Sant’Eligio dei Sellai was an 18th century confraternity church that used to stand in Piazza della Gensola, just west of the Trastevere end of Ponte Cestio, and north of Via della Lungaretta. The piazza is gone, and is now occupied by part of Via della Gensola.
The church is also referred to in the sources as Sant'Eligio dei Sellari or de' Sellari. It was dedicated to St Eligius of Noyon.
The church was built in 1740 for the guild of saddle makers (sellari). The remote origin of this was in 1404, when a guild for goldsmiths, blacksmiths and saddlers (Università dei Orefici, Ferrari e Sellari) was founded at the parish church of San Salvatore alle Coppelle. This guild split up within a few years, with the goldsmiths ending up at Sant'Eligio degli Orefici and the blacksmiths at Sant'Eligio dei Ferrari. The saddlers stayed put, being in possession of a small oratory next to San Salvatore, until they decided to build their own church three hundred years later.
The architect was Carlo de Dominicis, who also did work on the façades of Santi Bartolomeo ed Alessandro dei Bergamaschi, San Salvatore alle Coppelle and Santi Celso e Giuliano. However, this church was his most important work in Rome.
The confraternity left the church in 1801, during the French occupation. The church was then taken over in 1821 by the Congregazione degli Esercizi Spirituali di Ponte Rotto, which ran it for a century. This local pious society was founded by Gioacchino Michelini, a priest who was very active in charitable works. The area had become a notorious slum, and the local people (especially orphaned children) were in need of help. He used his own money to restore the interior decoration of the church. (The institute still exists, at Santa Francesca Romana a Ponte Rotto.)
The church survived the building of the river embankment Lungotevere degli Anguillara, which passed just to the north. However, in 1902 it was in a derelict state and was demolished after part of the structure collapsed. This was apparently the result of flooding by the river, so the new embankment was found wanting.
This was a very attractive and important little building. Its downfall was that it was situated in a slum district, and had no friends at the start of the 20th century when it needed repair. Its loss was a great shame.
The present Via della Gensola is made up of several small streets which were consolidated when the Lungotevere was built. To find the site of the church, go south along it from the Lungotevere degli Anguillara. The modern building on the right occupies the site of the church and the piazza; the entrance to the former was opposite to where the old building on the left is.
The Nolli map of 1748 shows the church, but there seems to be some doubt as to whether he drew the old church before 1740, or the rebuilt one. However, the Lanciani map of 1901 shows the church layout in more detail, and the two maps seem to correspond.
The very small church had the plan of a Greek cross. The nave arm had a trapezoidal shape internally, with the entrance wall narrow. Then came the crossing, with a dome over. The transept arms were short, and contained a pair of side chapels. The presbyterium arm was longer than the others, and had two bays with the far one being longer.
The dome was unusual. It was hemispherical, with fish-scale tiles and ending in a ball finial instead of a lantern. This was set on a flat roof which covered the rest of the church.
The façade of the church was in two storeys, and had a ogee curve to its plan. The first storey had a pair of tripletted Ionic pilasters flanking the entrance, supporting a continuous entablature with a strongly projecting cornice, and the second had matching tripletted Doric pilasters supporting a projecting cornice only which occupied the roofline of the flat roof.
The entrance was monumental, being flanked by a pair of Ionic columns in the round which reached to the entablature. The doorcase itself had no pilasters, but was topped by a pediment which had an ogee curve -the architect's motif.
The second storey had two halves of a divided segmental pediment placed on the first storey's cornice over the capitals of the entrance columns. Above these was a large vertical elliptical window, and the top cornice formed a canopy over this by means of four incurved arcs brought together to form a quasi-pediment.
There was a campanile on the far wall of the left hand chapel, consisting of a frame with two open arches one above the other and a little triangular pediment on top.
Inside, the altarpiece of the main altar, depicting the patron saint, was by Carlo Mussi. There seem to be no photos available of the interior.
Photo (This is the only one online.)
"De Alvariis" gallery on Flickr (Shows site.)