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Santissima Trinità degli Spagnoli

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Santissima Trinità degli Spagnoli is an 18th century convent church at Via dei Condotti 41 in the rione Campo Marzio. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here

The dedication is to to the Holy Trinity. Don't confuse it with a more famous church of the same name at Naples, or with Trinità dei Monti nearby.



The church was part of a convent founded for Spanish Calced Trinitarians. The Trinitarian order of friars was founded near Paris at the end of the 12th century by St John of Matha, and its purpose was the ransoming of Christians taken prisoner by Muslim pirates and slave-raiders as well as during wartime. These people would otherwise have ended up as slaves, with no access to the sacraments. The saintly founder ended up dying in the convent at Rome that he founded, San Tommaso in Formis.

The order prospered in the context of Christian-Muslim conflict on land in Iberia, and also in the western Mediterranean where predatory shipping from North Africa roamed even until the 19th century when the Maghreb was conquered by France. However, it sank into some decay during the 15th century before experiencing a surge of enthusiasm for reform towards the end of the 16th. This was in response to the Reformation.

A major renewal movement beginning with the Order in Spain was founded by St John Baptist of the Conception, and was approved in 1599. It became known as the Discalced Trinitarians because the friars wore sandals rather than shoes ("discalced" is from the Latindiscalceatus which means "shoeless" not barefoot -although the modern Italian scalzo does mean the latter). By this century, the nationalist hatred between the French and Spanish was such that the Discalced Trinitarians in the two countries did not co-operate very well if at all. In Rome, the Spanish Discalced founded a convent at San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane  and the French Trinitarians founded another, just down the road towards Santa Maria Maggiore at San Dionigi Areopagita (now demolished).

Foundation of conventEdit

Not all the Trinitarians in Spain accepted the Discalced reform, and this party became known as the "Calced". This decided to found their own convent in Rome, and in 1733 one Padre Lorenzo bought an old palazzo on the present site. This, the Palazzo Ruccellai, was demolished, and after a pause (money was short), construction began in 1741. Much of the funding came from Archbishop Diego Morosillo of Lima, former superior of this branch of the Trinitarians.

The architect chosen was Emanuele Rodriguez dos Santos, a Portuguese, who designed the entire complex himself. It used to be thought that he was assisted by Giuseppe Sardi, but this is not documented. However, the friars seem to have had doubts about progress because in 1746 they asked Ferdinando Fuga to provide a survey of the work so far. This apparently led to disputes, which meant that Rodriguez dos Santos did not complete the project. Final completion was in 1746. The design of the façade has been ascribed to the Spanish architect José de Hermosilla y Sandoval, although it seems that he merely finished it off and completed the interior.

The interior was finshed cheaply, indicating that the friars had overspent. However, money from King Ferdinand VI of Spain allowed them to commission some quality pictures (including the main altarpiece) in 1750 and after. In 1758 they employed David Marco David to decorate the sacristy, and to attend to some elements of the church interior.

Modern timesEdit

In 1784, the convent came under the direct protection of the Spanish monarchy. This was to prove extremely useful, because in 1873 the convent escaped sequestration when the Italian government seized the property of most other convents and monasteries in Rome.

However, in 1880 the order was having a vocations crisis and could no longer staff the convent. As a result, the complex was ceded to the Spanish Dominicans of the province of the Holy Rosary who opened a College for the Far Eastern Missions here.

There was a badly executed restoration of the interior in the mid 20th century.

The Dominicans remain in charge, although the college did not last in its original form. The convent is now described as a Cultural Institution and College of Religious. 

Exterior Edit

Trinita degli Spagnoli

Layout and fabricEdit

The church is on the plan of a longitudinal ellipse, within a rectangle formed by the side walls of the adjoining buildings. The ends of the ellipse are truncated; the entrance is occupied by a two-storey range, which occupies the near part of the rectangle. At the far end is a square sanctuary.

The truncated ellipse is covered by a tiled roof pitched in several sectors -not a proper dome. The sanctuary and entrance range have their own tiled roofs, and the former has a little lantern.

