The dedication is to the Blessed Virgin Mary under a local Roman title of hers, Our Lady in the Portico.
Hence the church has also been known as Santa Maria in Portico, and the official name used by the Diocese is now Santa Maria in Portico in Campitelli.
The origins of the church are obscure, but it seems to have begun in the early 15th century as a small chapel dependent on Santa Maria in Aracoeli on the Capitoline hill. (The name Campitelli is thought to be possibly derived from Campodoglio, the Italian name for the hill.) The first documentary reference is to a priest appointed to it dates from 1566.
The local parish church was Santa Maria in Curte, which was taken over by the oblate nuns of Tor de' Specchi in 1593 and became their convent church of Santa Maria Annunziata a Tor de’Specchi. So, in 1618 a papal decree created a new parish and entrusted it to the Congregation of the Clerks Regular of the Mother of God. They have administered the parish ever since.
Santa Maria in PorticoEdit
A new church was consecrated by the congregation in 1648.
However, in 1656 (or 1658) a small ancient icon of Our Lady at the (now demolished) church of Santa Galla Antiqua in the direction of the Bocca della Verità was believed by many people to have miraculously halted an epidemic. This took place when the icon was carried through the streets of the city in expiation. This church of Santa Galla used to have an alternative name of Santa Maria in Portico, hence the icon was given this title.
Pope Alexander VII took an interest, and agreed that a new church should be built by the city as a shrine for the icon. For some reason, the site chosen was here -at the only recently rebuilt parish church, some distance from the icon's original home. This shrine church was designed by Carlo Rainaldi in the late Baroque style between 1659 and 1667, and the icon gave its title as the alternative name.
The consecration of the new church only took place in 1728, and the unusual delay may have been caused by debts incurred in its construction, or by delays in finishing its interior decoration. The cost was borne by the city council, not by the diocese, and this may have had something to do with it.
The church has performed the dual functions of a parish centre and Marian shrine ever since. Also, since the time of the Old Pretender , whose son Henry Benedict Cardinal Stuart was Cardinal Deacon of the church from 1747 until his death in 1807, the church has been a centre of devotion for the conversion of England.
There was a restoration in 1857, when the present floor was laid.
The boundaries of the parish were revised in 1986, and now includes the historic churches of the Bocca della Verità and the Palatine. The population is small, but a total of seventeen other churches are within the parish boundaries.
The church has been titular since 1660.
The current Cardinal Deacon is Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo.
The plan of the church is very unusual, and is the result of the initial rejection by the Clerks Regular of Rainaldi's original proposal of an elliptical plan. The revision involved the collaboration of the architect of the Clerks, Giovanni Antonio de Rossi.
There are two elements to the revised plan, the first being a nave with two large transepts forming a Greek cross. In the interior corners of the cross-plan are inserted four chapels enclosed by walls. The sanctuary is the second element of the plan, and is another Greek cross except that here the transepts are shallow. There is a semi-circular apse, and a dome. Four more chapels were inserted into the angles of the cross of the sanctuary, making eight in the church overall (only one in the sanctuary now functions).
The "info.roma" web-page reproduces both the plan of the actual church and Rainaldi's original proposal.
The nave and nave transepts have pitched and tiled roofs, and the transept roofs are lower than the main nave roof. The presbyterium roof is flat, and about half the elevation of the nave roofline. It is mostly taken up by the octagonal drum of the dome, which has an oeil-de-boeuf window in each side except that over the altar. The dome itself is a segment of a sphere, slightly less than hemispherical, and is tiled with square tiles. There is a lantern with eight narrow round-headed windows separated by pilasters bearing vertical double volutes which support a cog-wheel entablature. This lantern is crowned by a lead cupola bearing a ball finial.There is no proper campanile, but a tall belfry is placed over the first chapel on the left. It is formed of three tall brick pillars, connected by arches at the top. The four bells are hung in the spaces between the pillars.
The façade is built of travertine, and is dominated by strong vertical lines. This effect is achieved by incorporating large columns in the round into the façade, instead of decorating it with pilasters or semi-columns as is usual with Baroque churches. This feature arguably heralds the later neo-Classical style of architecture. The verticality is accentuated by having the entire central section of the nave frontage brought well forward, from ground level to pediment, as well as the corner elements (although not so far).
