Santi Sergio e Bacco is an 18th century Oriental-rite parish church dedicated to the 4th century Roman martyrs Sergius and Bacchus, to be found at Piazza della Madonna dei Monti 3 in the rione Monti. It is also familiarly known as the Madonna del Pascolo, after an icon kept there. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia article here.
Care should be taken to distinguish this church from the lost one of Santi Sergio e Bacco al Foro Romano. The latter was titular until 1587, but this church never has been.
Ukrainian Byzantine-rite parish churchEdit
It is one of the three national churches of the Ukraine in Rome, and belongs to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. This is the Ukrainian Byzantine-rite branch of the Catholic Church, and the church is its parish church in the city. The officiating clergy belong to the eparchy (roughly equivalent to an archdiocese) of Lviv.
It is not often realized, even by Catholics, that the Catholic Church has nine different Eastern rites all of which are of the same dignity as the Latin rite. The Byzantine rite is one of these, and in the Catholic church is further divided into fourteen so-called Particular Churches. The majority (not all) have the word "Greek" in their title, although this has nothing to do with the modern Greek nationality. The Ukrainian rite is one of these fourteen. (Those who know something about this subject should be aware of recent changes arising from the collapse of Communism.)
The other two Ukrainian churches are San Giosafat al Gianicolo, belonging to the Ukrainian college on the Janiculum, and Santa Sofia a Via Boccea which is now listed as available to other Oriental rites and Byzantine language groups, especially Slavic ones not Ukrainian.
Middle ages and laterEdit
The original church was built in the early 9th century. The first reference in the Liber Pontificalis states that Pope Leo III (795-816) endowed an oratory dedicated to SS Sergius and Bacchus in Callinico. Pope Paschal I (817-824) founded a monastery known as Canelicum, with a church referred to as Sancti Sergii in Suburra. Suburra was the ancient Roman name for the neighbourhood, notorious for slums and prostitutes (in fact, the latter still feature in the street to the east of the present church). Pope Benedict III (855-58) endowed this institution with church plate.
The early sources give the name as Callinicum or Canelicum. If the latter is a scribal error for the former, then the name may refer to a city in Syria now called Ar-Raqqah and hints at a Syrian origin for the original monastic community.
In the early 11th century this monastery was Benedictine, and was attached to San Paolo fuori le Mura. In 1045 Pope Gregory VI transferred it to the authority of the abbey of San Pietro in Perugia, one of the greatest abbeys in Italy. However, the little monastery here seems to have failed in the 13th century when there was a general collapse of Benedictine observance in the city. In 1413 the church is recorded as parochial and collegiate, with several secular priests. Attached was a hospice for Albanian pilgrims, which was presumably in the old convent.
The church was rebuilt in 1563 on orders from Pope Paul III after the destruction wrought in the Sack of Rome in 1527. Part of the motivation also seems to have been that the main church dedicated to the two saints in Rome, Santi Sergio e Bacco in Foro Romano, had just been demolished. In 1622 the complex was granted to the Minims, but they decided instead to move to the present San Francesco da Paola nearby.
In 1641, Pope Urban VIII had the church renovated, and the cost was mostly borne by his brother Cardinal Antonio Barberini who is commemorated in an inscription over the entrance. The pope then granted the complex to the so-called "Ruthenian Monks of St Basil", who built a college adjacent to the church. Some changes were also made to the church interior at that time, to conform it to the needs of the Byzantine rite. The most obvious alteration would have been the provision of an iconostasis.
The term "Ruthenian" causes confusion. Back then, what it meant was any Slav who worshipped in the Byzantine rite. Hence, this included those now identified as Russians, Bielarus, Ukrainians, Serbs and also modern Ruthenians who are better known as Rusyns and who live on the other side of the Carpathian mountains from the rest of Ukraine. The original papal donation referred to those speaking the "language of Dalmatia" which is modern Croat but which was intended to signify Slavic in general.
The origin of these monks lay in the Union of Brest in 1596, whereby almost all of the former Byzantine-rite Orthodox living in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonweath (better known as the Kingdom of Poland) entered into communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Poland then was vast, and included most of what is now Bielarus and also western Ukraine, where these people lived. Ideas of nationalist identity were not well developed back then, and these Slavs called themselves various things and spoke various slightly differing dialects; the notion of being exclusively of Russian, Ukrainian or Bielarus nationality in this area was a 19th century invention.
The monastic order survives, as the Order of St Basil the Great.
Our Lady of the PastureEdit
The church was rebuilt again by Francesco Ferrari in 1741. This was in response to public devotion to an old image of Our Lady that had been found under plaster in the church's sacristy in 1718, and which demonstrated miraculous powers. As a result, it was installed over the high altar in 1730, and devotees donated enough money to finance the rebuilding of the church. The icon itself is now protected by a gilded metal plate.
