|Santi Michele e Magno|
|English name:||Sts Michael and Magnus|
|Dedication:||Michael the Archangel and St. Magnus|
|National church:||The Netherlands|
|Address:|| Borgo Santo Spirito 21/41 |
Santi Michele e Magno is a church dedicated to St Michael the Archangel and St Magnus, bishop of Anagni, and is hidden away just east of St Peter's at the west end of Borgo Santo Spiritu. The postal address is Largo degli Alicorni 21. It is the national church of the Netherlands, and is also known in Dutch as the Kerk van de Friezen. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons.  There is an English Wikipedia page. 
The foundation of the church is not documented, but it is confidently surmised that it originated as the chapel of the Schola Frisiani. This is better translated as "Expatriates' Club for Frisians" rather than the more usual "School". It was a place where Frisian pilgrims and expatriates could lodge, meet and arrange their affairs, and was one of four such Germanic national institutions around the Old St Peter's in the Middle Ages (the others belonged to the Franks, Lombards and Saxons; the last one has a memory in Santo Spirito in Sassia). This one was first recorded in 799, although the church is only mentioned in 854. Undocumented tradition claims that an earlier church here was built by St Boniface (675-754).
A thousand years ago, Frisia consisted of the coastal parts of the Netherlands and what is now called Friesland in Germany and Denmark. Although its political identity was ephemeral, back then it had a linguistic one and a proto-national identity accentuated by the missionary activities of St Willibrord, Apostle of Frisia, who fixed his cathedral at Utrecht.
Saracen pirates raided Rome in 845, and plundered St Peter's and the surrounding area. As a result, a defensive wall was built around the schola, and remains may still be found of this. However, the old church was apparently badly damaged or destroyed in the Sack by the Normans in 1084. Hence it was completely rebuilt in 1141, and the surviving campanile added. At this time the relics of St Magnus of Anagni were enshrined, and the church's dedication hence changed when the new building was consecrated by Pope Innocent II . Allegedly Frisian pilgrims mistook this Italian bishop for Magnus Forteman, an 8th century hero of theirs. They managed to get hold of his relics, but the pope heard about it and prevented them taking them back home.
Pope Eugene IV suppressed the Schola in 1446, and from then on the church belonged to the Chapter of St Peter's. It was entrusted to an Archconfraternity of the Most Holy Sacrament, but became a parish church in 1508.
There was a major restoration 1756–1759. The architect was Carlo Murena, and his remodelling preserved the mediaeval plan. Part of the complex that resulted was the Scala Sancta, a steep flight of thirty-three stairs from the Borgo Santo Spiritu straight into a side chapel of the church. Like the more famous Scala Sancta stairs at the Lateran, an indulgence is offered here if you climb them on your knees. (Don't confuse this way in with the normal one, mentioned in the note on access below.)
A major fire in 1860 caused serious damage.
In 1923 the church was made extraterritorial; that is, it remained part of Italy, but administered exclusively by the Vatican. The parish was suppressed, and since 1989 the church has been used by the Dutch community in Rome. In 1990, UNESCO put the church on the World Heritage List as part of its inclusion of the Extraterritorial Properties in the Centro Storico. A major new restoration was completed in 2011 , and the church now looks very smart and in good condition.
The church is surrounded by taller buildings to north and west, and is invisible from the street. It is perched on the northernmost outlier of the Janiculum hill, which is why access is by stairs.
It is an aisled basilica, with an external semi-circular apse. One of the best depictions of the exterior is by the Dutch artist Escher , more famous for his works inspired by non-Euclidean geometries. It is in the National Gallery of Canada, and there is a weblink (see below).
CampanileEditThe Romanesque campanile is more than 20 metres high, and was built around 1150. It was in bad shape for a long time, but was restored in 1993. It is located over the right, south aisle of the church, near the entrance, and is at an angle to the major axis (Escher got this wrong when he showed it parallel to the axis).
It is difficult to get a view of it, and the photos online have been taken from neighbouring buildings. There is a view, albeit distant, from the Castel Sant'Angelo. The best view would be from the south, from the grounds of what was the Villa Barberini and is now a private sports ground attached to the Pontifical Urbaniana University. You need a personal contact to get in here.
Despite its lack of civic presence, the campanile is a high quality design. It is in brick, and has three storeys above the roofline. Two opposing faces of each storey have arcades of three arches, separated by stone columns with imposts. The other two faces have two arches. String courses run round the tower at the level of the arch springers, and are continued over the arches, and there are projecting cornices separating the storeys as well.
The façade is very simple. There is an entrance porch with parvise above, which forms a narrow two-storey frontage. The first storey just has an arched portal without imposts, and the second one a rectangular window with a heraldic coat-of-arms above. The storeys have very shallow Doric pilasters at the outer corners, and are separated by an entablature frieze without architrave or cornice. There is a triangular pediment, which is now blank but looks as if it once contained a fresco. Everything is rendered in bright white.
Peeping over this façade is the nave end of the church itself, which has a segmental lunette window in its pediment.
There is a nave with aisles, and a flat ceiling which runs uninterrupted from the entrance end to the triumphal arch of the apse. The arcades are interesting; there are three large arches on each side, but these are separated by two rectangular openings in lieu of arches. Above the rectangular openings are large tondi showing saints, with two more near the triumphal arch making six in all. Above the arches are clerestory windows, with two more near the triumphal arch making a total of six. These are separated by panels with stucco decoration. Before the 18th century restoration, each arcade had seven marble columns and the present pillars still apparently contain these.
The ceiling is coffered, and is tricked out in grey, white and orange. There is a large stucco figure in the middle, showing the Keys of St Peter being held by angels. The keys are not crossed, which is the heraldic signifier for the Chapter of St Peter which owns the church and is commemorated in the inscription next to the triumphal arch.
The main altar is set right into the apse, and has an altarpiece by Niccolò Ricciolini (1687-1759) showing the two patron saints.
The Scala Sancta, the steep set of stairs from the Borgo Santo Spirito into the left hand aisle, was restored in 2000.
A burial crypt was made between 1618 and 1628. An interesting thing about this crypt is that men, women and children were buried separately. Three signs marked virorum, mulierum and infantium mark their respective sections. The most notable burial in the church is of Anton Raphael Mengs, a great German painter of the 18th century, and his memorial in the church is by Vincenzo Pacetti.
Attached to the church is the so-called Titus Brandsma Hall, which is a visitor facility for lectures and receptions. It contains a modern bust of Brandsma, martyred by the Nazis, and this is by Josephine Kortman-Hilders.
Mass is celebrated in Dutch on Sunday at 10:30, preceded by a talk on the church if there are pilgrim groups present. See the church's website for the horarium (link below). You can have coffee with the worshippers after Mass; if you cannot speak Dutch, you will find that most Dutch people nowadays speak good English.
You may have trouble in finding the church, and also in finding it open when you do if you just turn up. Firstly, look for a tall arched portal with a triangular pediment containing an icon with its own little segmental pediment. This icon is in mosaic, and shows the Annunciation.Go up the stairs, through a gate in a set of railings and turn left. There are notices giving opening times, in Dutch, Italian and English. They say that the church is open on Wednesday and Saturdays from 10:00 to 13:00, Tuesday and Fridays from 15:00 to 18:00 and at Sunday at 10:00 for Mass half an hour later. Guided tours are given.
The church is closed on Wednesdays if there is no Papal audience, apparently. Also it is closed on Tuesdays and Fridays from New Years Day to Ash Wednesday.
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