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Santa Maria dell'Anima

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Santa Maria dell'Anima is a 16th century national church at Via Santa Maria dell'Anima 64 in the rione Ponte. Pictures of the church on Wikipedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia article here, and a German one here.

The dedication is to dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under her title of Our Lady of the Souls in Purgatory.

This is the national church of Germany



The remote origins of the church lie in a private hospice for Dutch pilgrims founded by a married expatriate couple from Dordrecht in the Netherlands, Jan and Katharina Peeters, after the Holy Year of 1350. They called it Hospitium Beatae Mariae Animarum (Guest-House of Blessed Mary of Souls), and it proved a complete success.

In 1386 it was established on the present site, and in 1399 It received papal approval from Pope Boniface IX. It seems to have been amalgamated with a similar institution dedicated to St Andrew the Apostle, and founded by Nikolaus von Kulm from Old Prussia. A new purpose-built complex with a small chapel was erected here in 1400.

In 1406 Pope Innocent VII brought the hospice under immediate papal jurisdiction, declared it to be the national institution for expatriates and pilgrims from the Holy Roman Empire and established a confraternity to run it. This was the Confraternità di Santa Maria dell'Anima in Purgatorio. Back then, there was no nationalist distinction between the Germans (as now understood), the Dutch and the Austrians but all were counted as Germans. There was not even a recognized standard for the German language -that came with Luther in the 16th century.

Church constructionEdit

in 1431 a full-sized church was built to replace the former small chapel, which was made possible because of a large legacy provided by the famous German mediaeval historian Diedrich of Niem. This was in the Gothic style.

However Johann Burchard, a priest and noted chronicler from Alsace (then part of the Empire and fully German) joined the confraternity and became its leader. He obviously did not think much of the church. Under his influence it was decided to demolish it, even though it was newly completed, and rebuild it for the Jubilee of 1500 declared by Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503).

The confraternity raised the funds by appeals in the Empire, and started work in 1499. However, the work was only finished at the consecration in 1543. The architect may have been Andrea Sansovino, and he was certainly consulted. The influence of Donato Bramante is also claimed as regards the windows, but not documented. The façade was possibly by Giuliano da Salgallo, although this has been disputed.

Later historyEdit

There was a destructive flood of the Tiber in 1598, which caused serious damage. The interior was re-fitted in the 17th century, giving it the spectacular Baroque appearance that it now has.

When the House of Habsburg, with their power base in Austria, became hereditary Holy Roman Emperors from the 16th century the Confraternity became regarded as an outpost of the Imperial establishment at Vienna. So, when the French occupied Rome in 1795 during the Revolutionary Wars they sacked and desecrated the church, turning the complex into a cavalry barracks.

After the definitive re-establishment of Papal government in 1815, trouble began over the exact national identity of the restored church. The Holy Roman Empire had been abolished by Napoleon, and the modern ideology of nationalism was aggressively developed in the 19th century.

The church was restored again in 1843, but the following year the Belgian Flemish expatriates abandoned it for San Giuliano dei Fiamminghi. The confraternity was renamed the Collegio Teutonico di Santa Maria dell'Anima as a nationalist gesture to the Germans, and it still exists under this title.

The interior was re-fitted in 1875 to 1882, as part of the strong boost in confidence given to the Germans by the creation of their Empire.

The Dutch finally abandoned the church in 1939 because nationalist disputes between them and the Germans had become intolerable. They are now at Santi Michele e Magno.


Layout and fabricEdit

The church is built as a Hallenkirche or hall church, an architectural type common in northern Europe and apparently chosen in the 1500 rebuilding as a nationalist statement. This is built to be as wide as possible,

Maria dell' Anima

Note false top of façade.

with a lofty roof held up by two rows of piers and with all the windows in the main side walls instead of above the arcades as in a basilica. (Churches of this type often doubled as municipal assemblies and, in some cases, as trading halls.) However, here each side wall is divided into four enclosed chapels, which is unusual for a hall church.

