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Santa Maria in Celsano is a 11th century devotional church (heavily remodelled) dependent on the parish of Sant’Andrea Apostolo alla Osteria Nuova, at Piazza Santa Maria di Galeria 2 in the rural settlement of Santa Maria di Galeria. This is itself in the "suburban" zone of Santa Maria di Galeria which is south of Cesano. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons are here.
The dedication is to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under her title of "Our Lady of Consolation".
The church is in the municipality of Rome, but belongs to the diocese of Porto Santa Rufina.
It seems that the farmstead might be on the site of an ancient Roman villa, as spolia is re-used in the church. However an alternative site for the villa might be just to the north-west, where there is an ancient Roman cistern in the fields (of course, there might have been two villas).
The church enters the historical record when the Casale di Celsano was granted to the monastery of San Saba by Pope Leo IX in 1054. The name seems to translate as "Mulberry Tree Farm" (gelso is modern Italian for "mulberry tree". The church seems to be rather large for a simple fortified farmstead, and might have been intended for a monastic foundation (San Saba belonged to the Benedictine abbey of Montecassino). If a monastery existed here, it had a brief existence and has left no historical trace.
However, the ownership link with San Saba was to last for centuries.
The icon of Our Lady venerated in the church is variously dated, from the 12th or 14th centuries. Overpainting has made attribution rather difficult. However, if it is of the earlier date then it might have been brought here after San Saba joined the Cluniac reform Benedictine congregation in 1145 and was renovated.
The legend attached to the icon obviously derives from the pre-existing name of the farmstead. It describes how the icon was found miraculously hanging in a mulberry tree near the church. In the second half of the 1400, the interior of the church was given a fresco cycle by the school of Antoniazzo Romano including a depiction of the legend.
Hungarians and Orsini Edit
The owning monastery of San Saba became degenerate in the late 15th century, and much of its property was alienated. In 1512, the Casale di Celsano was leased by Pope Julius II to the Order of St Paul the First Hermit, which was promoting a project for a Hungarian College. This, however, was abortive at the time and the property reverted. The farmstead was then leased by Cardinal Innocenzo Cybo, the abbot in commendam (that is, he had the right of ownership of San Saba despite not being a monk), to Felice della Rovere in 1521. It thus passed to the Orsini family for three generations (the terms of the lease), via her son Girolamo Orsini.
The Orsinis spent a lot of money rebuilding the farmstead (most of the extant buildings date from this project), and also restored the church. They cannot have obtained their money's worth, because the property had reverted by 1574 when it was given to the German College -this became the German-Hungarian College in 1579. This Jesuit-run institution thus obtained possession of both San Saba and the Casale di Celsano.
Parish church Edit
The church had the status of a private estate chapel for most of its existence. The local parish church was Sant'Andrea a Galeria Antica, located in the nearby ancient walled town of Galeria. For reasons that are not completely clear the town fell into hopeless decay in the 18th century, and was actually completely abandoned by it remaining 150 or so inhabitants in 1809. A panic about disease seems to have been the final straw. The people settled around the Casale to form a new village, and this changed its name to Santa Maria di Galeria in memory of the lost town. However, the church kept its old name.
In 1816, the old church in the abandoned town burned down. In response, the church here was made parochial in the same year. As part of the upgrade, it was provided with a cemetery which is not adjacent but along the road just to the north.
The edifice was restored in about 1900, and given some Gothic details. However, the population drifted away and the settlement reverted to being a farmstead. In the mid 20th century the suburban village of Osteria Nuova grew up, and in response the parish was moved to a new church there towards the end of the 20th century -Sant'Andrea alla Osteria Nuova.Nevertheless, the old church was kept on and continues to be used for worship. It is also popular for weddings.
The working farmstead of Santa Maria di Galeria is up a driveway with the rather pretentious name of Via Monti del Nibbio (why?), and is based around two courts. The larger outer one is to the south, and the smaller inner one is to the north. The outer court has a fountain surrounded by trees.
The driveway enters the outer court at its north-west corner, and to get into the inner court you turn left immediately on entering the outer court and go through a tower gateway appearing to you left. Once in the inner court, look back at the tower to see a good clock with a date of 1822 and two bells for the hours.
A trattoria called the Ristorante Claudio is located here, and is popular for wedding receptions (not that it's got much competition hereabouts).
Layout and fabric Edit
Apart from the façade, the exterior of the church is mostly invisible to ordinary visitors.
The plan is basilical, with a central nave of three bays having side aisles. There is a further entrance bay without aisles, and a tower campanile is intruded into the left hand side of this. The structural sanctuary is integral with the central nave, and has a square end where it abuts onto domestic ranges behind. The aisles are extended for part of the length of the sanctuary in order to form two side chapels. These have tiny apses, a feature which argues for a 11th century date for the layout of the church.
The central nave roof runs over the sanctuary as well, and is pitched and tiled. The aisle roofs have single pitches, and are only slightly lower than the main roof. The left hand chapel apse has its own little tiled roof in sectors, but the corresponding right hand apse is embedded in a domestic range which amounts to an extension of the right hand aisle.
The left hand aisle exterior wall is at a noticeable angle to the major axis, the aisle becoming narrower towards its far end.
The campanile is a rather grim undecorated square tower rendered in grey, with a large round-headed sound-hole in each side of the bell-chamber. There is a low ogee-curved cap, which must date from the 16th century restoration.
The façade faces onto a tiny patio at the top of a steep set of stairs flanked by low walls. These indicate that the church must be on a crypt. The patio is tightly flanked by the ends of the 16th century domestic buildings on each side, and a further set of stairs leads to a doorway in the left hand range which overlooks the patio.
