Santi Bartolomeo ed Alessandro dei Bergamaschi is a 16th and 18th century confraternity church situated at Via di Petra 70, which is next to the Piazza Colonna in the rione Colonna. It is the regionary church for expatriates from Bergamo . Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons here. There is an English Wikipedia page here.
The Ospedale dei Pazzarelli, the city's first lunatic asylum, was founded in 1548 by Ferrante Ruiz, a Spanish priest living in Rome. He had noticed the many mad people wandering the streets, and elicited the help of two Navarrese noblemen named Diego and Angelo Bruno to found a confraternity to help them. At first, this was informal and the few insane people being helped were housed in Ruiz's house. But the initiative found approval, and the Confraternita di Santa Maria della Pietà was given its charter in 1561. One of the conditions was that no strait-jackets or chains were to be used on the patients.
At this time the Jesuit superior Diego Laynez was instrumental in obtaining dedicated premises for the work, on a site facing the Piazza di Pietra. In 1575 the confraternity gave up its other pious activities to concentrate on the care of the mentally ill, and developed the hospital here. The first chapel on the site was built in 1591 and dedicated to Santa Maria della Pietà; the orientation was opposite to that of the present church, because the main hospital entrance was on the Piazza di Pietra.
The building project put the confraternity in debt, and in the following year a visitation found that the forty-six inmates of both sexes were too much for the fifteen attendants. It seems that violent patients were a problem, and the prohibition against forcible restraint was cancelled in 1635.
The asylum was moved to the Via della Lungara in Trastevere in 1725, where a purpose-built hospital was provided by the papal government. The chapel there was called Santa Maria Maddalena nello Spedale de' Pazzi. The confraternity was then able to improve its finances by contracting with the government to look after convicted criminals who were insane, thus keeping them out of prison.
Bergamaschi move inEdit
The old hospital complex was granted to the Arciconfraternità dei Bergamaschi, which was an association for expatriates from Bergamo previously active at San Macuto. They were having to leave that church to make way for the expansion of Jesuit facilities. After the move, the confraternity mostly rebuilt the church in a major restoration in 1735 and re-dedicated it to their own patrons. The asylum building was converted to a hospital and hospice for any people from Bergamo who were staying at Rome.
Despite the rededication, the church remained a centre of devotion to Our Lady in her aspect of Santa Maria della Pietà, and a venerated icon of her is over the high altar.
The archconfraternity still exists, and have administered the complex to the present day. There was a restoration of the church which was completed in 1839 by Giuseppe Valadier (who died in the same year), and another major one completed in 1904 which involved enlarging the sanctuary by demolishing lateral choirs and re-decorating the interior.
The church received attention in 1994 to remedy defects in its side walls and barrel vault. Finally, in 2006 the façade was restored and repainted.
At present the building is in very good condition, and the Confraternity are rightly proud of it.
Layout and fabricEdit
There is a single nave, rather wide for its length and with three chapels on each side separated by pillars. The dimension are diminutive: 13 metres long, 8 metres wide and with the chapels 2 metres deep.
The sanctuary is the same width as the nave without the chapels and is 10 metres long.
The church is hemmed in by taller buildings on all sides except the front, and hence its exterior fabric is invisible from the street. There seems to be a small campanile or bellcote over the top right hand corner of the nave, where there is a side door from the sanctuary into a tiny courtyard.
FaçadeEditThe small but charming Baroque façade was apparently designed by Gabriele Valvassori, and was executed by Carlo De Dominicis with help from Giovan Battista Contini. In the last restoration it was painted in light blue with architectural details in white.
There is a single storey. A pair of gigantic rectangular Doric pilasters frames it, and supports an entablature the frieze of which bears a dedicatory inscription: In hon[orem] B[eatae] M[ariae] V[irginis] et S[anctorum] Barthol[omei] et Alex[andris]. Above the dentillate cornice is an unusual ogee pediment, shaped like a wire coathanger and also dentillate, with a pair of flaming urn finials behind its ends.
