The church has had the nickname of the Chiesa delle Zitelle, or Church of the Spinsters.
The original church is of unknown origin, but was possibly founded in the 10th century as a small parish church, as many others in the Centro Storico were. As such, it was on the edge of the built-up area in Trastevere in the Middle Ages.
Its first documentary reference is to a restoration by Pope Callixtus II in 1123, when it was dedicated to the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste and was dependent on the basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere. What this meant was that baptisms and burials had to take place at the latter church.
There were too many parish churches in Trastevere at the end of the Middle Ages, and this was one that lost its status. In the reign of Pope Alexander VI, it had a small hospital attached.
The Archconfraternity of the Gonfalone, attached to the parish church of Santa Lucia del Gonfalone across the river, acquired the complex in 1608, and restored it.
The Confraternity was here for over a century, but passed the church on to the Alcantarine or Discalced reform of the Franciscan Friars Minor in 1738, under the patronage of the King of Spain.
This notably severe reform was founded by the Spanish Franciscan St Peter of Alcantara (1499-1562). Unlike other religious orders called "discalced", these friars were not just shoeless but completely barefoot, as they were initially forbidden ever to wear sandals. They were one of several attempts in different countries to return to the old strictness of the Franciscan rule especially as regards poverty. Unfortunately the reform movements were not co-ordinated internationally, and so resulted in several branches of Franciscans which can be very confusing to the historian. This messy plurality of reform attempts was never considered satisfactory by the Magisterium of the Church.
On obtaining the church as a Roman base, the Alcantarines totally rebuilt it by 1747 to a design by Giuseppe Sardi. In recognition of the congregation's dedication to poverty he used cheap materials such as stucco and paint to give the impression of something more sumptuous. A little convent was added next door.
The church was re-dedicated to St Paschal Baylon, who belonged to the reform and was perhaps their most famous member (becoming patron of Eucharistic confraternities). However, the friars were ordered to preserve the original dedication and so the two dedications were combined in the present name.
Very usefully, the complex continued under the protection of the Crown of Spain and this was confirmed in 1858. What this meant was that the property was safe from seizure after the conquest of Rome by Italy in 1870.
However, with the passing of time the several reformed congregations of Franciscans had become indistinguishable. The Church acted in the person of Pope Leo XIII in 1897, and forced the union of the Discalced (by then wearing sandals) with the Observants, Recollects and Reformed to form the present Franciscan Friars Minor.
They remain in charge.
Layout and fabricEdit
The church is on a simple rectangular plan, having a nave of four bays with structural side aisles which are divided into side chapels (four on each side) by blocking walls. Then comes a transept, and finally a shallow single-bay apse.
The first or entrance bay is distinct, having its own slightly lower roof. The main nave roof is higher also than the transept roof, and the apse roof is also separate.
Behind the apse is the convent, around a small square arcaded cloister.
There is a little campanile or bellcote containing a single bell over the lower end of the right hand aisle, just behind the façade. It has a curved crowning cornice.
The fabric is in brick, rendered in pale orange with architectural details in white. The decorative details on the façade are in stucco.
FaçadeEditThe two-storey façade has its central section brought forward, and both storeys in this section have a pair of very wide pilasters with the centres occupied by a long recessed rectangular strip. The first storey pilasters have sort-of Doric capitals, and support a dividing entablature bearing adedicatory inscription. This entablature, with the inscription, also runs over the recessed side sections of the façade together with extensions of the pilaster capitals acting as sub-architraves.
Deo in hon[orem] s[anctorum] XL martyru[m] ac s[ancti] Paschalis Baylon dic[atum] Anno D[omi]ni MDCCXLV.
The tall central entrance almost reaches the entablature. The doorcase has an interesting Baroque curve to its top, incorporating a post on which sits the arms of the King of Spain within a wreath tied with ribbons. This breaches the base of a segmental pediment, which is supported by a pair of posts bearing tassels and decorated with rosettes. Below the tassels are a pair of devices amounting to little U-shaped double volutes.
The aisle entrances are much smaller, with triangular tops to the doorcases also involving tassels and U-volutes. Above these doors is a pair of panels containing the crossed-arms device of the Franciscans.
The second storey has an attic plinth, in front of which the wide pilasters stand. These frame a fresco of St Paschal in a large vertical elliptical tondo decorated with ribbons and flower sprays.
The topmost triangular pediment contains a putto's head with swags in its recessed central section. Very oddly, there is a gabled attic over this looking like an architectural echo.