The façade used to be rendered in orange ochre with architectural details in limestone, but has been recently re-rendered in yellow.
It has a single storey, with a tripartite roofline having two horizontal sections either side of a gable forming an equilateral triangle. The stone door-case is flanked by a pair of pilasters fronted by a pair of thin columns with vaguely Corinthian capitals, and these support a gabled Gothic arch which encloses a stone relief and inscription in its tympanum. Above is a wheel window with a dished frame and six arrow-head fenestrations, and flanking the gable of the arch is a pair of blank thin molded frames in the shape of Gothic lancets. The roofline is decorated with tiny pendant Gothic arches. All these Gothic details seem to belong to the 1900 restoration.
The relief and epigraph tablet in the tympanum over the door are allegedly from the ruined church of Sant’Andrea a Galeria Antica which was the ancestor of the present parish. There is a badly worn figure of a bishop set on a length of floating cornice, and the inscription below reads Super aspidem and basiliscum ambulavis, and conculcabis leonem et draconem. This is from Psalm 90, and translates “On the asp and the basilisk you will walk, and tread on the lion and the dragon”.
The relief is flanked by a pair of little relief winged putto's heads, obviously much later.
The bishop is probably St Nicholas, in which case the relief actually came from the "other" church in the ruined town, San Nicola a Galeria Antica (the campanile of this is an iconic landmark). Despite the damage and a thick coat of whitewash, you can make out a dragon at the bottom right and this features in one of the legends about the saint.
On entering, you find yourself in a little aisle-less entrance bay which is asymmetrical because the left hand wall belongs to the campanile.
The nave has three bays and two aisles, with arcades on short grey granite columns which are ancient. The pair of columns to the right have simple tile imposts, but the two to the right have ancient derivative Corinthian capitals. The walls are stencilled in horizontal stripes of creamy white and pale brown, which on the low central nave side walls are embellished with a quatrefoil over each column and a vine-scroll frieze just below the roofline. This decoration derives from the 1900 restoration.
The central nave and aisle roofs are open, the former having trusses with tie-beams.
The aisles have two single-light Gothic windows each. At the bottom of the right hand aisle is a devotional picture of Our Lady of Consolation, accompanied by ex-votos and protected by iron railings. Within the railings are two free-standing marble holy water stoups, obviously collected here from the entrance to prevent their theft.
This same aisle has two landscape frescoes dating from the late 15th century, of the school of Antoniazzo Romano. The first one shows the sacred icon hanging in a tree, being venerated by a group of people including a mother with a sick baby who was cured miraculously. The second (badly preserved) shows the icon being taken to the church on the back of a horse. The hills in the background seem to depict the lost town of Galeria.
Beyond these two fresco panels is a third fresco, very badly damaged, of St Francis with a charming little figure of a female donor in the bottom left hand corner.
The left hand aisle has a fresco of 1900, showing Mass being celebrated in the church by a bishop. The detailing is lively, but unfortunately the preservation is again not very good.
There is also a stone epigraph tablet mentioning relics, dated 1204.
Most of the former sanctuary has been sequestered to form a sacristy, and this was done in 1900 by inserting a solid screen with the altar in front and the holy icon as the altarpiece. This screen is vaguely Gothic, with the same stencil stripes as the interior walls. It has two Gothic-arched flanking doorways, the one on the left having a fresco of St Joachim in the tympanum and the one on the right, St Anne teaching Our Lady to read (they were the parents of Our Lady).
At a level above the doorway lintels are four floating pilasters inserted into the screen, and these are topped by four obelisks. In between the latter are three striped triangular panels, the central one being larger -the intention was obviously to echo the design of the church façade.
The venerated icon is inserted into a Renaissance-style aedicule, with grotesque decoration on its two pilasters. Above, a Gothic-arched tympanum contains the Dove of the Holy Spirit.
The icon itself is heavily repainted, and it is difficult to decide between the rival dates of the late 12th or late 14th centuries. The former seems more likely. This is a Madonna Lactans, as the Christ-child is shown suckling, and is also a Black Madonna as the Madonna and Child are shown with brown skin. The background is in ultramarine blue with golden stars, and the same pigment is used for her robe which has gilded highlights. Her underdress is in haematite red. Retouching is in rather gaudy malachite (green) and vermillion (orange) hues, and these details look 16th century. The figure of Our Lady is flanked by four gilded tondi with portraits of saints. The two male ones are fairly clearly of SS Peter (top right) and Paul, the blonde girl on the right might be St Mary Magdalen, but the brunette on the left is anyone's guess.
The right hand chapel is dedicated to St Joseph, and has a modern statue of him with the Christ-child. The conch of the little apse has an attractive fresco of the Madonna and Child with winged putto's heads. On the right hand pier is a flaking fresco of what looks like St John the Evangelist -a young man in a red cloak.
The left hand chapel is dedicated to the Sacred Heart, and has another modern statue. The conch has a badly perished fresco of Christ Pantocrator. To the left is a fresco of St John the Baptist.
Access and liturgy Edit
Mass is celebrated on Sundays and Solemnities at 9:30 and 18:00.
There is a Mass in honour of the Immaculate Heart of Our Lady on the first Saturday of the month at 9:30.
Unfortunately, the church is not otherwise regularly open.
Getting here without one's own vehicle is awkward. Bus number 030 runs from La Storta train station to Osteria Nuova, and you get off at the first stop in the village at the junction of the Via Braccianense and the Via Santa Maria di Galleria. Then, on weekdays, it is a half-hour walk along the latter road (only bother doing this if you have made special arrangements to visit the church). On Saturdays and Sundays only a cemetery bus service, C26, runs from Osteria Nuova, six or seven buses each way (check the timetable on the ATAC Roma website), and this will drop you outside the farmstead.