Santa Maria in Aquiro is a late 16th century parish and titular church of ancient foundation in the rione Colonna, just north-east of the Pantheon. Its postal address is Via della Guglia 69/B, but the main entrance is on the Piazza Capranica. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons here. There is an English Wikipedia article here. The German one is much better, here.
The church is of ancient foundation, but its origins as well as the meaning of the appellation Aquiro have been lost in time. One old theory is that it was originally one of the tituli, which were the first parish churches in Rome, and was known as the titulus Equitii. However, it is more likely that this was the church now known as San Martino ai Monti.
Another theory is that it was built by a man called Cyrus in the 5th century, since the Greek name Kuros (Cyrus) can be rendered into Latin as Quirus. The date is too early.
Basilicam S. Dei Genetricis, quae apellatur a Cyro, in qua antea diaconia et parvum oratorium fuit, a fundamentis longiorem at latiorem fecit.
("The basilica of the holy Mother of God which is named after Cyrus, where a diaconia and a small oratory formerly were, he built wider and longer from the foundations.")
This indicates that the institution was founded as a diaconia, which was an early church equivalent of a modern social services centre. Here, needy people could be helped and necessities such as food given out. The person in charge of one of these was a diaconus, deriving from the Greek for a servant, and was not the same thing as a later deacon as found in the liturgy. However most of these diaconia were to evolve into titular churches (including this one), even though they were not originally tituli.
In ancient times, the area was dominated by public and religious institutions and the residential population was low. Founding a diaconia would make sense here when the locality became primarily residential, in the later 7th century at the earliest. The traditional year of the establishment of the cardinal diaconate is 678, which fits well into the historical context.
The church was almost certainly parochial, or performed parochial functions, from the time of its rebuilding in the 8th century.
In the Middle Ages it was also referred to as Santa Maria della Visitazione, notably by Pope Urban VI in 1389.
The church was granted by Pope Paul III in 1541 to a confraternity, the Confraternita della Visitazione, which was dedicated to the care of orphan children. This had been established under the inspiration of St Ignatius Loyola, and included many noblemen and prelates. It established an orphanage (orfanotrofio) next door for the boys, while putting the girls in the monastery of Santi Quattro Coronati. (The name of the little street leading from the north-east corner of Piazza della Rotonda to Piazza Capranica, Via dei Orfani, is a reminder of this).
In 1591, a Pia Casa for the higher education of orphan boys was also founded here. This, the Collegio Salviati, sponsored by Cardinal Antonmaria Salviati.
San Stefano del TrulloEdit
In 1571 the parish was united with that of San Stefano del Trullo, the church of which used to stand in what is now the east end of the paving of the Piazza dell Pietra.
This was another parish church of ancient but uncertain foundation, and its name ("rotunda") gave rise to the suggestion that it had re-used an ancient edifice. However, when it was excavated in 1878 a typical little rectangular apsed building was found. It had been built in the sacred enclosure of the Temple of Hadrian, between the actual temple and the colonnaded porticus to the north.
It first appeared in the late mediaeval catalogues as a parish church dependent on the ancient titulus of San Marcello al Corso. In 1614, forty years after the parish had been suppressed, the edifice given to the Compagnia degli Albergatori which was a guild of innkeepers. They restored it, re-dedicated it to their patrons as Santi Martino e Giuliano, and established a headquarters next to it in 1624 in a property bought from the Minim Friars. However, things went badly wrong and the guild was in litigation shortly afterwards. The church was desecrated and abandoned, apparently as a result of this, in the reign of Pope Alexander VII (1655-67).
The Albergatori ended up at San Giuliano ai Monti.
The important point about all this is that some interesting tomb-slabs were taken from San Stefano to this church, as well as the present altarpiece.