The name of the icon, Madonna del Pascolo, means "Our Lady of the Pasture", and the icon is a copy of one at a place transcribed in the sources as "Zirowich" in Lithuania (which was much bigger back then). This is actually a little village named Žyrovičy, outside a town in Belarus called Slonim which is west of the M1 main road between Minsk and Brest. There is not much in the place apart from a very large monastery with a spectacular church, the Uspensky Sobor.
The story attached to the icon is that it was executed in response to a vision of Our Lady to some shepherds in the locality in 1480. However, strong popular veneration only arose at the end of the 16th century. The original icon was a cameo carved in jasper, but many painted copies of this were executed in the 17th and 18th centuries and several became miracle-working icons in their own right. One interesting example is the one at the church in Slonim, which on examination appears to be a copy painted in Rome and sent as a gift to the town in 1730.
The Roman icon cannot have been under the plaster of the sacristy wall for very long when it was discovered in 1718. It is surmised, without any direct evidence, that it was painted as an act of private devotion by an exapatriate monk from Lithuania in the late 17th century. Perhaps tensions within the monastic community led to the work being plastered over shortly after, although it is odd for it to have been forgotten about so quickly.
Some further changes were made to the church by E. Banali at the end of the 18th century. By that time, the Partition of Poland had taken place and the part taken by the Russian Empire suffered forced conversion to the Russian Orthodox Church. This caused ecclesiastical refugees to arrive at Rome. The part taken by the Habsburg Empire was constituted as the province of Galicia, and the eastern part of this was the source of the emergence of Ukrainian nationalism in the 19th century. This was centred on the city of Lviv (in Russian, Lvov; Polish, Lwow; German, Lemberg; Greek, Leontopolis; English, City of the Lion).
In 1896, Pope Leo XIII ordered a major restoration including a new façade. This was part of his scheme for a new Ukrainian rite seminary, which was called the "Ruthenian Pontifical College" when it was founded and which was given charge of the church. (Subsequently it built its own larger premises, San Giosafat al Gianicolo.)
Galicia was annexed by Poland in 1920, but the eastern part was then seized by the Soviet Union in 1944. Ukrainian nationalism was violently suppressed, as was the Greek Catholic Church. Josyf Slipyj was the eparch (archbishop) of Lviv at the time, and was immediately sent to the Gulag where he remained until 1963. Meanwhile, he was created cardinal of Sant'Atanasio a Via del Babuino in 1949. On his release, he went to Rome and was made Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in 1969. As such, he was head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in exile until his death in 1984. This church was his headquarters, and in 1969 also it was made the national church of the Ukrainians in Rome. The convent was turned into a hospice for Ukrainian pilgrims mostly from the New World, as the main monastery was by then at the college of San Giosafat al Gianicolo. The façade was also restored. All this work was overseen by Slipyj, who is commemorated by an inscription and a coat-of-arms on the façade.
In 1984, Slipyj was succeeded by Myroslav Ivan Lubachivsky, who continued to administer the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church from here. However, in 1991 the collapse of the Soviet Union saw the end of centralized persecution in the Ukraine, and he was able to return to Lviv from which city the church was administered until the central Curia moved to Kiev.
The church continues to be important, as the Greek Catholic Church re-establishes itself in its homeland. Presently it is even more a centre of Ukrainian pilgrimage, and the hostel of Santa Sofia next door is administered by a Byzantine-rite sisterhood, the Catechists of St Anne.
The church has no separate architectural identity, but is incorporated into the large block of building between the Via dei Serpenti and the Via del Boschetto. There is a bellcote at the far right hand corner, beyond the flat roof which extends without break over the domestic edifice to the right. This bellcote is invisible from the street.
In fact, it has never had its own architectural identity. The first depictions of it in the 17th century show it as part of the convent, which was under a single pitched and hipped roof running parallel to the street. The church occupied the right side of this, and the façade was very simple. There was an entablature running the length of the monastery under the roofline, and on this over the church door was a coat-of-arms in relief. The doorway itself had a raised triangular pediment supported by a pair of Doric pilasters, and above this was a large rectangular window in a Baroque frame. The edges of the façade were marked by an enormous rectangular frame in relief, rendered in white and with no ornamentation. That was all.
The rebuilding in 1741 left the basic design of the façade intact, but moved the coat-of-arms down to just above the window. A low second storey was added, having a triangular pediment. This had a second coat-of-arms in a recessed rectangular panel flanked by a pair of rectangular windows.
