Santa Maria della Consolazione al Foro Romano is a 16th century devotional, confraternity and former hospital church at Piazza della Consolazione 94 just to the south of the Campodoglio. This is in the rione Campitelli. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia page here.
The dedication is to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under her title of Our Lady of Consolation.
Origin of the iconEdit
The remote origins of the church lie in the use of the Tarpeian Rock in the Middle Ages for the hanging of those members of the nobility condemned to death.
A nobleman imprisoned on the Campodoglio in 1385, named Giordanello degli Alberini, left two gold florins in his will for a painting of the Blessed Virgin to be executed on an outside wall visible from the execution site, as a consolation for those about to die. The location chosen was on an external wall of a granary belonging to the Mattei family, which stood below the rock. There it remained for the next eighty five years.
The icon came to prominence owing to a miracle recorded in 1470. According to the story, a young man (whose name seems not to have been recorded) was condemned to death for murder despite swearing that he was innocent. When he was hanged, it was found that he was not choking despite dangling off the end of the noose and so he was cut down. He testified that the icon had spoken to him, saying "Go, because you are consoled", and an invisible hand had supported him. As a result he was pardoned. Hence the name of the icon, and of the future church.
The event made such an impression that a collection was started to build a devotional church to house the icon, and this was so well subscribed that one was built in the same year with the approval of Pope Sixtus IV. His family, the Della Rovere, put up much of the cost.
The initial project was patronized by the Confraternita di Santa Maria delle Grazie, a pious confraternity which ran a hospital nearby with a little church containing a much older miraculous icon -Santa Maria delle Grazie al Foro Romano. However, a new confraternity quickly came together to administer the new outreach and to build a new hospital as well as the church.
The first church was very small, with one altar. The design was by Baccio Pontelli, and the apse containing the transferred icon was frescoed by Antoniazzo Romano. During the course of the 17th century, however, the church was enlarged by adding side chapels patronized by various wealthy individuals and families. Notable amomg these were the chapels of the Mattei, Pelucchi and Dondola families which have their counterparts in the present building.
Foundation of hospitalEdit
Many came to the church to venerate the icon of Our Lady, and their donations enabled the confraternity to found a hospital. In an early spirit of rationalization, in 1506 the new foundation was united with the old nearby one of Santa Maria delle Grazie, and with Santa Maria in Portico. The latter had its own miraculous icon, which ended up at Santa Maria in Campitelli, and its church was rededicated to become Santa Galla Antiqua (now demolished).
Despite being run by a private confraternity, the hospital was to become one of the most important in Rome. The men's department was next to the church, and the women's department on the other side of the road behind the church apse.
Rebuilding of churchEdit
The project to build a new, larger church was first agreed by the Confraternity in 1583, with the civilized proviso that artworks in the existing chapels would be preserved as far as possible. The Mattei and Pelucchi chapels were actually incorported into the new edifice as they were.
A woodcut illustration survives of 1588, showing the church complete but without a proper façade. Interestingly, it also shows a tower campanile at the end of the left hand aisle with a single large arched soundhole on each face and a lead cupola. When was this demolished?
Longhi died in 1600, leaving only the first storey of the façade completed. It was only finished two hundred years later.
Further private patronage by guilds involved in business activity around the Campodoglio increased the number of side chapels to ten -five on the left, three on the right and two flanking the sanctuary.
The new church stood on a large piazza in a busy neighbourhood. The slopes of the Campodoglio were covered in buildings then, and the ancient Vico Jugario had houses between it and the hill slope all the way past the church. As a result, the street was very narrow between the end of the left hand aisle and the buildings opposite and this pinch-point remained until the 20th century. In 1666, the hospital was given the right to put a chain across the street at this point to prevent night traffic disturbing the patients.
After rebuilding the body of the church the Confraternity turned to the hospital and, in 1608, extended the main building from next to the church apse all the way along the street to where it now turns the corner. The small old church of Santa Maria delle Grazie was here, and the hospital took it over but kept it open. A pharmacy was provided (called a spezieria or "spicery"), and an anatomy theatre. The hospital was a leader in surgical innovation for the time, and in the study of medicine.
