|Santa Maria in Trastevere|
|English name:||Our Lady's in Trastevere|
|Dedication:||Blessed Virgin Mary|
|Titular church||Cardinal Glemp|
|Built:||4th century, rebuilt in 12th and 19th century|
|Artists:||Pietro Cavallini, Domenichino|
|Address:|| Via della Paglia 14/C/ Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere |
Santa Maria in Trastevere is a medieval basilica of ancient foundation dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The church has always been the focus of local religious and civic life and, as has been famously remarked, if Trastevere were a small city on a dusty hilltop in southern Italy, instead of being a district on the 'wrong' side of the river in the heart of Rome, Santa Maria in Trastevere would be its cathedral. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons. 
The church is open daily: 07:30-21.00.
Santa Maria in Trastevere was one of the tituli, the parish churches of ancient Rome, and was originally known as Titulus Iuli. It was possibly the first church in Rome where Mass was celebrated openly. It was probably built by Pope Julius I (337-352), although tradition claims that it may have been built before 313, perhaps as early as soon after Pope Calixtus' death in 222 . The latter pope was martyred near this place, where the church of San Callisto now stands. By the end of the 5th century the titulus had become Iuli e Callisti and the titulus may have been re-named after him as well as the founder because the church here may originally have been built as his memorial chapel. It is believed to have been the first church in Rome to be dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, and the first evidence of the new dedication is from 597.
Pope Gregory IV founded a college of priests here at the beginning of the 9th century. Rather oddly, this action of his was not as bishop of Rome because back then Trastevere was part of the diocese of Santa Rufina (later Porto Santa Rufina), and only joined the diocese of Rome in the 14th century.
The church was rebuilt in 1140 under Pope Innocent II (1138-1148). He kept the basilical plan, at a time when the Gothic style was gaining popularity in Northern Europe, and plundered the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla for building materials. During some Holy Years in the Middle Ages or later, when plague or flooding prevented the use of the churches outside the walls, this church was counted among the seven churches in the pilgrim itinerary.
In 1702 a narthex was added, and in the 1860's the church was restored -with mixed results. Much archaelogical material revealed was destroyed without being properly recorded.
The church remains in charge of the parish of western Trastevere, while San Crisogono is responsible for the east and San Francesco d'Assisi a Ripa Grande for the south.
The present titular priest of the church is Józef Cardinal Glemp. The history of the church as a title for cardinal priests goes back to the earliest cardinals. The title here was by tradition given to St Calepodius when he was created cardinal in the early 3rd century (or, at least, given rank equivalent to that of cardinal; he would have been the priest of the church with functions similar to that of later cardinals). The title was later changed to SS Iuli e Callisti, but when Santa Maria in Trastevere was rebuilt it was changed again. Among later titulars can be found Henry, Duke of York (later recognized as King Henry IX of England and Henry I of Scotland by the Jacobites), appointed in 1759.
The church has a classic basilical plan to the nave, with aisles and external chapels. The roof of the nave is pitched and tiled, and a separate roof of the same kind runs transversely over the presbyterium. This gives the main roofs the shape of a T. There is a segmental apse, and on each side of the apse is a large rectangular chapel which is a separate architectural entity. The one on the left is the famous chapel dedicated to Santa Maria della Clemenza. A medieval campanile stands over the near end of the left hand aisle, and a Baroque narthex occupies the entrance façade.
This narthex or portico was rebuilt by Carlo Fontana in 1702. It has five arches of identical size, flanked by a pair of Ionic pilasters and with a deep entablature above. The middle three arches are framed by four four Ionic columns in blue-grey marble, supporting a section of the entablature brought forward. Above the entablature is a parapet, and above the colonnade the parapet is balustraded. Four Baroque statues above this balustraded section depict SS Calixtus, Cornelius, Julius and Calepodius. The wrought iron railings which close off the arches are themselves worthy of examination.
The façade of the nave above the narthex has a row of three identical round-headed windows. From the top of the aisle rooflines to the triangular pediment the façade is cavetto, that is, it bends outwards. This is so that the mosaic it bears does not look foreshortened when viewed from outside the narthex. This mosaic is medieval, probably from the 12th century. It is thought that Pietro Cavallini restored it in the 13th century. The subject now is the parable of the wise and the unwise maidens, with ten of them flanking the Blessed Virgin in the center breast-feeding the Christ Child. The unwise maidens on the right side are not wearing crowns, and they have let their lamps burn out. However, examination reveals that they have been clumsily altered to this appearance, and there is dispute as to the original identity of these ten women. They may be Roman virgin martyrs, or merely imperial court attendants. There are two tiny figures kneeling either side of the Virgin, and these are anonymous donors. Above her is a small lamb, the agnus dei.