The main entrance is flanked by two Ionic columns, with capitals having four volutes each with swags. These support a raised segmental pediment (short pilasters are inserted between capitals and pediment), and the central section of this is recessed. It contains a winged putto's head, which is of a child more mature than the usual run of Baroque putti and looks as if it might have been carved from life. The door lintel bears a proclamation of indulgence.
This doorcase is inserted into a propylaeum which has two Corinthian columns bearing a raised triangular pediment with the base cut away, this pediment intruding into the façade's second storey. To either side of this, in the recessed zones of the façade, is another pair of Corinthinan columns which support the entablature of the first storey. This has a dedicatory inscription on the frieze, which runs under the pediment of the propylaeum. The cornice projects, and is decorated on its underside with rosettes. A final pair of columns occupy the projecting corners.
The side entrance frontages are recessed again from the nave frontage described, but the entablature with its inscription runs across them, too. The two entrances are squeezed into narrow spaces, and each has a pair of Ionic pillars bearing an entablature but no pediment. Above each is a rectangular window with a tympanum containing swags, the projecting arc of which is supported by a pair of little Doric pilasters. Finally, the outer corners of the first storey are occupied by a pair of Doric pilasters (not columns).
The second storey has a large rectangular central window in the same style as those over the side entrances, except this has Corinthinan columns and the tympanum contains a large scallop shell. This window and its decoration is inserted into another propylaeum, piggybacking on the first storey one, and this has Corinthian columns supporting a segmental pediment which is inserted into the main triangular pediment of the façade. This segmental pediment contains the coat-of-arms of the city of Rome, a reminder that the church was a civic rather than a papal project. On either side of this upper propylaeum the second storey has the same design as the first one. The crowning pediment is decorated with rosettes, and has two sections either side of its middle recessed to match the rest of the façade.
The two buildings either side of the church frontage used to make up the convent of the Clerks Regular. The smaller one is still their congregational headquarters.
The main entrance leads straight into the nave, but the side entrances (by which you get in) lead into little square vestibules. In the right hand one there is a portal on the right which leads into the baptistry.
The nave has a large chapel on each side, flanked by two smaller chapels. Then comes the domed sanctuary, which has a small chapel in its bottom right hand corner. The bottom left hand corner here used to have a chapel, but is now a side entrance. The little chapels in the top corners of the sanctuary no longer function, although the right hand one is a treasury.
The baptistry is a separate square room at the lower right hand corner of the church. It contains a font which is a shallow marble bowl on a 17th century foliated stem.
Here is an attractive wall memorial to Luisa Binder-Kriegelstein, 1851, with a bas-relief showing her guardian angel with her on her deathbed. She was the Hungarian wife of Fernando Lorenzana, a professional diplomat who represented several nascent Latin American republics at the Holy See.
There are two 15th century marble aumbries or holy-oil cupboards, carved in Tuscan style. The wall fresco of The Holy Family is Roman, 17th century. Unfortunately, this Madonna del Velo ("Our Lady of the Veil") is somewhat decayed.
The unusual plan of the church creates intricate and enjoyable perspectives which make this one of the most architecturally satisfying of Roman church interiors. It is coolly decorated in a pale grey, which serves to draw attention to the splendour of the shrine over the high altar.
The basically rectangular nave is barrel-vaulted, and has three chapels on each side the middle two of which are very large.
A prominent entablature with a heavy dentillate cornice runs round the interior, and this is broken at the entrance into the domed presbyterium by an enormous archway with two arcs, one inside the other like a reflection rainbow. This is supported by two pairs of enormous partly ribbed Corinthian columns standing in front of pilasters to the same scale and size, and has rosette coffering on its soffit. Four more of these columns stand at the entrances of the middle side chapels, and eight more occupy their interiors. The effect is impressive.
Over the arches into the smaller side chapels are four corbelled and balustraded cantoria or opera-boxes for solo musical performers.
Over the entrance is the organ gallery, the organ itself dating from 1909 with a fine neo-Baroque case. The counterfaçade below this is revetted in grey-streaked marble with Ionic pilasters having swagged capitals. To the right of the main entrance is a neo-Baroque memorial to Francesco Nardi, 1877. A single putto is playing with the marble drapery surrounding the bronze cameo portrait.
