Santa Maria delle Grazie nel Cimitero in Laterano was the early 19th century cemetery chapel, now deconsecrated, of San Giovanni in Laterano. It was located at the junction between Via di San Giovanni in Laterano and the present Via Olivero Plunkett, on the north hand side.
The cemetery was originally associated with the ancient hospital attached to the basilica, the descendant of which is the present Ospedale del Salvatore. However, as the basilica has had a parish this was also the burial place for the local faithful.
The chapel had two antecessors. The first was a little devotional chapel further west along the Via di San Giovanni in Laterano, which was dedicated to "Our Lady of Graces". This was as a result of devotion to the famous ancient icon at Santa Maria delle Grazie al Foro Romano. The second was a chapel dedicated to Santissimo Crocifisso in the cemetery itself.
In 1784 a "Pious Union" of secular people was founded which used this latter chapel. This, the Societas Pia Sanctae Mariae in Doloribus pro suffragiis animarum defunctorum, had as its primary aim the making of intercessory prayers of the souls of the departed in general and for those buried in the cemetery in particular.
The chapel was rebuilt in 1812, just when the French occupation ended. The French had stopped the burial of anybody within the city walls, and provided the new cemetery of the Campo Verano instead. Initially, the restored Papal government allowed certain cemeteries to be re-opened, but this proved a bad idea and was definitively stopped by the time the Italian government took over in 1870.
In 1823 the fresco icon in the nearby little church of Santa Maria Imperatrice was transferred to this chapel. Meanwhile, the old chapel of Santa Maria delle Grazie nearby was demolished, and this chapel took its name. An inscription was placed to the right of the entrance, which read:
Sanctae Dei Imperatrice nuncupatae icon quam populus romanus a saeculo vi peculiare veneratur, et cum S[ancto] Gregorio Magno locutam esse accepit, ab humili sacello proximo in eius honorem dicato et ob vetustatem collabente, solemni ritu huc inlata est a[nno] MDCCCXXVI pridie id[us] Aug[usti] ut eius cultus servetur avveatur [sic -advehatur]. ("The icon known as Holy Empress of God which the Roman people has venerated with a special intensity for a long time, and by tradition spoke to St Gregory the Great, with solemn ritual was brought here on the day before the Ides of August 1826 from the humble little shrine nearby dedicated to her honour and which was falling down with age, so that its cult could be kept and propagated").
After burials ceased in the cemetery, the chapel lost its primary reason for existence. The adjoining Ospedale delle Donne took over the cemetery as a garden, and the chapel was deconsecrated. It is now part of the hospital premises.
Location and appearanceEdit
The former cemetery is now a simple little garden on a quadrangular plan, under grass with some trees. The former cemetery entrance is a rather striking Baroque gateway with a Papal coat-of-arms in high relief under a little tiled gable.
What seems to be the former chapel is the building at an angle to the street on the right, now in white without any distinguishing features but with what looks like an external apse. It is shown in an engraving dated 1855 (see external link below).
Engraving posted by "De Alvariis" on Flickr (misattributed -this is not San Clemente.)