|Santa Maria dell'Orto|
|English name:||St Mary in the Garden|
|Dedication:||Blessed Virgin Mary|
|Architect(s):||Giulio Romano, Guidetto Guidetti, Jacopo Barozzi|
|Artists:||Giovanni Baglione, Federico Zuccari, Taddeo Zuccari|
|Address:||10, Via Anicia - 00153 Rome|
Santa Maria dell' Orto is a Baroque guild church in Trastevere dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, at Via Anicia 10. It is a little tricky to find; the easiest way is to get the number 8 tram to Piazza Mastai, exit that piazza by the north-east corner (Via della Luce), then take the first right twice. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons. 
This is a late 15th century foundation, and began as a result of popular devotion to an icon of Our Lady. The story is that a small-holder in Trastevere (not then completely built up within the city walls) was cured of a serious illness after making a private vow to her, and as a result put up an icon next to the gate into his land (orto means "garden", but also "smallholding" or a small farm). This was venerated by the locals and miracles were reported, which led to the construction of a small devotional chapel. The date of this is uncertain, but 1488 has been claimed as the foundation year (the first documentary reference to the chapel is 1494). In 1492 Pope Alexander VI gave a charter to the new Fraternità di Santa Maria dell'Orto, which was a guild inviting membership from professional people working on smallholdings. As well as market gardeners the membership included craftsmen and pork butchers; the latter could raise their own pigs for slaughter.
The brotherhood wished to build a full-sized church, and initiated the project in 1489. The original architect, who proposed a plan based on a Greek cross with a central dome, is unknown. Work stopped in 1513, presumably because money ran out, but resumed a decade later and the church was finally consecrated (although not finished) in 1524. In this period the architect may have been Sebastiano da Como, who was paid for his services despite his lack of architectual experience. There was another hiatus, during which Giulio Romano contributed designs, and then the final period of building activity took place between 1542 and 1563. A student of Michelangelo called Guidetto Guidetti was the architect (also responsible for Santa Caterina dei Funari), and he recognized that the previous work was sub-standard for the purpose of providing a dome (always beware of amateur architects). So, he converted the plan to that of a Latin cross and inserted cross-vaulting instead of a dome. The façade was begun by Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, who received geometric assistance from Giovanni Giovannoni. It was completed by Francesco da Volterra in 1577. Final internal decorations were completed in 1579.
The building project was not realized by the confraternity alone, but was a joint effort with several (the traditional number is thirteen) guilds or Università of professional people in the retail and craft trades. Women were members as well. In 1588 the brotherhood was given the status of an Archconfraternity. This ran an hospital for its members, offered dowries for poor unmarried women (who had to be "honest" as well), and accumulated substantial property in the 17th century which was the time of its greatest prosperity. The period of the Roman Republic proved a disaster, since the hospital was closed and never re-opened. In 1852 the Papal government took over the hospital building for a tobacco factory, and used the original garden for an extension. Most of Archconfraternity's remaining property was sequestered by the Italian government after 1870, but it remains in possession of the church and was able to oversee its recent restoration.
Later history of the churchEdit
The prosperity of the archconfraternity allowed it to commission additional decorative elements which make up the luscious sumptiousness of the interior today. In the early 18th century a scheme for stucco decoration was designed by Luigi Barattone and Gabriele Valvassori, with Simone Giorgini and Leonardo Retti being responsible for the figures (Valvassori was also responsible for the floor). Nicolangelo Aldini and Giuseppe Bilancioni were responsible for the garlands of fruit and flowers which are such a prominent feature of the church's interior, and the frescoes were by Giuseppe Andrea Orazi, Giacinto Calandrucci, Andrea Procaccini and Giovanbattista Parodi.
There was a restoration of the church in 1825.
