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Santa Marta in Vaticano

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Santa Marta in Vaticano is a demolished church in the Vatican City, which was on the west side of the Piazza Santa Marta where the Tribunal Palace now stands and just south of Santo Stefano degli Abissini.

It should not be confused with Santa Maria Madre della Famiglia, which used to be dedicated to St Martha and was considered to be the church's successor even though it was built on a separate site.

The dedication was to St Martha.


The origin of the church was in 1538, when Pope Paul III authorised the foundation of the Confraternity of Housekeepers of the Papal Court for seculars among his domestic servants to indulge in charitable activities. They were empowered to provide a church, a hospice for poor pilgrims and a cemetery for those who died in the latter.

It was restored in the early 17th century by Pope Paul V. In 1704, Giovan Antonio de' Rossi and Carlo Fontana oversaw a thorough restoration which amounted to a rebuilding.

However, in 1726 Pope Benedict XIII judged that the confraternity and the hospice had failed and granted the church to the Spanish Trinitarian Order, the same religious who were responsible for San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane. They established a small monastery to serve it, which lasted until the French revolution in 1789 when it was forcibly closed and the Spanish brethren expelled.

After restoration of the Papal government, Italian Trinitarians administered the church. Further restorations and alterations were carried out in 1852 by Luigi Poletti. In 1874 the Italian government closed the monastery again (Vatican City had been annexed by the Kingdom of Italy in 1870), and responsibility for the church passed to the administrator of the Vatican Palace. In 1882 it was finally granted to the Apostolic Seminary which was just to the south of the monastery, itself on the south side of the church. This institution restored the church for the last time in 1886.

In 1930, as a result of the Lateran Treaty establishing Vatican City as an independent state, the church was demolished as part of the major re-ordering of the area to the west and south-west of St Peter's. This work was overseen by Giuseppe Momo, who also designed the replacement church now known as Santa Maria Madre della Famiglia (it should be noted that this was not initially intended to be a replacement when it was begun in 1928). Some moveable artworks and architectural details were transferred to this.


The exact site of the church is just by the north end of the Palazzo di Giustizia, west of the little roundabout in Largo Santo Stefano.


According to the engraving by Vasi of the 18th century (see "Romeartlover" web-page link below), the façade before 1852 was of two storeys, in a restrained Baroque style. The first storey had four Doric pilasters supporting a deep entablature, and flanking a doorway with a segmental pediment broken at the top. The second storey had no pilasters, but instead had three large rectangular recessed panels with the central one containing a window. The triangular pediment contained a coat of arms.

The restoration in 1852 by Poletti resulted in a new façade, but this was in a 16th century style. A possible photo of it has turned up online; see "External links" below.


The church had an aisleless nave of four bays. There were three chapels on each side, separated by pilasters holding up the roof vault and short blocking walls, and also an external rectangular presbyterium with a triumphal arch. The stucco decorations in the nave and side chapels were by the school of Bernini, possibly by Alessandro Algardi. Frescoes by Il Baciccio depicted scenes from the life of St Martha. The presbytery had frescoes by Girolamo Troppa, and the nave ceiling had one by Vespasiano Strada.

Above the high altar used to be a painting of St Martha by Giovanni Baglione. This was replaced by one of the Holy Family by Giovanni Piancastelli in the 19th century, but the Baglione work was installed in the new church after the old one was demolished.

The six chapels had the following dedications:

Right hand side; St Ursula, St Jerome, SS James the Great and Anthony of Padua.

Left hand side; Immaculate Conception and St Charles Borromeo, Crucifixion, Via Dolorosa .

The Cappella del Crocefisso had a bas-relief by Alessandro Algardi, while the chapel of SS James the Great and Anthony of Padua had an altarpiece by Piancastelli and frescoes by Giovanni Lanfranco. The latter also undertook work in the chapel of St Ursula, including the altarpiece. The chapel of St Jerome had an altarpiece attributed to Girolamo Muziano but probably by Daniele Ricciarelli. The other two chapels had altarpieces showing Our Lady with St Charles Borromeo (anonymous, 19th century) and Jesus Christ carrying the Cross (anonymous, 17th century).

Chapel of Palazzo San CarloEdit

On some maps of Vatican City, the western building on the south side of Piazza Santa Marta is shown with a place of worship. This is the purely private and internal chapel of the Palazzo San Carlo. Its only claim to fame is that, in the days when films were actually on film and not on digital media, it doubled up as a private cinema in which the pope could watch films.

External linksEdit

(For the existing church, see Santa Maria Madre della Famiglia.)

"Romeartlover", Vasi engraving

"Romeartlover", 18th century map

Photo of church? (Search "Marta")

Nolli map (look for 1278)

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