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Santa Maria della Pace is an originally 15th century titular and former convent church at Via Arco della Pace 5, hidden away to the west of the top end of the Piazza Navona in the rione Ponte. It is not easy to find. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons here. There is an English Wikipedia page here.
The dedication is to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under her title of "Our Lady of Peace".
Beware of confusion with Santa Maria della Pace dell'Opus Dei.
The church is a descendent of a parish church dedicated to St Andrew the Apostle, which was listed as a dependency of San Lorenzo in Damaso in 1186 as Sancti Andreae de Incaricariis. The name is given as Acquarizariis in 1278, and as Aquariciariis in 1380.
The name has been thought to refer to the acquarellari of the Middle Ages, the water-salesmen who filled casks with water from the Tiber and solid it to those inhabitants of Rome who had no direct water supply. The water would have been used for cooking and for washing, but those who did not want to die prematurely would drink wine if they could afford it. When the aqueducts collapsed by the 9th century, richer people and institutions had their own wells dug while poorer folk had to make do with Tiber water.
This church was probably the same as the one listed in the late mediaeval catalogues as Sanctae Mariae de Aquarichariis.
The event that led to the present church took place in 1480. The legend is that a drunken soldier lost a large sum of money gambling in the street outside a drinking establishment next to the church, and in fury threw a knife at an icon of Our Lady which was on the wall overlooking. It struck her in the breast (or cheek), and the wound started to bleed (di vivo sangue). This miraculous event attracted much attention, and Pope Sixtus IV paid a visit.
He made a vow to build a new church here in honour of Our Lady, if peace was restored after the disorders resulting from the Pazzi Conspiracy at Florence (the violence had resulted in the murder of the archbishop of Pisa, so the pope put the city under an interdict). As a consequence of that happening, a new edifice was finished in 1483 -although, unfortunately, the pope was dead by then. He had arranged the Canons Regular of the Lateran to be in charge. Cardinal Oliviero Carafa was the main financial patron.
The architect is still being described in publications as Baccio Pontelli, although the documentary evidence for this is not good. Meo del Caprino has also been suggested. The latest scholarly trend is to look for someone educated in Tuscany or Urbino; Francesco di Giorgio Martini and Leon Battista Alberti have been proposed as candidates.
The church remained parochial, but was made conventual in 1487. In that year, a community of Canons Regular of the Lateran was established here, and they oversaw a long series of improvements over the next half century or so. Cardinal Carafa helped out with the foundation of the monastery also, which was approved by Pope Innocent VIII. He gave the superior the title of abbot. The famous cloister was built for the canons by Bramante to the north of the church from 1500 to 1504.
The church's dome was probably designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, and was erected by Jacopo Ungarino in 1525. In the same period several rich families sponsored the decoration of side chapels. The main altar was installed by 1614, after a benefaction by a rich priest called Gaspare Rinaldi allowed work on the sanctuary to begin in 1611.
Pope Alexander VII had a strong devotion to Our Lady of Peace, and took a close personal interest in the church. He had it restored in the Baroque style by Pietro da Cortona in the years 1656 to 1667, a project which involved the addition of the famous portico. Cortona wished to create a formal piazza with the portico as a focus, but this aspect of the restoration was not fully carried out.
The church became very popular and fashionable after Pope Alexander had it restored. For a long time, it was the only church in Rome that offered Mass in the afternoon on a regular basis.
The canons were ejected during the French occupation, and were replaced by Dominican friars after the restoration of papal government in 1815. However, they did not remain there long. In 1823 the ancient parish was suppressed, and the church was in put the care of diocesan clergy two years later in 1825. The convent was then used for teaching pupils of the diocesan junior seminaries. In 1832 the convent was made an annexe of the Sapienza University, and a school which was the forerunner of the Istituto Angelo Mai was here from 1870 to 1875.
The later 20th century were not kind to the church, especially since it lost any pastoral justification for its existence. The oversight of the edifice was in the charge of custodians who were not always bothering to open it to the public at the advertised times, and it was allowed to fall into some disrepair.
However, a full restoration was accomplished recently and this was completed in 2010. In parallel, the cloister was also restored and is now an arts exhibition centre.
The present church has been titular from the start, the first cardinal being appointed in 1587.
The current titular priest of the church is H.E. Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa, who was appointed on February 21, 2001.