The pediment contains a very badly faded fresco of Christ in glory attended by angels.
The campanile is from the 12th century, in brick and of four storeys above the aisle roofline. The storeys are separated by decorative cornices, and the tower is also decorated with small roundels of purple porphyry and green verde antico. The clock has been in the second storey for about 250 years. Near the top, a triangular-topped canopy covers a mosaic of the Madonna with Child. Oddly, there is a bell in a wire frame on top of the tiled pyramidal cap.
In the narthex, there is a collection of pagan and early Christian inscriptions (3rd century), and some fragments of 9th century sculpture and medieval paintings. There are also sarcophagi from the 3rd and 4th centuries. Worth noting is the 15th century fresco of the Annunciation and the 9th century relief of two peacocks drinking from a vase. One mediaeval sarcophagus bears a relief of the heraldic lion of the Papareschi family, to which Pope Innocent belonged. It is very realistic. Many of these items were placed here after a renovation and tidying-up of the interior in the late 16th century.
The three doorways into the nave have doorcases made from stone cornices from the Imperial period, reused from an earlier building.
Around the corner from the back door is the Community of Sant'Egidio,  which is renowned for its charitable services for the homeless. The soup kitchen feeds about 1.600 a day. The church has a long tradition for charitable work, and St Frances of Rome (1384-1440) used to come here to pray for strength to assist those in need.
The nave is divided from the aisles by twenty-two antique granite columns of varying widths with Ionic and Corintian capitals. The columns come from a variety of sources and warrant individual examination. Look closely at their capitals and you will see the heads of pagan deities. The columns support architraves rather than arches, which makes the church look much older than it is. Above the columns are paintings of saints. The 16 paintings were ordered by Pope Pius IX and executed in the years 1865-66.
Domenichino designed the gilded, wooden ceiling and also painted the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin (1617). It is thought that the geometric pattern of the coffering is based on the Aldobrandini coat-of-arms, since a cardinal belonging to this family funded its creation.
The Cosmatesque floor was restored and re-laid in the 19th century. There is a fine 15th century aumbry or holy oil cupboard at the beginning of the nave (on the right-hand side), which is thought to be by Mino del Reame.
The left aisle is also home to the tomb of Pope Innocent II, who was buried here because he was from the Papareschi, at the time, one of the most powerful families in Trastevere. He was originally buried in San Giovanni in Laterano, but was moved here after that basilica was damaged by fire in 1308. In the right aisle, the Avila Chapel was designed by Antonio Gherardi about 1686, and has a superb Baroque dome in which the oculus is supported by four sculptured angels as well as an unusual altar with an odd perspective device.
The frescoes, which decorate the Triumphal Arch, were added during the 19th century restoration, and depict the Blessed Virgin and Child, angels and the patriarchs Moses and Jeremiah.
The mosaics on the conch or semi-dome of the apse, together with the wall into which it is inserted, were executed soon after the church was finished, perhaps 1148. The main mosaic depicts Christ enthroned with Our Lady at his right hand, flanked by saints and popes. The Hand of God emerges from a wreath above his head. On the left side are Pope Innocent II, holding a model of the church identifying him as the builder, St Lawrence and Pope St Callixtus. On the right side are Peter the Apostle, Pope St Cornelius, Pope St Julius and St Calepodius. Below this main mosaic is a frieze with the Lamb of God and the Twelve Apostles represented as a herd of sheep. Flanking the conch are the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, with symbols of the Evangelists, crosses and the Greek letters alpha and omega crowning the composition. The incidental details, such as the fruit and flowers on the soffit of the apse arch, are worth noticing.
In the body of the apse below the sheep, and on each side, the series of mosaic panels are the work of Pietro Cavallini, probably made 1290-1291. They form a strip broken by three round-headed windows in the apse, and show scenes from the life of the Blessed Virgin. It can be dark here, but it's possible to ask the sacristan to switch on the lights so that the mosaics can be seen better. I would recommend that you look at them as they are first - it would have been just as dark here when they were made. The first from the left is the Birth of Our Lady, followed by the Annunciation, Nativity, Epiphany, Presentation in the Temple and the Falling asleep of Mary. The last one shows the soul of Mary in the arms of Our Lord. The mosaics depart from the Byzantine tradition in the use of colours and shapes.
