticlockwise.
Chapel of St Francis of PaolaEdit
Near the side door are memorials to Francesco Folicaldi (1859), and to Giuseppe Vitelli by Giuseppe de Fabris. The first chapel on the right hand side is dedicated to St Francis of Paola, and has an altarpiece by Antonio Amorosi showing the saint having a vision.
Chapel of St JosephEdit
The second chapel on the right used to dedicated to St Anthony the Abbot, and its former altarpiece is now in the sacristy. It is now dedicated to St Joseph. The elliptical cupola has very rich stucco work, and frescoes of prophets on a blue background. The pendentives have sibyls.
The altarpiece is of St Joseph with the Christ-Child, by Giuseppe Gagliardi 1912. To one side is a work by Giovanni Antonio Grecolini, 1721
On the pilaster following is a memorial to Raffaele Segni.
Chapel of the Immaculate ConceptionEdit
The third chapel on the right is now dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady. The anonymous 17th century altarpiece shows the Madonna and Child being venerated by SS NIcholas and Julian.
The cupola, pendentives and lunettes have pretty 19th century frescoes. The cupola has putti holding labels reading Tota Pulchra es, amica mea, et macula non est in te ("You are wholly beautiful, my girlfriend, and no flaw is in you") which is a quotation from the Song of Songs. The pendentives have Old Testament antecedents of Our Lady, and the lunettes have Our Lady watching as Adam and Eve are driven out of Eden, and the latter two with her at the Crucifixion (Christ here being regarded theologically as the New Adam).
The next pilaster has a memorial to Lelio Serafini.
Altar of St Nicholas of BariEdit
The altar of St Nicholas of Bari has an 18th century altarpiece depicting him venerating the Madonna and Child.
Chapel of the CrucifixEdit
The right hand end of the transept has an altar the altarpiece of which is a mediaeval-style painted wooden crucifix. A pair of pictures of angels assisting souls in Purgatory flank the altar, which are by Etorre Ballerini 1909. If you like his work, there is more on the same theme at San Giacomo in Augusta nearby. In front of the crucifix is an unusual modern portrait of Our Lady of Sorrows, with her face glowing.
Chapel of Our Lady of GracesEdit
At the end of the right aisle is the separate shrine-chapel containing the 17th century image of the Madonna delle Grazie, "Our Lady of Graces". It has its own little oval cupola, and its own side entrance from the street. The decoration is luscious, featuring ribbed Corinthian columns and pilasters in a grey marble or jasper with blood-red flecks as well as panels in alabaster and grey granite. The cupola frescoes are by Antonio Carisi; the main one depicts the Assumption, and the pendentives have Doctors of the Church.
The memorials in here are of the Carelli family, 17th century.
The sacristy is at the end of the left hand aisle, in the position mirroring the Marian chapel. It contains a fresco altarpiece by Il Baciccio featuring Our Lady, St Roch and St Anthony the Abbot which used to be in the second chapel on the right.
A treasure of the church is a silver reliquary containing an arm and hand of St Roch, designed by Domenico Gregorini 1754.
The side entrance from the former hospital courtyard is here.
Chapel of St MartinEdit
The left hand end of the transept has an altar dedicated to St Martin , with an altarpiece showing St Martin Dividing His Cloak with a Beggar by Donato da Formello. This is badly lit. The altar has a large picture of the Sacred Heart, which obviously is the focus of devotion here.
Chapel of St Anthony of PaduaEdit
The third chapel on the left is dedicated to St Anthony of Padua, and has an altarpiece of him with the Christ-Child by Gregorio Preti. The unribbed elliptical cupola shows him in glory, and the lunettes show scenes from his life. These frescoes are by Francesco Rosa.
Here also are a statue of St Rita of Cascia, who is popular in Rome (the Milanese have a sniffy comment that it's because she is a patron of battered wives as well as of impossible problems), and a copy of the icon of Our Lady of Pompei.
The next pilaster has a monument of 1825 to Giuseppe del Medico, professor of anatomy.
Chapel of the NativityEdit
The second chapel on the left is dedicated to the Nativity, and is also known as the Cappella del Presepe. It was restored by Carlo Francesco Bizzaccheri in the 17th century, with delicate and intricate stucco work in the domed vault and side lunettes. The four frescoes in the dome are of Virtues as little boys, with labels in the other four sectors (they are usually depicted allegorically as young women). The lunettes have King David and what looks like a sibyl.
The fresco altarpiece is of the Nativity, by Baldassarre Peruzzi. This was retouched by someone from the school of Baciccio, but then very badly restored. Peruzzi had more frescoes in the church, destroyed by Tiber floods.
To one side is a 16th century work on wood, depicting various saints. This used to be in the third chapel on the right. The work is now regarded as anonymous, although Antonio du Châtel has been suggested as the artist. Also here is a copy of the Infant of Prague in a glass box.
Chapel of Our Lady of LourdesEdit
The first chapel on the left is dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, and has been fitted out as a grotto with St Bernadette having a vision of Our Lady (compared to the other chapels, artistically this is rubbish and one English visitor exclaimed "grot-o").
Here are several monuments to ladies: Nicola Francisci of 1827 near the entrance door, Teresa Spada of 1852 on a pilaster, and Luisa Krimini of Corfu (1859) and Virginia Sebastiani (1857) on the walls.
The church is open (unofficial source, 2011):
Weekdays 7:30 to 9:00, 17:30 to 20:00.
Sundays 8:30 to 13:00.
An unofficial source had the times of Mass in 2009 as follows:
Weekdays 7:40, 8:30, 17:30, 19:15 (not Saturday),
Sunday 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 17:30, 19:15
(The evening masses on Sunday might have been dropped subsequently.)
The second day of each month is devoted to Our Lady of Graces, a devotion that goes back to 1645.
The feast-day of St Roch is celebrated with solemnity on 16 August.