Among those who worked there were St Ignatius of Loyola, St Camillus de Lellis, St Philip Neri and St Aloysius Gonzaga. It was here that St Aloysius contracted the plague while caring for its victims. A plaque commemorating his sacrifice can be found on the wall past the side of the church.
On the other side of the street, the separate women's department was rebuilt in 1735.
Decline of hospitalEdit
The takeover by Rome by the French in 1809 saw some necessary advances in medical matters. The city's hospitals were put under a single administration with a view to modernisation, and while initially the restored Papal government in 1815 simply put things back where they were, in 1824 the idea was revived. The hospital here was put under the charge of that of Santo Spirito in Sassia, together with all others in the city, while keeping its financial independence.
In 1827 the façade was finally completed, the architect being Pasquale Belli.
In 1876, the old church of Santa Maria delle Grazie was closed, and is now part of a police headquarters. The icon was transferred to the chapel at the end of the right hand aisle, and the idea was had to put a copy of the icon of Santa Maria in Portico in the left hand one. Hence the church has three icons of Our Lady enshrined in it, making it the Chiesa delle Tre Madonne.
In 1896, the administration of the hospital was suppressed and all the city's hospitals finally united under one health department with full control. This was the end of the Confraternity, which had not been directly involved in the hospital for some time.
The Franciscan Capuchins took over responsibility for the church, and also volunteered to help out in the hospital. However, the latter was hopelessly antiquated and was downgraded to a clinic in 1930. Finally, all medical activity was stopped in 1936, and the site is now the headquarters of the City Police (several different police forces actually operate in Rome).
Church loses rationaleEdit
The Fascist government indulged in a hugely destructive clearance of most buildings on the slopes of the Campodoglio in the 1930's, and continued the campaign even while the country was at war. In 1942 all the buildings on the north side of the old Vico Jugario were demolished, including mediaeval ones, and this reduced the pastoral outreach of the church severely.
Until the late 20th century, the road past the church was a main throughfare which led on to the Via dei Fori Imperial via the Temple of Saturn. This was objected to by archaeologists, so the right of way was suppressed. This left the church's neighbourhood very isolated, so the church now has few visitors.
The Capuchins are still in charge, and provide a very early (6:30) Mass on weekdays for those commuting to work in the city. Other Roman churches have been slow to recognize the effect of modern work practices on churchgoing, so this outreach is to be commended.
Layout and fabricEdit
The plan of the church is rectangular, and structurally it has a nave of five bays with two side aisles on each side. There is a double-pitched and tiled roof for the central nave, and lower single-pitched sloping roofs covering the aisles on either side. The outer aisles are divided into chapels by blocking walls, and these walls are extended over the aisle roofs to create enormous flying buttresses supporting the central nave walls. There are five of these on the left hand side, for the five chapels, but only four on the right as there are only three chapels and the sacristy antechamber on that side.
The large central external apse, on a U-shaped plan, is flanked by a pair of large chapels which have internal apses.
The fabric is in brick, rendered and with architectural details in travertine limestone. The left hand wall faces the street, and so has been embellished with six Corintian pilasters in shallow relief. In between these are five wide windows with slightly curved tops, which light the side chapels.
When the houses on the other side of the street were demolished, the street level was substantially lowered which is why the church is on a plinth. The same lowering affecting the piazza meant that a long access stairway had to be provided.
The façade is entirely in travertine, and the different ages of the two storeys can be discerned
from the way the upper 19th century work has weathered less.
The first storey is by Martino Longhi the Elder, 1600. It has three planes, a wide central one fronting the nave and the inner side aisles and two recessed ones fronting the side chapels. The former has six Ionic pilasters with swagged capitals in shallow relief, two conjoined pairs flanking the central door and a further pair at the corners. Two more pilasters are on the outer corners of the chapel frontages. These all support an entablature, and above this is an attic on which the second storey sits.
