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Santa Maria delle Grazie al Foro Romano was a small devotional church, now deconsecrated, at Via Foro Romano. The address is Via della Consolazione 4, and it is now part of the Corpo di Polizia Municipale. This is in the rione Campitelli.
The church is the first in the city to be dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of "Our Lady of Graces" or Santa Maria delle Grazie. The origin of this devotion lies in a Byzantine icon which, by tradition, Pope Vitalian received from the emperor Constans II in 657. By further, very dubious tradition it had been painted in Jerusalem by St Luke the Evangelist while Our Lady was still alive. The pope built a church for it between the Lateran and Santi Quattro Coronati, and it was noticed in 680 that those living near it escaped an outbreak of plague that ravaged the rest of the city.
In 847, Pope Leo IV had the icon taken in procession in order to invoke Our Lady's help in averting the threat of Muslim pirates invading the city. The threat was averted, and the icon received the title of Our Lady of Graces as a result.
In 1045 Pope Gregory VI founded a hospital next to the church, which took the same name. However, it did not last long because in 1084 both hospital and church were burned by the Normans under Robert Guiscard. The icon was found unharmed in the ruins, and taken to the sacristy of the Lateran. The complex was rebuilt the following year on the present site, just west of the ancient Basilica Iulia in the Forum, and the icon was ceremonially re-installed in the new church in 1088.
This new site used to be occupied by a church called Santa Maria in Cannapara, which at the time had been in a derelict condition. This little edifice was first listed in the 12th century, but is thought to have been founded in the 7th or 8th.
The site of the old hospital was remembered in the little church, now demolished, of Santa Maria Imperatrice.
In the early 14th century, a confraternity of lay people was formally established to help with the running of the hospital. This was known as the Confraternita di Santa Maria delle Grazie. This was able to extend the hospital in 1455 and 1483, and in doing so unearthed much marble statuary and carved stonework the sale of which helped to defray the cost. By then, such artworks were treasured and not burned for lime as previously. The little church was rebuilt in the process.
Maria della ConsolazioneEdit
In 1500, the confraternity was united with that of Santa Maria della Consolazione which operated next door, and with Santa Maria in Portico which operated at Santa Galla Antiqua. The new, larger confraternity took the name of Santa Maria della Consolazione and built a large new church -Santa Maria della Consolazione- as well as creating a large new hospital.
The old church was restored with Baroque details in the 18th century, and was kept as a devotional chapel in which the famous icon was exposed for veneration.
As a result of consolidation of the various hospital facilities in the city at the end of the 19th century, the old hospital here became redundant and was sold on to the municipality as the new municipal police headquarters. The icon was transferred to a chapel in the larger church in 1876, and the old church deconsecrated.
The fitting out of the new police headquarters involved much alteration to the medieval fabric of the former hospital, but it seems that the structure of the old church survives within.
The Via Foro Romano façade of the police headquarters has a section with a triangular pediment over it. Below this is a large rectangular window with a fine carved marble frame. This is the old church entrance, and the frame is the doorcase. There used to be a stairway up.
The church did not have its own architectural identity, but was part of the north-east end of the mens' department of the hospital. It was aligned parallel to the present Via Foro Romano. From the corner of this street down Via della Consolazione was a long hospital building, and the church was just next to this to the south-east along the Via Foro Romano. A pair of transverse staircases with a balustraded walkway gave access from the street both to a door to the hospital block mentioned, and the church.
The church had a small square nave, and a tiny transverse rectangular apse. The main entrance was from the hospital block mentioned, while the street entrance entered from the side. The doorcase mentioned above has the shield of the hospital on its lintel. There used to be a little bellcote on the hospital block roofline next to the church.
Apart from the usual online sources such as Armellini or Hülsen, neither of whom has much to say, the online profile of this church is nil.