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Sant’Urbano ai Pantani was an early 17th century monastic church that used to stand on the site of the Imperial Fora, on the west side of Via Alessandrina near the junction with Via della Salita del Grillo and the also demolished church of Santa Maria in Campo Carleo. This is in the rione Monti.
The dedication was to Pope Urban I .
The church was founded in 1262 by a rich noblewoman called Giacoma Bianchi, to serve a new Benedictine nunnery. This was one of several small monasteries in the neighbourhood at the end of the Middle Ages. Efforts to document an earlier foundation lack certainty.
Her generosity was recorded by an epigraph over the entrance, which read:
Anno ab incarn[atione] D[omini] MCCLXIV, ind[ictione] VII mens[e] Augusti die "ssu" [secundo], Urbanus Papa quartus hoc monasterium fieri fecit ad preces Iacobe filie Petri Blanci in domo patris sui. Ave Maria gratia plena.
("In the year from the incarnation of the Lord 1264, in the seventh indiction on the second day of August, Pope Urban IV had this monastery erected at the request of Giacoma the daughter of Peter Bianchi in the house of her father. Hail Mary full of grace.")
Back then the church was called Sant’Urbino a Campo Carleo after an open space by a palace owned by a nobleman called Carlo Leone (Charles the Lion). In the 16th century it took the name of the ancient archway nearby, the Arco dei Pantani.
The nunnery failed later in the Middle Ages, and the complex became dependent on the basilica of San Lorenzo fuori le Mura. At the end of the 16th century it was in serious disrepair, and so was rebuilt in 1600 as part of a scheme sponsored by a noblewoman called Fulvia Sforza. The new church was designed by Mario Arconi and was constructed in front of the old one, just to the east. The latter was then apparently used as a charnel house.
The complex with its new church was then granted by Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605) to the nuns at Sant'Eufemia (known as the Zitelle, part of the Franciscan family), whose original convent was at the north end of Via Alessandrina (the two convents tend to be confused in modern writings). The idea was that Sant'Urbano would be an enclosed nunnery for these Zitelle who wished a stricter religious life. This was achieved by giving them the rule of the Poor Clare Capuchinesses.
This was one of two Capuchiness nunneries in Rome, the other being Santa Chiara al Quirinale. This reform of the Poor Clares had originated in Naples at the monastery of Santa Maria di Gerusalemme, and had received papal approval in 1535.
Sant'Eufemia was demolished in 1812 to start the archaeological clearance of the Imperial Fora, and the Zitelle community was accommodated here.
Sant’Urbano was, in turn, demolished in 1930 as part of the Fascist scheme for the Via dei Fori Imperiali. The archeological record kept of the demolition was abysmally poor, but some photographs of the church survive.
The Capuchiness community survived -initially. A large convent was built at Via Aurelia Antica 236, just north of the Villa Doria Pamphilj in the Aurelio quarter. This, the Monastero Sant'Urbano, became the Generalate or headquarters of the Italian federation of Capuchiness nunneries which is under the patronage of the Holy Family.
The chapel of the convent has no architectural identity. Oddly, despite the Capuchinesses being enclosed, it became a public chapel dependent on the local parish church of Santi Protomartiri Romani.
Something went very badly wrong in the early 21st century. Details are lacking, but the upshot was that the monastery was suppressed in 2015. This leaves the sisters at Corpus Christi alla Garbatella as the sole Capuchiness monastery in Rome.
Missionaries of St Charles Edit
The vacated property was bought in 2016 by a congregation of sisters, the Missionaries of St Charles Borromeo (Missionarie di San Carlo). They are in the process of raising funds to convert it into a house of formation.
The complex was on the west side of the Via Alessandrina, just south of a crossroads. The street running eastwards from this was the Via della Salita del Grillo, and to the west was Via dei Carbonari which ran by the wall of the convent garden.
The corner of the Casa dei Cavalieri di Rodi points to the location of the church, on the other side of the street from it.
The Baroque façade on the street was actually an entrance gateway, and led into a small courtyard in front of the church.
The gateway was surmounted by a double pediment, a triangular one inserted inside a larger segmental one. The top of the screen wall separating the courtyard from the street ran over the top edge of the segmental pediment, and above this was a rectangular frame with sweeping curlicues on either side and a segmental segment on top, broken at its apex. According to the evidence of the watercolour painted of this gateway in 1834 by Achille Pinelli, this frame had a fresco. However, a comparison of the painting with a 1930 photo shows the former to be inaccurate in its architectural detailing.
The church itself had a simple façade. The ornate molded marble doorcase had a raised triangular pediment supported on volute corbels and with the cornice cut away. The tympanum of this contained a winged putto's head, and above it was the original foundation inscription. Above the entrance were three large rectangular windows arranged in a triangle, the top one reaching into the gable of the façade. The latter was decorated with dentillations, and was not the actual roofline of the church which was higher above. The effect this produced was rather odd.
The plan was rectangular. The nave had two and a half bays and was roofed by a barrel vault. The second bay had a chapel on each side, with an altar in a large niche having a molded arch with Doric pilasters. The same style and size of archway was used to frame the small rectangular apse containing the main altar.
Over the main altar was a painting of Our Lady with SS Urban and Clare accompanied by Angels by Sebastiano Ceccarini. The left hand altar had one of SS Charles, Francis and Nicholas by Ottavio Leoni, while the painting over the right hand altar was an Annunciation by Girolamo Muziano.