In between the capitals of the pilasters are panels with swags.
There are three entrances, the central one being larger with a triangular pediment raised on strap corbels while the aisle entrances have raised segmental pediments. Above the latter is a pair of rectangular framed tablets. The chapel frontages have a pair of little windows with slightly curved tops.
The four statues standing on the corners of the attic are 19th century, and represent the four prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel.
The second storey, by Pasquale Belli of 1827, has two pairs of Ionic pilasters supporting an entablature and a crowning triangular pediment. A large rectangular central window has a segmental pediment supported by a pair of spindly columns, and over this is a pair of swags.
Because the church is very wide in comparison with its height, the pediment is actually false -the roof ridge only comes up to the level of the entablature.
There are two identical campanili on the far walls of the chapels at the end of the aisles, flanking the central apse. Each is a stone frame of two stories with the second one narrower than the first, with two round-headed apertures to contain a pair of bells and a pair of pilaster buttresses either side. On top is a little tiled pediment.
The lower storey of the right hand campanile has had a clock inserted into it.
The apse end is embellished architecturally, as it faces down the street next to the former hospital. The gable is outlined by a cornice with modillions to create a false pediment, and the lead-
sheathed conch of the central apse protrudes from this. Below the pediment are two levels of almost square windows, one above the other in the side chapel frontages and three above two in the central apse.
In the middle of the apse wall in the place of a window is a fresco of the Madonna and Child, protected by a little lead canopy. This was by Niccolò Berrettoni (1637-82), a pupil of Carlo Maratta, but was restored in 1787.
The nave, of five bays, has side aisles separated by arcades with rectangular piers. The arcade arches have Doric archivolts, but the sides of the piers facing inwards have gigantic ribbed Corinthian pilasters in shallow relief, which support a deep entablature running around the entire church and above the arcade arches.
The central nave has a barrel-vaulted ceiling, with lunettes for five windows on each side. The vault is entirely undecorated.
The colour scheme for the nave is very simple. It used to be creamy white, but has not been renewed for a long time and is now greyish with dirt.
The floor looks original. It is in red brick, laid in a herringbone pattern with marble strips marking out the major axis and dividing the bay areas.
Our Lady has three shrines in this church. The main one is the high altar, where the original icon of Our Lady of Consolation can be found. It was originally executed in 1385, and allegedly reworked by Antoniazzo Romano at the end of the 15th century (the extent of Romano's involvment is a matter for debate).
It is enshrined in a polychrome marble aeducule with a pair of Corinthian columns in a pinkish marble supporting a triangular entablature. This was designed by Longhi, but the actual sanctuary was originally begun by della Porta and completed by Longhi under the supervision of Cardinal Alessandro Riario in 1585.
The large apse has five windows, three over two, and a conch. The latter is coffered in diapers with rosettes, while the single-bay sanctuary has a short barrel vault with octagonal coffering. This is slightly lower than the nave vault, leaving a crescent-shaped wall over the triumphal arch. This wall has stucco reliefs of two angels either side of what is now a cross, but it formerly had a tablet extolling the cardinal's work. This was removed in 1967 because its weight was cracking the archivolt of the arch.
On the sanctuary side walls are two pictures by Cristoforo Roncalli, Il Pomarancio. To the right is The Birth of Our Lady, and to the left is The Annunciation.
The chapels are described in anticlockwise order, beginning from the bottom right.
The first chapel on the right is the Cappella Mattei, dedicated to the Crucifixion, and its frescoes of The Passion were painted by Taddeo Zuccari in 1556 (that is, when the chapel was still part of the old church). The damage by damp here is truly tragic, but has apparently been going on for a long time.
The altarpiece depicts the Crucifixion, and is in a richly decorated stucco setting with a pair each of prophets and sibyls.
The left hand wall has The Flagellation, and in the lunette above is Christ Before Annas. The right hand wall has Ecce Homo, and the lunette has Christ Brought Before Pilate.
