Santa Maria delle Grazie a Porta Angelica was a 17th century convent church that used to stand on the east side of the Via di Porta Angelica in the Borgo, just inside the gate after which it was named.
It was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of "Our Lady of Graces".
Pope Pius IV had had a road built from to the Porta Angelica in 1563 for the sake of pilgrims travelling to St Peter’s from the north. It meant that they did not have to go down the Via Flaminia into the city to get to the Vatican.
The church was founded in 1588 by Albenzio Rossi, a pilgrim from Cetraro in Calabria. Initially when he came into the city in 1586, he went about the streets as a penitent, in a white habit given to him by the Camaldolese monks of Monte Averno, with bare feet and shouting "Let us do good while we have time". Rome has never been lacking this sort of extreme behaviour, but he did have genuine charity. He was saddened by the plight of many single hermit pilgrims like himself who were destitute in the city, and were being found dead in the streets through neglect. As a result, he founded a pilgrim hospice and a little chapel dedicated initially to the Ascension.
However, one of its benefactors donated a Byzantine icon of Our Lady, allegedly from Constantinople. This was enshrined in the hospice chapel and became a focus of great devotion, being given the title of "Our Lady of Graces" which belonged to a very old icon formerly at Santa Maria delle Grazie al Foro Romano (then at Santa Maria della Consolazione before being stolen).
As a result of the popularity of the icon, the entire complex was rebuilt in 1618 with a much larger church dedicated to Our Lady. The disciples of Rossi were organised into a religious confraternity called Eremiti di Rossi or Romiti; they were not consecrated religious, as they did not take vows and could leave at will (or be expelled, if they behaved badly). The hospital and church were in their care.
However, at the end of the 18th century they had fallen into serious degeneracy and laxity, and only two were left in 1806. In that year, the confraternity was suppressed and the complex given into the care of the Frati Pentitenti di Gesù Nazareno, also known as the Scalzetti.
In 1864 there was a restoration paid for by Silvestro Lais, a shipowner, whose tomb was in the church.
In 1939, the church was demolished and replaced by Santa Maria delle Grazie al Trionfale (which opened two years later). The high altar, the icon and some other items were transferred to the new church.
The motivation for the demolition was that the walls of the Vatican were to be re-routed just here. Originally, the wall ran to the north-west bastion of Castel Sant’Angelo and enclosed the neighbourhood crossed by Borgo Pio and Borgo Vittorio. During negotiations over the Treaty of the Lateran between the Church and the Italian government, signed in 1927, it was agreed that this area was not to be part of Vatican City. Hence, the wall was demolished east of Porta Angelica, and rebuilt down the west side of Via di Porta Angelica. This street was widened, and hence the church was demolished.
A mosaic of Our Lady of Graces is near the site.
This is the last historic church to be demolished in Rome -so far.
If you look at the present Via di Porta Angelica, you will see a wide pedestrian walkway on the west hand side. This is the original street, and the line of the church façade is given by its kerbstones. The church itself stood where the new street called Borgo Angelico now is; the mosaic icon on the corner is on the site of the passageway into the convent courtyard to its south.
This was a long and tall church for its width, with eight bays overall on a rectangular plan. Firstly there was an internal entrance portico occupying one bay, then a second bay occupied by a tribune or organ loft. There were three entrance doors to the portico, and these faced three passages through the tribune. Then came five bays of the nave, with aisles. The arcades were supported by columns.Then came the presbyterium in the last bay, having a chapel on each side isolated from the ends of the aisles by blocking walls.
Over each aisle was a range of rooms, occupying the entire height of the central nave. Hence, the whole church was under one pitched and tiled roof.
The convent and hospital complex was in two parts. The smaller, older block was next to the church façade to the south, and contained a passage leading to the courtyard which was south of the nave. The larger block was immediately to the east of the church, and had a wing on the south-east side of the courtyard. The south-west side was occupied by a little garden.
The façade had two storeys. The first storey had three equal-sized gigantic arches leading into the loggia, separated by four Doric pilasters. The latter supported an entablature with a dedicatory inscription on the frieze; the portico arches touched this.
The second storey had four Corinthian pilasters supporting a triangular pediment with a blank tympanum. There were with two small rectangular windows in the centre, one above the other and with the lower one having a raised cornice. There were also two larger rectangular windows between the pairs of pilasters on either side, but these illuminated the ancillary rooms over the aisles.
At some stage in the 19th century a small square window was knocked through above the right hand window only of this pair, which was an odd thing to do. Presumably there were two storeys of rooms above the aisles. This is borne out by the appearance of the left hand side wall of the church, which had a row of lunette windows for the aisle, then two rows of rectangular windows, one just beneath the roofline. Were the pilgrims originally accommodated here?
The famous icon was enthroned over the main altar.
There were two side-altars, dedicated to St Francis of Assisi and the Annunciation. In 1861, the altarpiece on the former was reported by Rufini to be by Biagio Puccini. However, in 1903 Diego Angeli wrote that "the interior is bare, and despoiled of decorations and pictures".
Surprisingly, given the late date of the demolition, pictures of the interior seem to be in short supply.