The campanile, invisible from the street, is over the far left hand end of the entrance block and faces the back of the church. It is a large slab with three arched soundholes arranged in a triangle, having chamfered upper corners and a little pediment on top.

The main convent buildings are to the left (east) of the church. The church occupies one side of the arcaded cloister, with ranges on the other three sides. All four cloister walks are arcaded.


The major axis of the church parallels the nearby Corso, and so is not at right angles to the street outside. This puts the façade at an angle to the main edifice, with the left hand side further out than the right. The space thus created is occupied by a staircase.

The façade is coved (concave), and has two storeys. The fabric is rendered in orange, with detailing in white and carvings in limestone.

The first storey has four pairs of Ionic pilasters, with another doubletted pair at the outer corners, on high plinths and supporting an entablature with a dentillated cornice. In front of the four pairs are four columns in the same style, supporting posts projecting from the entablature.

The molded doorcase of the single entrance has a segmental pediment containing a shield bearing the arms of the Trinitarians (a cross in blue and red, difficult to see because the colour has gone). The shield has a pair of drooping flower swags. On the pediment is a very interesting sculpture by Pietro Pacilli (1720-73), showing an angel about to free two slaves joined at the wrists by a real iron chain.

In between the column pairs and the outer pilasters are two pairs of windows, the large lower one in each pair with a tasselled frame, and the upper having its sill curved above an archivolt on two little posts. The latter contains a carving of a stag's head.

The second storey is treated very similarly to the first, with the same design of pilasters and columns. Above the four columns (not the whole width of the façade) is a triangular pediment within a segmental one. The outer angles of each pediment are brought forward over the posts above the columns.

There is a large central rectangular window in this storey, flanked by a pair of doubletted Ionic pilasters supporting a broken segmental pediment into which a small window is intruded. This large window lights a gallery in the entrance bay of the church.

Above the window is a relief carving of the coat-of-arms of the kingdom of Spain (in colour) on a drapery, with swags and curlicues and a scallop on top intruding into the triangular pediment.

In between the column pairs and the outer pilasters of this storey are two statues in round-headed niches crowned with swags and floating gables. These are of the founders of the Trinitarians, SS John of Matha and Felix of Valois. Above the statues is a pair of small windows, which light second-storey subsidiary rooms.

A pair of flaming square urn finials occupies the outer corners of the roofline.


Layout and fabricEdit

On entering, you pass through an entrance bay to reach the church. Flanking this bay are two rooms, the right hand one of which is now a chapel.

The church is in the late Baroque (tardobarocco) style, and if you are interested in elliptical Baroque churches it is useful to compare this one with the early Baroque San Giacomo in Augusta just up the Corso.

There are three radial side chapels on each side, vaulted and on a square plan. Doorways connect one to the other, originally allowing priests and servers to reach a chapel for private Masses without disturbing anything going on in the main body of the church.

The right hand door in the sanctuary leads to the right hand chapels, while the left hand door leads firstly to a sacristy antechamber, from which the left hand chapels are accessed, and then the sacristy itself in the far left hand corner.

Chapel of the Sacred HeartEdit

When you enter, before reaching the main church you will find a little chapel off to the right. This is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and was converted from a custodian's room.

The altarpiece depicting Christ the Good Shepherd is by Antonio González Velázquez, part of a major collection of works by this Spanish artist. He worked in the church while in Rome on a scholarshop from 1747 to 1752. To the left is a depiction of St Michael-of-the-Saints Argemir (Miguel de los Santos). Among the devotional statues here is one of St Martin de Porres, who is shown with a broom. He was a Dominican friar at Lima in Peru, and an attractive character.


The nave is dominated by the dome. This rests directly on an entablature running down each side of the church, supported on each side by four gigantic tripletted Corinthian pilasters. In between the pilasters on each side are three archways accessing the side chapels; the archivolts of these spring from Doric imposts and do not reach the entablature (over them are winged putto's heads with garlands).