The free-standing neo-Classical memorial to Cardinal Giuseppe Bofondi, with two Virtues and a bust, is a fine piece of 1867 and is by the left entrance vestibule. Prudence is on the left, and Justice on the right. This work, by Francesco Fabj Altini, is a late example of the style which was already very much out of fashion in northern Europe. "Romafelix" has a web-page on it here.
The design of the nave triumphal arch is reproduced in that of the apse, except that this has only one arc.
Either side of the dome is a large lunette window within an arch, which geometrically matches the two arches just mentioned. The windows are surmounted by arcs of rosette coffering, reflected by the further coffering on the soffits of the enclosing arches. The interior of the dome has coffering of the same style, diminishing in size as it focuses on a Dove of the Holy Spirit in the oculus lantern.
The four doorways in the corners have tondi containing attributes of Our Lady.
To the left is a painting showing the Birth of St John the Baptist by Il Baciccia, 1698. This used to be the altarpiece of the large left hand nave chapel before St Giovanni Leonardi was enshrined there, and was moved here in 1861.
Below it is a memorial slab to Cardinal Massimo Massimi, who died in 1954. He was not only cardinal of the church, but had been baptized here as a baby. The work is a bas-relief of St Michael Slaying the Dragon, and was executed in 1976 by Guido Veroi.
The rather odd blue-painted wooden pulpit is worth examining.
Madonna del PorticoEdit
The shrine of the Madonna del Portico is over the high altar. It was formerly considered to have been designed in 1667 by the Maltese sculptor Melchiorre Cafà, but it is now attributed to Giovanni Antonio de Rossi with the original idea from Carlo Rainaldi. Rossi was assisted by Ercole Ferrata and Johann Paul Schor.
The shrine is a gloria, an architectural use of stucco rays of light for dramatic effect. It was made less than a year after Bernini's throne of St Peter in the Basilica of St Peter, and surely imitates this. Note the twisted barley-sugar columns of the little aedicule within the gloria.
The icon of the Madonna is small, only about 25 cm high, and is of silver-gilt and champlevé enamel. Tradition claims that it appeared miraculously in 524 at the hospital of St Galla, a Roman woman who was helping the poor, and was venerated by Pope Gregory the Great. It is further said to have been carried in processions since 590. However, scholars have dated it to the late 13th century, so the tradition is uncertain to say the least. Its bronze frame was provided in 1596.
There is a staircase behind the 'gloria' allowing a better view, but you must ask permission at the sacristy if you wish to climb these stairs. Since the original icon is hence not easily accessible for veneration, a reproduction is located in the second chapel on the right. You can also buy laminated prayer-cards featuring it from a vending machine.
In the conch of the apse behind is a fresco by Giovan Battista Conti, showing Pope Alexander VII offering the church to Our Lady. This was painted in 1925.
The side chapels are described in anticlockwise order, beginning to the right of the entrance.
Chapel of St MichaelEdit
The first chapel on the right used to be dedicated to the Crucifix. However, in 1729 it was given into the care of the Collegio dei Procuratori dei Sacri Palazzi Apostolici after the members of this had a big argument with the chapter of Sant'Eustachio in Campo Marzio and withdrew from that church. The chapel here was then dedicated to St Michael the Archangel, patron of the college.
The altarpiece is a painting of St Michael Vanquishing the Devil by Sebastiano Conca.
Chapel of St AnneEdit
The second chapel on the right is dedicated to St Anne, mother of Our Lady. Some of the fabric was preserved from the previous, demolished church.
The altarpiece shows Our Lady with SS Joachim and Anne Her Parents, and is by Luca Giordano. Our Lady is a little girl with her mother, and the two parents are having a vision of angels predicting their daughter's future. The fresco in the vault of St Anne in Glory is by Michelangelo Ricciolino.
The stucco work of this vault is by Michel Maille, Francesco Baratta and Francesco Cavallini (the last named did the right hand angel over the altarpiece as well), and the putti are by Lorenzo Ottoni.
Chapel of St NicholasEdit
The altarpiece of the saint is anonymous, and is an academic Roman work in oils dating from the restoration. St Nicholas is shown venerating the Madonna and Child, with St John the Baptist in attendance.
The little cupola has an attractive fresco of putti of the same period, holding a banner reading Euge serve bone ("Well done, good servant").
