Santa Maria della Quercia is an 18th Baroque confraternity church at Piazza della Quercia 27, which is in the rione Regola near the Palazzo Farnese. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia page here.
The first church here was called San Nicolò del Curte, and was of obscure origins. It was not parochial, but seems to have been a chapel dependent on the parish church of San Tommaso della Catena (which is now the church of Santi Giovanni e Petronio dei Bolognesi). The foundation might have been in the 13th century. The name curte, meaning "court", may have been a reference to the princely establishment of the Orsini family nearby.
The edifice was on the verge of ruin when Pope Julius II granted it to a group of expatriate horse-traders from Viterbo in 1507, whereupon they repaired and re-dedicated it to Our Lady of the Oak Tree. This appellation is that of an important Marian sanctuary near Viterbo, and an oak tree is also the heraldic symbol of the Della Rovere family of Pope Julius.
In 1532 Pope Clement VII granted the church to the Confraternity of Butchers (Confraternita dei Macellai di Roma), who have been in possession ever since. The reason for this is that the pope wished to have their previous church, Santi Sergio e Bacco al Foro Romano, demolished in order to free the Arch of Septimus Severus.
In 1727 Pope Benedict XIII had the church rebuilt, and it was re-consecrated in 1738. Initially the architect was Filippo Raguzzini, assisted by Carlo de Dominicis, but the project was completed by Domenico Gregorini.
There was a major restoration in 1864 by Andrea Busiri Vici, and another one in 1928 after the church had again almost became derelict. In 1938, the block separating the piazza from the Vicolo dei Venti was demolished, doubling the size of the piazza. This had the unfortunate effect of leaving the façade in one corner of the larger piazza, instead of dominating one end of the smaller one.
The latest restoration was in 1961.
Layout and fabricEdit
The little church is on the plan of a Greek cross having very short arms, with a central hemispherical dome in metal sheeting with a large oculus. This is not visible from the street. The roof around it is flat, and has a little terrace garden.
The campanile is on the corner of the roof of the tall building to the right of the church, and is just about visible from the ground. It has two arches for bells, side by side under a triangular pediment.
Oak treeEditCharmingly the little piazza has an eponymous holm oak growing in it, so somebody took the trouble of planting it about eighty years ago and (much more difficult) ensuring that it survived drought, hard knocks and cat urine as a sapling.
wants to make this distinction in Roman architecture. (There's not much point, unless you want to obtain a doctorate.) It is bowed (that is, convex) and is rendered in a pale lemon yellow with the architectural details in white.
The first storey has four doubled-up pilasters, Ionic on Doric, and the inner pair are folded at right angles to fit into the curve. These support a deep entablature with a projecting cornice, and have a false frieze with blank panels in between the capitals. There is a quatrefoil window over the entrance.
The second storey has matching pilasters, but without capitals and the roofline is marked only by an architrave. There is a large rectangular central window, and over this there is a segmental pediment without cornice which contains a volute-and-acanthus-leaf motif in relief.
The interior is on the plan of a Greek cross, with short arms. Three of the arms have apses with conchs, two of them being side chapels and one the sanctuary. The fourth arm contains the entrance.
The decorative feature of the nave walls is a Corinthian pilaster in shallow relief, in what looks like red marble or porphyry. Two flank each of the interior corners of the cross, one is folded into the exterior corners and two flank each of the apses and also the entrance. Their capitals are derivative, with rosettes.
These pilasters support an entablature which runs round the church, and which has its frieze done to resemble pavonazzetto marble. They stand on a high dado which resembles a dark green brecciated marble with polychrome inclusions.
In the dome itself Molinari painted Our Lady with Angels, and on the dome pendentives he executed frescoes of Moses, David, Isaiah and Ezekiel.
The entrance arm has two side balconies or cantoria for solo musicians. They are very ornate, and are matched by a pair in the sanctuary.
The counterfaçade over the entrance has a spectacular and curvaceous gilded organ gallery.
In the top left hand corner is a striking 16th century painted wooden carving of the Madonna of the Oak Tree, and opposite is a 16th century processional crucifix.
The apse is a hemi-hexagon, being three-sided. The high altar against the far wall was designed by Domenico Gregorini, but altered in 1864. It is a strangely disproportionate design, with a pair of thin derivative Composite pilasters in a cream colour, supporting an entablature with an epigraph proclaiming that pilgrims praying at the altar can obtain an indulgence. Above this is an undersized segmental pediment containing the Dove of the Holy Spirit.
The altarpiece, a copy of the school of Agostino Caracci showing the Madonna of the Oak Tree, is framed in gilt foliage containing emblems of the butchers' guild.
The conch has three panels, with vine-scroll decoration. Above the conch is a lunette fresco framed by the dome pendentives, of the Coronation of Our Lady as Queen of Heaven.
The two side chapels are very similarly decorated in a rather bland style. The left hand chapel has an altarpiece of the Crucifixion once attributed to Marco Benefial but now thought to be by Filippo Evangelisti, and the right hand one has the Baptism of Christ by one Pietro Barbieri.
The lunettes above the apses of the two side chapels have frescoes of the Presentation of Our Lady (left) and Marriage to St Joseph (right).
The sacristy, to the right of the entrance, contains several more paintings but one needs to ask permission to view these. Notable are a Holy Family and a Jesus the Nazarene of the Roman school of the 17th century, an Annunciation of the early 16th century, and a matching pair of 17th century portraits of The Madonna and Child and St Francis of Assisi, with the donors (presumably a married couple) featured kneeling.
The ceiling has a fresco of The Madonna and Child with Saints, 18th century.
Chapel of St AnthonyEdit
There is a little chapel dedicated to St Anthony of Padua tucked away to the left of the entrance, containing an 18th century statue of him. This used to be the altarpiece, but has been moved to one side and replaced by a statue in wood of St Joseph with the Christ-Child by Gianni Visentin.
Access and liturgyEdit
The church is normally open only on Sunday for Mass at 10:30.
However, it may be closed on some Sundays -especially those in July and August. Do not expect to find the church open in these two months.
The Confraternity web-site has a guided tour (in Italian); see link below.