The plan is actually slightly trapezoidal, with the right hand side at an obtuse angle to the façade. The builders solved this by making the right hand wall gradually thicker towards the far end and so absorbing the irregularity within it.

The exterior walls are in yellow brick, with architectural details in white limestone. As a result of the overall design, the nave and aisles shelter under one wide pitched and tiled roof.


On the far right hand corner of this is attached the campanile, at an angle to the main axis of the church so that one side faces the wall of Santa Maria della Pace on the other side of the narrow street there. It was built in 1518 by Sansovino. A square tower in yellow brick, it has a very deep cornice both above and below the bellchamber. The latter has two pairs of brick Ionic pilasters on each corner, holding up a stone entablature below the upper cornice, and the soundholes are two narrow double arches separated by a thin column and with a little round window above each pair. 

Unusually for Rome, there is a spire. This sits on four gables, has a crocket at each corner and is conical with the tip truncated. It is covered in polychrome tilework arranged geometrically in an Austrian idiom (the style is known in Italy as a squame), and has a ball finial with a bronze Habsburg double-headed eagle sitting on top. The last is 19th century.


The three-storey rectangular façade is rather simple, and the top storey is actually false (a look from an oblique angle down the street will reveal this). It is often, but probably erroneously, attributed to Sangallo. Recently, scholars have attributed the three doors to Sansovino, including the sculpture, while earlier studies have attributed them to Peruzzi. The windows may be the work of Bramante.

The first storey has stone Corinthian pilasters on each corner. A pair of narrower pilasters are placed near these, and another pair is between the three entrance doors. These pilasters support an entablature with a deep dentillate cornice and a frieze bearing a dedicatory inscription: Templum Beatae Mariae de anima hospitalis teutonicorum MDXIIII (Temple of Blessed Mary of the soul and of the hospice of the Germans 1514). The three entrances are flanked by half-round Corinthian columns, and the side pair are smaller than the main one. The former have blank segmental pediments, whereas the latter has a triangular pediment the tip of which touches the architrave. It contains a copy relief carving of Our Lady flanked by two souls in Purgatory (the original is now kept in the sacristy). Below this is an inscription Speciosa facta es (you were made beautiful).

The second storey has pilasters and entablature in the same style as the first storey. In between them are three very large round-headed windows, the middle one being slightly larger than the other two. Their frames are stone arches without imposts. The cornice of this storey continues along the rooflines of the side walls.

The third, lower storey has the pilaster motif repeated. It has a horizontal top, concealing the roof gable. The central round window is in the top of the latter. A pair of sculptured heraldic devices flanks it.


Layout and fabricEdit

Having the aisles the same height as the central nave gives a very impressive interior, with ribbed cross-vaults supported by square piers. The high aisles mean that the side chapels are also very high. They are apsidal, and so are in the form of semi-cylinders topped by vault conchs.

The interior surfaces are all richly decorated, including the vaults. The side chapels are all frescoes above the altar aedicules. Much of this decoration, as well as the stained glass, was done from 1875 to 1882 and is by Ludovico Seitz


The nave piers have Corinthian pilasters on all four sides, standing on plinths panelled in grey-veined Carrara marble and with gilded capitals. The pilasters facing along the church are pink, and those facing across the church are grey. The vaults spring from corniced posts above the pilaster capitals.

These nave piers display several interesting funerary monuments.

The aisle ceilings are standard cross-vaults with central roundels, but the central nave vault is much more complex. Transverse archivolts springing from the piers divide the bays, which are double-cross vaulted with the ribs in alternate bays forming hexagons or crosses. The background colour in the former is blue, and in the latter light brown with geometric decoration in gold. The vault sectors next to the aisle arcades have fresco portraits of saints.

