Santi Benedetto e Scolastica all'Argentina is a 17th century confraternity and regional church at Via di Torre Argentina 71, although its postal address is Vicolo Sinibaldi 1 (the headquarters of the confraternity). This is in the rione Sant'Eustachio. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons are here.
This tiny church is one of the smallest in Rome, and is the chiesa regionale for expatriates of the town and region of Norcia. That town has a surprisingly high profile, given that it has a population of less than 5000. The neighbouring towns included are Cascia, Monteleone, Poggiodomo and Preci.
The church is a minor basilica -is it the smallest one?
The Confraternita dei Santi Benedetto e Scolastica was founded in Rome by a bull of Pope Paul V in 1615, to care for the welfare of expatriates from Norcia and, initially, Spoleto.
At first it was based at the church of Sant'Eustachio in Campo Marzio, and met at the house of one of the members called Pier Matteo Lucarucci which was on the Via di Torre Argentina. When he died he bequeathed the property to the confraternity, and this became the permanent headquarters.
In 1623 the confraternity was given the dignity of an archconfraternity. The already existing house chapel in the Palazzo Lucarucci was converted into a church with a separate entrance in 1625. The dedication given to the church, and the name of the confraternity, are because St Benedict started his monastic career at Norcia before moving to Montecassino. St Scholastica was his sister, and by tradition was the first Benedictine nun.
In the French occupation of Rome after 1798 the church was looted of its artworks and desecrated. It remained deconsecrated for some time, until it was restored and re-dedicated in 1841. Unfortunately it then suffered the same fate under the Roman Republic in 1849, but the damage was immediately put right.
Something unfortunate happened to the confraternity in the mid 20th century, because it became extinct with the death of its last member in 1960. The property devolved to the Diocese, and the church was closed down.
Fortunately, expatriates in Rome from Norcia made the effort and put up the funds to re-found both church and confraternity. One of them was a priest, Mons. Luigi De Giannicola, who celebrated the first Mass in the restored church on Christmas Day, 1980 and who was put in charge.
In 1984 the confraternity was finally re-founded, and the church granted the dignity of a Minor Basilica. It is presently under the care of a priest from the Spoleto-Norcia diocese, Mons. Vittorio Pignoloni.
The church is part of a larger building, and hence has no separate architectural identity. The entrance has a molded doorcase, over which is a circular tondo with a raised rim. This is flanked by two diagonal strips of floating cornice each with a faint S-curve, which join to it via tiny volutes.
The tondo contains an interesting and unusual dedicatory inscription, which is written in concentric circles. It reads: Divis Benedicto et Scholasticae patronis, Nursinus ordo et populus, AD MDCXIX, which translates as: "To the honoured patrons Benedict and Scholastica, the council and people of Norcia, AD 1619".
The metal railing gates were added in the latest restoration, to stop homeless people from sleeping on the step.
The diminutive single-roomed rectangular interior was entirely restored in the 19th century, and could be described as garish in places.
The walls are painted to imitate green hanging curtains patterned in red and yellow, with trompe-l'oeil pilasters supporting a painted entablature with a frieze inscription on yellow: Felix Nursiae tellus quae talem genuit alumnum or "Happy land of Norcia, which gave birth to such a pupil".
Below these curtains and above them are charmingly naïve frescoes executed in 1986, including a Pietà and a Birth of Mary. The artist's signature looks like Palzelico. The angelic musicians are especially delightful. The work contains epigraphs: Veni sponsa Christi "come, bride of Christ", Benedictus nomine et gratia "Benedict by name and grace" and Ausculta O Fili, pracepta Magistri "Listen O son, to the precepts of the master". The last is the first line of the Rule of St Benedict, and is a misquotation since the original does not have the vocative O.
The flat ceiling is occupied by a matching fresco of The Apotheosis of SS Benedict and Scholastica, in a dominant blue colour which goes well with the green hangings.
There are side shrines (former altars?), one of which is dedicated to the Crucifixion. This has a polychrome wooden crucifix, flanked by two oval portraits of Our Lady and St John the Evangelist forming a Calvary. The other one is dedicated to the Holy Family, with what looks like an 18th century oil painting depicting The Nativity.
The sanctuary is not differentiated structurally.
The Baroque altar has polychrome marble inlay, and is early 17th century. Over it is an altarpiece of the Umbrian school of the same period, showing SS Benedict and Scholastica with a Benedictine monk and nun in the foreground. The latter are described as altri santi, but don't seem to have haloes. They are probably members of a notable family who became monastics, and for whom the painting was commissioned as an ex voto.
There is no aedicule -the painting is just hung on the wall. Above it is a lunette containing modern stained glass showing the Madonna and Child being venerated by SS Benedict and Scholastica.
On the shelf flanking the altar tabernacle are two reliquaries in the form of portrait busts in gilded metal, featuring the two saints again. The Italian sets of their relics are at Montecassino, although a rival French set is at the abbey of Fleury.
Mass is celebrated:
Weekdays at 18:00,
Sundays at 11:00.
The church is closed from July to early September.