|Santissima Trinità dei Monti|
|English name:||Most Holy Trinity of the Hills|
|Clergy:||Fraternità di Gerusalemme|
|Titular church||Cardinal Eyt|
|Architect(s):||Carlo Maderno, Domenico Fontana|
|Artists:||Naldini da Volterra et.al.|
|Address:|| Piazza della Trinità dei Monti|
Santissima Trinità dei Monti is a 16th century convent and titular church at Piazza Trinità dei Monti 3 in the rione Campo Marzio. Picture of the church at Wikimedia Commons.  There is an English Wikipedia page. 
This is a French national church, because the French government owns the property.
The dedication is to the Holy Trinity. The official name of the church, as used by the Diocese, is Santissima Trinità al Monte Pincio but this is rarely used by anyone else.
San Felice in PinciEdit
This church was a new foundation when it was built in the 16th century, but there have been published references to a predecessor. These concern the church of San Felice in Pinci, which has its first documentary mention at the end of the 8th century. After being listed in the late mediaeval catalogues, it vanishes after its last listing of 1492. The references do not allow the delineation of its site.
Hülsen suggested that mediaeval masonry in the fabric of the Villa Malta nearby might have been part of this church.
St Francis of PaolaEdit
The church and convent owe their existence entirely to the career of St Francis of Paola (1416-1507), the founder of the Minim friars in 1435. He was from Calabria, where his order had its roots, but came to the notice of the French who became embroiled in Italian politics in the late 15th century. When King Louis XI was dying in 1482, he asked the saint to help him spiritually and so St Francis went to France reluctantly. This was as a result of a direct order from Pope Sixtus IV.
Foundation of conventEdit
King Charles was the original founder of the convent, acting out of his personal admiration for St Francis. He instructed the French ambassador in Rome to purchase a site, with the result that the approval of Pope Alexander VI was obtained in 1493. A vineyard on the Pincio was bought and the foundations of a friary laid out in the following year, which was when Charles entered Italy with a French army to prosecute the Italian War. This went on until 1498.
Perhaps as a result of the financial implications of this, construction of the actual friary only began in 1502. The church was only begun in 1514, and the work was dragged out over a long period -over seventy years. The initial intention was to build a grand edifice in the French Gothic style, but lack of funds resulted in an architecturally understated structure with a little Gothic design incorporated.
The architect was Sebastiano di Marino, who was from Fano.
Progress with churchEdit
The convent had an enormous setback in the Sack of Rome in 1527. Soldiers of Emperor Charles V pillaged and occupied the convent, and they cruelly tortured some of the friars as they thought that the latter knew the location of hidden treasures.
The body of the church was finished by about 1560. Then King Henry III of France put up enough money for a façade, and this was begun before 1567. It was designed by Giacomo della Porta, who proved elsewhere that could do better than this -he must have had a small budget. (See the Gesù for example.)
There was only one way then to get to the completed church and convent, and that was via a dead-end track up the side of the hill on the line of the present Via Gregoriana. Pope Sixtus, however, commissoned a major road-building scheme centred on Santa Maria Maggiore, and this church was one of the destinations served. Domenico Fontana was the supervisory engineer.
In the Middle Ages, the hills of Rome within the ancient walls were depopulated and covered with vineyards, producing pissy wine which was to attract the contempt of the French. The only throughfares were narrow, winding country lanes confined by vineyard walls, and there were surprisingly few of these. (A surviving fragment is by the church of Santa Balbina Vergine.) Pope Sixtus ordered a new road, initially named Strada Felice after him (he was baptized as Felice Peretti) which was to run from Santa Croce in Gerusalemme via Santa Maria Maggiore to Santissima Trinità, and a hairpin bend of a junction with the Via Gregoriana. The dead-end terminus of the road was the gate of the Villa Medici, later to be famous as the centre of French expatriate society in Rome in the 19th century.
Fontana got into some difficulty surveying the north end of the new road, and had to leave the church at some height above it by excavating the side of the hill. Hence, he provided a monumental staircase which he copied from the Palazzo Senatorio on the Campidoglio. This was finished in 1587.