The frontage below the entablature is dominated by a large lunette window with a molded architrave, which touches the entablature and springs from a pair of thin Doric pilasters attached to the sides of the main pilaster pair.
The large single entrance is approached by a flight of stairs on a rectangular plan with curved corners. The Baroque doorcase has a complicated arrangement for its lintel, where two anvil-shaped projections support a cornice fragment with a gable. This shelters a stucco relief of a pair of frolicking winged putto's heads. Above the gable just mentioned is a large vertically elliptical tondo containing a relief of a Pietà; above this, in turn, is another cornice fragment with archivolt which is raised into the lunette by a pair of curlicues.
The doorway is flanked by a pair of columns and then a pair of pilasters, both in the Composite style and both outwardly angled to give a bowed effect. These support a pair of divided fragments of a segmental pediment which flank the elliptical tondo.
Across the piazza is a lovely shrine of the Blessed Virgin in blue and white terracotta.
The small nave has three chapels on each side. The decoration in gilded stucco is from the 1904 restoration, as is the fresco in the barrel-vaulted ceiling which is by Emilio Retrosi and which depicts Our Lady of Piety with SS Bartholomew, Alexander and Agnes. The ceiling has three lunette side-vaults on each side over windows (only two of which are not blocked), and these lunette arches have medallions at their apexes. These six medallions display attributes of Our Lady: Causa Nostrae Laetitiae; Salus Infirmorum; Consolatrix Afflictorum; Refugium Peccatorum; Auxilium Christianorum; Honorificentia Populi Nostri. Except for the last, these are taken from the Litany of Loreto.
The four blocked windows have interesting trompe l'oeil frescoes showing views over a balustrade into a formal garden.
On the counterfaçade wall on the left when entering is the attractive neo-Classical funerary monument of Countess Caterina Negroni who died in 1840 aged 23. The sculptor was Pietro Tenerani. The cameo-style portrait shows the girl with a suitably patrician nose and an expensive hairdo, and is followed by her epitaph:
Memoria et cineribus Catharina Comitis Negroni, feminae lectissimae quae, forma egregia, moribus suavissimis, pieta eximia, ingenio singula, mira in pauperes benignitate, omnique virtutum laude excelluit, vixit annos XXIII m[enses] V. Exitu sanctissimo decessit V idus Ian[uarii] an[no] MDCCCXXXX. Ferdinandus Lorenzana, eques, maritus infelicissimus, uxori dulcissimae incomparabili contra votum superstes, monumentum multis cum lacrimis pon[ere] cur[avit]. Ave coniunx carissima, ave animae dimidium meae.
The reference to "ashes" (cineribus) doesn't mean that she was cremated, but is an exercise in antiquarianism -the ancient Romans practised cremation.
The lunette window above the entrance contains modern stained glass featuring the coat-of-arms of the confraternity.
In the top left hand corner of the nave is a large wooden statue of Christ at the Column of Flagellation by Filippo del Borgo of 1569, which was painted by Gerolamo de Sermoneta. The column has a gilded bronze capital, and is painted to look like verde antico. Symbols of the Passion are sculpted on the base.
The side-chapels are described anti-clockwise, from the right hand side of the entrance.
Chapel of Pope St John XXIII Edit
The first chapel on the right is now dedicated to Pope St John XXIII, who was canonized in 2014. This is appropriate, since he came from the city of Bergamo and is considered its most famous citizen of the 20th century.
The altarpiece is an official portrait of the pope by the Bergamese artist Natale Bertuletti, and was given to the Confraternity in 1960. Below the altar is a gilded reliquary containing a zucchetto (skullcap) belonging to Pope John, which was donated as a sacred relic in 2007. Visitors have been known to mistake this for a deflated football.
Pope John has a parish church dedicated to him in Rome, San Giovanni Ventitre (XXIII).
Chapel of SS Firmus and RusticusEdit
The second chapel on the right is dedicated to SS Firmus and Rusticus. These two obscure saints, celebrated on 9 August, are here because their fictional legend alleges that they were from Bergamo and were martyred in Verona. Their cult originated in the latter city, and one suggestion is that they were martyrs from Roman Africa whose relics were taken there. The lack of historical data has led them to be deleted from the Roman martyrology.