Layout and fabricEdit
The orientation of the church is south-west to north-east. There is a semi-circular portico, then a nave of two bays followed by an octagonal transept. Finally, there is a little horizontal rectangular sanctuary apse. The side chapels of the church do not impinge on the exterior, as they are included in the thicknesses of the brick walls.
Immediately to the south-east is the church of Santa Maria dell'Anima, separated by a narrow alleyway (the spire visible to the right of Santa Maria della Pace belongs to the campanile of this church). To the north-west is the monastery cloister erected by Bramante, actually oriented to the far left hand diagonal side of the church's octagon and so at forty-five degrees to the major axis of the church.
The dome by Sangallo the Younger is not easy to see, except from the cloister. It has an octagonal drum in naked red brick, with a large recessed round-headed window on each face and a Doric pilaster occupying each corner. Above the drum proper is an attic plinth, on which sits the low actual dome which has eight triangular sectors in lead. These converge at a lantern also in brick with a stone cornice, having a prominent pilaster at each corner, a square window in every other side and a little cupola in copper with a ball finial.
The campanile is a kiosk all rendered in white, perched on the roofline on the left hand side of Da Cortona's façade. It breaks the symmetry of the composition. Four square piers without capitals support a cornice with a ogee cupola, and each face has a round-headed soundhole. Each face has swags below the cornice, and a pair of strap corbels. The cupola is embellished with curlicues and swags.
The façade and the semi-circular porch is by da Cortona, and was under construction from 1657 until 1661. Most of the work was done in the first year. The style of the portico is reminiscent of ancient Roman architecture, but the frontage above it is ascribed to the influence of Michelangelo.
The approach to the church was originally along a narrow dead-end street, but this led to problems when the church became fashionable. The carriages of the wealthy could not be turned. So, Da Cortona had several houses demolished to lay out the Piazza Santa Maria della Pace; he hoped to make this much more monumental than the layout that actually transpired.
The frontage is in three parts. The central zone is the one that actually fronts the church; to the left is the sacristy entrance, and to the right is part of Santa Maria dell'Anima which was co-opted for the design. The entrance to alleyway between the two churches mirrors the sacristy entrance.
The first storey of the central zone is occupied by the portico, in the form of a semi-circular flat-roofed aedicule in travertine limestone. It has an entablature supported by six Doric columns, two pairs flanking the central portal and two singletons at the ends of the arc. The frieze of the entablature has an inscription from Psalm 72: Suscipiant montes pacem populo et colles iustitiam ("may the mountains bring forth peace for the people, and the hills righteousness").
The ceiling of the portico is a saucer semi-dome decorated with wide ribs.
The second storey of the central zone displays a pair of nested pediments.The outer corners have two piers with applied Corinthian pilasters, supporting a crowning triangular pediment. Nested within this is a segmental pediment slightly brought forward, and supported by a pair of Corinthian columns within a pair of Corinthian pilasters. The walls between pilasters and corner piers are curved back towards the latter, the entablature of the pediments follows these curves and is posted over pilasters and piers. Also, this entablature is broken in the centre for a heraldic shield with olive sprays, which used to display the coat-of-arms of Pope Alexander VII until it was defaced by the occupying French at the end of the 19th century. Below this is a large round-headed window within a molded arched frame with spandrels.
The two side zones are identically treated. Each has a pavilion set well back from the church frontage, consisting of a pair of Doric columns supporting an entablature on which is an attic. On which sits a tondo containing a cameo relief of a pope (Sixtus V and Alexander VII are featured) within a wreath and embellished by curlicues, swags and a pair of putti. The entablature and attic are continued to the side to attach to the nave wall of the church, over the entrance doorway to the sacristy (left) or the alleyway (right). Crowning the doorway zones are incurved sweeps.
The nave walls between portico and doorway begin with a pair of Doric columns, one above the other, separated by a continuation of the portico entablature which connects up with that from the pavilion. Over this in the nave wall is a large round-headed window.
The design of the frontage is completed by the two wings set back above the pavilions. Each of these curves outwards from the upper nave wall, with the curve containing a round-headed window. Above, an entablature supported by Corintian pilasters itself supports an attic which forms the roofline. The ends of these wings feature panels displaying the emblem of the family of Pope Alexander VII -the Chigi star above mountains. Panels on the curved areas show the oak tree of the Rovere family.
The famous cloister was built for the canons by Bramante to the north of the church from 1500 to 1504. It was one of his first works in Rome.