By the end of the 16th century, rival nationalisms were causing trouble within religious orders which were international in scope. This problem was especially acute where there was agitation for reform. Here, the result was that the convent was formally reserved to Minim friars of French nationality by 1617 -Italians were excluded. A major restoration and expansion of the complex followed, which was completed in 1624. As regards the church, the work was confined to the provision of a new sacristy by Filippo Breccioli.
A separate Order of Minim Friars of France was established. The Italian Minims established two convents of their own in Rome: Sant'Andrea delle Fratte nearby and San Francesco da Paola which is now the headquarters of the surviving Order of Minim Friars (virtually confined to Italy).
The presence of the façade of the church at the top of the Spanish Steps makes up one of the most famous architectural views in the world. However, the former is almost a century and a half older than the latter.
Proposals to create a direct throughfare up the hill in front of the church were mooted immediately after completion at the end of the 16th century, and continued in the 17th. Back then, what was here was a wooded hillside. Finally, in 1717, Francesco de Sanctis was commissioned to lay out the present oversized version of a Baroque garden feature, which immediately became a casual meeting place for city folk and visitors (the contribution of Specchi is debated). The work was finished in 1725.
The convent was suppressed in 1797, immediately after Rome was conquered by Napoleon. The French Minims became extinct, and the convent was never re-founded. The church was then closed down for the duration of the French occupation, and the moveable artworks dispersed. An effort was made to plunder the two famous frescoes by Daniele da Volterra, but the transfer to canvas caused such damage that they were not, in the event, sent to Paris and were later returned to the church.
Sisters of the Sacred HeartEdit
After the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in France in 1815, the kings of France were recognized as being the patrons of the church. As a result, Louis XVIII ordered a restoration of the derelict building in the following year. The work was supervised by François Mazoit, who did a very good job.
There was some puzzlement over what to do with the convent. Finally, in 1821, it was transferred to St Madeleine Sophie Barat, who had founded her Sisters of the Sacred Heart in 1800. This was effected by King Charles X, and agreed to by Pope Leo XII.
The congregation had been founded in order to teach girls, and the pope hoped that a school for the female offspring of the city's nobility would be the result. His policy was, overall, to suppress all developments in modern civilization and to return Roman society to its condition before the French Revolution. (This policy proved to be a disaster for the Papacy.) Part of this campaign was to confirm the status and privileges of what was later called the Black Nobility, hence the school project.
The congregation was not keen in making this convent their headquarters, and built a new convent for the purpose at Sacro Cuore di Gesù a Villa Lante. This is now the provincial headquarters, with the Generalate at Via Tarquinio Vipera 16.
The Society of the Sacred Heart found it increasingly difficult to justify their occupation of the convent in the late 20th century, and it was obvious that they were falling behind on maintenance of the complex. Further it suffered a serious identity crisis after the Second Vatican Council, and vocations collapsed.
As a result, in September 2006 it withdrew from the church, which was entrusted by the French government to the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem (Fraternités Monastiques de Jérusalem). This is a new Roman Catholic monastic order, founded in 1975 to live the monastic life in the heart of the modern city according to the ideals of the Desert Fathers.
Both monks and nuns are now in residence in the complex.
There has been a major restoration in recent years, completed in 2013.
The church was made titular two years after its consecration, in 1587. Since its restoration in 1823, every cardinal has been a French national.
The current titular of the church is H.E. Cardinal Philippe Barbarin.
Layout and fabricEdit
The most impressive part of the exterior has little to do with the church itself, which is not architecturally impressive. Rather, the location at the top of the Spanish Steps makes it stand out among the churches in Rome.
Structurally it is a nave of six bays with side aisles, but the aisles have been divided by blocking walls to form self-contained chapels. Beyond the nave is a transept, then a sanctuary of two bays and finally a large rectangular apse. Beyond this, invisible to visitors, is the conventual choir
The nave is under one pitched and tiled roof, and the transepts, sanctuary and choir are under a separate, slightly higher one. The fabric is in red brick, with a few architectural details in stone.
The large convent is to the north, on the left hand side. To the south, a chaplain's house abuts the church. As a result, only the façade is visible from the street.
