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Santissime Stimmate di San Francesco is an 18th century confraternity church at Largo delle Stimmate 1 in the rione Pigna. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons here. There is an English Wikipedia page here.
The dedication is to the Stigmata of St Francis of Assisi.
As with many churches in the locality, the origins of this one are unknown. The earliest evidence for it is a transcribed epigraph of 1298, detailing the indulgences and relics attached to the church Santi Quadraginta Martirum dei Calcarari. This was dedicated to the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, a group of Roman soldiers martyred at Sebaste (now Sivas in Turkey) in 320 by Licinus.
A calcararius was one who made calx, or lime for mortar and plaster. The name is taken as historical evidence that lime-makers worked their kilns in the area in the early Middle Ages (the lost nearby church of San Nicola dei Cesarini formerly had the same suffix). To Classicists this industry was one of the tragedies of medieval Rome, as a great number of marble statues and architectural elements were burnt to provide lime for construction.
The church seems to have had an uneventful history as one of the small parish churches of the mediaeval built-up area, being dependent on the old titulus of San Marco. In the 16th century there is a reference to it with the name of Santi Quaranta de Lenis, after a local noble family.
The mediaeval city had too many parish churches, and many were given over to other uses from the 16th century onwards. In 1597, Pope Clement VIII gave this one to the Confraternita delle Santissime Stimmate ("Confraternity of the Stigmata of St Francis"), which had been founded at the Franciscan convent church of San Pietro in Montorio in 1594 by one Federico Pizzi who was a surgeon.
Stigmata is a Greek word meaning 'marks' or 'signs', and in a Christian context they refer to the wounds of Christ Crucified. In the history of the Church some pious believers have miraculously received such wounds, and these have traditionally been regarded as a sign of holiness. In some cases the authenticity of the wounds is contested and in most the Church has given no official opinion, but in the case of St Francis the existence of a liturgical feast celebrating his wounds indicates that the Church considers that they were true stigmata given by Christ. His is the first recorded case.
The pious confraternity was one of many founded for laypeople at the time, in order to further devotion, to help poor people through charitable works and to provide insurance backup for their members in time of need.
In 1713, the archconfraternity (as it had become in the previous century) decided to rebuild the church. The approval of Pope Clement XI was obtained, and work started the following year. The architect was Giovan Battista Contini, of the school of Bernini, who finished the main edifice in 1717. Antonio Canevari took over in 1719, and added the façade. In 1721 the completed church was consecrated to the Stigmata of St Francis, but a chapel was reserved for the Forty Martyrs. This was standard practice at the time for when a church was demolished and replaced by another one with a different dedication.
As a parish church the old edifice had burial rites, and very usefully these were passed on to the new one. You can see lots of burial slabs in the floor inside.
For a period until the end of the 20th century it was served by Franciscan Capuchins, but it is now under the charge of a diocesan priest called Don Fabio Rosini. He is the chaplain of the archconfraternity, and is also involved in work for diocesan vocations to the priesthood.
The archconfraternity is not based here, but at Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano 6/A. It has a very low profile publicly, and no online presence at all which nowadays is odd.
Layout and fabricEdit
The brick edifice is on a simple rectangular plan, of five bays. First comes an internal loggia, with the confraternity offices above and behind the second storey of the façade. Then there is a nave of three bays, with narrow side aisles divided into side chapels by blocking walls. Then there is the shallow rectangular sanctuary, which has two lower side-chambers as structural continuations of the side aisles. There is no apse.
The offices, nave and sanctuary have separate pitched and tiled roofs. The external walls butt onto neighbouring buildings and are invisible from the street.
The campanile has a very interesting design, but unfortunately is almost invisible. It cannot be seen from the street and online photos (such as on the info.roma page), showing it peeping over the roof of the church, were taken from an upper storey of the Palazzo Maffei Marescotti which is to the north.
The location is over the top right hand corner of the nave. It has the plan of a chamfered square, with each face having a large arched soundhole. The cut-off corners are occupied by three-sided Ionic pilasters, each with four volutes connected by swags and hugged by semi-columns in the same style. These pilasters and semi-columns support posts which in turn support an omega cornice (Ω) on each side, the semi-circular curve of each passing over a six-winged putto's head between it and the soundhole below.