It is perfectly square, with two-storey arcades on all four sides. The first storey on each side has four arches with three rectangular piers having Doric imposts and applied Ionic pilasters. (The four piers at the corners have no pilasters). The cloister ambulatories are cross-vaulted, the vaults springing from Doric pilsaters on the walls.
The lunettes thus created are frescoed, with scenes from the life of Our Lady from her birth to her death. They are by Nicola Trometta.
The ambulatory walls also have an interesting collection of funerary monuments. Noteworthy are two Renaissance memorials, one to Bishop Giovanni Andrea Bocciacci 1497 and the other to Laurentio Gerusino 1498 (who was murdered, as the epitaph makes clear). Also, a neo-Classical bas-relief portait of Ludovica Visitarini who was only sixteen when she died in 1820. A fine polychrome marble wall-memorial to Agostino Lazarino 1596 has unfortunately lost its tondo portrait.
The Ionic pilasters support an entablature which runs around the cloister, and which bears a dedicatory inscription:
Deo Opt[imo] Max[imo] et Dive Mariae Virgini, Gloriose Deipare, Canonicis Regularibus Congregationis Lateranensis, Oliverius Carrapha, ep[i]s[copus] Hostiensis, card[inalis], Neapolitan[us], pie a fundamentis erexit anno salutis cristiane MDIII.
("[In honour of] God the best and greatest and the blessed virgin Mary, glorious Mother of God, for the Canons Regular of the Lateran congregation, Oliver Carrafa, Neapolitan, Cardinal and bishop of Ostia devotedly erected [this] from the foundations in the year of Christian salvation 1503.")
The second storey does not have arches, but is trabeated. Over each first storey pier is another pier, with an applied derivative Corinthian pilaster supporting an entablature forming the roofline. The cornice of this has modillions (little corbels). In between the piers are derivative Composite columns, each column over the crown of the arch below. The effect is rather pleasing.
Two of the second storey piers display the coat-of-arms of Cardinal Caraffa.
Layout and fabricEdit
The plan of the church is rather odd. A short and narrow nave of two bays has four side chapels. Then comes a domed octagonal transept, which has four side chapels. Two of these are in the diagonal sides flanking the sanctuary, and two in the cardinal sides. The other two diagonal sides, flanking the nave, have doorways. The left hand one leads into the sacristy vestibule, while the right hand one is a side entrance that has not been used for a long time. The sanctuary is a small rectangular apse.
The overall decorative scheme is in white, which brings the frescoes and paintings into a contrasting focus.
The nave is cross-vaulted, the two bays being separated by a wide transverse archivolt springing from a pair of Doric pilasters. The Chigi family emblem is in stucco at the archivolt springers, and the Chigi star is within tondi at the crossings of the vault ribs. The entablature above the pilasters has intricate stucco decoration.
The side walls of the nave bays pertain to the chapels therein, and were decorated accordingly.
The counterfaçade, has, surprisingly, a large round window in a wreath. (The window has an arched shape on the outside.) Here, it is flanked by a pair of allegorical stucco figures and has a dedicatory inscription on a tablet below it. A coat-of-arms in stucco is on the entablature in between. The allegories are of Peace and Justice, are by Cosimo Fancelli. Matching allegorical figures of Fortitude and Prudence over the arch into the transept are by Fancelli again.
The octagonal transept has pilasters with derivative, sort-of minimalist Corinthian pilasters folded into its corners. This supports an entablature with a dentillated architrave, a frieze of oak leaves and a cornice with modillions. The Chigi star is in the corners of the frieze. On the entablature sits the octagonal drum of the dome, which has eight large recessed round-headed windows with floating cornices. Corinthian pilasters are folded into the corners, and these support a cornice. However, the dome itself does not sit on this but on a very low attic which is embellished with a continuous stucco festoon hanging in eight swags.
The shallow dome has eight wide rays each with a flaming torch in stucco, and these rays meet at an octagonal oculus containing a fresco of God the Father by Francesco Cozza. The sectors are coffered in hexagons containing the Chigi and Rovere family emblems.
The diagonal sides flanking the nave arch have a pair of cantorie or balconies with balustrades. These contain two gilded Baroque organ cases. Under the one to the left is the sacristy door, above which is a relief of a bearded saint in the lunette. Since the lintel says "Pope Alexander VII", perhaps this is St Alexander of Alexandria.
