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Santa Maria in Traspontina

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Santa Maria in Traspontina

English name: Our Lady across the Bridge
Dedication: Blessed Virgin Mary
Denomination: Roman Catholic
Titular church Cardinal Marc Ouellet, P.S.S.,
National church: Denmark (Chapel of St Knud)
Built: From 1566, replacing older church
Architect(s): Giovanni Sallustio Peruzzi
Contact data
Address: 14 Via della Conciliazione

00193 Roma

Phone: 06 68 80 64 51
Fax: 06 68 80 33 15

Santa Maria in Traspontina is a parish and titular church of ancient foundation in the rione Borgo dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, with a postal address at Borgo Sant'Angelo 15. However, the main entrance is on the Via della Conciliazione. The Chapel of St Knud -King Canute IV- (see below) is the national shrine of Denmark. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons.[1]


Former churchEdit

The first church, which had the same dedication, was built under Pope Hadrian I (772795). It was not in the same spot, but closer to Castel Sant'Angelo. Early maps place it at what is now the Via della Conciliazione 2, on the corner with Piazza Pia, and show a basilica with aisles and a segmental apse.

The appellation refers to the Ponte Sant'Angelo, the bridge across the Tiber at Castel Sant'Angelo. This, the former Pons Aelius, was the only bridge spanning the entire Tiber which survived the collapse of the Roman Empire (the Tiber Island crossing, with two bridges, also survived). Hence, the name traspontina, or "across the bridge", in the Middle Ages was not equivocal. The church has also been known as Santa Maria in Hadriano, as the Castel Sant'Angelo was originally the mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian.

The Liber Pontificalis mentions it under Pope Pascal II in 1118, when was alleged to be defunct. Later in the same century it was back in use, as a priest of the church is mentioned in a bull from Pope Urban III dated 1186 or 1187. In the Catelogue of Turin, c. 1320, the church is mentioned as a Papal Chapel with five collegiate clerics. The church has long been served by Calced Carmelites; they were first installed in the old church in 1484 by Pope Innocent VIII, who noted that the church was again dilapidated and hoped that the Carmelites would re-vitalize it. Also he expected them to make the church the pastoral centre of the Borgo, which did happen. The friars built a convent next door, which became the headquarters of their Italian province.

Present churchEdit

The present church, the only one in the Via della Conciliazione, with its attached convent was built from 1566 by Giovanni Sallustio Peruzzi, son of Baldassare Peruzzi. It was relocated to the present site because of the need to strengthen fortifications around the Castel Sant'Angelo by the addition of artillery bastions, which needed a clear field of fire. The project was part of the ongoing renewal of the Borgo, which had largely been abandoned after the Sacco di Roma in 1527. It was not completed until 1668.

It has been a parochial church since 1587, and is now the parish church of the entire rione Borgo. It was also established a titular church in 1587, with Juan Hurtado de Mendoza appointed as the first Cardinal priest in 1589. The current titular of the church is Cardinal Marc Ouellet P.S.S., Archbishop of Québec who was created cardinal in 2003, and who succeeded Cardinal Gerald Emmet Carter who had died in the same year.


Plan and elevationEdit

The church is built on a plan of a Latin cross, with nave, aisles, transepts, presbyterium and a central dome. There is no apse, but unusually the corners of the transepts are chamfered. There is a campanile built next to the near corner of the left hand transept, and behind the presbyterium is the convent of the friars. The roofs are all pitched and tiled, and those of the presbyterium and transepts are hipped.


The façade, designed by G.S. Peruzzi, is built in travertine in part pilfered from the Colosseum. It has two storeys.
2011 Maria in Traspontina
The lower is divided into five parts by six equally-spaced Corinthian pilasters supporting a rather deep entablature with projecting cornice, and the upper into three by Ionian pilasters with the volutes carved at an angle to the façade. There are three doors, a large one in the middle with an 18th century stucco relief of the Madonna with Child above, and two smaller ones either side of it with windows above them. The main door is flanked by a pair of grey marble Ionian columns supporting a raised triangular pediment which is broken at the top. Into this break is inserted a marble arch containg the relief sculpture, and the arch is itself crowned by a small segmental pediment containing a winged putto's head. The aisle doors have raised segmental pediments supported by volute corbels, and the pair of windows above them (which are almost, but not quite, square) have raised Baroque frames and pediments lacking cornices.

