Santa Maria del Divino Amore is an 18th century former confraternity church with a 12th century campanile at Vicolo del Divino Amore 12 in the rione Campo Marzio. Picture of the church at Wikimedia Commons here.
The dedication is to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under her title of Our Lady of Divine Love. This appellation of hers is peculiar to the city of Rome.
Santa Maria del Divino Amore is now the church's official name, but it used to be called Santi Cecilia e Biagio and the latter name is still to be found in many sources.
A popular nickname in use is Chiesa del Divino Amore, and it is also called the Santuarietto after the Santuario della Madonna del Divino Amore where the Marian devotion originated.
This little church was one of many such erected in the surviving built-up area of the city around the 11th century. It emerges into history in a surviving epigraphic reference dating from 1131, when it was dedicated to St Cecilia, and would have been the church of a small parish of about fifty families.
According to tradition, the house of St Cecilia's father stood on the site. The epigraph just mentioned, which was found in 1604, reads: Haec est domus in qua orabat Sancta Caecilia - MCXXXI ("This is the house in which St Cecila prayed, 1131"). According to Armellini writing at the end of the 19th century, there is a crypt under the church which was described as St Cecilia's room.
The late mediaeval church catalogues list the church as Sancta Cecilia Campi Martis, after the locality, or Sancta Cecilia de Puzzerato (1372).
In 1525, Pope Clement VII granted the church to the Confraternita dei Materazzari (the guild of mattress-makers). It was this confraternity that added to the dedication that of St Blaise, who was their patron, and so the church became known as Santi Cecilia e Biagio or San Biagio dei Materazzari. The street that the church is on was then called the Vicolo dei Materazzari.
Pope Benedict XIII and the confraternity had the body of the church rebuilt in 1729. The architect was Filippo Raguzzini, who did well in leaving the adjacent 12th century campanile alone. The re-consecration was in 1731.
The mattress-makers had their confraternity suppressed during Napoleonic period. The church was then given to the Confraternita del Divino Amore (Confraternity of the Madonna of Divine Love) in 1801 or 1802 by Pope Pius VII. The confraternity had been founded in 1744 at the Santuario della Madonna del Divino Amore, in the countryside down the Via Ardeatina, and existed to foster devotion to Our Lady at what was to become Rome's principal Marian shrine.
The church was restored, the interior decorated with frescoes and the name changed.
There was another restoration in 1972. During the work an ancient inscription was found, which says that the faithful gathered here to pray for the intercession of St Cecilia. The campanile was restored in 1995, when rendering was removed to reveal the structural brickwork.
There is now a little convent adjacent, of the Figile della Madonna del Divino Amore which is a religious sisterhood founded at the main shrine.
Layout and fabricEdit
This is not an easy church to find. It's in the side streets south of the Palazzo Borghese.
The layout is very straightforward, just a simple rectangle with a tower campanile attached to the right hand side of the façade. The nave is structurally of three bays, but the last bay is the sanctuary since there is no apse. There are three windows high up on the left hand side wall, but not on the right since that side abuts on a neighbouring building.
The façade is simple to the point of starkness -the architect had the ability to be much more inventive (see Santa Maria della Quercia). Presumably his budget from the mattress-makers was very limited.
There are two storeys, the first one being higher. This has four pilasters flanking a single large central doorway with an unmolded doorcase and an undecorated floating cornice. These pilasters do not have proper capitals, but triglyphs instead. They support an entablature with a simple dedicatory inscription on the frieze: Deiparae Virgini divini amoris dicatum. This entablature has posts (i.e. sections in relief) above the pilaster "capitals".
The low second storey has four blind pilasters melting into a simple architrave below the cornice of a triangular pediment with an oculus (round window) in its tympanum (tympanon in Italian). This pediment does not reach across the entire width of the façade, as there are no pilasters at the corners. In the centre of this storey is a rectangular window with a slightly bowed top.
As mentioned, the mid-12th century bell-tower was preserved when the church was rebuilt. It is the best thing here. There used to be several storeys with arcades, but only the top two survive intact. The main part of the tower, up to the nave roofline, is now a simple brick affair with two large windows but you can see the brick archivolts where arcades were filled in. The alteration is thought to have taken place during the 18th century rebuilding of the church.
The top two storeys both have an arcade of three arched soundholes on each face, with the arches separated by little marble columns with cushion imposts. (The lower storey has had the right hand side arcade blocked by a neighbouring building). The cornices of both storeys are embellished with marble modillions (corbels), and above the arcades are coloured pottery dishes set in brick tondi. How old are the dishes?
There is a tiled pyramidal cap.
The interior is on a simple rectangular plan, with a blind arcade of three arches on each side wall springing from very wide Doric pilasters. The arcades are separate from the cornice from which the ceiling vault springs, and hence a single expanse of wall on each side allows for fresco work.
The barrel-vaulted ceiling has cross-ribs meeting at two hexagonal central panels which are frescoed, and has three lunettes on each side. The left hand lunettes have windows, but the right hand ones do not -blank panels are inserted for the sake of symmetry.
The organ is in a gallery over the entrance.
The side walls and ceiling vault panels are decorated with 19th century frescoes in a neo-Classical style by Filippo Prosperi. They are rather good. The two ceiling panels show SS Blaise and Cecilia venerating the Madonna and Child. The side wall frescoes have four personified virtues, accompanied by putti (Justice, Temperance, Fortitude and Prudence), and obviously give a nod to Micheangelo.
There are two side altars. The left hand altarpiece shows SS Cecilia and Valerian Crowned by an Angel and is by Placido Costanzi. There is a statue of St Joseph on the altar itself.
The right hand altarpiece shows St Blaise Removing a Fish Bone from a Child's Throat, and replaces a Crucifixion by Fabrizio Chiari. The statue on the altar is of the Sacred Heart. The two altars have matching revetted frontals of green-veined marble.
The last bay of the church is the sanctuary. It has recently (after 2010) been enclosed by a tall gilded railing rather like a modern iconostasis without icons. This is an impressive innovation.
In a gilded glory over the high altar is a painting of the Virgin and Child attributed to Vincenzo Camuccini. It is a free rendering of the icon venerated at the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Divino Amore, and can be compared with a more faithful copy to be found nearby. Camuccini (if it was he) has given Our Lady a rather enigmatic and charming smile.
The sacristy is decorated with a fresco of SS Cecilia and Valerian Crowned by an Angel, painted in the middle of the 15th century and inspiring the chapel altarpiece mentioned. Here also is the 12th century epigraph mentioning the house of St Cecilia.
The church is only open for liturgical events, which are not advertised.
Feasts that are celebrated with great solemnity in the church are the Presentation of Our Lord on 2 February, St Blaise on 3 February, SS Valerian and Tiburtius (Cecilia's husband and brother-in-law) on 14 April and St Cecilia on 22 November.