Santa Maria della Purificazione ai Monti was a 17th century convent church at Via delle Sette Sale 24 on the Esquiline hill, just south-east of San Pietro in Vincoli. This is in the rione Monti.
Before the Sack of Rome in 1527 there was a church in the vicinity called Santa Maria in Monasterio, which some authors have placed on this site. Alternatively, and more in accord with contemporary sources, it was just west of San Pietro in Vincoli.
The convent was founded posthumously by a local nobleman named Mario Ferro Orsini, who left a large sum of money for the purpose in 1588. The site chosen then belonged to the former Carthusian convent of Santa Lucia in Selci, and the monks sold the western part of the property to enable the foundation. The spacious and impressive complex was ready for the Poor Clare nuns to move in in 1600. They received another large donation from one Felice Zacchia Rondanini in 1643.
The nuns were known as the Concettine to distinguish them from other Poor Clare communities in the city, and they had an enviable reputation for strictness of life and enclosure.
The entire convent was confiscated by the French occupiers of the city in 1810, and used as army barracks. Afterwards, the nuns did not return and the property was bought "by a Genovese" (as Armellini disgustedly notes) who demolished most of the buildings and left the rest in ruins.
The monastic community moved to a smaller convent located at the junction between Via Merulana and Via delle Sette Sale, known as the Annunziata, but this with its little chapel was demolished in turn for the Palazzo Brancaccio in 1886.
The Canons of the Lateran eventually acquired the land of the original convent, after the government had sequestered it in 1873 and sold it to private individuals. In 1883 they built a small chapel, the Cappella di Santa Maria della Concezione, on the site of the old church's sacristy. The intention was to build a house of studies for the order's students, but this took a long time to accomplish. Work started in 1928, and the present Collegio San Vittore was opened in 1949.
The ruins of the church were mostly replaced by a new library. Part of the façade was incorporated into the wall of this.
Cappellina del Santissimo SalvatoreEdit
In the early 18th century, a tiny chamber on a square plan was discovered buried just under the ground opposite the church's entrance. This was probably part of the layout of the old Carthusian monastery at Santa Lucia in Selci, and when it was discovered it had 14th century frescoes. The convent restored it, and provided a small arched doorway framed by a pair of gigantic incurved volutes which led to the stairs down. It is shown on the Nolli map of 1748.
The frescoes when discovered showed Christ giving a blessing, and flanked by Our Lady with SS Peter, Paul and John the Baptist.
The convent added a window to give light, and a marble statue of "Our Lady of the Monastery".
The Liber Pontificalis in its entry for Pope Leo III (795-816) mentions a monastery with a name rendered in Italian as Santa Maria di Lutara. An old opinion, expressed soon after the chapel's discovery, identified it with this establishment. It is unclear as to why, since the reference is the only one in the sources and there are no geographical indicators. However, the identification has made its way online.
Overall, the church had a rectangular plan. The aisleless nave had three bays, then came the triumphal arch into the choir. The latter had no apse, but the far corners were chamfered and it had an octagonal saucer dome with lantern on a low drum.
The entrance was not onto the street, but onto a large wedge-shaped courtyard with trees, which was entered through a gateway. This was not part of the monastic enclosure, and could be used for picnics by visitors. The church was oriented north-west to south-east, and had its sacristy, chaplain's house and a little garden for him between it and the road.
The convent itself was east of the church, and was entered through what at first glance was the left hand side entrance of the church. It had a large cloister on a square plan with the corners oriented to the cardinal points, but with the northern corner rounded off. What must have been a spectacular arcaded walk ran along the entire curve thus created; the south-west side was also arcaded, but the south-east one was not. A further wing extended to the south-east, with an arcade facing gardens entered through an archway from the east end of the main curved arcade. The gardens were very extensive.
The Baroque façade had two storeys. The first had six pilasters with swagged Ionic capitals flanking the entrance, with two apparent side entrances in between the two outer pairs. However the left hand one led into the convent, and the right hand one into the chaplain's quarters. Above each of these two flanking entrances was a round window with a rectangular one above. The church entrance did not have a tympanum or pediment, but a floating masonry archivolt above a coat of arms. The entablature supported by the pilasters was topped by a plinth, which had a pair of flaming torch finials at its outer ends. The second storey was placed on this, on which the lower pilasters were marked by continuations in relief.
The second storey had four Corinthian pilasters crowned by an entabature and triangular pediment, and with a large rectangular window having a cornice on corbels.
The blocked entrance and the six lower pilasters survive, but the pediment and the capitals of the upper pilasters have been removed. None of the present windows is original.
The cappellina is apparently in a dangerous state, and the frescoes have perished.