The altarpice, depicting The Trial of SS Firmus and Rusticus, is by Giovanni Antonio Valtellina. This artist was active in Rome around 1500, but nothing biographical is known about him. The picture shows the saints refusing a demand to sacrifice to Jupiter.
Chapel of the CrucifixEdit
The third chapel on the right is dedicated to the Crucifixion, and has an anonymous wooden crucifix of the mid 16th century. It was in the old church when the Confraternity took over. Here it is in a niche protected by a screen of old glass panes, itself of interest.
Chapel of the Sacred HeartEdit
The third chapel on the left is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It has an unusual altarpiece, formed of five paintings of saints by different 18th century artists arranged in the mid 19th century around a copy of the portrait of the Sacred Heart by Pompeo Battoni.
The large circular painting at the top, of SS Philip Neri and Francis of Paola, is by a French artist called Blanchet. Below this are five smaller elliptical paintings with the Sacred Heart in the middle. Top left is St Anthony of Padua with the Child Jesus, bottom left is St Gregory Thaumaturgus by an artist called Fattori, bottom right is St Ignatius of Loyola and top right is St Anne with Our Lady as an Infant. This last one is the most important, as it is an early work by Marco Benefial.
On the altar is an early 17th century painting showing The Madonna and Child with the Infant John the Baptist and St Catherine of Siena; the Christ-Child is a chubby little baby.
Chapel of St John the BaptistEdit
The second chapel on the left is dedicated to St John the Baptist, and the altarpiece depicting The Martyrdom of St John the Baptist is by the Bolognese artist Aureliano Milani. It has a date, 1732. The saint is shown at the moment when the executioner is swinging his sword for the beheading, and Salome is lurking in the background waiting to be given the head.
Chapel of St AlexanderEdit
The first chapel on the left is dedicated to St Alexander. The small circular painting, displayed within a gilded bronze glory, was installed here in the 1904 restoration. Unfortunately, the Confraternity did not investigate it properly because on the back is an epigraph declaring the work to be depicting St Florian. It was the first painting sold by the Roman artist Pietro Galgardi (1809-90).
The blue-eyed plaster statue of the Madonna and Child on the altar could be condemned as hideous, but it has a winsome charm. Better this sort of thing than bare concrete.
The sanctuary is entered through a triumphal arch springing from piers with Ionic semi-columns on the inner faces, and pilasters on the other two sides. These have capitals swagged with garlands. The ceiling has a cross-vault with a circular tondo bearing a Greek cross device.
The high altar has a base in the form of a trapezoidal sarcophagus, and has two Composite columns in black marble with white veins, which support a segmental pediment with a recessed central section. In a spectacular gilded bronze glory, embellished with putti, is the venerated icon of Santa Maria della Pietà which is painted on a board. This is thought to be of the school of Guido Reni, but the provenance is obscure and it looks suspiciously like a fragment of a larger work. The aspect of Our Lady resembles her in depictions of the Nativity. The image was donated to the Confraternity in 1790, and became a popular object of veneration. The then sacristan allegedly gave it the name of Santa Maria della Pietà without knowing that the church was originally dedicated to her.
There are more putti frolicking in clouds above the pediment. A pair of busts in gilded wood on wall brackets flank the altar; these are of SS Bartholomew and Alexander.
In front of the high altar another altar has been placed, for Masses where the priest faces the congregation. In many Roman churches this pro populo altar is a piece of rubbish, but here it has artistic interest. It was designed by Ilario Cirillo, and installed in 1994; the middle is hollow, bounded by incurved molded arcs, and contains a bronze cross.
On the right hand wall is a memorial to Cardinal Giuseppe Alessandro Furietti, who died in 1764. It shows his portrait. He was a noted antiquarian scholar and early archaeologist, and excavated at Hadrian's villa in Tivoli.
Mass on Sundays is at 18:30, and on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 13:15.