Santa Maria del Rosario a Monte Mario is an 18th century convent church at Via Trionfale 175, in the Trionfale quarter.
The dedication is to Our Lady of the Rosary.
Monte Mario is a prominent hill north of the Vatican, actually the highest point in the modern city (129 metres). In the 17th century it was covered by vineyards, and is still dominated by open areas. In 1638 the noted writer and humanist Gian Vittorio Rossi paid for the building of a little chapel in a vineyard here, for the benefit of the few local inhabitants. Its name was Santa Maria del Rosario e della Febbre, the Febbre meaning fever and referring to malaria. This was endemic in the Tiber valley at the time.
When Rossi died in 1647, he left a legacy to the Hieronymite monks of Sant'Onofrio al Gianicolo to found a monastery here. In 1651 they began the construction of a new church, the architect being Camillo Arcucci who was a pupil of Bernini. Work went on for three years.
Something went badly wrong, and the convent was abandoned by the Hieronomytes at the end of the 17th century.
In 1715, Pope Clement XI granted the empty complex to the Dominicans of the Congregation of San Marco in Florence. They passed it on to the Lombard province of the same order, which had the convent and church rebuilt. The architect was Filippo Raguzzini, and the new church was consecrated in 1726.
The friars were ejected, and the church wrecked, by French soldiers during the Napoleonic occupation of Rome at the end of the 18th century. The convent was left derelict until 1828, when it was restored and the church was made parochial. The parish territory was taken over from San Lazzaro on the other side of the hill, which had become derelict.
In 1838, the gradients of the Via Trionfale over Monte Mario were improved, and the roadway was substantially lowered in front of the convent. A revetting wall was built, with staircase access.
Franz Liszt stayed at the convent from 1863 for five years, a fact recorded on a plaque on the revetting wall below the church entrance.
The convent was sequestered by the state in 1873, but the Dominicans remained in charge of the church. This they continued to administer until 1912. However, a new and more convenient church was built by them for the parish in the rione Prati, Santa Maria del Rosario in Prati, and the parish was transferred to it in that year.
The Dominican nuns at Santi Domenico e Sisto had lost their own convent in the same sequestration. After almost sixty years, they found a new home here in 1931 and have been in residence ever since.
This community is very old, and was actually originally founded by St Dominic himself at San Sisto Vecchio. They brought with them a large collection of relics, including some of St Dominic, and an ancient icon of Our Lady now venerated in the church.
The church is a Chiesa Rettoria, but has no resident priest at present. This means that the nuns are finding their own chaplain, instead of the Diocese supplying one.
The parish in charge is Santa Maria Stella Matutina.
Layout and fabricEdit
The church is centred in the rectangular convent complex, and wings of the convent abut it on all sides except the façade. The fabric is in brick, mostly rendered.
The plan of the church resembles a keyhole, with a quasi-elliptical nave on the major axis and a long rectangular sanctuary.
Over the nave is a dome, on a very low windowless drum. The plan of this is not an ellipse, but looks like a modified Cassini oval. The dome itself is of lead, in eight sectors with a central lantern. The latter is circular, having eight tall arched windows with imposts and a lead ogee cupola with a ball finial.
There is only one campanile, but the design suggests that two were intended. It is a kiosk over the right hand side of the façade, with a large round-headed sound-hole on each face. This is flanked by a pair of Corinthian pilasters, which support an entablature crowned by a steep lead pyramidal cap with slightly bowed sides.
There is a steep double set of ceremonial stairs up the revetting wall in front of the church.
The church frontage and those of the convent wings on either side together form a mostly symmetrical Baroque façade with a horizontal roofline, complemented by the dome of the church rising behind. The single campanile spoils the symmetry.
There has been virtually no change since the Vasi engraving of the 18th century.
The façade of the church itself has a single storey, and three vertical zones. The central zone is flanked by a pair of gigantic Composite pilasters, doubletted along the inner edge and supporting a pair of posts reaching the roofline. These posts are continued as an entablature on each side, having a receding horizontal curve and ending over another pair of pilasters framing the façade.
The main entrance has a segmental pediment on strap brackets, with a broken top. Above is a large horizontal rectangular window having a curved lintel, with a single-molded Baroque frame and a floating arc cornice matching the curve of the lintel.
The side zones, in between the pilasters, each has two recessed vertical rectangular panels with the upper one containing a window.
The two flanking side entrances, with oeil-de-boeuf windows above which are inserted into triangular pediments, lead into the convent.
The nave is oval, and has two chapels on each side. These chapels are structurally identical, each being an apsidal niche with a conch. The entrance arch has a molded architrave springing from Doric imposts, and is enclosed by two gigantic Composite pilasters matching those on the façade. These support two entablatures running down the sides of the nave.
The entrance and the sanctuary have identical arches, larger versions of the chapel arches which intrude into the entablature so that the cornice of the latter only runs above them. The entrance arch contains a little vestibule in which is a large painted wooden crucifix. Above this, inserted into the arch, is a floating gallery with a gilded fretwork screen and an intricately decorated stucco front in a single panel containing heraldry.
The interior decoration is not otherwise highly ornate. It is in white, light blue and a very light yellow and the overall effect is a cool dignity.
The dome is divided into eight unequal sectors in blue by wide, undecorated ribs in white. It rests on an entablature supported by Composite pilasters below the ribs, themselves standing on the nave entablature. In between these are eight shuttered windows. These do not actually look onto the outdoors, but into the convent. They have raised arc cornices, rather like eyebrows.