The confraternity entered into a programme of rebuilding in 1588. From 1591 to 1594, the architect was Francesco Capriani but from the latter year there was an eight-year pause with the church unfinished. In 1602, Carlo Maderno continued the work with the assistance of Filippo Breccioli. This second phase lasted until 1605, and when it stopped only the first storey of the façade was completed. The design is thought to have been Breccioli's.
Breccioli also provided premises for the Collegio Salviati, around a cloister to the south of the church in the form of an irregular quadrilateral with arcades on the west and south sides away from the church. This was finished in 1600.
In 1826 the Ignatian confraternity, then known as the Congregazione della Visitazione, was suppressed. The church, orphanage and college were handed over into the care of the Somaschi Fathers, who were to continue the outreach to orphans.
There was a major fire in 1845, which spoiled the interior. As a result, the sanctuary and high altar were re-fitted in 1856 by Luca Carimini. A thorough restoration of the rest of the church interior took place from 1864 (the chapels) and 1866 to 1868 (the nave and transept), resulting in the present frescoes on the interior walls. The work was supervised by Pietro Gagliardi and Gaetano Morichini.
After the conquest of Rome by Italy, the orphanage complex was given the secular status of a "moral entity" (ente morale) in 1871, but it had to wait until 1936 for the approval of its statues as a secular charity. This is now the Istituti di Santa Maria in Aquiro since 1975, after having absorbed several other formerly religious charities founded for similar purposes.
In 1984 the parish boundaries were re-defined, and the parish now has responsibility for ten other historic churches including the Pantheon and the Minerva. Despite its proximity to the former, it is little bothered by tourists and features in few guidebooks. There was a major restoration of the exterior fabric in recent years, and artworks in the chapels have received attention.
The Somaschi still administer the parish.
The title of the church is that of a cardinal deacon. The cardinalate was traditionally established in 678, but the first cardinal recorded is in 1212.
The present cardinal is Angelo Amato, appointed 2010.
Layout and fabricEdit
The plan is that of a Latin cross within a trapezoidal rectangle, with a total of six bays. The first bay is the entrance vestibule, then comes a nave and aisles, with external chapels off the aisles. A transept comes next, with a dome over the crossing and two chapels in its ends. The small sanctuary has a single shallow bay, narrower than the central nave, and this ends in a small segmental apse with a conch.
A peculiarity in the plan is that the left hand side wall on the Via in Aquiro is not at right angles to the façade. This means that the chapels on that side get deeper as one approaches the sanctuary.
The fabric is in pink brick with architectural details in white travertine limestone.
The roofs are rather complex. The vestibule, left hand transept and nave have pitched and tiled roofs with gables. The apse and left hand aisle have single tiled pitches. The right hand transept and right hand aisle have college accommodation over them with flat roofs.
The central dome is on a very low octagonal drum, hardly higher than the ridglines of the roofs. It is egg-shaped, in lead having eight sectors but no ribs. There is a brick lantern, with eight narrow round-headed apertures separated by little buttresses. It has its own hemispherical lead cupola, with a ball finial.
The rather unassuming façade is slightly false, being higher than the nave roof behind. It has two storeys, in bare pink brick with limestone detailing. A pair of campanili flank it, standing in front of the nave side chapels.
The first storey has six pilasters with swagged Ionic capitals, four in two pairs flanking the main entrance and the other two at the outer corners of the façade. The nave frontage is brought forward slightly from the aisles, allowing the outer pair of the four pilasters to be doubletted along the outer edges. These pilasters support an entablature with a blank frieze.
The main entrance is larger than the aisle entrances, and has a raised triangular pediment over a lintel bearing swags either side of a putto's head. This pediment rests on posts with triglyphs, themselve supported by strap curlicue brackets with boys' faces. The side entrances each have a segmental pediment supported by a pair of lion's head brackets flanking an inscription tablet. Over each side entrance is a large square window with a stone Baroque frame.
