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San Tommaso in Parione

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San Tommaso in Parione is a late 16th century national church located at Via di Parione 33 in the rione Parione.  There are pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons here. There is an English Wikipedia page here.

The dedication is to St Thomas the Apostle.

StatusEdit

This is one of the two national churches of Ethiopia in Rome, the other being Santo Stefano degli Abissini  (which is senior but is no longer a pastoral outlet).

The liturgy is celebrated according to the Ethiopian rite which, together with the Coptic rite, derives from the ancient Alexandrian rite or "Liturgy of St Mark". This was used by the Christians in Egypt under the Roman Empire. The Ethiopian rite is sometimes called the Ge'ez rite, after the language used which is an ancestor of Amharic as spoken in Ethiopia.

The church is in the charge of the Cistercian Order (which has several monasteries in Ethiopia and Eritrea), and is used by the Ethiopian Catholic Church. This is one of the Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, and recognizing the Pope as head. It includes Ethiopian-rite Catholics in both Ethiopia and Eritrea, while the Orthodox (not in communion with Rome) have separate independent Churches in these two countries. These are the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which both have worshipping communities in Rome. The former are at Santi Gioacchino e Anna ai Monti, and the latter at San Salvatore in Campo.

HistoryEdit

OriginsEdit

The church is first documented in an extant epigraph of 1139, recording its consecration by Pope Innocent II. It is thought that this was a reconsecration after a rebuilding or enlargement of the edifice, and that the original foundation was in the 10th or early 11th century. This was the period when the many small parish churches, like this one, in the buit-up area of the mediaeval city were established.

The church was listed as parochial and dependent on the basilica of San Lorenzo in Damaso in 1186.

Renaissance and afterEdit

In 1449, Pope Nicholas V granted a charter to the Università degli Scrittori e Copisti, the "Company of Writers and Copyists", who were based at this church. Most of the membership worked in the Curia. Scrittori could write from dictation, and Copisti could copy texts (not everybody could do both). 

St Philip Neri was ordained to the priesthood in this church in 1551.

The present edifice is the result of a rebuilding in 1582 to a design by Francesco Capriani da Volterra. He did much better things than this in Rome. The cost was defrayed by Mario and Camillo Cerrini, two ordinary parishioners who (unusually for church patrons at the time) were not prelates.

It was in this church that, in 1639, Gian Lorenzo Bernini married Caterina Tezio.

19th centuryEdit

The little parish church fell into decay in the early 19th century, probably because the guild of copyists had been maintaining the fabric and had left in the French occupation.

As a result, in 1848 there was a thorough restoration by Antonio Cipolla. Unfortunately, he gutted the interior in the process.

Modern timesEdit

The church lost its pastoral justification in 1906. In that year it was decided that it was too small for its parish, and that the latter was better off at the Chiesa Nuova. So, the parish was transferred to the latter church which had not been parochial before.

After seventy years of not being much use to anyone, the church found a new function as the home of an Eritrean Catholic worshipping community. This has been here since about 1980, initially on the understanding that the arrangement was temporary. The Eucharist was celebrated according to both the Roman and Ethiopian rites.

However, the former main Ethiopian church of Santo Stefano degli Abissini is now mostly inaccessible behind the security cordon of Vatican City. Further, beginning in the 1980's an influx of Ethiopian and Eritrean immigrants boosted the numbers of the expatriate community and it now looks settled at San Tommaso. The Diocese now lists it as a national church, and as a Catholic church of the Ethiopian rite. This implies that Mass in the Roman rite is not celebrated here any more.

The church is served by Ethiopian and Eritrean priests of the Cistercian Order. The present priest in charge is an Eritrean Cistercian monk, Fr Mehari Habtai Ghebremedhin.

The fabric and interior are overdue for a restoration, for which funding was sought in 2007. 

CardinalateEdit

This was made a titular church in 1517. Part of the (at least implicit) responsibilities of a cardinal is to keep an eye on the state of his church fabric, and unfortunately the church here was very unlucky in this respect. Some of the cardinals obviously could not be bothered.

St Gregory Barbarigo was cardinal here from 1660 to 1677.

The title fell vacant in 1914. Then Pope Pius XI suppressed it in 1937, owing to the state of disrepair the church was in. The dignity was transferred to Chiesa Nuova, which until then had never been titular.

ExteriorEdit

Layout and fabricEdit

The church has a four-bay central nave with side aisles, and a sanctuary which is a semi-circular apse with conch. There is no transept. The campanile was noticed as dangerous in 1574, was demolished in the subsequent rebuilding and not replaced.