By the entrance are two memorials to cardinals. One is to Cardinal Willem van Enckevoirt (died 1534). He was Baldassare Peruzzi 's patron, and commissioned the tomb of Pope Adrian VI (see below), the Chapel of St Barbara and the high altar. (Note that this cardinal's name comes in several spellings, pehaps understandably.) The other is to Cardinal Andrea d'Austria (died 1600).


The sanctuary has two bays, with an attached apse. The sumptuous decoration is 18th century, by Paolo Posi who covered the pilasters with what looks like alabaster.

There is an ornate gilded stucco ceiling vault, patterned geometrically in white and gold with the double-headed eagle of the Habsburg Empire in the middle. This vault ends in the apse conch, which is cleverly designed as a bit more than a half-dome with a full oculus in the form of the monogram of Our Lady in a glory. This conch is incised by a pair of lunettes containing putti playing about, and in the centre by an oddly-shaped stained glass window over the high altar, like a vertical drug capsule. The stained glass depicts the Trinity.

The high altar is against the apse wall immediately below this window. It has a pair of highly polished Corinthian columns in pink and grey marble, supporting a triangular pediment defaced by a gilded double-headed eagle. Allegories of Charity and Fortitude sit on the pediment.

The altarpiece depicts The Holy Family and Saints by Giulio Romano, who painted it in 1522. It is a masterpiece, and is considered one of his best works. It was actually painted for the Chapel of St Mark, but was moved here in 1750. Beforehand, it was seriously damaged by a flood in 1598 and the bottom part had to be re-painted by Carlo Saraceni. The Holy Family is shown accompanied by the infant St John the Baptist, St James the Great with a scallop shell and pilgrim's satchel to the left (the allusion is to the pilgrimage to his shrine at Compostela) and St Mark with his lion in the foreground and holding a book with quill-pen. St Joseph is looking pensive, which is an ancient iconographic tradition. Oddly, in the half-ruined Classical building in the background is a woman with a spinning-distaff and a hen with chicks.

The altar is flanked by a pair of pedimented niches containing allegorical stucco figures, Religion (with the Eucharistic elements) and Piety (with a church).  Above these are two paintings by Seitz, depicting the Birth of Our Lady and her Death.

Sanctuary monumentsEdit

There are two very large and ornate memorials on either side of the sanctuary. 

Pope Adrian VI (1522-1523), who was born in Utrecht, is buried on the right side, in a tomb designed by Baldassare Peruzzi and with sculptures by Michelangelo Senese and Niccolò Tribolo. This work was commissioned by Cardinal can Enchevoirt. The pope is depicted as if he were lying down, a recumbant portrayal known as gisant. This is the latest surviving example for a papal tomb in Rome.

The effigy reclines on a sarcophagus embellished with putt and the pope's coat-of-arms. Four statues of allegorical virtues are in round-headed niches on either side, separated by four Composite columns. Two of the latter are in red and grey marble matching that of the altar columns, and the other two are in a black and grey brecciated marble. There are bas-reliefs below the sarcophagus, and in a lunette at the top of the monument.

The left hand side of the sanctuary has a memorial to Karl Friedrich of Jülich Cleves Berg, who died in 1575. This monument was designed by Albert Pighius and sculpted by Nicolas Mostaert and Gillis van den Vliete. (The former sculptor is often known in Italian as Niccolò Fiammingo or Niccolò Pippi d'Arras, and the latter as Egidio della Riviera which is a translation of his name.) The centrepiece is an enormous marble relief sculpture, flanked by a pair of allegorical figures in scallop-headed niches and four Corinthian columns in black and grey marble. 

The side chapels are described in anticlockwise order, beginning at the bottom right.

Chapel of St Benno of MeissenEdit

The first chapel on the right is dedicated to St Benno of Meissen, with an altarpiece by Carlo Saraceni. The saint was bishop of Meissen during the Investiture Controversy, and threw the keys of the cathedral into the river to prevent Emperor Henry IV from visiting it. A miracle then occurred, depicted here, by which a fisherman caught a fish which had swallowed the keys and so was able to return them.