The two vertical zones of the first storey in between the outermost pair of pilasters on either side are recessed, and contain a pair of round-headed niches topped by segmental pediments broken at the top and supported again by volute corbels. These pediments contain putto's heads in between volutes. In fact, a proliferation of pediments is a feature of the design of this façade, as there are twelve of them in total.

The upper storey has a large round-headed window in the middle, with a segmental pediment containing a winged putto's head. It is flanked by a pair of large rectangular blank recessed panels with triangular raised pediments. These three pediments all have volute corbels. This storey is crowned by a dentillate triangular pediment, which apparently has never contained any sculpture in its tympanum. There used to be three candlestick finials on the tip and two corners of the pediment, but these fell off long ago and the church is now topped by a horrible wire cross. The sides of this storey are decorated by a pair of sweeping curves with gigantic volutes at their top; these volutes are elliptical rather than round. Above these is a pair of women's heads wearing Ionic capitals as if they were fantastic hats; these wonderfully whimsical features can only be appreciated with binoculars or a telephoto lens.

Oratorio della Dottrina CristianaEdit

To the left of the façade there is what looks like a fourth entrance. This is actually a little oratory which is attached to the church fabric but has its own entrance, called the Oratorio della Dottrina Cristiana (Oratory of Christian Doctrine), with a nice late 18th century doorway. It was the chapel of a confraternity which taught catechesis to children, and has a triangular pediment with three stumpy finials and a raised segmental pediment above the doorway. The latter is broken at the bottom by an inscription tablet which reads Non cesses fili audire doctrinam ("Son, do not cease to listen to doctrine"). The internal decoration is by Giovanni Conca.


The dome has an octagonal drum on its outside, topped by a tiled cap pitched low. On this is a lantern with eight windows and a little cupola with finial. The dome is rather unobtrusive and not easy to see from the ground, and the reason is that the cannons on Castel Sant'Angelo needed a clear line-of-sight which a taller dome would have obscured.




The campanile, designed by Francesco Peparelli in 1637, has a recast English bell which is some 600 years old and weighs about one and a half tons. This was purchased in 1587 and almost certainly came from a suppressed English abbey. It is unfortunately not known which one. The tall first storey is of one piece with the oratory and the transept behind and is of poor quality masonry, but the top two storeys are of much better build. The design is again enjoyably whimsical, since the second storey has a vertical elliptical window and the soundholes of the third, bell-chamber storey are keyhole shaped. There are ball finials on the corners of this storey, and a steep pyramidal Baroque cap with a projecting cornice halfway up it and a large quatrefoil aperture on each side below this.


Main layoutEdit

The church has a Latin cross plan, with a nave covered by a barrel-vault ceiling as is the presbyterium. There are five chapels off the aisles on each side, and the aisle arcades have solid square piers. Francesco Peparelli was responsible for the nave up to the line of the fourth chapels, and the rest of the nave was the responsibility of Ottavio Nonni Mascherino. Peparelli designed the rest, with the assistance of Simone Broggi as regards the dome.

The arcade piers were faced with yellow marble on their inner faces in 1895, and the marble pavement was laid in 1873. The nave ceiling was painted by Cesare Gabrini in 1894, except for the central panels depicting Our Lady of Carmel Giving the Scapular to Simon Stock and Pope Benedict XIII in Glory and two panels depicting Sol Iustitiae and Stella Maris, which are all by Cesare Caroselli. The 19th century marble ambo or pulpit on the right hand side of the nave has the coat-of-arms of the Carmelites inlaid in polychrome stonework.