Finally, below the central window in the apse is a mosaic panel by Cavallini showing SS Peter and Paul presenting the donor of the mosaics, one Bertoldo Stefaneschi (from a noble Trastevere family), to Our Lady in a rainbow. The frescoes on either side of these are late 16th century, and are by the highly regarded Counter-Reformation artist Agostino Ciampelli.
The high altar is preceded by a low marble screen made up of transennae, which are pierced stone slabs. Some are old, but others are 19th century. These are often to be found in Roman church windows in place of glass. The baldacchino over the altar was added in the 19th century restoration, and is by Virginio Vespegnani. It has four Corinthian columns, which are described as porphyry, with gilded capitals. The stone is certainly not the genuine imperial porphyry, which comes from a quarry in the eastern desert of Egypt and has not been quarried for centuries. The frontal of the altar has an icon of the Holy Face, and SS Callixtus, Cornelius, Julius and Calepodius are interred beneath the altar slab. They were moved here from the Cemetery of Calepodius.
The ancient Episcopal throne in the apse is of marble, and has a pair of griffins as arm-rests. It is flanked by the wooden stalls of the priests of the college attached to the church.
To the right of the high altar is a Paschal candlestick, made by the Cosmati family. It is helical in form, a "barley-sugar" column which has been described as resembling a python having an orgasm. In between this and the baldacchino may be seen a finestrella or little aperture which is traditionally the site of the "Fons olei". You may have noticed several inscriptions referring to this, meaning 'oil spring'. It refers to a legend claiming that a natural oil spring appeared here in either the same year as the Nativity or in 38 BC, and was copious enough to flow into the Tiber along the present Via della Fonte d'Oleo. The legend was mentioned by St Jerome in the 4th century, and also by Eusebius of Caesarea. The former wrote that the Jewish community in Trastevere interpreted it as a sign that God's grace would soon flow into the world. Because of the spring, this became a meeting spot for the first Roman converts to Christianity. In geological reality the region of Lazio around Rome has several small, shallow oil-fields the largest of which is at Ripi some 70 km from Rome, so the event seems possible.
At the steps at the end of the right aisle there are some black marble weights. These are ancient standard weights, which the Romans first kept in the temples and later in the churches.
At the end of this aisle, to the right of the apse, is the so-called Chapel of the Winter Choir. It has this name because the collegiate priests serving the church used to chant the Divine Office here in winter, when the main church could get too cold for comfort (especially in the morning). This chapel was restored by Henry Stuart, Duke of York and the Jacobite King Henry IX of Great Britain, when he was made a cardinal in 1759. This is why the British royal coat-of-arms is above the door. The decoration is inspired by Domenichino.
Between the chapel and the apse is the Armellini monument of 1524 by Agostino Ciampelli.
In the matching chapel at the end of the left aisle, the Altemps Chapel, is the Madonna of Mercy, which was originally venerated in a street in Trastevere. The icon is a 6th or 7th century encaustic panel depicting the Madonna and Child between two angels. It was covered in silver leaf by Pope Gregory III (731-741), and Pope Leo III (795-816) donated a large purple veil to hang in front of the image. There is also a cross-shaped crystal reliquary holding a relic of Pope St Urban I. It was made in 1761, and presented to the church by Cardinal Henry Duke of York. The Cardinal's coat-of-arms can be seen on the leather case it is kept in. The chapel was designed by Martino Longhi the Elder, and it was installed to commemorate the Council of Trent. The frescoes of the Council and the stucco work are by Pasquale Cati of 1588. The chapel is normally closed; the sacristan will admit visitors if it is practically possible.
Outside the chapel are two interesting monuments, one to Pietro Cardinal Stefaneschi (died 1417) which was made in the 15th century by Paolo Romano, and the other is to Cardinal Filippo d'Alençon who died in 1397. The latter is either by the same artist, or is of the school of Orcagna (experts differ).
One of the often overlooked treasures of the church is (or was) the pair of tiny 1st century mosaic panels in the corridor to the sacristy. They are originally from Palestrina, and one depicts birds (gallinules) while the other shows a seaside scene with boats and dolphins. Because they are ancient Roman rather than Christian works of art, and because their location leaves them rather vulnerable, there has been some pressure to remove them to a museum and this may already have happened.
The crypt was built in the 9th century to hold relics of martyrs from the catacombs outside the city walls, which were threatened by Saracen raiders.
- ↑ According to one tradition, there was a dispute between Christians and the tavern keepers in the area over the right to use an assembly hall. The case was brought before Emperor Alexander Severus (222-235), who decided in favor of the Christians, saying that religious worship, no matter in which form, was better than drunkenness and debauchery.
- ↑ www.santegidio.com