The hieroglyphs are not original; they were copied from the obelisk now in the Piazza del Popolo, and whoever copied them got them wrong. (If you are interested, take photos of both and compare.)
It is now clear that the Romans were importing uninscribed obelisks from Egypt as rather gross status symbols, and so they were either being quarried for them or the exporters were using up pre-existing temple-builders' stock.
The double staircase was orginally by Domenico Fontana, and was added by him when he carved the piazza out of the hillside. Arguably, it is a better piece of architecture than the façade.
Two transverse staircases with balustrades run up to a patio in front of the entrance, from which there is a spectacular and famous view. The retaining wall below the stairs is in blank white render, except for a large epigraph reading:
Ludovicus XVIII, exoptatus Gall[icorum] rex, templum SS Trinitatis in Pincio restituit, curam agente comite Blacas de Alpido regis legato ad Pium VII Pontificem Maximum, ann[o] sal[utis] MDCCCXVI.
This deliberately makes clear that it was the King of France who had the church restored in 1816, not the Pope. The epigraph tablet is flanked by four Doric pilasters which support the patio balustrade, and above the outer pair of these are two panels bearing single stars. The balustrades of the staircases themselves have three panels each bearing the coat-of-arms of Pope Clement XI, comprising a star above three mountains. This is proof that the balustrade at least was rebuilt in the early 18th century.
The bottom of the stairs on each side has a very odd assemblage comprising a plinth, an ancient Composite column capital and, on top of that, a 16th century bas-relief in the form of an ancient tombstone. The reliefs were donated originally by one Gualdi di Rimini. The right hand one shows St Francis of Paola with his motto of Caritas (Charity), while the left hand one has what looks like a Vestal virgin. The plinths have the three mountains of Pope Clement facing the road, and the coat-of-arms of Pope Sixtus V round the side.
The façade was finished in 1584 by Giacomo della Porta, and is now bright and white after a major restoration. Beforehand it was dirty and brownish, the 19th century white-on-orange render having weathered badly.
Most of the interior is railed off for the community of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart.
The twisted columns in the sanctuary are from the 13th century.
In the vaults of the transepts, there are traces of the original Gothic latticework.
In the first chapel on the right is an altarpiece and frescoes by Giovanni Battista Naldini.
There are two paintings by Daniele da Volterra, a pupil of Michelangelo: The Deposition in the second chapel on the left, and the Assumption in the third chapel on the right; this chapel was designed by da Volterra and completed by his pupils. The last figure on the right in the latter paiting is a portrait of Michelangelo. Both paintings are damaged, especially the Deposition which was transferred to canvas in 1811.
In the fourth chapel on the left, in the north transept, is a painting by Taddeo Zuccari, depicting the Assumption and Death of the Virgin. The artist died before it was completed, and his brother Federico finished it.
A painting of the Blessed Virgin known as the Mater Admirabilis is preserved and venerated in the convent. It is possible to see and venerate it, and many former students of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, whose main task is teaching, find their way here to do so. It was painted in 1844, and got its name from Pope Pius IX a few years later. St Theresa of the Child Jesus came to pray before this painting that she would be allowed to enter Carmel at the age of 15.
The church is now open:
Daily 6:30 to 20:00 EXCEPT
Thursdays 6:30 to 23:59 (midnight).
The rule of the monastics specifies Monday as a "Desert Day", when they go into solitude and have no public interface.
The church's opening hours are now very generous for Rome.
Older guidebooks and online reports suggest that you can ring the doorbell of the convent for access to the church if it is closed, also to arrange to view the convent buildings. VISITORS ARE NOW REQUESTED NOT TO DO THIS.
Pre-booked guided tours are available for the convent -see Amici di Roma web-page in "External links".
Mass and the Divine Office are now celebrated daily in the church, except on Mondays.
Tuesday to Friday: Lauds 7:00, Sext 12:30, Vespers with Mass 18:00.
Saturday: Lauds 8:00, Mass 12:30, Vespers 18:30.
Sundays and solemnities: Lauds 8:00, Mass 11:00, Vespers 18:30.
Only those attending the liturgies are allowed in the church while they are taking place.
The times given are liable to change.