Here is kept a plaster copy of an ancient altar of Apollo, the original of which was used as the altar in the church of Santa Maria in Portico. This church later became Santa Galla Antiqua, and when it was demolished the altar was moved to Santa Galla, where it still is.
Chapel of St ZitaEdit
Of the four small chapels in the corners of the sanctuary, only this one still functions as such. It was dedicated to St Zita because she came from Lucca, as did St Giovanni Leonardi the founder of the Clerks Regular. She is a patron of female domestic servants.
The chapel is richly revetted in polychrome marble, the gift of the Vaselli family. Some memorials to them are on the walls. The original anonymous 18th century altarpiece of the saint has been replaced by an icon of the Pietà in Byzantine style, a gift of the artist Elsa Fratini. The altar itself is over a glass box containing a 19th century effigy of Christ in the Tomb.
Chapel of the RelicsEdit
The former chapel in the top right hand corner is now being used as a treasury. The most important item here is In the sacristy is an early 12th century Byzantine portable altar which, by tradition, belonged to St Gregory Nazianzen . It bears a mosic with very small tesserae, depicting Christ with Our Lady and St John.
Chapel of the Madonnella di San MarcoEdit
"Info.roma" mention a Cappella della Madonella di San Marco, which by elimination seems to be the one in the top left hand corner. If this is correct (and the writer has not got in here to check), then the sculptural work is by Filippo Carcani, Il Filippone, 1685 under the patronage of the Ruspoli family.
The third chapel on the left is the Cappella Capizucchi, dedicated to St Paul the Apostle, and is an early work by Mattia de Rossi. He had been commissioned by Cardinal Raimondo Capizucchi, a Dominican friar who died in 1691 and whose memorial is here.
The altarpiece depicts the Conversion of St Paul by Ludovico Gimignani 1683, and on the frame above it is a 16th century fresco of the Madonna and Child rescued from the old parish church demolished to make way for the present building.
The vault fresco is The Apotheosis of St Paul, by Michelangelo Ricciolino. The stucco work, notably the shield held by two putti on the keystone of the arch, is by Luca Carcani.
Chapel of St John LeonardiEdit
The second chapel on the left is now dedicated to St Giovanni Leonardi, the founder of the Clerks Regular, who is enshrined in front of the altar. However, it was originally dedicated to St John the Baptist -as is obvious from its decoration.
The aedicule is spectacular, with a pair of massive red marble Corinthian columns and superb stucco detailing. The artists concerned were Giuseppe Mazzuoli, Lorenzo Ottoni and Giacomo Antonio Lavaggi. The vault fresco of St John the Baptist in Glory is by Giacinto Calandrucci, 1683 (although this has also been attributed to Gimignani).
The present altarpiece is the Apotheosis of San Giovanni Leonardi by Marcello Sozzi, 1860. However, the ribbon epigraph above still proclaims Non surrexit major Ioanne Baptista.
The first chapel on the left is the Altieri family chapel, fitted out in 1708 by Sebastiano Cipriano. It is dedicated to St Joseph and Blessed Ludovica Albertoni, and the marble relief altarpiece by Lorenzo Ottoni shows the Holy Family appearing to her in a vision.
The ceiling fresco depicting the Assumption is by Giuseppe Passeri. He was also responsible for the putti in the pendentives, and the angels bearing Marian symbols in the lunette over the aedicule.
The side walls have a pair of identical Baroque memorials in polychrome marbles. One is to Angelo Altieri, 1709 by Giuseppe Mazzuoli, with a bust by Michele Maille who died in 1703. The opposite one is to Vittoria Parabiacchi, 1710 and here the work was completed by Antonio Lavaggi after Maille's death.
The following are also commemorated:
- Lorenzo Altieri (died 1741) nephew of Paluzzo Paluzzi.
- Filippo Casoni (died 1811)
- Guglielmo Pallotta (died 1795)
- Francesco Landi Pietra (died 1757)
The church website advises that the church is open:
7:00 to 19:00 daily.
However, it has been advised elsewhere that the lunchtime closure is from 12:00 to 16:00.
The church is accessible to the physically disabled.
A tape-recorded guide is available near the entrance, and laminated icon-card reproductions of Our Lady of the Portico are on sale in a vending machine.
Mass is celebrated:
Weekdays 7:30 and 18:30,
Sundays 7:30, 10:00, 12:00, 18:30.
There is Vespers and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at 18:30 on Thursdays.