FaçadeEdit

The 16th century red brick and travertine limestone façade, which was designed by Francesco Capriani, has two storeys. The lower storey is divided into 

Tommaso in Parione

three vertical zones, the central one contining the single doorway being brought forward slightly.This zone is bounded by a pair of Ionic pilasters doubletted along their outer edges, and another pair of pilasters occupies the corners of the storey. The four pilasters support a dividing entablature which has a dedicatory inscription:

D[ivo] Tomae, a Mario Cerino funditus restitutum, Camillus Cerinus ex testamento perfecit, anno MDLXXXII.

The three zones are framed in stone edging. The central one contains the entrance, with a molded Baroque doorcase having a triangular pediment raised on posts with tassels. Each side zone has a round-headed window, over which is a blank rectangular tablet.

The second storey has a pair of Doric pilasters with derivative capitals, which support a triangular pediment with a blank tympanum. There is a central square window with a very wide frame embellished with curlicues and scallop shells, over which is a segmental pediment.

This storey is flanked by a pair of sweeps embellished with gigantic double volutes, which end in a pair of flaming torch finials. On top of the upper volutes are two sculptures of lions.

InteriorEdit

NaveEdit

There is a central nave of four bays with side aisles, separated by arcades with Doric imposts and rectangular piers. The latter have applied Ionic pilasters, which support an entablature which runs round the interior and has an exceptionally deep and projecting cornice.

The 19th century decorative scheme is based on painted marbelling in light grey and yellow, the latter colour featuring on the pilasters and intradoses.

The aisles have 16th century vaults, but the nave vault dates from the 19th century restoration. It has window lunettes accommodating rectangular windows over the arcade arches, and a central fresco by Domenico Palombi featuring The Apotheosis of St Thomas. Prior to the 19th century intervention the roof was open without a ceiling.

At the entrance is the surviving dedicatory epigraph of 1139, with the text arranged in an inverted triangle. This is the most interesting thing in the church.

SanctuaryEdit

The sanctuary is an apse with a conch. The simple neo-Classical aedicule of the high altar, set against the apse wall, has two yellow marble Corinthian columns supporting a triangular pediment. There was a 17th century altarpiece here attributed by Nibby to a Capuchin Franciscan artist called Fr Cosimo, which depicted St Thomas and which seems to have been replaced in the 19th century by another work on the same subject dubiously attributed to Adriano Trojani. 

The Ethiopians have replaced or covered this with a depiction of Our Lady in vernacular style. Further, they have decorated the aedicule with light bulbs.

To the sides of the altar are paintings by Palombi of St Gregory Barbarigo and St Philip Neri. The latter was ordained in this church, while the former was a cardinal here. The apse conch has three medallions showing Christ, Our Lady and St John the Baptist with fake stucco work in paint which is showing its age.

AislesEdit

There are chapels at the ends of the side aisles, but the Ethiopians apparently have no use for them in their worship.

The one to the right has a crucifix, and used to have an altarpiece depicting The Annunciation with SS John the Evangelist and Nicholas by Giuseppe Passeri. This chapel was the one appertaining to the guild of copyists. 

The one to the left was dedicated to St Mary Magdalen, and had a Noli Me Tangere as an altarpiece. This was replaced by a picture of Our Lady in the 19th century restoration.

On the left wall are remnants of frescoes allegedly dating to the time of the pontificate of Innocent II (11301143). This indicates that the 16th century rebuilding preserved some of the original fabric. One of the frescoes depicts St Martin of Tours Dividing his Cloak with a Beggar

Among the memorials here, those to Giuseppe Ceccaci 1833 with a neo-Classical relief of an ephebe weeper, Antonio Vaselli 1870, Antonio Retti and Celestina Nichelini 1868 with a pair of good busts, Gioachino Ceccacci 1852 with a pair of cameo medallions, Cesareo Piacitelli 1855 with a cameo relief and Mathilda Attiman Piacitelli 1850 are worth noting.

Access and liturgyEdit

The church only seems to be open for liturgical events.

The Eucharist is celebrated in the Ethiopian rite on Sundays at 10:30 and 17:00. The languages used are Ge'ez and what Baobab (the online info source for expatriate communities in Rome) calls Tigrino -do they mean Tigriña?

External linksEdit

Official diocesan web-page

Italian Wikipedia page

Nolli map (look for 615)

"De Alvariis" gallery on Flickr

"Romeartlover" web-page

List of cardinals


National churches
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