Sant’Anna dei Falegnami was the 17th century church, now demolished, of a monastery situated on the south side of Via di Sant’Anna, at what is now its east end. This is in the rione Sant'Eustachio.
It was dedicated to St Anne, the mother of Our Lady.
The church seems to have been founded in the 9th century as the chapel of a convent of nuns. Initially, it was dedicated to Our Lady and St Anastasius, and in 1046 we have the first documented reference to Monasterium Sanctae Dei Genetricis beatique martyris Anastasii quod nuncupatur Iulia. Nobody knows where the name Iulia comes from.
However, this nunnery was extinct by 1143 because donations were being made then to the archpriest of the church. This indicates that it was being administered by a college of secular priests.
Foundation of nunnery Edit
The church became a chapel of the Knights Templar, dependent on their main convent of Santa Maria del Priorato, in the 13th century. How and why is unknown. The Grand Master of the Order, Jacques de Molay, then donated it in 1293 to Santuccia Terrebotti, who had founded a reformed congregation of Benedictine nuns. Back then, the church was called Santa Maria in Iulia and St Anastasius had been forgotten.
From a wealthy family of Gubbio in Umbria, she had married and had a daughter who had died young. The grief-stricken parents agreed with each other to become monastics, and so Santuccia founded the new nunnery of Santa Maria Maddalena in the city in 1260, with herself as abbess. She insisted on a strict adherence to the Rule of St Benedict, and very quickly twenty three other nunneries joined her. After an argument with the local bishop her new congregation of Servants of Mary or Santucce was put under direct Papal control in 1265. In 1293 she went to Rome, and settled at her new foundation of Santa Maria in Iulia. Two other convents of the congregation were founded in Rome before she died in 1305, one at what is now San Giovanni Calibita and the other at Santa Maria Liberatrice al Foro Romano.
Benedictines and VisitandinesEdit
In 1307 the convent received some Papal indulgences for its church, including one for the invocation of St Anne. This was because the nuns claimed to have her wedding ring enshrined as a relic. This is the beginning of the dedication of the church to that saint, which was first formally mentioned in 1512 and which became firmly established soon after. The church was known either as dei Falegnami or "of the guild of the carpenters" (who had their own church at San Giuseppe dei Falegnami) or dei Funari or "of the guild of the ropemakers". It seems that these two guilds were major benefactors of the church.
Just before 1550 the monastery at Santa Maria Liberatrice was abandoned, and in 1573 the nuns at San Giovanni Calibita became tired of continually being flooded out, and also moved to join their sisters here.
The convent became one of the more important nunneries in the city, and was able to afford a complete re-building in the 17th century. This started in 1654, and finished in 1675.
However, something went badly wrong in the next century because the Benedicitine nuns were replaced by Visitandine nuns in 1793. This community came from Santi Maria della Visitazione e Francesco di Sales delle Mantellate.
The occupation of Rome by the French led to the convent being closed in 1809. The Visitandines ended up at Santa Maria dell'Umiltà.
In 1815, on the return of the Papal government, the empty complex was handed over to Giovanni Borgi (nicknamed Tata Giovanni). This great native Roman benefactor had founded an orphanage and hospital for abandoned street children at the end of the 18th century, and was able to expand it to house 120 boys when he moved here. The institution inspired St John Bosco in his own similar work at Turin.
The future Pope Pius IX, as a newly ordained priest, said his first Mass here for the boys and their carers.
As an active Church institution, the hospital escaped suppression when Rome was conquered by the Kingdom of Italy in 1870. However, the site was appropriated for a new road serving the city suburbs to the south-east, and the institution had to move. So, the church was demolished in 1887 for the building of the present Via Arenula, which passed through the cloister of the old nunnery.
The actual site of the church is just south of the round newspaper kiosk opposite the tram stop, south of the south-west corner of Largo di Torre Argentina and on the east side of Via Arenula. A continuation eastwards of the line of the buildings on the south side of Via di Sant'Anna will mark the north frontage. The church was on a street corner, and the façade faced north.
There was another lost church just to the north, Sant’Elena dei Credenzieri; the two used to be separated by a tiny piazza. This church also faced north, so just across the piazza from the entrance to Sant'Anna was the apse of Sant'Elena.
The monastery was not small. It had a square central cloister with arcades on all four sides and a fountain in the middle; the main entrance to the monastery led to this from the Via di Sant'Anna. The church was by the north-east corner of the cloister garth. To the west of this cloister was another courtyard with an arcade on its east side and a passageway leading from the south-west corner of the garth. This courtyard had its own entrance from what is now the Via Giovanni Borgi.
The little church had a restrained two-storey Baroque façade, and survived long enough to appear on early photographs. See the Flickr gallery on "External links".
The structure of the edifice was in brick, rendered in stucco which was washed in a cream colour. The plan was based on a simple rectangle, with a very small external apse and a shallow rectangular side chapel on each side of the unaisled nave.
The façade had two storeys. The first one had four Doric pilasters on very high plinths, supporting an entablature with a projecting cornice. The doorway fitted snugly within the inner pair of pilasters, and was crowned by an archivolt. This had a fresco on its tympanum, showing the Madonna and Child with St Anne. In between the pairs of pilasters were two round-headed niches, with scallop decoration in their conches. Above the entrance was a vertical rectangular window with a plain frame.
The second storey had four Composite pilasters, corresponding to those below. These supported an entablature and triangular pediment, the tympanum of which displayed a large figure of an eagle in relief. In between the pilasters were three vertical rectangular windows, in the same style as the one below and with the outer two being narrower.
The main altar was a Baroque work by Carlo Rainaldi, with paintings by Girolamo Troppa. There were two side altars. The left hand one showed Our Lady and Child with St Anne by Bartolomeo Cavarozzi, a late work of his which was highly regarded, and the other had St Joseph and St Benedict with Angels by Emilio Savonanzi.