The internal dome does not have a drum, but it placed directly on a cornice supported by the pendentives. It has eight round-headed windows placed on the cornice, and to the level of these was built by Peparelli in 1637. The rest of the dome was finished by Broggi only in 1668. The decoration was added by Gabrini, and features eight wide rays, tricked out in blue, white, grey and gold, focusing on the oculus. In between the rays are eight frescoed tondi. The pendentivets have frescoes of the prophets Elijah and Elisha and two Carmelite saints, Peter Thomas and Andrew Corsini. The Carmelites pretended until the 20th century that the prophets founded their Order (they actually came into existence as a group of Latin-speaking hermits on Carmel in the Holy Land in the 12th century).

The transepts contain a chapel each.

The presbyterium, by Peparelli, was also designed as the choir of the Carmelite community. As a result it has no apse, and is shut off from the rest of the church. The barrel vault bears the monogram of Our Lady in glory, and the choir stalls are by Filippo Gagliardi of 1651. The frescoes on the walls are by Angelo Papi of 1761.

The ceiling in the sacristy has a fresco by Luigi Garzi depicting the Madonna of Carmel. Near the sacristy is a confessional donated by King Christian X of Denmark (see article on Chapel of St Knud below).

High altarEdit

The high altar was designed by Carlo Fontana, and consecrated in 1674. The frontal of the actual altar is marble carved to resemble draped cloth and inlaid with semi-precious stones, and is by Giuseppe Marini. Was he inspired by the art of the Mogul Empire in India? The tabernacle is shaped like a globe, which is unusual. Above there is has a very nice Baroque baldacchino with six Ionic columns in red jasper , supporting an enormous royal crown of wood coated in gilded copper by Padredio Carlo. This has stucco angels holding it on either side by Leonardo Retti.

Enclosed by the baldacchino is a Byzantine-style icon of the Madonna, set in a rayed glory. By tradition it was brought to Rome from the Holy Land in 1216, but is now thought to have been a product of south Italy. It was crowned in 1641, but was apparently destroyed during the Roman Republic of 1798. The present icon has been shown to be a copy.

Either side of the altar is a door with a jasper frame and segmental pediment, leading into the choir. These two doors are surmounted by four marble statues, two being of Elijah and Elisha, The others are of St Angelus of Jerusalem, an early Carmelite who rebuked a Sicilian peasant in 1220 and who died of the beating that resulted, and St Albert the Great who is the patron of scientists.


The first chapel on the right is dedicated to St Barbara, and the altarpiece depicting her is by Cavaliere d'Arpino. It is one of his best works. He also drew the cartoons for the frescoes, executed by Cesare Rossetti in 1620. There are stucco decorations with military symbols, referring to her patronage of artillerymen which came about because, in her legend, God killed her evil father with a lightning bolt. The chapel originally belonged to a fraternity of the cannoneers at Castel Sant'Angelo called the Bombardiers (bombardieri).

The second chapel on the right is dedicated to St Canute of Denmark, otherwise St Knud, for which see the separate section below.

The third chapel on the right is dedicated to Our Lady of Carmel. It contains a 19th century statue which is a focus of devotion by local inhabitants of the Borgo, and which was crowned by Pope John Paul II in St Peter's Square in 2001.

The fourth chapel on the right is dedicated to the Holy Cross. It contains a wooded crucifix from the old church, superimposed on painted figues of Our Lady and St John by Cesare Conti da Ancona of 1590. The vault frescoes are by Bernardino Gagliardi of 1649, the same date as the Baroque altar with its two columns of precious black marble.

The fifth chapel on the right is dedicated to St Albert the Great. The altarpiece depicting him, and all the frescoes, were executed by Antonio Pomerancio by 1620.

The chapel in the right transept is dedicated to St Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi, a Carmelite nun of Florence (died 1607) some of whose mystical utterances have been translated into English. The altarpiece, showing her with Our Lady and St Joseph, is of unknown provenance.

The chapel in the left transept is dedicated to St Andrew Corsini. The altarpiece, showing him with Our Lady, is by Paolo Melchiorri and the fresco on the vault is by Biagio Puccini and shows the Battle of Anghiari. It was restored in the 19th century.

The fifth chapel on the left is dedicated to St Angelus of Jerusalem. The altarpiece, painted on slate, and all the fresco paintings depicting the saint's life are by Giovanni Battista Ricci da Novara of the early 17th century.

