|English name:||St Roch|
|Built:||1499, rebuilt 1657|
|Address:||1 Largo San Rocco|
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.
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.
As mentioned, there are three self-contained chapels on each side of the nave, entered through arcades springing from pillars, and also an altar at each end of the tranasept
The ceilings are barrel-vaulted. The decoration is rich, typically so for the Baroque style, and features Corinthian pilasters revetted in pink marble and with gilded capitals, supporting an entablature with a strongly projecting cornice resting on modillons which runs round the entire church.
The carved organ case and balcony (cantoria) over the entrance doorway is impressive, and dates from 1721.
The main altarpiece features St Roch Venerating Christ, 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.
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. The pairs of ribbed Corinthian pilasters separating the windows in the drum echo the exterior design. These frescoes, and those on the pendentives, are by Francesco Rosa.
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.
The church was a popular place for funerals, and many interesting memorial tablets decorate the interior. Most of these are 19th century.
Starting from the right hand side, and moving anticlockwise:
Near the side door are memorials to Francesco Folicaldi (1859), and to Giuseppe Vitelli by one Fabris. The first chapel on the right hand side is dedicated to St Francis of Paola, and has an altarpiece by Antonio Amorosi. The second chapel is dedicated to St Anthony the Abbot; its altarpiece is now in the sacristy. On the pilaster following is a memorial to Raffaele Segni, and then comes a chapel containing an altarpiece on wood depicting saints by Antonio du Châtel. The next pilaster has a memorial to Lelio Serafini.
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 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 fresco is by Antonio Carisi.
The sacristy is at the end of the left hand aisle, in the position mirroring the Marian chapel. It contains the 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. In the entrance vestibule is a memorial to Francesco Orioli. The side entrance from the former hospital courtyard is here.
The left hand transept has the chapel dedicated to St Martin, with an altarpiece showing St Martin Dividing His Cloak with a Beggar by Bernardo Formello. The third chapel on the left is dedicated to St Anthony of Padua, and has an altarpiece of him by Gregorio Preti. The next pilaster has a monument of 1825 to Giuseppe del Medico, professor of anatomy. The second chapel on the left has an altarpiece of the Nativity, by Baldassarre Peruzzi. This was retouched by someone from the school of Baciccio, but then very badly restored. The first chapel on the left is dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, and has 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 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.