The 20th century saw a decline in the fortunes of the edifice, engendered by the Archconfraternity's loss of income. The surrounding area became dominated by industry and secular institutions, and in the 1950's the Archconfraternity closed the church except for occasional Masses. However, a thorough restoration was carried out at the start of the 21st century and the building is now in good condition and has been regularly open since 2008. It is justified pastorally by being used by the expatriate Japanese Catholic community, although it is not yet listed as a national church.
The church has a plan of a Latin cross, and is a straightforward edifice of a nave and aisles, with the nave and transepts under the same pitched and tiled roof. The short presbyterium has a roof at a slightly lower level. There is no campanile, but on the end of the left transept is an interesting bellcote designed like a miniature ancient Roman triumphal arch. There are three arches for the bells, two small ones and the central one larger, and four engaged derivative Corinthian columns on each side. The composition is crowned by a triangular pediment.
Unfortunately, the building of a large school opposite in the 19th century means that it is difficult to get a good view of the wide two-storey façade in its entirety. The building material is red brick, with architectural details in travertine. It is dominated by the entrance propylaeum, which has a pair of large stone Ionic columns in the round, supporting an entablature and a segmental pediment which intrudes into the upper storey. The propylaeum is brought forward from the plane of the façade, and within it is a recessed arch containing the actual doorway. The latter has plain moulding, and the former a pair of brick Doric pilasters fitting against the columns. The tympanum of the arch is empty (except for the standard coat of arms of the diocese), and the stone capitals of the pilasters are extended across the façade as a string course. The entablature of the propylaeum is also extended in the same way to provide the entablature of the first storey, and its frieze bears a dedicatory inscription. The cornice is denticulate.
To either side of the propylaeum are three Ionic brick pilasters, irregularly spaced. Between the first two on either side are the aisle doors, smaller with triangular pediments. Above these is a pair of lunette windows, and four blank round-headed niches complete the ensemble.
The second storey has four Corinthian brick pilasters supporting an architrave and cornice only, with an undersized triangular pediment over the inner two only. There is a large round-headed window in a rectangular frame, and above this is a clock face. These features are 19th century, and replace an oculus. A pair of blank round-headed niches are inserted between the pilasters.
On the roofline are several "obelisk" finials (actually elongated pyramids), probably added in 1762. There are three on each side over the first storey and five shorter ones on top of the second, making a total of eleven.
The church interior is incredibly lush, and has beautiful frescoes and stucco work. Garlands and swags are everywhere, recalling the church's dedication.
The short nave has three bays with arcades, above which are three rectangular windows set into lunettes. The ceiling displays an Assumption by Calandrucci of 1707. The 16th century frescoes in the transept chapels and the apse are by Federico Zuccari and Taddeo Zuccari (who were brothers) and Niccolò Trometta ("da Pesaro"). The crossing has a little, shallow saucer dome inserted, containing another Assumption surrounded by stucco cherubs frolicking in the vegetation.
There are three nave chapels on each side. The first on the right has an Annunciation of 1560 by Taddeo Zuccari and the third has a Madonna and Child with Saints by Giovanni Baglione of 1630. The second chapel on the left has a Baptism of Jesus by Corrado Giaquinto of 1750.
Note the tombstones that reveal that the church belonged to various trade corporations, and the high-quality polychrome marble and stucco floor displays emblems from several of them.
A curious part of the decoration is a beautifully carved turkey. It was placed here in the 18th century by the Guild of Chicken-sellers to commemorate the arrival of the first turkey from America.
The owner of the church is the Arciconfraternita di Santa Maria dell'Orto (Brotherhood of St. Mary of the Garden), which is responsible for all aspects of the administration the church. For information you can e-mail the Camerlengo (Chairman of the Brotherhood) at the following address: email@example.com
This is the last church in Rome to have a Macchina delle Quarantore on Holy Thursday, which is an enormous forty-candle candelabrum placed before the altar. The Flickr photostream (see external link) has several photos of it.
Opening times are now standard; that is, expect the church to be closed for lunch but open in the morning and late afternoon. There will be a Sunday morning Mass.