The entrance and sanctuary arches rise higher than the entablatures, and intrude into the dome. If you look into the arch over the entrance (it is easy to forget to do this) you will see a gallery or cantoria for musicians, lit by the central window of the façade. Above this is a short barrel vault with a fresco of Our Lady with Trinitarian Saints.

The dome itself has no lantern. Instead, in the elliptical oculus is a fresco depicting The Apotheosis of St John of Matha, by Gregorio Guglielmi 1748, who was to become noted in northern Europe as a Rococo artist. The dome is divided into eight sectors by ribs, and each sector is coffered in a diaper pattern by interlacing ribwork (rather like wicker) containing lozenge-shaped rosettes.

The dome is in white and gold. The rest of the interior fabric looks as if it is in polychrome marble, but this is fake paintwork (marmo finto) which has been badly restored and which looks rubbishy in places.


The little square sanctuary is entered through a high triumphal arch, over which is the Trinitarian coat-of-arms held by a pair of stucco angels with trumpets. Unusually, it has its own full dome with a lantern; this has no ribs, and is completely covered by a fresco depicting The Life of Abraham by González Velázquez 1750. 

The large altar aedicule is bowed (convex), with a pair of Corinthian columns in real verde antico marble. These support a semi-circular pediment touching the cornice of the dome, which contains a triangle in a glory venerated by stucco angels. The triangle is, obviously, a symbol of the Trinity. The large altarpiece depicts The Liberation of a Slave in the Presence of the Trinity, and is by Corrado Giaquinto 1750.

The side walls have a pair of elliptical paintings over the doors. These are also by González Velázquez, and depict The Holy Founders SS John and Felix to the right, and Pope Innocent III Approves the Foundation of the Order on the left.

The Dominicans have hung an icon of St Dominic on the right hand pier of the triumphal arch.

The six side chapels are described in anticlockwise order, beginning from the right hand side of the entrance.

Chapel of St Catherine of AlexandriaEdit

The first chapel on the right is dedicated to St Catherine of Alexandria. The paintings are by Andrea Casali 1771. The altarpiece depicts the saint with the broken pieces of the famous spiked Catherine Wheel on which she was to have been tortured. The side paintings show the wheen actually breaking, and the saint being taken into heaven.

​Chapel of St Felix of ValoisEdit

The second chapel on the right is dedicated to St Felix of Valois. The pictures are by Casali 1775. The altarpiece shows him ransoming a slave, while the side pictures show him having a vision of chaining up the Devil, and rescuing a drowned boy.

​Chapel of Our Lady of SorrowsEdit

The third chapel on the right is dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows. The paintings are by Casali, 1777. The altarpiece is a Pietà, and the side walls have Christ Fallen Beneath the Cross and The Flagellation. 

There is quite a collection of this artist's works in the church, many of which show a cheerful use of colour. The Pietà here, however, is overtly affective and somewhat chiaroscuro as befits the subject.

​Chapel of the Immaculate ConceptionEdit

The third chapel on the left is dedicated to the Immacluate Conception of Our Lady. The altarpiece showing her is thought to be by Francisco Preciado de la Vega 1750, while the side panels by Casali depict The Assumption and The Annunciation, 1781.

The devotional statue is of St Rita, displaying the maggot-infested ulcer that she had in her forehead.

​Chapel of St John of MathaEdit

The second chapel on the left is dedicated to St John of Matha. The altarpiece of him is by Gaetano Lapis. The side pictures by Casale show the saint saying Mass and having a vision of Our Lady.

​Chapel of St AgnesEdit

The first chapel on the left is dedicated to St Agnes. The altarpiece depicting her being stabbed in the throat is by Marco Benefial 1750; a lamb accompanies the martyrdom, oblivious to events (agnus is Latin for "lamb").


The church is open (unofficial source):

7:30 to 12:15, 16:30 to 20:00.


Mass is celebrated:

Daily 8:00, 19:30. 

Extra Mass on Sunday at 12:00.

External linksEdit

Official diocesan web-page

Italian Wikipedia page

"De Alvariis" gallery on Flickr

Roma SPQR web-page with gallery

"Romeartlover" web-page

Plan of church

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