The present Neo-Classical façade was rebuilt in travertine limestone in 1896, and restored in 1970. There are three storeys, and each storey has its own entablature. The whole is topped by a triangular pediment with fine dentillation containing the coat-of-arms of Cardinal Slipyj.
The first storey has one entrance doorway, which is flanked by a pair of round-headed niches containing statues of two of the four Greek Doctors of the Church SS John Chrysostom, Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzen and Basil (it is not immediately obvious which is which). The niches are arched, with Doric pilasters and scallop shell decoration, and the stonework separating them is smoothly rusticated. The doorway has a Baroque doorcase and its own triangular pediment, which intrudes into the middle storey. The frieze of the entablature is decorated with lions' masks, and these recall the city of Lviv ("city of the lion").
Over the door is an inscription which reads: F[ecit] Ant[onius] Barberin[i] Car[dinalis] S[ancti] Honuphrii in honor[e] S[ancti] + S[ancti] Sergii et Bacchi. Cardinal Antonio Barberini paid for much of the restoration work in1641, and he was the titular of Sant'Onofrio al Gianicolo. This inscription is the only part of the old façade to have survived.
The second storey has four Doric pilasters on high plinths supporting the entablature, the frieze of which has an inscription which reads: Leo XIII Pont[ifex] Max[imus] instaurandum curavit. This pope oversaw the 19th century rebuilding. In the centre of the storey is a large round-headed window in an arch with Corinthian pilasters; the intrados of the archivolt of the arch is coffered with rosettes. In between the two pairs of pilasters are the arms of Pope Leo XIII (on the left) and the Order of St Basil (on the right) in mandorlas. Above these are two panels which together read: Anno Domini MDCCCLXXXXVI (1896).
The top storey has four Ionic pilasters supporting an entablature. There is a large Venetian-style window, being triple with a round-headed fenestration between two rectangular ones. This is in the style of a triumphal arch; the side fenestrations have a pair of Doric pilasters each supporting short cornices. These in turn support an archivolt over the central window, which has its own triangular pediment and a pair of rosettes in the spandrels. To either side of this, sweeping volutes and ball finials are carved in relief.
Above, the frieze of the entablature has an inscription which reads: Restituit et restauravit Ioseph[us] I. Card[inale] Slipyi A. M. MCMLXIX MCMLXXIII.
To either side of the window are two more statues of the Greek doctors.
The 18th century Baroque interior does not remind one of the interior of a Byzantine rite church. Especially, there is no traditional iconostasis which is a partition screening the sanctuary from the nave, and bearing a traditional arrangement of icons in several tiers which are incensed during the Liturgy. Here, the iconostasis is an modern open metalwork screen bearing only a few icons in a non-Byzantine style but having the traditional three doors.
Part of the reason for this is that the image of Our Lady, the Madonna del Pascolo or "Madonna of the Pasture", is venerated in the church and was placed in its current location above the high altar in 1718. This arrangement makes the provision of a proper iconostasis untenable; in the traditional Byzantine rite layout, the icon would have been enthroned in front of the iconostasis for the faithful to venerate individually.
The altar, by Filippo Barigioni, has a pair of fluted Corinthian columns of verde antico marble and with gilded capitals. These support an entablature with a segmental pediment broken at the top, and into the break is inserted an elliptical window containing a depiction of the Holy Spirit as a dove. The window has a swag of flowers below, and is flanked by a pair of angels frolicking on the pediment.
In between the columns and below the entablature is a little segmental apse on the wall of which the icon is enthroned in a glory. A window above, partially concealed by the entablature, throws natural light onto it.
On on side of the altar is a depiction of The Holy Family, and on the other St Anne with the Child Mary.
The ceiling has an 18th century fresco by Sebastiano Ceccarini, depicting The Assumption.
There are two side altars; one has an altarpiece with a depiction of SS Sergius and Bacchus, and the other of St Basil, both by Ignazio Stern who was a Bavarian expatriate working in Rome.
The "Liturgy" (that is, the Eucharistic celebration or Mass) is celebrated according to the Byzantine rite of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and is in Ukrainian. If done properly it is much longer than the equivalent Latin rite celebration, although having the same basic structure. If you are interested but unfamiliar with it, it is best to read up on it beforehand.
The times of the Eucharist are:
Weekdays 7:00; on Thursdays also 17:00.
Sundays 9:00, 17:00.
The Byzantine rite is much more relaxed than the Latin rite over people wandering about the church during the Liturgy, venerating the icons and lighting candles. On the other hand, talking or taking photos will cause offence. The worshippers here prefer women to have their heads and arms covered and to wear skirts (not trousers) below the knee during the celebration, which corresponds to the norm in Orthodox churches also.
The solemnity of SS Sergius and Bacchus is celebrated on 24 February.
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