The sacristy vesitbule through the door has a spectacular Baroque memorial to Cardinal Flaminio Taja, 1682.
The corresponding lunette over the blocked side entrance to the right is of St Anthony of Padua, and the blocking wall has a portrait in oils of him with the Christ-Child.
The venerated icon of the Our Lady of Peace is enshrined over the high altar in an ornate pietra dura frame, and is the one involved in the miraculous event of 1490. It has a bronze crown being held by a pair of putti above it.
The high altar was installed in 1614 and is by Carlo Maderno, being designed specifically to enshrine the painting. It has four Composite columns in grey marble, the back outer pair supporting a horizontal entablature and the front inner pair supporting a triangular pediment on posts. The frieze of the entablature says Mater Dei, "Mother of God", and sitting on the pediment are two allegorical figures of Justice and Peace.
The apse lunette, vault panel and spandrels of the triumphal arch were frescoed by Francesco Albani from 1612 until 1614. The lunette shows an allegory of Justice and Peace alluding to the figures in front of it, and the vault depicts The Assumption of Our Lady. Moses and King David are in the spandrels.
The side walls have large oil paintings by Domenico Cresti Il Passignano, depicting The Annunciation and The Birth of Our Lady. On the triumphal arch piers are SS Cecilia, Catherine of Siena, Clare and Agnes by Lavinia Fontana. Modern art critics regard her as the first woman professional artist. Agnes has a lamb, and Clare is depicted with a monstrance and bare feet.
The two Rivaldi memorials on the side walls just inside the sanctuary have very good pietra dura work.
The chapels are described in anti-clockwise order, starting to the right of the entrance.
The first nave chapel on the right-hand side is the Capella Chigi, and was fitted out on behalf of Agostino Chigi the 16th century banker. Raphael began by executing the wall fresco in 1514, but died before the chapel was finished, and work was possibly continued by Sebastiano del Piombo. However, the chapel itself and the wall surfaces flanking it were decorated in the Baroque restoration supervised by Pietro da Cortona. This work was completed in 1667.
The actual chapel itself is a little apse with a conch embellished with stucco fronds containing the Chigi crest. The altarpiece is a very good bronze relief of The Deposition by Cosimo Fancelli, which rather bursts out of the little white marble pedimented aedicule. Two argumentative-looking putti are sitting on top of the pediment, and more putti feature in the panels flanking the chapel. The latter are holding the Instruments of the Passion, and the Veil of Veronica.
To the sides of the altar are kneeling statues of St Catherine of Siena to the right, and St Bernardine to the left. Catherine and putti are by Fancelli, but Bernardine is not and has been ascribed to Ercole Ferrata or Antonio Raggi.
The reason why these two saints are here is because they came from Siena, as did the Chigi family originally.
Above is the famous fresco by Raphael of four Sibyls, those of Cumana, Persia, Phrygia and Tiburtina, each receiving a revelation from an angel. In the Middle Ages, it was believed that the Sibylline Prophecies preserved in written form in ancient Rome contained prophecies of Christ. The influence of Michelangelo's work in the Sistine Chapel is obvious.
Timoteo Viti, a pupil of Raphael, painted the four Prophets Habbakuk, Jonah, David and Daniel above the main fresco.
The Raphael fresco was horribly restored by Paolo Palmaroli in 1816, but superbly put right in 2003.
The second nave chapel on the right hand side is the Cappella Cesi, designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger in 1525 for Cardinal Angelo Cesi and dedicated to St Anne. It is a much more substantial edifice than the previous, with a barrel vault and a back window over the aedicule.
The altar has rather spindly columns supporting an unusually shallow segmental pediment, and has an altarpiece of The Holy Family with St Anne by Carlo Cesio. This replaced an Annuciation by Marcello Venusti, which is lost. It had been painted from a cartoon by Michelangelo.
The vault has intricate stucco decoration, containing three fresco panels by Sermoneta with another on the upper right hand side wall (the left hand panel is blank).
The statues and the reliefs on the two matching Cesi family memorials are by Vincenzo de Rossi. They are fairly spectacular, each featuring the deceased reclining on his elbow on a sarcophagus in ancient Etruscan funerary style, the sarcophagus in turn resting on a pair of sphinxes. The lunettes above contain bas-reliefs of prophets.