The second storey rests on a brick attic plinth, with posts over the pilasters below and three small rectangular windows. On this rests a stone plinth incorporating the bases of the four Corinthian pilasters of this storey. The pilasters support an entablature and crowning pediment containing a spectacularly rendered cardinalate coat-of-arms in stucco, which it is worth examining with binoculars. This has two winged putti as supporters, and the shield has a double-headed eagle over a lion rampant. The crest is a cardinal's hat, and the lappet ropes are rendered in the round.
On the corners of the pediment is a pair of flaming urns decorated with heads of putti and swags of cloth, the latter allegedly being an allusion to the swaddling cloths of the foundling babies which the orphanage used to collect. The central finial is the wire cross traditional on Roman churches.
In the centre of this storey is a large recessed round-headed window recessed into a stone arch with Ionic columns as piers. This window has a balustrade acting as a balcony.
Either side of the façade the frontage is recessed, and forms two narrow walls behind which run the external chapels. They front the first storeys of the identical two campanili, and each is blank brick with two sunken rectangular panels. Then comes an extension of the dividing entablature of the façade.
Then comes a brick attic plinth, an extension of the one in the façade, before we arrive at the actual bellchambers. These are square, mostly in limestone but with Doric pilasters in brick on the corners. Each face has a large rectangular sound-hole with a bowed balustrade, and above a segmental pediment. The pediments facing the piazza have eagles within wreaths. Each bellchamber is capped with a funnel-shaped stone cupola bearing a ball finial.
A design peculiarity of these bellchambers is that the inner side walls rest on the brick attic plinth of the main façade.
Layout and fabricEdit
There is firstly a vestibule, then a nave having side aisles with three chapels off each aisle. A transept follows, with a dome over the crossing and a chapel in each end. The small presbyterium has an apse.
A full list of the artists whose works are in the church are on the info.roma web-page (see "External links").
There are some dilapidated mediaeval tomb-slabs from the demolished church of San Stefano del Trullo in the vestibule.
The nave is narrow for its height. The aisle arcades have solid piers, four on each side, in the Doric style. There are no pilasters on the piers, and the Doric imposts are continued across their front faces. Above the arcade arches on each side is a floating entablature, which runs around the church interior. The windows above the arcades have lunettes which cut into the barrel-vaulted ceiling.
The 19th century restoration has left all interior wall surfaces, as well as the ceiling and dome interior, covered in neo-Mannerist frescoes of saints bordered with stucco relief decorations. This work was executed or supervised by Cesare Mariani. It was fashionable in the 20th century to sneer at this sort of work, but the overall effect is really quite good and the figures of saints on the arcade piers are devotionally accessible.
The stucco work in the nave is by Luigi Fontana.
The piers of the arcades have frescoes of four Doctors of the Church : SS John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Ambrose and Gregory the Great. Over them are four angels holding scrolls with quotations from their writings concerning Our Lady.
Above are six monochrome frescoes with scenes from the life of Our Lady: her Birth, Marriage to Joseph and Annunciation to the left, and the Nativity, Passion of Christ and her Dormition (death) on the right.
The vaulted ceiling has the four Evangelists flanking the window lunettes, while the three central octagonal panels show angels holding symbols of Our Lady.
The height of the nave allows for a large lunette above the entrance and the arch into the crossing. The former has a fresco of The Visitation, and the latter one of The Assumption of Our Lady. The three saints featuring in the latter are SS Ignatius of Loyola, Jerome Emiliani and Philip Neri, honoured because of their interest in the welfare of Rome's orphans. A crowd of the latter also feature here.
The transept has two 19th century cantorie or opera boxes for solo singers. The right hand one in white marble is by Caramini, but the left hand one is in scagliola (fake marble) and is a copy put up for symmetry. The dome has frescoes of prophets and saints featuring in Our Lady's pedigree. The pendentives show SS Joachim, Zechariah, Joseph and John the Baptist. The dome itself has eight fresco panels converging on the oculus depicting four prophets and four Sibyls. They are Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah with the Persian, Cumaean, Delphic and Tiburtinan Sibyls. All this is part of the Mariani scheme.
