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Santi Ildefonso e Tommaso da Villanova is a 17th century convent church at Via Sistina 11 in the rione Colonna. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons are here.
The church was founded as the Roman headquarters of the Augustinian Recollects, a Spanish reform movement within the Augustinian friars which was recognized at a chapter held by the Friars at Toledo in 1588. There, certain friaries were given approval to use a reformed, more austere rule but the administrative problems that this created led to a split and the establishment of a new, autonomous religious congregation in 1621.
A small community of Spanish and New World Recollect friars was established in Rome in 1619, but only in 1657 was a proper convent built with its own little oratory. Ten years later, a proper church was built in 1667 by the Dominican friar and architect Giuseppe Paglia, notorious for having an argument with Bernini over the elephant outside Santa Maria sopra Minerva.
St Ildephonsus was chosen for the dedication because he was a 7th century archibishop of Toledo where the Recollects had their beginnings, and St Thomas of Villanova (Villanueva in Spanish) because he was a great 16th century Augustinian archbishop of Valencia.
The façade, by Francesco Ferrari, was added in 1725.
The friars were expelled by the French in 1809, but had their property restored to them in 1814. Since then, the complex has functioned as the congregation's Roman headquarters and also as a theological college -Collegio Internazionale Sant'Ildefonso. The Recollects became a fully-fledged and independent mendicant order in 1912.
The church has the status of a subsidiary of the parish of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte, but is more of a college chapel and does not have a rettore (diocesan priest in charge).
There has been a recent restoration of the interior, which now looks very neat.
Layout and fabricEdit
The church is on a simple rectangular plan, with a sanctuary in a square apse. Only the façade is visible from the street, as the church is hemmed in by other buildings. The tiny campanile or bellcote is over the right hand side, but cannot be seen.
The original convent was very small, with a tiny garden and no cloister.
The late Baroque (tardobarocco) façade is of two storeys, rendered in a very pale pinkish tan with architectural details in white and carvings in travertine.
The first storey has four Ionic pilasters on plinths, supporting an entablature with a dedicatory inscription on its frieze. The pilaster capitals are swagged, and the volutes are doubled (an unusual feature). The central zone of the storey, in between the inner pair of pilasters, is slightly recessed and this design feature continues up in the second storey as far as the cornice of the crowning pediment.
The molded Baroque doorcase has a segmental pediment having a broken cornice and raised on tasselled posts over a tablet. In between the pilaster pairs on each side is an empty round-headed niche in a molded frame, topped by a floating gabled cornice under which shelters a scallop shell with swags. Below the niche is a panel with a rusticated (as if eroded) stone surface -another unusual design feature.
The second storey also has four Ionic pilasters supporting an entablature, on which is a crowning segmental pediment containing a framed ellipitcal tondo with curlicues. This storey has a pair of similar niches, except here the floating cornices are omega-shaped (Ω). There is a large central window, topped by a triangular pediment and flanked by a pair of pilasters ending in straps.
Layout and fabricEdit
The interior is a single rectangular nave, with a square apsidal sanctuary entered through a triumphal arch. There are four side chapels, which are large niches entered through slightly smaller arches. These are separated, and do not form an arcade.
Overall, the stucco decoration of the church is rich but restrained and is in white on a pale greyish-green background. Gigantic ribbed Corinthian pilasters support an entablature which runs round the entire nave; there are two flanking each arch, two more flanking the entrance and four tucked into the corners. The archivolts of the arches are molded, with beading, and they spring from Doric imposts.
The cornice of the entablature is embellished with rosettes and foliated modillions, and on this sits the shallow barrel-vaulted ceiling. This has a diagonally reticulated design of intersecting ribs, vaguely Gothic and reminiscent of Borromini’s ceiling at Re Magi.
In between the capitals of the pilasters on the side walls and counterfaçade are panels with stucco swags. Above the side chapels the architrave and frieze of the entablature are broken to make way for four cantorie or opera-boxes for solo singers and musicians. These have balustraded frontals with thin balusters, and panels in alabaster.
Our Lady of CopacabanaEdit
The entablature has a frieze with symbolic attributes and titles of Our Lady, and if you look over the entrance you will see a plaque saying Maria de Copacavana ora pro nobis. This indicates that there is a special devotion here to Our Lady under this title of Our Lady of Copacabana. The Augustinians founded a shrine at the town of Copacabana in what is now Bolivia in the early 17th century to house a miraculous image of Our Lady, and she remains patron of Bolivia.
The square apse has a little cupola on pendentives, embellished with stucco ornament.
The altar aedicule is against the far wall of the apse, and has a pair of green marble Ionic columns supporting a triangular pediment with posts. In the tympanum delineated by the two further pendentives is an icon of Our Lady of Copacabana, supported by a pair of putti.
The side chapels are little square recesses, with their own tiny cupolas on pendentives. The altar frontals are in extremely rich polychrome pietra dura work -marquetry in stone.
The dedications are to:
The Nativity. The altarpiece here is a superbly intricate relief sculpture of The Adoration of the Shepherds by Francesco Grassia, 1670. This is the best thing in the church.
Our Lady of Guadalupe. This was the first altar dedicated to the patron of Mexico in Rome. The altarpiece is by one Giovanni Correa from Spain.
Statues of saintsEdit
In between the side chapel arches are six statues of saints in arched niches with intricately molded frames. The saints are: Clare of Montefalco, Alypius of Thagaste (a friend of St Augustine), Louis IX of France, Ferdinand III of Spain, Fulgentius of Ruspe and Rita of Cascia.
Above each statue is a tablet bearing a symbolic attribute of Our Lady.
Access and liturgyEdit
The following is from an unofficial source, 2009:
Opening hours daily 7:20 to 13:30, 15:00 to 20:00.
Mass: Weekdays 7:30, 17:00. Sundays 10:30, 11:30, 17:00. (These times might have changed.)