The attractive polychrome marble floor is based on an oval reflecting the dome above, and contains a heraldic shield in pietra dura work. This is from the coat-of-arms of the Dominicans, and has the motto Veritas "truth".
The sanctuary is a longitudinal rectangular barrel-vaulted chamber of two bays, ending in an apse and delineated by a polychrome marble balustrade.
The altar is set against the far wall of the apse. The Baroque polychrome stone frontal has a loculus containing the relics of an obscure and dubious catacomb martyr named St Columba. The altarpiece is a coloured statue of Our Lady of the Rosary, in an apsidal niche gilded on the inside. Over the ornate frame of this is an oeil-de-boeuf window with heraldic stained glass.
The icon of the Madonna di San Luca is behind the grille to the left of the sanctuary.
The four side chapels are described in anticlockwise order, beginning to the right of the entrance. Unless otherwise specified, the pictures that they contain (three in each) are anonymous works of the 18th century. The chapels are in the form of apses, structurally identical with each altarpiece framed by a pair of doubletted Ionic pilasters and the conchs divided into sectors by ribs. However, the stucco decorations over the altarpieces vary interestingly.
The recesses either side of the entrance foyer used to be chapels as well, but the altars have been removed. To the right was the Chapel of the Crucifix (the wooden altarpiece crucifix is still here), and to the left the Chapel of St Vincent Ferrer. The miraculous icon described below used to be in here.
The first chapel on the right is dedicated to the Guardian Angels. The altarpiece shows one of them, and the flanking paintings depict SS Gabriel (to the right) and Michael (to the left).
The second chapel on the right is dedicated to St Dominic. The altarpiece features the icon of him at Santo Domingo in Soriano in Uruguay, within a larger composition. The side paintings depict two miracles by the saint. One is the miraculous cure of Napoleone Orsini, and the other shows him putting orthodox and heretical theological treatises on a bonfire on which only the latter burned. Note the stucco dog above the altar, which is a pun on the name of the saint (Domini canis, "dog of the Lord").
The second chapel on the left is dedicated to the Holy Rosary, and has an altarpiece by Michelangelo Cerruti which shows Our Lady Granting the Rosary to SS Dominic and Catherine of Siena. The side pictures show The Nativity and The Ascension.
The first chapel on the left is dedicated to St Joseph. The altarpiece, showing The Death of St Joseph, is by Biagio Puccini 1710. The side pictures show The Escape to Egypt and The Marriage of Our Lady to St Joseph.
The church has a Madonna and Child by Antoniazzo Romano, but the writer didn't spot it. Is it in the sacristy?
Madonna di San LucaEdit
Behind a metal grille on the left hand side of the sanctuary is the church's greatest treasure, its ancient icon of Our Lady.
The alleged legend of the arrival of the icon in Rome was written down by Martinelli in 1642, and concerns three exiled Greek brothers from Constantinople named (in Latin) Tempulus (Hieron in Greek?), Servulus and Cervulus. They brought a miraculous icon of Our Lady with them, allegedly painted from life by St Luke, and arrived in the reign of "Pope Sergius" (which one?). The icon they then enshrined in an oratory near the Baths of Caracalla, and this became the monastery of Santa Maria in Tempulo.
The legend is set around the end of the 4th century ,but the icon and monastery are first mentioned historically in a bull of Pope Sergius III in 905. The convent was on record as inhabited by Benedictine nuns by 1155. However it was shut down in disgrace by Pope Honorius III, and some of the nuns moved to San Sisto Vecchio and the new convent there of Dominican nuns. They took the icon with them. In turn it went to the new foundation of Santi Domenico e Sisto in 1575, and when that convent was suppressed in 1873 the sisters managed to keep it and brought it here in 1931.
The icon was cleaned and restored in 1960. As a result of this, it is now dated to the 7th and 8th century, with a provenance in Syria or the Holy Land. The work is painted on a tablet of lime wood, and actually seems to be part of a deesis or polyptych. Our Lady is gesturing towards a lost figure of Christ, although interestingly the Byzantine tradition has her on Christ's right -not left, as here.
It is said that the icon that you can see in the church is actually a copy, and that the original is in the convent with the nuns.
The church is open on Sunday morning for Mass and veneration of the icon, between about 10:30 and 12:30.
The former main entrance for visitors, the set of stairs from the Via Trionfale, is now not used. The entrance to the church is via the rear of the convent, on the Via Alberto Cadlolo.
The convent is not on a bus route. It is not recommended to walk up the Via Trionfale from the bus stop on the Circonvallazione Clodia, because this is a busy road and the experience will be unpleasant and possibly dangerous. There is no proper provision for pedestrians.
The best way to get to the church by public transport is to take the Metro Linea A to Cipro station, then the 907 bus (which terminates here) to the Medaglio d'Oro-Tito Livo stop. The convent is quite near as the crow flies, but the streets zig-zag to make for quite a long walk. Go north on the Viale delle Medaglie, right on the Via Franco Michelini Tocchi and second left on the Via Alberto Cadlolo. The convent is on this street.
Mass is celebrated on Sundays at 11:00. Afterwards, the grille over the icon is removed so that it can be venerated by the congregation.
The feast of Our Lady of the Rosary is celebrated here as a solemnity on 7 October.