Sant'Eufemia is a demolished 17th century convent church that used to stand on the north-east corner of the junction between the present Via Alessandrina and the lost street of Via del Marforio, where the ruins of the Foro Traiano now are. This is in the rione Monti.
The dedication was to St Euphemia.
The convent was founded in 1595 in the reign of Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605), and belonged to a small community of hospitaller sisters looking after abandoned street girls.
The patron saint of the new community was an early 4th century martyr at Chalcedon, which is now in the Asian part of Istanbul in Turkey. The devotion to her at Rome was because the basilica in which the Council of Chalcedon was held in 451, to declare Christ as both fully divine and fully human according to Roman theology, was dedicated to her.
This original foundation was of a hospice for poor homeless children, which was founded by a commoner called Lorenzo Ceruso, Il Litterato (obviously he could read and write). He had been moved to compassion by the state of street children of both sexes who were to be found sleeping under the butchers' stalls in the market just west of Trajan's Column, the so-called Macello dei Corvi. However, the pope required that separate institutions be founded for each sex, so he took care of the boys and left the girls to a group of female helpers.
Old church Edit
The original convent church was mediaeval, and seems to have been north of the present Santissimo Nome di Maria al Foro Traiano, in the street which is still called Via di Sant'Eufemia. It should be noted that the name was originally restricted to that part of the extant street north of the junction with the present Via delle Tre Cannelle.
Some sources (including Armellini) identify this church with one very close by called San Bernardino, but this seems to be a mistake.
New church Edit
The new hospice and church were built to the south of of the mediaeval church (which was demolished), along the west side of the Via dei Taroli (now the north end of Via Alessandrina) north of its junction with Via del Marforio. Also, another convent was founded for the little congregation at Sant'Urbano ai Pantani further south down the Via Alessandrina. The idea was that if any of the sisters or their girls wished to become enclosed contemplative nuns, they could enter here. The rule chosen was that of the Poor Clare Capuchinesses.
The two convents have been confused in modern writings.
The sisters became known in Rome as the Zitelle Sperse, and were certainly effective in their charitable outreach. In the early 17th century they were alleged to have taken care of four thousand girls.
An 18th century Vasi engraving depicts the church, albeit from a distance (it is the church at the end of the street in the scene).
The entire convent was demolished in 1812 to make way for the archaeological excavation of the Basilica Ulpia, the remains of which are visible there now. Some published sources blame the French occupiers, but in fact the clearance had papal approval.
After a short stay at Santa Caterina dei Funari, the community occupied the empty convent at Sant'Ambrogio della Massima from 1814 to 1828, eventually moving to San Paolo Primo Eremita until after 1870. Then they finally settled with their enclosed sisters at Sant'Urbano ai Pantani.
The convent at Sant'Urbano was itself demolished in 1930, and the nuns moved to a new convent at Via Aurelia Antica 236 which became the Generalate of the Italian Capuchinesses. They were finally suppressed in 2015.
The church was just south of the junction between the present Via Alessandrina and the walkway across the Forum from the Via dei Fori Imperiali, on the west side of the latter.
The convent was on a long site and occupied the entire length of the Via dei Taroli from the old Piazza della Colonna Trajana to the Via del Marforio. The entrance to it was opposite the church of Santissimo Nome di Maria, and this led into a long, thin cloister or courtyard which only had arcades at its short ends. At the north end of the complex was the hospice, and at the south end was the actual convent with its church on the corner of Via dei Taroli and Via del Marforio. The orientation was south to north. To the west was the convent of Santo Spirito ai Monti, and part of the west side of the cloister was occupied by a simple boundary wall separating the two.
The church itself was a small aisleless rectangular building with a rectangular apse, and a barrel vault supported by two pairs of pilasters. The size and plan was almost identical to that of the church of Santo Spirito.
A lost palaeochristian basilica Edit
This church is easy to confuse with one of the same dedication, Sant'Eufemia all'Esquilino, also in the rione Monti and located in Via Urbana, in about the same location as the present church of Bambin Gesù all'Esquilino. It was demolished in the late 16th century, but was important for its paleochristian mosaic. The convent church was regarded as its successor.
The basilica was originally founded in the 5th century, and is first mentioned in 451. The most interesting event in its history occurred when some reformed Franciscans occupied it for a few years before moving to San Bonaventura al Palatino, between 1530 and 1536.
The most famous feature of the interior was the mosaic in the apse, depicting the patron saint dressed as an Imperial princess, standing in the orans position with a hand above her descending from heaven and holding a wreath. She was flanked by a pair of snakes, rising to strike. Fortunately, drawings survive of this mosaic which has obvious parallels with that of Sant'Agnese fuori le Mura.