Santa Maria del Carmine alle Tre Cannelle is an 18th century confraternity church at Via del Carmine 4 in the rione Trevi, rather hidden away near the Forum of Trajan. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons are here.
The church was founded by a confraternity based at the Carmelite parish church of San Martino ai Monti, which was established in 1599. It received a charter from Pope Paul V in 1606, and was given the honour of first place among all confraternities dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel by Pope Gregory XV in 1621.
Foundation of oratoryEdit
The original headquarters of the confraternity was at a chapel to the left of the high altar at San Martino ai Monti. However, members living in the city centre found this inconvenient and so early on it was decided to build an oratory in a more central location. Two barns were purchased from the abbey of Grottaferrata in 1605, with the idea that one would be the oratory and the other the sacristy. Filippo Colonna donated part of an adjacent garden two years later, in order that a sanctuary could be added to the oratory.
The distinction operating here between "oratory" and "church", is that the public had no right of access to the former.
18th century churchEdit
Nothing is known as to the fabric of the oratory for the next hundred years or so. Then, in 1724, the confraternity employed Giacomo Ciolli to rebuild the sanctuary and to provide a new high altar in the Baroque style. This native Roman architect is perhaps best known for his work at San Paolo alla Regola. Unfortunately, he died in 1734.
The surviving evidence is poor, but it is thought that he also re-built the nave.
Despite having established a new base, the confraternity then actually kept the chapel at San Martino as its headquarters until 1763, when it finally moved. From that time it has been known as the Arciconfraternita della Madonna del Carmine alle Tre Cannelle.
Unfortunately, a fire started in the chaplain's apartment in 1772 and seriously damaged the oratory. The confraternity repaired the damage with the aid of Pope Clement XIV, although it had to liquidate some of its landholdings to raise enought funds, and finally in 1775 the oratory acquired the status of a church.
Unfortunately, Grossi's work vanished in the restoration.
The church was pillaged and closed down after the French occupied Rome in 1798, but it was re-opened in 1801.
In 1862, the confraternity appointed Vincenzo Martinucci to restore and embellish the interior. It also revised its constitutions two years later in the light of modern charitable needs
The locality was affected by the building of the Via Quattro Novembre in 1875, but the church itself was not affected and the government did not expropriate the property.
Unfortunately, in the 1970's the confraternity fell into decay. The church was closed down, and was almost deconsecrated. Fortunately, a successful effort was made to re-vitalize on the part of a small number of members, and the church was re-opened in the following decade under the charge of Monsignor Gianfranco Bella. He has been the priest here from 1984 to the present day.
It was found that arrears of maintenance had taken their toll, and that the edifice was not in a good state. Then a fire in 2007 destroyed the private oratory of the confraternity, adjacent to the church, and smoke-damaged the church's interior. This was the spur to a major restoration of the complex, under the architect Paolo Taffi, which should be completed about now (2014).
Layout and fabricEdit
The church is a simple rectangular box under a pitched and tiled roof, with a little square apse. The private oratory of the confraternity is attached to the left. Over the far end of the right hand side wall is a small campanile or bellcote.
The façade by Michelangelo Specchi was completed in 1750. It's in the Late Baroque
(tardobarocco) style, and has two storeys. After the recent restoration, the colour scheme is white on pale yellow but it used to be white on orange ochre.
The design is very simple for the period. The first storey has four pilasters with derivative Composite capitals (each having four volutes and a rosette), the outer pair being tripletted at the corners. These support an entablature separating the storeys, and on the frieze of this is a dedicatory inscription: B[eatae] Mariae Virgini de Monte Carmelo.
The single entrance has a doorcase flanked by a little pair of curlicues at the top sides. Above is an entablature with a segmental pediment, and a pair of side posts over the curlicues. This entrance is enclosed in an arch fitted into the inner pair of pilasters, with the archivolt springing from Doric imposts. The imposts are continued behind the pilasters to form a string course.
The tympanum of this arch has a very interesting monochrome fresco of Our Lady of Mount Carmel with the Christ-Child, each presenting the Brown Scapular. They are flanked by a pair of putti. Before the restoration this tympanum had a rotting polychrome fresco of the same subject, of the early 19th century. The confraternity appointed Marina Furci to restore it, but instead she found that it was an overpainting of the earlier work now visible. This presumably dates from after the fire in 1772.