De Rossi was also responsible for the two statues of SS Peter and Paul flanking the entrance. However, the enormous and intricate bas-relief around the chapel arch is by Simone Mosca. This is done in grotesque style.
The first transept chapel on the right is the Cappella Benigni, and is dedicated to St John the Evangelist. Like the other transept chapels, it is an arched niche with a short barrel vault. The altarpiece of the saint is by the Cavalier d'Arpino, and the side walls have a pair of matching memorials in polychrome marble of Giacomo Benigni 1588 and Giulio Benigni 1611. The busts are good.
The vault has a fresco of St John writing his gospel.
Above the chapel is a large painting by Carlo Maratta depicting The Visitation.
The second transept chapel on the right is the Cappella Olgiati, and is dedicated to St John the Baptist. The altarpiece depicting The Baptism of Christ is by Orazio Gentileschi, 1607. The side wall paintings are by Bernardino Mei from Siena, and depict St John with King Herod and St John About to be Martyred (Salome is waiting with a dish for his head).
The vault frescoes seem to be anonymous, and depict (left to right) St John Points Out the Lamb of God, St John in the Desert and The Vision of Zechariah (who was the father of the saint).
Above the chapel is a large painting of The Presentation of Our Lady at the Temple which is by Baldassarre Peruzzi.
Chapel of the CrucifixEdit
The second transept chapel on the left is dedicated to the Crucifix, which here is 16th century in painted wood with an intricately decorated stucco surround featuring figures of saints.
The vault is also highly decorated in gilded stucco. At the top is a fresco of The Triumph of the Cross, and to the sides are The Deposition and The Entombment of Christ. The side wall portraits are of St Mary Magdalen and St Martha, and are by Artemisia Gentileschi.
Above the chapel is The Birth of Our Lady by Raffaello Vanni.
Chapel of the NativityEdit
The first transept chapel on the left is dedicated to the Nativity. The altarpiece is by Girolamo Siciolante da Sermoneta, and depicts The Adoration of the Shepherds (who have brought their dog). The two side wall pictures are regarded as anonymous of the Sienese school. The vault has three frescoes showing The Creation of Adam, The Temptation and The Expulsion from Eden. The pilasters show SS Andrew and Sebastian.
Above the chapel is The Death of Our Lady by Giovanni Maria Morandi.
The second nave chapel on the left is the Cappella Mignanelli. The altarpiece depicting Our Lady with Saints is by Marcello Venusti.
To the side is a memorial to Pietro Paolo Mignanelli, 1568.
This nave chapel differs from the other ones in having its surrounding wall, including the entablature frieze, revetted in polychrome marble. The effect is rather crude. Above the entablature are two frescoes which seem to feature Adam and Eve again.
The altarpiece shows the two saints venerating Our Lady, and is by Baldassarre Peruzzi 1516. The donor, Cardinal Fernando Ponzetti, kneels besides St Bridget. (The cardinal was murdered by German mercenaries during the Sack of Rome in 1527.)
The side walls have a pair of matching memorials, one to Beatrice and Lavinia Ponzetti who died in an epidemic in 1505 and one erected by Ferdinano Ponzetti in 1508 to the memory of his ancestors. These monuments are ascribed to Maestro Matteo, of the school of Luigi Capponi.
The charming and delicately executed fresco panels in the apse conch are also by Peruzzi. They depict, left to right and top to bottom: The Sacrifice of Isaac, The Creation of Eve, The Giving of the Ten Commandments, The Nativity, The Adoration of the Magi (note the cat and dog having a confrontation), The Escape to Egypt, David and Goliath, Moses and the Flood and Judith and Holofernes.
The wall above the chapel is frescoed with Old Testament figures by Lazzaro Baldi, apparently.
After a period when arrangements for access to the church were unsatisfactory, as from 2010 a more regular opening schedule will hopefully be in place.
The church is open:
Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, 9:00 to 12:00. All photography is prohibited.
The adjacent cloister has different opening arrangements. It is now an exhibition centre called the Chiostro di Bramante, and is open:
Daily 10:00 to 20:00, with an extra hour in the evening on Saturdays and Sundays.
There is likely to be an admission charge for the cloister, but not for the church.
The church might have been one of the most fashionable in the city in the 18th century, but nowadays it seems to have no liturgical profile at all.
Recently Mass has been celebrated here for expatriates from Chile, at 11:00 on the second Sunday of the month.
The church has its own priest, who is Msgr Gino Paolo D'Anna.