The fourth chapel on the left is dedicated to St Teresa of Jesus, the Spanish mystic who founded the Discalced Carmelites (the other Carmelite order). It was entirely decorated by Antonio Gherardi in 1698, who painted the superb altarpiece depicting the Transverberation of St Teresa. There is a stucco relief of her in the vault.

The third chapel on the left is dedicated to the Apostles Peter and Paul. Two columns preserved here are said to be the ones the Apostles were chained to when they were flogged before their executions. The altarpiece depicts these events, and it and the frescoes were executed by Ricci Novara. The little crucifix above the altarpiece came from the old church.

The second chapel on the left is dedicated to the prophet Elijah. The altarpiece, by Giacinto Calandrucci, shows the prophet with St Anthony of Egypt and Blessed Franco Lippi of Siena, a Carmelite hermit who died in 1291. A 14th century terracotta Pietà was removed from one of the walls of the old church and enshrined above the altarpiece here.

The first chapel on the left is dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows (Pietà), and is also the baptistery. Over the altar is a pretty 15th century terracotta Pietà which was much venerated in the old church. An urn under the altar contains the relics of the 3rd century martyr saints Basilides, Tripos and Mandal. The carved wooden angels flanking the altar seem to be inspired by those on the Ponte Sant' Angelo. The frescoes date from 1716, when the chapel was restored.

Chapel of St KnudEdit

One of the side chapels is dedicated to St Knud of Denmark (Canute IV), the Danish king who was martyred in the church of the great Benedictine monastery of St Alban in Odense , Denmark on 10 July 1086. It was founded by the Danish convert Fr. Christian Payngk (born 1612). About 1630, he travelled to Rome with his brother Ahasverus, and both converted to the Catholic faith there. Payngk was ordained priest, and his brother became a Capuchin monk in Genua. During the 1630's, Payngk laid plans for a Danish chapel in Rome. At the time, Catholicism was banned in Denmark, and Catholics risked severe punishments, even the death penalty, if discovered by the authorities. A Danish chapel in Rome would be a great comfort to the small group of Catholics from the country. Christian enlisted the support of Cardinal Antonio Barberini, one of the pillars of the recently established Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Propaganda Fide). He also found a supporter in Giovanni Pamphilj, later Pope Innocent X.

The Carmelites were contacted, and gave permission to install an altar in Santa Maria in Traspontina. They already had a chapel dedicated to St Charles Borromeo, who has been canonized in 1610. When the request came, a new church had just been dedicated to St Charles, and the Carmelites felt that the dedication of the chapel could be altered. The formalities had been taken care of by 1640, and Payngk started the refitting. Few alterations were made to the chapel itself; the main task was to get a new altarpiece. The painting that resulted depicts The Martyrdom of St Knud. The artist is unknown, but it has been attributed first to Daniel Freschie (this attribution has been abandoned by most art historians) and later to the School of Jacopo Nicolai de Lorena. It is possible that it was Freschie who painted it, but as he died in 1613, it must have been commissioned before that by Christian Payngk's father who probably met Freschie at the court of Emperor Rudolph II in Prague.

The chapel was inaugurated on 7 January 1641, on what was reported to be the memorial of St Knud. Representatives of the College of Cardinals were present on the memorable occasion, and it is reported that the local citizens celebrated for two days. The date of inauguration was chosen through a mistake that is commonly made; St Knud was confused with St Knud… There are two Danish saints named Knud, namely the martyr and king to whom the chapel is dedicated, and St Knud Lavard, a Duke who was murdered on 7 January and therefore celebrated on that day. The proper date for the memorial of St Knud of Denmark was 10 July; in pre-Reformation Denmark he had also been celebrated on the 2nd Sunday in Eastertide. In 1670, the memorial was moved to 19 January.

One of the things that was expected in the chapel was burial of Danish Catholics. Payngk had a plaque made, with the inscription D(eo) O(ptimo) M(aximo). SOLIS DANIS IN URBE FIDEQUE ROMANA OBEUNTIBUS MONUMENTUM. ANNO D(omi)NI MDCLXV, meaning "To the almight God. Only to Danes who have died in City and Faith of Rome is this monument dedicated. The year of our Lord 1665."