The low drum has eight windows, the ones on the diagonal being real and those at the cardinal points being fake as the roof ridges are behind them.
The stucco work in the transept is by Luigi Simonetti.
The sanctuary keeps the decorative scheme by Caramini, and hence differs in style from the rest of the church. The conch of the apse is coffered in octagons, in ancient Roman style, and the apse wall rendered to resemble ancient Roman polychrome marble panelling.
The vault of the sanctuary bay has a fresco of The Visitation allegedly but dubiously by Giovanni Battista Buoncore. The angels are by Alessandro Grandi.
The aedicule of the altar is against the far curve of the apse, in Renaissance style but executed by Mattia De Rossi in 1681. It was embellished with 19th century mosaic decorations in 1856 by Carimini. It has a pair of Corinthian marble columns with carved and gilded relief decoration, supporting an undersized triangular pediment flanked by a pair of flaming torch finials.
The most important work of art in the church is the 14th century painting of the Madonna and Child with St Stephen of the school of Pietro Cavallini, which is the altarpiece. This used to belong to the lost church of San Stefano in Trullo.
Flanking the sanctuary are monuments to Camillo Petri and Nicola Modetti 1867, the latter by Stefano Galletti who is also commemorated in the church.
The chapels are described in anti-clockwise order, beginning to the right of the entrance.
Chapel of St SebastianEdit
The first chapel on the right is dedicated to St Sebastian, and the altarpiece is an anonymous 17th century work of the Roman school (also described in the past as Lombard). It is of high quality and is in a chiaroscuro style, featuring the contorted body of the saint pierced with arrows in front of a distant landscape.
Here are memorials to Maria Cianchi 1890, and Francesco Rota 1860 with a bust by a sculptor called Capresi. Rota left a legacy for the complete re-fitting of the chapel in a sumptuous style in 1866, a work overseen by Raffaele Francisi.
Chapel of the CrucifixEdit
The second chapel on the right is dedicated to the Crucifix, and was re-fitted in 1864. The polychrome marble aedicule has a pair of Ionic columns in coralline breccia. The wooden crucifix looks 17th century.
Here are memorials to Geremia Galanti, 1897, Nicola Grifo and his wife Luisa 1867 and Matilde de Nédonchel-Choiseuil 1880. The last named was a French noblewoman and mystic, who died at Rome with the reputation of sanctity.
Chapel of the AnnunciationEdit
The third chapel on the right is dedicated to the Annunciation to Our Lady, and was frescoed by Carlo Saraceni between 1611 and 1617. The side walls show The Birth of Our Lady and The Presentation of Our Lady, and the vault has her Coronation in Heaven.
The altar aedicule has a pair of Corinthian columns in black portovenere marble. The Annunciation which is the altarpiece is thought to be by Francesco Nappi, 1635. The attribution of this to Bernardo Strozzi, Il Cappuccino, no longer finds favour.
The sponsors of the chapel, Orazio Ferrari and his wife Erminia Sordi, are shown in a pair of portraits with epitaphs.
Chapel of St Benedict Joseph LabreEdit
The chapel in the right hand end of the transept, the Cappella Virili, is dedicated to the Trinity but is also in honorem St Benedict Joseph Labre after its re-fitting in 1864. The Virili family had a great devotion to the saint.
It matches the chapel opposite, with superb polychrome marble work including a pair of Corinthian aedicule columns in red and white Sicilian jasper. Under the altar are the alleged relics of a martyr called St Maximinus, extracted from the catacomb of Cyriacus on the Via Tiburtina in 1841. All the so-called martyrs excavated from the catacombs in the early 19th century are very dubious.
The paintings featuring the saint are by Gagliardi, although the altarpiece is apparently by Vincenzo Pasqualoni (1819-80). This features the saint praying in the Colosseum, where he was in the habit of dossing down as a homeless person.