The second storey has a large rectangular window with a cornice incorporating two posts supported by strap corbels. On this is a broken ogival pediment with curlicues on the breaks, and a swag of flowers connecting the two parts. This is flanked by two pairs of blind pilasters without capitals, but connected at top and bottom to form two frames with recessed molded borders. Each of these contains a narrow blank vertical tablet, curved at its ends around a pair of scallop shells.
On the top of the façade is a triangular pediment with a blank tympanum, and a single central finial bearing the traditional metal cross seen on most Roman churches.
The church has a single nave of three bays, and a square apse. The nave is decorated with twelve gigantic ribbed Corinthian columns supporting an entablature that runs around the church interior without a break. Two columns flank the apse, two matching ones flank the entrance, four are tucked into the corners and four divide the nave bays in the side walls. The latter four are tripletted.
The central bay has a pair of side altars, and the near and far bays have four side doors with raised and protruding segmental pediments.
The ceiling is barrel-vaulted as a semi-cylinder. Over the entrance is a gallery with a bowed front, bearing the organ.
The overall decorative scheme is pale grey and white, with highlights in gold such as on the ribbing on the pilasters. The decorations are not figurative, but is based on scrollwork and acanthus fronding. Much of it is painted, imitating stucco relief.
A small pulpit is corbelled out from the far left hand side pilaster.
The apse of the sanctuary is entered through a triumphal arch, springing from a pair of Doric imposts fitted into the inner sides of the far pair of pilasters (the same design feature occurs on the façade). It has a shallow little saucer dome, decorated in the same style as the nave.
The high altar was originally designed by Ciolli, and has a pair of Corinthian columns in yellow Siena marble supporting the split-away and separated ends of a triangular pediment. These are slightly turned outwards, and support a pair of stucco angels venerating a monogram of Our Lady in a gilded glory. The glory is echoed by another one on the tabernacle, except this has a crucifix.
The altarpiece is a large papier-maché doll of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, standing in a silk dress within an arched and glazed niche. The original for this work is allegedly in the Holy Land (but see the note on the sacristy, below). Despite being horrible artistically, this work is obviously the subject of much devotion because the altar is flanked by wall cases containing ex-votos.
The two side altars are not in chapels, but are simply attached to the nave side walls. They are matching aedicules with a pair of Corinthian pilasters supporting a triangular pediment. The altarpiece paintings are large.
In the 18th century, the dedications of these altars were to the prophet Elijah to the right (the Carmelites were mendaciosly claiming him as their founder), and St Michael the Archangel on the left. The left hand altarpiece is painted on both sides, and hence seems to have been intended as a processional standard. It is attributed to Sebastiano Conca; one side shows Our Lady Granting the Scapular to Simon Stock for the Souls in Purgatory, and the other shows Our Lady Appearing to the Prophet Elijah.
The right hand altar used to have an altarpiece showing St Teresa of Liseux, executed by Tito Ridolfi (1886-1956) in 1927. It replaced another depiction of Our Lady granting the scapular to Simon Stock (whom the Carmelites venerate as a saint, although he is only a beatus in the Roman Martyrology). This work, by Giovanni Pirri 1776, is now on the right hand wall of the sanctuary.
During the restoration after the 2007 fire, the original altarpiece by Francesco Cozza, depicting St Michael Subduing the Devil, was discovered in situ and in fairly good condition. This was some recompense to the confraternity for its losses in that fire.
The vestibule to the sacristy has a 17th wooden statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The confraternity's website claims that this is the original for the statue on the high altar, but the resemblance is not obvious.
The private oratory was gutted in the 2007 fire which started in it, but has been restored. Unfortunately the altarpiece depicting Our Lady with the scapular again, by Gaspare Celio, was incinerated.
Access and liturgyEdit
The church is open on Sundays at 10:30 for Mass.
However, it is closed from Christmas Eve to 7 January, and also from 17 July to 31 August when presumably most of the confraternity hope to be on a beach.
The feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the patronal feast of the church, and is celebrated on 16 July. In 2013, there was Mass at 11:30 followed by a litany addressed to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, then Rosary and Benediction at 17:30 followed by Mass an hour later.