The vault of the chapel is in the form of a Greek cross with a central oculus and pendentives, with four main panels. The frescoes here are especially good. They depict: Christ in Gethsemane, The Last Supper (a masterpiece), The Washing of the Feet and The Arrest of Christ. The pendentives depict the Evangelists.
The second chapel on the right is the Cappella Pelucchi, also richly decorated and also being destroyed by damp. The altarpiece, Madonna and Child Enthroned, is by Livio Agresti who died in 1580. The pictures on the side walls are anonymous Mannerist works; to the left is The Call of St Peter, and to the right The Martyrdom of St Andrew.
Cappella degli AffidatiEdit
The third chapel on the right was fitted out by the guild of animal herders in 1583, and the intricacy of the stucco decoration announces the impending Baroque style. The architect was Antonio Ferreri, and the painting was executed by Giovanni Baglione. The dedication is to the Nativity.
The intricately smithed iron screen is original.
The impressive polychrome marble altar has an altarpiece depicting The Adoration of the Magi. The side walls display The Adoration of the Shepherds to the right, and The Presentation of Christ to the left. The vault has a little saucer dome, with four panels showing scenes from the life of Our Lady. At the chapel entrance are St Paul the First Hermit and St Anthony of Egypt.
The next chapel recess on the right is actually the antechamber to the sacristy, and also used to be the entrance from the hospital.
On the right on entering the sacristy is a large wooden crucifix dating from the start of the 16th century. The altarpiece is a marble relief of a Crucifixion by Luigi Capponi, about 1490.
In a corridor outside the sacristy is a fresco of Christ Rising from the Tomb, late 15th century.
Santa Maria delle GrazieEdit
The chapel to the right of the sanctuary is the shrine of Our Lady of Grace, designed by Augusto Carnevale and furnished with polychrome stonework as well as pictures salvaged from the nearby deconsecrated church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in 1876. This was the year that the ancient miraculous icon from the same church was also enshrined here.
The Byzantine icon was, by tradition, the one that Pope Vitalian received from the emperor Constans II in 657. By further, very dubious tradition it had been painted in Jerusalem by St Luke the Evangelist while Our Lady was still alive. The pope built a church for it between the Lateran and Santi Quattro Coronati, and it was noticed in 680 that those living near it escaped an outbreak of plague that ravaged the rest of the city.
In 1045 Pope Gregory VI founded a hospital next to its church, which took the same name. However, it did not last long because in 1084 both hospital and church were burned by the Normans under Robert Guiscard. The icon was found unharmed in the ruins, and taken to the sacristy of the Lateran. The complex was rebuilt just west of the ancient Basilica Iulia in the Forum, and the icon was ceremonially re-installed in the new church in 1088. There it remained until 1876.
The ancient icon was stolen in 1960, and replaced by one painted by Roberto Cocci Marconi in a strictly traditional Byzantine style. This in turn was substituted by a 12th century copy of the original icon, which is what is to be found here now.
The side walls of the chapel have two late 18th century paintings, St Luke Painting Our Lady on the right, and St Peter Curing a Cripple on the left. The right hand wall also has a 17th century picture of one Pietro Giovanni Fiorenzi, who paid for a restoration of the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie and whose transferred tombstone is in the floor.
Santa Maria in PorticoEdit
The chapel to the left of the sanctuary is dedicated to Our Lady in Portico, with a reproduction of the tiny ancient icon now in Santa Maria in Campitelli. This is enshrined in an enormous neo-Baroque glory inserted into a cove, with a crowd of angels and putti in stucco. Above the shrine the icon is echoed in grey and blue in an oval rayed tondo.
The late 19th enshrinement of this copy was owing to the initiative of one Suor Carmela, a Sister of Charity, who also painted the two rather bad pictures on the side walls: St Galla Gives a Meal to Poor People, and St Galla and Pope St John I Venerate the Icon.
In the floor is the tomb slab of Giuseppe Faraldo, 1692, and outside is a monument to Giovanni Battista Pieri, 1705, a noted surgeon of his time who worked in the hospital.