The chapel was originally dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, and the icon of Our Lady now over the high altar used to be here. One of the side wall pictures shows the saint praying before it, and the other shows him appearing in a vision to a nun at Bibbona and curing her of an illness.
Here are memorials to Lelio Virili, 1704 and Cardinal Luca Antonio Virili, 1634.
Chapel of St Jerome EmilianiEdit
The chapel in the left hand end of the transept is dedicated to St Jerome Emiliani, the founder of the Somaschi. It was originally dedicated to the Crucifixion.
The altarpiece showing the saint presenting orphans to Our Lady is by Cesare Mariani. The side wall paintings are by one Alessandro Grandi. One shows Our Lady liberating the saint from prison, and the other shows him eliciting a miraculous spring of water from a rock.
Here are monuments to Maria Belli 1867, Stefano Galletti 1905 and Nicola Puccetti 1868. Galletti was a sculptor whose work can be found in the church -he did the monument to Belli.
Chapel of the Immaculate ConceptionEdit
The third chapel on the left is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady.
The church's painting of Our Lady of Lourdes is the oldest known, dated 1873. After a rather unedifying argument as to who owned it, Pope Leo XIII ordered it to be enshrined here and its veneration put in the charge of a parish confraternity which survives.
The original refitting was in 1865, by Salvatore Bianchi. The side wall frescoes are by Domenico D'Alessandro. The original altarpiece depicted The Immaculate Conception, and was a work by a local Roman called Marcello Sozzi.
Chapel of the PietàEdit
The second chapel on the left is dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows, and has recently been restored. It contains three very important paintings which count as among the latest of the school of Caravaggio.
To the left is depicted The Crowning with Thorns, and to the right is The Flagellation, both by Trophime Bigot 1634 -the so-called "Master of Candlelight". The altarpiece shows The Deposition, which used to be attributed to Gerard van Honthorst (known in Italy as Gherardo delle Notti). Documentary evidence gives the artist's name as Maestro Jacomo, but stylistic arguments have suggested Georges de La Tour as the artist (this is still debated).
In the chapel is a monument to Vincenzo Senni, 1858 by Emilo Wolfen, and outside one to Archbishop Carlo di Montecatini, 1699 by Domenico Guidi.
Chapel of the Guardian AngelEdit
The first chapel on the left is dedicated to the Guardian Angel. It was re-fitted by Carimini in 1866, and is richly decorated. The stucco work is by Domenico D'Amico, and the allegorical figures of Justice and Prudence are by Bernardino Mei. The altarpiece is by Ippolito Zapponi.
Here are monuments to Giuseppina Graziosi 1847, and Michelina Belloy 1868.
The sacristy has an altarpiece of The Trinity by Giacomo Rocca.
The church is open:
Winter, 7:15-12:00, 16:00-19:30.
Summer, 7:30-11:30, 16:45-19:45.
A warning Edit
This church has a particularly low tolerance of visitors wishing to view artworks. There is a custodian on guard to prevent anybody doing so during parish worship activities, including the Rosary. In addition, it seems that photographers may not be welcome.
The writer can vouch for this.
This is a flourishing parish church, and has a full range of liturgical activities.
Mass is celebrated:
Weekdays, 7:45 (not August), 18:30.
Sundays and solemnities, 9:00 (not August), 11:00, 12:00 (not June to September), 18:30.
Rosary every day at 18:00 (except Fridays in Lent).
Eucharistic adoration, 3rd Sunday of the month (not July or August), 17:00 to 18:30.
Stations of the Cross, Fridays in Lent, 18:00.
You will always find a priest here to hear Confession when the church is open.
The worshipping community do not welcome people wandering about the church to look at things during worship. If you do this, you will find that someone at the back of the church has the job of stopping you. So, please plan your cultural visit with the above times in mind.
"Roma SPQR" web-page with gallery (somebody tell them the difference between Lourdes and Guadalupe.)