There are records of many prominent Danes visiting the chapel, including Prince Jørgen, son of King Frederik III in 1669-70; the prince later married princess Anne, later Queen Anne of Great Britain. In 1692, Crown Prince Frederik, later King Frederik IV, visited, and his brother Carl came in 1698.

Payngk decided to add decorations to the chapel in 1685, and had a new altarpiece painted by Daniel Seiter of Vienna. This is the present altarpiece, showing the saint with outstretched arms and his eyes toward the heavens. He is dressed in a blue tunic with a hermine cape over his shoulders. Payngk also commissioned the stonemason Pietro Antonio Ripoli to deliver marble for the walls; Ripoli added some intarsia work to the altar at his own expense. Also, the painter Alessandro Francesi decorated the ceiling with a fresco depicting The Glory of St Knud, where angels carry the saint in triumph to Heaven, where the crown of martyrdom is waiting.

Sadly, Payngk was not to see the restored chapel. He died before work was completed, on 31 January 1687. At his own request, he was laid to rest before the altar in the chapel. All his belongings apart from a few books were given to the Carmelites, including his house with a garden in Trastevere. Mass was to be read for him weekly and on the memorial of St Knud.

Three days after his funeral, the Danish artist Bernhard Keil (1626 - 1687) was also buried in the chapel. He was the son of the painter Caspar Keilhau, and had worked in Rembrandt's study in Amsterdam.

The chapel was reinaugurated by Msgr. Francesco Maria de Marinis on 6 July 1687. The Monsignore gave a simple benediction, and said Mass.

After that, there is no record of the chapel until 1778. Then, a memorial plaque for the former officer Anton Georg Bredahl was erected. Bredahl had been dismissed from the army for medical reasons in 1770, and had shortly after moved to Rome where he converted to the Catholic faith. He was appointed as a member of the Corsican Guard by Pope pius VI on 10 April 1778, and the plaque records that he died the same day, aged 39.

In 1781, Mass was still celebrated on the memorial of St Knud. The Danish scholar Georg Christian Adler was there that year, and records with some interest that the memory of the martyr is preserved in January each year. But soon after, interest in the chapel dropped. Another Danish scholar, the numismatist Christian Ramus, was there in 1793, and records that there were candles on the altar, but no Mass. As a Lutheran theologian, he was sceptical of Catholicism, and it seems to be with some satisfaction that he recorded how the friars had spent all the investment set aside to ensure that Mass was celebrated in the chapel. He wrote that the monks had eaten all of it, but that before the funds were used on candles and music, and burning and fiddling them away was not a hair better. The same thing was the case in 1819, when the Danish Lutheran vicar Frederik Schmidt visited on St Knud's memorial, and found four lit candles on the altar but no priest celebrating Mass.

The saddest account of the state of things is that by the famous Danish author H.C. Andersen - author of The Little Mermaid and other fairy tales - given after his visit in 1841. He relates that he had cried over his father's coffin in St Knud's Church (in Odense, where St Knud was martyred and where H.C. Andersen lived), and been confirmed in the same church, but that in Denmark no Mass was celebrated for the king, and even in the Pope's city he was given only two tallow candles.

A brief turn to the better must have followed; in 1866 or 1867, the Catholic priest Fr. J.Cl. Lichtle from Gothenburg, Sweden, visited and found the chapel nicely decorated and noted that Mass was celebrated there. The monks had even prepared xylographs (an early form of photocopy) of St Knud's martyrdom with a prayer printed on the back, which were handed out to the faithful. Licthle asked all Danish Catholics - the Catholic Church had been allowed to reestablish itself in Denmark after the new Constitution had been approved in 1849 - to donate money to the friars. He reminded them of the efforts of the Danish Carmelites in the years preceding the Reformation, when they were among the foremost defenders of the Church.

But something was apparently still rotten in Denmark. The journalist and politician Carl Steen Andersen Bille came to Rome in 1878 and went to the church to take part in Mass on the memorial of the saint. But no Mass was celebrated, and the sacristan explained that St Knud was un molto povero santo, a very poor saint. Clearly, the meagre contributions that had come were not enough.