Cappella dei VignaroliEdit
The fifth chapel on the left belonged to the guild of vignaroli (vine dressers?), who took it over at the end of the 16th century and had it frescoed by Antonio Circignani. He was responsible for the Marriage at Cana to the right with the Presentation of Christ in the lunette, and to the left the Resurrection of Lazarus with the Massacre of the Innocents in the lunette.
The altar has an anonymous 17th century altarpiece depicting Our Lady with St John the Baptist.
The frescoes on the vault with its pilasters, showing saints and sibyls with little Gospel scenes, are from the early 17th century in the style of Zuccari.
Cappella dei PescatoriEdit
The fourth chapel on the left is dedicated to St Andrew, the patron of fishermen whose guild fitted it out in 1608 to the design of Longhi. The fresco work is all by Marzio Ganassini.
The chapel has a very attractive original iron railing screen protecting it, with a little figure of the apostle over the gate.
The altarpiece also depicts the apostle. On the right hand wall he is being martyred, with a representation of him before the tyrant in the lunette above. On the left hand wall is the Martyrdom of St Peter, and in the lunette is St Peter Liberated from Prison by an Angel. Angels bearing the symbols of martyrdom also feature. The vault has the Eternal Father in the middle, surrounded by four scenes from the lives of SS Peter and Paul, and Gospel scenes in the angles.
This chapel contains a wooden statue of Jesus the Nazarene, brought from Santa Maria delle Grazie and the subject of popular devotion. Note the ex-votos on display. Together with the ancient icon, it was reported to have moved its eyes in 1796.
Cappella dei Garzoni degli OstiEdit
The third chapel on the left was fitted out by the guild of table-waiters in 1575. The fresco work was done by Francesco Nappi between 1620 and 1630, and is embellished by more wonderfully intricate stucco work.
Here is a third intricate iron railing screen.
The dedication is to the Assumption of Our Lady, and the large altarpiece by Nappi depicts this. Tragically, the lower half depicting the apostles around her empty tomb has been cut out and stolen by robbers; a photo has been left to show its original appearance. Here is another photo: 
On the right hand wall is a Nativity, and on the left the Adoration of the Magi. The spectacular vault, in a Maltese cross pattern, has four major panels representing The Presentation of Our Lady, Annunciation, Marriage at Cana and Crowning as Queen of Heaven. The four Latin Doctors of the Church (SS Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome and Gregory) are in the tondi.
The second chapel on the left is the Cappella Sacchi, and is dedicated to St Francis of Assisi. Perhaps as appropriate to the dedication, it is not much embellished with decoration. The altarpiece showing the saint receiving the stigmata is an anonymous 16th century work.
On the left is a monument to Antonio Bernardino Sacchi, 1615, and opposite is one to his wife Vittoria Arrigoni.
The first chapel on the left is the Cappella Dondola, and is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception.
The altarpiece is an important marble relief sculpture of the Mystical Marriage of St Catherine (note that the saint is carrying her famous Catherine Wheel), firmly attributed to Raffaello da Montelupo about 1539. In other words it was in the old church, and is arguably the best thing in this one. The central figure is the Madonna and Child, hence it has been thought that the left hand figure is St Joseph. A more likely identification is with St Sigismund, after the founder of the chapel who was Sigismondo Dondoli. The saint was a king of Burgundy, hence the sceptre.
Above the three figures in the relief is God the Father giving a blessing from the clouds.
The founder's tomb has a strikingly realistic portrait bust, of him wearing a beret.
Access and liturgyEdit
The church has recently been open from 6:30 to 18:30, with the usual break for lunch.
It is best visited on a bright sunny day, as it can be gloomy inside. The chapels have been provided with lights on timer switches, but several of these are broken. Serious visitors are advised to bring a torch.
Mass is at 6:30 on weekdays, and 11:00 on Sundays.
The patronal feast of the church is 8 September, Our Lady's Birthday.