Santa Galla Antiqua was an 18th century hospital church that used to stand on what is now the west side of the Via Petroselli, north of the Piazza Bocca della Verità. This is in the rione Ripa.
The dedication was to St Galla.
Archeological investigations after the church's demolition revealed that the site occupied a block of warehouses (horrea) from the time of the emperor Trajan, forming part of the Imperial Roman river-port called the Portus Tiberinus. The ancient Romans used to trans-ship cargo from seagoing boats onto river barges at Porto and Ostia, and this was the main location where the barges were unloaded. The major cargo by far was the grain used to feed the populace, and this would have been kept in these warehouses before being handed out.
By tradition the church was founded in the early 6th century by a pious Roman patrician widow named Galla who converted her house for the purpose, and to which she attached an almshouse for destitute people. The Dialogues attributed to Pope Gregory the Great contain a biography of her, and Pope John I was claimed as the consecrator of the church.
However, there are problems with this. The public distribution of grain by the city government dwindled away in the 5th century, but the port continued to function and became sea-going once the great harbours at the river mouth were abandoned. It is likely that most of the warehouses fell into disuse in this century and became used instead for domestic and artisanal purposes, but it is not likely that a patrician Roman family would have chosen to live there. It is thought that a hospital was founded by her near St Peter's, and subsequently confused with this church.
Santa Maria in PorticoEdit
The mediaeval church was originally dedicated as Santa Maria in Portico. It contained a venerated icon dating to the 11th century, which later tradition falsely claimed was much older. This tradition alleged that St Galla found the picture attached to the wall of her house after angels had delivered it, and also that Pope Gregory later venerated it there.
However the earliest genuine documentary evidence of the church is an epigraph on the main altar dating to 1073 and recording that Pope Gregory VII had consecrated a church. The inscription read:
Septimus hoc Presul romano culmine fretus Gregorius templum Xp[ist]o sacravit in aevum. Ad honorem D[omi]ni N[ostri] I[esu] [Ch]r[ist]i et Beat[a]e Mari[a]e semper Virginis Genetricis ej[us] Domine Nostre [sic] et om[n]ium s[an]c[t]or[um], consecratu[m] e[st] hoc altare te[m]pore Domni Gregorii VII P[a]p[ae], anni D[omi]ni Mil[le] LXXIII, indic[tione] XI, m[en]se julio, dies VIII. In hoc pr[a]edicto altare q[ui]escunt s[an]c[t]or[um] venerabliles reliq[ui]e, videlicet pars crucis ejus et spongi[a]e necn[on] et crucis b[eat]i Andree et ex ossib[us] ej[us] et s[an]c[t]or[um] mar[tyrum] Stephani, Lauren[tii], Marci, Iacobi, Sebastiani, Cromatii, Menne, Valentini, Bonifatii, Anastasii, Leudicii, Donati, Ippoliti et Iohanni Presbyteri, Agnetis, Cecilie, Agathe, Concordiae, Cirille, Vebrobie [sic].
This means: "Gregory, the seventh confident cultic leader at the Roman apex, made this temple holy for ever. In honour of our Lord Jesus Christ and the blessed Mary ever virgin and mother of our Lord and of all the saints, this altar was consecrated in the time of the lord Gregory VII Pope in 1073, in the eleventh indiction, on the eighth day of the month of July. In the abovementioned altar were laid relics of venerable saints, notably part of the Cross and the sponge, also parts of the cross of blessed Andrew and of his bones as well as of those of the holy martyrs Stephen, Laurence, Mark, James, Sebastian, Chromatius, Menas, Valentine, Boniface, Anastasius, Leudicus, Donatius, Hippolytus, John the Priest, Agnes, Cecilia, Agatha, Concordia, Cyril and Febrobia."
The church may have been new, or it may have been a rebuilding. If the latter, it was likely to have replaced a small church established in one of the architectural spaces available in the warehouse block originally on the site, after it had been taken over by individual occupiers. There is no evidence for this in the archaeological record, and if it did happen then a date sometime in the late 6th or 7th century is possible.
In the Middle Ages, the church was parochial. It was also the seat of a cardinal, and was used by the guild of candle-makers (candelottari). The diaconal cardinalate was by tradition established in 590, but the first cardinal on record was incardinated in 1468. The full cardinalate title was Santa Maria in Portico Octaviae.
It was the first church in Rome entrusted to St John Leonardi, the founder of the Clerks Regular of the Mother of God, in 1601. The congregation moved to Santa Maria in Campitelli in 1618, and in 1667 a new church was completed on the site of the latter to house the miraculous icon which was hence moved there. Meanwhile, the cardinalate title was transferred to the new church in 1662.
After the departure of the Clerks Regular, the complex became the focus of charitable attention on the part of the Odescalchi family. A priest of the family called Marcantonio founded a hospice and night-shelter for poor infirm people there, and his work was supported by his cousin, Pope Innnocent XI (1676-89).
The resulting hospital complex was important in the life of Rome before the 19th century. Several famous and holy churchmen were associated with it, notably St Giovanni Battista de Rossi and St Leonard of Port Maurice, and the hospital was one of the most important charitable institutions for sick people that the city had in the 18th century. There was a story that St Aloysius Gonzaga effected a miracle there by his prayers, whereby a bundle of woollen blanket cloth was multiplied sufficiently to make blankets for a hundred beds.
Demolition EditThe entire complex was demolished on the orders of Mussolini in 1928 in order to widen the street, which was to become the main traffic artery to the southern suburbs -the Via del Mare. The remaining elements of the complex not affected by the road were cleared in 1935, and the land was then occupied by a block of offices for the Fascisti, the Palazzo dell'Anagrafe.
As a quid pro quo, the government paid for a new Santa Galla in the suburb of Garbatella and this is regarded as the old church's successor.
The church was just north of the section of the office block which has a belvedere on it, and a wolf on a large stone tablet below. Because of the road widening, the line of its façade is now in the middle of the roadway.
The church had quite a complex plan, formed by inserting an ellipse into a chamfered rectangle. This ellipse formed the dome which roofed the nave. A semi-circular chapel occupied each chamfer of the rectangle, and a long narrow chapel with screen occupied the entire length of each side wall. A large transverse rectangular apse formed the presbyterium.
The simple and dignified façade had two storeys. The first had four gigantic tripletted Corinthian pilasters supporting an entablature which was brought forward over the capitals. The large single entrance had a doorcase framed by two pairs of thin pilasters without capitals or plinths but joined at top and bottom. A floating cornice sheltered a dedicatory inscription, and over this was a large coat-of-arms in relief. A vertical row of three windows was between each pair of pilasters, the top one being square.
The second storey had a pair of Doric pilasters supporting a triangualar pediment with a blank tympanum. This latter storey was framed by a pair of gigantic sweeps ending at the bottom in incurved volutes.
The external dome was a saucer on a high blank drum, with a lantern having four arches and a hemispherical cupola.
Inside, the most important artwork was the main altar with its dedicatory inscription. This was a re-used ancient funerary altar, with grapes and tendrils carved in relief. It can be seen in the new church in Garbatella. The Blessed Sacrament chapel had stucco angels in the style of Bernini. The paintings on the side altars were anonymous 16th century works.