The entrance vestibule is separate from the main nave, andhas a pair of modern chapels flanking it which used to be custodians' chambers. The nave has three chapels on each side, and ends in a triumphal arch leading into the transept. This has a cupola over the crossing with incorporated pediments, and a chapel at each end. Finally, there is the sanctuary apse.
The separate entrance vestibule has a room over it, so is provided with a low ceiling-vault which is done as a little saucer cupola. This is frescoed with the emblem of the Franciscans, comprising the crossed arms of Christ and St Francis displaying the wounds in their hands.
This vestibule is flanked by two modern chapels, one dedicated to the Crucifix and the other to St Anthony of Padua. They contain devotional statuary, but nothing of artistic interest.
The room or aula over the vestibule looks into the nave via a gallery. It also has a saucer-cupola vault.
Despite the cheapness of the materials used, the interior is richly decorated. The three chapels on each side have high arches, forming arcades separated by wide piers. These piers have double gigantic Corinthian pilasters painted to resemble alabaster, and these support a deep entablature which runs around the nave. The frieze of this is decorated with scrollwork, and the architrave bends slightly over the tops of the chapel arches. Also, over each arch is an elliptical aperture with a mesh grille, which interrupts the frieze and has the cornice run over its top.
The barrel-vaulted ceiling does not spring from this entablature cornice, but from a second cornice which is slightly higher up. This cornice touches the first cornice where it bends over the apertures, and the panels in between thus created are embellished with swags. The ceiling itself has lunettes for windows over the chapel arches, and a large central panels frescoed with The Apotheosis of St Paschal by Matteo Pannaria from Palermo.
The corners of the nave are rounded, either side of the sanctuary triumphal arch and the counterfaçade arch in between the entrance vestibule and the nave. These two arches are similarly treated, with very deep archivolts springing from the second, higher cornice and flanked by doubletted (not double) pilasters in the same style as in between the chapels. The counterfaçade arch contains the balconied gallery into the aula over the vestibule, and has on its archivolt a stucco relief containing the motto Domus orationis est ("It is a house of prayer") with cornucopias and flower sprays. The triumphal arch has the Spanish royal shield with festoons and winged putto's heads. Over both stucco reliefs is an arc of square coffers bodering the ceiling vault.
The transept crossing has a cupola with integrated pendentives, and a fresco by Pannaria again covers the entire surface. It depicts St Paschal in Glory, with angels and the Dove of the Holy Spirit in the oculus.
The nave entablature runs around the transept and the sanctuary apse, andthe end walls of the transept have the same Franciscan device as is found on the façade and in the vestibule vault.
The sanctuary is very shallow, and is rectangular with a strip of barrel vaulting having an arc of square coffers. There is no proper altar aedicule, but the back wall has the interior entablature supported by a pair of pilasters with gilded winged putto's heads in place of capitals. Over the entablature is a low triangular pediment, and in the lunette over this in turn is a tondo containing a fresco of God the Father (not easy to see).
The round-headed altarpiece depicts Angels Giving Palms of Martyrdom to the Forty Martyrs. Rodulphinus Venuti, writing in 1766, described the artist as Luigi Tussi from Genoa.
The six nave side chapels are similarly designed, with an ornately framed round-headed altarpiece on the far wall without an aedicule and a little saucer cupola with pendentives above.
The chapels are described anticlockwise, beginning to the right of the entrance.
The first chapel on the right is dedicated to SS Anthony of Padua and Diego of Alcalá, and has an altarpiece by Giovanni Sorbi from Siena. The picture on the altar itself is a copy of the icon of Our Lady of Pompei.
The second chapel on the right is dedicated to St Peter of Alcantará, and has an altarpiece of him by "Lamberto Krahe" according to Venuti again. If he was Lambert Krahe, this is an important work.
The third chapel on the right is dedicated to St Paschal (since the high altar is dedicated to the Forty Martyrs), and the altarpiece of him is by Salvatore Monosilo.
The fourth chapel on the right, at the end of the transept, is dedicated to Bl John of Prado, who was a Franciscan missionary martyred in Morocco in 1636. The altarpiece shows him being burned, and is by Pannaria.
The fourth chapel on the left, at the end of the transept, is dedicated to St John the Baptist. The altarpiece is a copy of a work by Gioacchino Duran, described as Spanish.
The third chapel on the left is dedicated to the Holy Family, and has an altarpiece by Francesco Preziado.
The second chapel on the left is dedicated to St Francis of Assisi, and has an altarpiece of St Francis Receiving the Stigmata by Sorbi again.
The first chapel on the left is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, and has an altarpiece by Tussi again.