​Chapel of St AnneEdit

The second chapel on the right is dedicated to St Anne, and the altarpiece showing The Holy Family and St Anne is by Giacinto Gimignani. The frescoes above are by Giovanni Francesco Grimaldi.

Monuments in the chapel are to Giovanni Savenierer 1638 by Alessandro Algardi, Gualterio Gualtieri 1659 and Giovanni Gualtiero Slusio 1687 by Ercole Ferrata. Outside are those to Ludwig Flir von Landeck 1859 and Giovanni Teodoro Jacquet 1737.

​Chapel of St MarkEdit

The third chapel on the right is dedicated to St Mark the Evangelist, and is the Cappella 'Fugger. It was decorated by Sermoneta. The present high altarpiece of the church used to be in here. Now the altarpiece is a painted wooden crucifix by Giovanni Battista Montano

Outside is a memorial to Adrian Wryburgh, 1828.

​Chapel of the PietàEdit

In the last chapel on the right is a reproduction by Lorinzetto of Michelangelo's Pietà. It is not an exact copy, as the artist has made a few changes such as the position of Christ's head. It was sculpted in 1530, and was intended for the high altar. It has a spectacular red jasper surround.

There are no chapels flanking the sanctuary, so the left hand wall here extends to the triumphal arch. It has a massive corbelled balcony with a balustrade, which is a cantoria intended for musicians. Below this are memorials to Giovanni Emerick 1669, and Giacomo Emerick 1696.

​Chapel of the CrossEdit

The fourth chapel on the left, the Cappella Marburg, is dedicated to the Passion of Christ. Francesco Salviati (proper name Francesco de' Rossi) painted the altarpiece, The Deposition from the Cross ,in about 1560. It was one of his last commissions, and he also executed the frescoes which are grotesque and are inspired by the ancient ones at the Domus Aurea.

The right hand wall here has a balcony matching that on the other side of the church. Here is a bust of Pope Clement II who was a German, and memorials to Hugo von Furstemberg 1586 and Lucas Holstenius 1663. The latter is by Antonio Giorgetti, and used to have two gilded bronze medallions. These were replaced by stucco ones in 1832. The winged skull is popular with visitors.

​Chapel of St BarbaraEdit

The third chapel on the left is dedicated to St Barbara. The fresco work is by Michiel Coxie, from Flanders.

​Chapel of St John NepomuceneEdit

The second chapel on the left is dedicated to St John Nepomucene, and was re-fitted in the 19th century.

​Chapel of St LambertEdit

The first chapel on the left is dedicated to St Lambert, and has an altarpiece by Carlo Saraceni of 1618 showing the saint being martyred at the altar of his church at Liege.

Memorials here are to Lamberto Orsini de Vivariis 1619, Egidio Orsini de Vivariis with a bust by Giuliano Finelli 1647 and Antonio Ohms 1843. 


The sacristy was designed by Paolo Marucelli in 1635. The vault has an Assumption by Giovanni Francesco Romanelli. The wall frescoes showing scenes from the life of Our Lady are by Giuseppe Bonati (The Visitation), Giovanni Maria Morandi (Marriage to Joseph, Annunciation) and Gilles Hallet (Birth of Our Lady).


The church has an idyllic little garden courtyard containing fragments of ancient sculpture, including a finely carved sarcophagus depicting the god Apollo and fragments of 9th century plutei (screen slabs). There are also more interesting funerary monuments here. The entrance is at the end of the left hand aisle.


The church is open (according to its doorplate):

Dail 9:00 to 12:45, 15:00 to 19:00.


Mass is said here on weekdays at 18:00, and on Sundays at 10:00. It is in German, of course.

External linksEdit

Official diocesan web-page

Italian Wikipedia page

Nolli map (look for 600)

Church's website

"De Alvariis" gallery on Flickr

Roma SPQR web-page with gallery

Info.roma web-page

"Romeartlover" web-page

Youtube video by Entroroma

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