|San Gregorio a Ponte Quattro Capi|
|English name:||Our Lady of Piety|
|Built:||12th century, rebuilt 1727|
|Artists:||S. Parrocel, G. Sereni G. Hallet|
|Address:|| Via del Portica de'Ottavia/|
Piazza di Monte Savello 9
|Phone:||06 68 65 223|
The dedication is to Pope St Gregory the Great.
However, there is a subsidiary dedication to the Blessed Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Piety. Hence, the church is also known as San Gregorio della Divina Pietà, or as Santa Maria della Pietà. As such, it should not be confused with Santa Maria della Pietà in Camposanto.
San Gregorio a Ponte Quattro Capi is the official name, preferred by the Diocese. Quattro Capi refers to the Ponte Quattro Capi or Bridge of Four Heads, which was a former name of the Ponte Fabricio derived from four marble statues standing on it.
According to a late legend lacking documentation, the church was built on the site of the birthplace of St Gregory the Great, in a private house owned by his patrician father Gordinanus.
The church itself was probably founded in the 10th century, as were many of the little churches in the built-up area in the Middle Ages. However, there is no reference to it before its listings in the late mediaeval catalogues and the documentary evidence is one of these entries, from 1405.
The church found itself right next to one of only two gates initially provided (the number was to increase with time to eight), and hence became a focus of attempts to convert the Jews to Christianity. The main motivation for this mostly pointless exercise was the prophecy of St Paul in his letter to the Romans that the Second Coming of Christ would only occur after the Jews had converted. As a result, on the Sabbath they were forced to listen to sermons preached against their faith at this spot outside the church until the mid 19th century.
During the Middle Ages the church was parochial, but it was rebuilt on the orders of Pope Benedict XIII (1724-1730) in 1727 and the parish suppressed. The new church was given to the Congregazione degli Operai della Divina Pietà, the "Congregation of the Works of Divine Piety". The congregation assisted aristocratic families who had fallen upon hard times, and hence the church gained a new popular name.
It was restored in 1858 on the orders of Pope Pius IX, and it is from this restoration that much of the interior decoration derives. Before then a notorious reproach to the Jews was painted on the façade, but Pope Pius then ordered it to be carved into a marble tablet during the restoration. This act caused serious controversy and scandal internationally at the time. The text of Isaias 65.2 is written in both Latin and Hebrew: "All day long I have stretched out my hands to a disobedient and faithless nation".
In the late 19th century the church narrowly escaped being demolished for the building of the Lungotevere de Pierleone. A contemporary rumour was that this was because the Italian government valued the continued existence of the inscription just mentioned, as a reminder of the obscurantism of the papal government in the city before 1870.
Close to the church is the Jewish Synagogue, which was finished in 1904 and takes up almost half of the former Ghetto area.
Then, in the early and mid 20th century the church was lucky to escape pressure from the archaeological establishment to have it cleared for the sake of the ancient remains known to be under it. As it was, many surrounding buildings were pulled down to reveal the remains of the Portico of Octavia and the Theatre of Marcellus, and as a result the church is now a rather isolated building beset by heavy traffic.
Nowadays, it lacks a pastoral mininistry but has been used as a venue for musical concerts. However, the latest news is that it is closed "awaiting restoration".
Layout and fabricEditThe church has a short rectangular nave with a pitched and tiled roof, a very short presbyterium which is lower in elevation and an attached five-sided apse which is lower still.
Ancillary rooms are attached to the left hand side wall, and there is a small two-storey Baroque bellcote on top of this range. This has two storeys, and the smaller second one has a pretty curved top the arc corncies of which end in small incurved volutes on each side.
The early 18th century two storey white rendered façade is by Filippo Barigioni, as is apparently the rest of the church.
Two simple Doric pilasters are at the corners, and these have posts on top of their capitals which support a projecting cornice. The Barque doorcase has a very slight curve to the top of it, and above this is an indulgence inscription flanked by posts carved as bundles of acanthus leaves which support a horizontal cornice.
Above this canopy can be seen the notorious reproach to the Jews, formerly painted on the façade but then ordered to be carved into a marble tablet by Pope Pius IX during the 1858 restoration. The text of Isaias 65.2 is written in both Latin and Hebrew: "All day long I have stretched out my hands to a disobedient and faithless nation". It has been left as a reminder of less tolerant times, despite some pressure in the late 20th century to have it removed.
Above the inscription is a very large vertical elliptical tondo framed by a wreath tied by a ribbon at the top. It displays a fresco of Calvary which is becoming rather faded. It dates to about 1840, apparently although it has been attributed to Étienne Parrocel.
The second storey of the façade has four pilasters with shell-and-volute capitals. The inner pair are partly hidden by the frame of a large rectangular window, with a balustrade on the cornice in front of it. Above this window is a small segmental pediment containing a winged putto's head, and on the corners of the façade is a pair of finials in the form of torches.
The church has an aisleless nave, with a sanctuary occupying a small rectangular apse. There are two rectangular side chapels, one on each side.
The last major restoration was the one carried out in 1858, which resulted in the present interior decoration including the polychrome marble work.
The plan of the nave is a rectangle with rounded corners. An entablature with a dark pink marble frieze runs round the church, and this is supported by columns in the same stone which flank the triumphal arch and the side chapels. Pilasters in the same style are folded into the corners, and also flank the entrance and the side chapel columns.
The capitals of these columns and pilasters are not Classical, but are made up of rosettes, rose cuttings and palm fronds.
The ceiling has a fresco by Giuseppe Sereni, depicting The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. This is in an elliptical tondo, touched by the keystones of the triumphal arch and the arches over the side aisles and the entrance. The pendentives thus created contain frecoes of putti holding scrolls with Marian biblical texts: Signum magnum apparuit in caelo ("A great sign appeared in heaven", Adstitit regina a dextris tuis ("The queen stands on your right"), Quasi palma exaltata sum in Cades ("Like a palm tree I am tall in Kadesh") and Quasi cedrus exaltata sum in Libano ("Like a cedar I am tall in Lebanon").
There are memorial tablets in pink marble frames flanking the entrance, and also between the chapels and the apse.
Above the entrance, the counterfaçade has a pretty bow-fronted gallery with a balustrade. The balusters of this are alternately inverted, a detail that Barigioni borrowed from Borromini at San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane.
The sanctuary is a small, shallow rectangular apse. The high altar has no aedicule, but instead a large Baroque glory with many angels in white stucco is on the wall above the altar table. This contains an icon by the Flemish painter Gilles Hallet, depicting The Madonna of Divine Pity. The altar and tabernacle is in rich polychrome stonework, including alabaster in the frontal and verde antico style marble, and is by Barigioni.
The lunette above the gloria contains a fresco of God the Father by Andrea Pasquale Marini, 1858.
The side chapels are rectangular niches, with triumphal arches. The altars do not have aedicules, but the altarpieces are in white marble frames on the walls.
At present, the church is "closed for restoration".
It has often used for concerts. For details, run a search for "quattro capi" as a phrase on the Beni Culturali website below. (2014: This might come up with nothing until the church is restored.)
St Gregory the Great is commemorated on 12 March and 3 September. He died on the former date but, since this is always in Lent, his feast-day is celebrated on the day in September on which he was consecrated as Pope.