Then, in 1906, things were finally put right. The Danish Catholic weekly magazine, Nordisk Ugeblad for katholske Kristne wrote in the 3 March issue that the chapel was in a state of disrepair, and announced a collection in cooperation with the Carmelite General. Money was collected, and artists who got engaged in the project made contributions. The author Thor Lange suggested that a carpet should be made, and a pattern was drawn based on a painting from c. 1500 in Skive Church in Denmark. It depicts a seated St Knud with the inscription Sanctus Canutus - Danorum Rex - ac Protomartyr, "St Knud, King and Protomartyr of the Danes", and was made by a group of Catholic women. 3000 Italian lire was collected, which at the time was a considerable sum. Two bronze candelabra were bought and placed on the altar, a fund was set up to pay for Mass on his memorial and on the date of his death (19 January and 10 July), and the fund was also to pay for oil for the eternal lamp hanging before the altarpiece. Bishop von Euch marked the success of the project on 28 November 1906 by celebrating Mass in the chapel, with two Danish seminarians as altar servers and the new carpet on the steps to the altar. This was related in the French Catholic weekly "L'Univers", and rumours also spread in Rome. Many Romans came to the chapel to pray for the intercession of this foreign saint, and many apparently got the results they wanted. There are now many votive offerings in the chapel, mostly small silver hearts hung on the frame of the altarpiece. This new interest also generated more funds, and Mass was celebrated on other days than 19 January and 10 July also. In 1913, Fr. P. Westergaard, who had studied at the seminary of the Propaganda Fide, celebrated his First Mass in the chapel on 18 May, and there were so many present that the monks had to bring in extra chairs.

The fund was almost completely lost during the First World War, due to inflation; most of it had been invested in Austrian state bonds, and Austria did not have much luck in the war. However, the visit of King Christian X and Queen Alexandrine in 1920 brought renewed attention to the chapel. The royal couple were Lutherans, but were well disposed toward Catholicism, and donated a confessional and six benches with the royal monogram. The king also instructed the embassy in Rome to make sure that there was always funds for Mass on St Knud's memorial. It was also decided that the altar should be decorated with flowers in the Danish colours, red and white. The red flowers are brought by the monks, and the white by the embassy. Pope Benedict XV noticed the royal interest in the chapel, and gave two silver candelabras to be used on the memorial.

In 1931, Fr. Niels R.M. Oppermann was present at the memorial day Mass, and mentions several distinguished guests, both from the Church hierarchy, the Danish and Norwegian government and others. On that day, a relic of St Knud was exhibited for veneration on the altar. The relic had been given by a Danish doctor; when he was in Rome he asked if they had a relic, and when told that they didn't he arranged for a bone taken during an examination of the king's mortal remains to be sent to the church. The examination had taken place in 1875, when the reliquary of St Knud had been restored at the National Museum (unlike in many other countries, the Reformation in Denmark led to very little destruction of relics; they were simply moved to less prominent places). A professor in anatomy at the University of Copenhagen, Frederik Theodor Schmidt, had been called to Odense to examine the bones. It is unknown who removed the relic, but it has been noted that professor Schmidt later married a Catholic woman, Louise Sophie d'Auchamp, whose brother was the head of the collection committee in 1906.


The feast of Our Lady of Carmel is celebrated on 16 July with a solemn procession. Other fests of importance are those of various Carmelite saints, one of whom is Simon Stock on 16 May. He was an English superior of the Carmelite order who died in 1265, and a problem has arisen concerning his title. The Carmelites have traditionally venerated him as a saint, but the revised Roman martyrology of 2001 lists him as a beatus only. The Order does not seem to have accepted this yet.

St Knud of Denmark is celebrated on 19 January (memoria) and 10 July (day of martyrdom).

External linksEdit

Official diocesan web-page

Italian Wikipedia article

Parish website

Descriptions of church in parish website

"Romeartlover" web-page with 18th century engraving

"Roma SPQR" web-page (click for photo gallery)

Info.roma web-page

"Romeilove" photo gallery

Map showing old church (scroll to bottom)

Roman Despatches - blog (with gallery)

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