There is a lead cupola in the shape of an incurved pyramid, with a flared cornice a third of the way up. Info.roma seem to think that this is rococo -they are entitled to their opinion.
The façade was designed by Antonio Canevari, and is rendered in creamy white with two storeys. The first storey fronts the internal loggia and has three entrances, the central one of which is much larger and has an arch with a molded archivolt. These entrances are separated by two twin pairs of Composite pilasters with rather stylized capitals, doubletted along their outer edges. A pair of tripletted pilasters occupy the outer corners.
These pilasters support an entablature separating the storeys, the frieze of which has a dedicatory inscription: S[ancti] Francisci sacris stigmatibus Xri[sti] insignito d[icatum].
The side entrances are simple rectangular portals, over which is a pair of almost square window apertures.
The second storey is the same width as the first, and is on an attic plinth which has a pair of windows. It has the same arrangement of pilasters as the storey below, except that these have swags on their capitals instead of stylized acanthus leaves. Over the two inner pilaster pairs is a small triangular pediment, and in between them is a large rectangular window with a dished frame. The sides of the dish comprise another pair of pilasters, on the diagonal, and the on these is a dished and molded archivolt occupying almost all of the tympanum of the pediment. This creates its own tympanum between the archivolt and window, which contains a six-winged (that is, seraphic) putto's head in a stucco glory. This is the emblem of the archconfraternity. A pair of three-winged side-on putto's heads are in the upper corners of the window.
Between the inner pilaster pairs and the outer corner pilasters is a pair of smaller rectangular windows with segmental pediments broken at the top. Into the breaks are inserted two more windows, round-headed with floating omega cornices. This is an unusual design feature.
So far, the façade has been unremarkable. The really interesting bit is in front of the attic plinth over the entablature above the pilaster pairs flanking the main entrance. A broken segmental pediment with curlicues on the breaks contains a large stucco statue of St Francis Receiving the Stigmata by Antonio Raggi, which partly obscures the central window.
The central finial on the tip of the crowning pediment has the usual metal cross, but below it is a pair of crossed arms in sheet metal. This is the emblem of the Franciscan order.
Beyond the portals is an entrance loggia, which contains a very good neo-Classical monument to Palmira Petrachia and her son Enrico by Adamo Tadolini, 1844.
On the nave frontage are two tablets with red marble frames, one commemorating a benefaction to the church in 1673 and the other its rebuilding in 1715.
The church itself has the one entrance doorway.
The single nave has three chapels on each side, and the plan of a rectangle with rounded corners. The chapels are entered through arched openings with molded archivolts springing from Doric impost pilasters, and the two wide piers separating the chapels on each side have each a pair of gigantic ribbed Corinthian pilasters which support an entablature running round the interior.
The four curved corners are identically treated. Each has a pair of pilasters flanking a doorway with a segmental pediment. Over this in turn is a stucco relief panel with the crossed arms of the Franciscans, then a round-headed balustraded niche which looks like a cantoria for a solo musician.
The ceiling is barrel-vaulted, with lunette windows over the chapel arches, and has a central fresco panel depicting The Apotheosis of St Francis by Luigi Garzi (not one of his best works).
The pretty little organ is in a gallery over the entrance, and was very highly regarded when it was originally installed in 1858 by Adeodato Ubaldo Rossi of Bologna.
De Alvariis has a good series of photos of the memorial floor slabs in his gallery (see "External links").
The triumphal arch has a high, dished archivolt fitting into the nave vault, and springing from the interior entablature over the far rounded corners of the nave. It is embellished with vine scrolls. The sanctuary has a cross-vault, in the centre of which is the six-winged putto emblem in a stucco glory.
There is no apse, and the high altar occupies the far wall. It has two and two-half pilasters in the same style as the nave ones, supporting the entablature over which is a triangular pediment. On this sits stucco angels adoring a cross, which are by Pietro Bracci. The altarpiece is by Francesco Trevisani, 1719, and depicts St Francis Receiving the Stigmata. Also depicted is a companion friar, Fra Leone, reading a book and apparently not noticing what is going on.
The sanctuary is flanked by two side chambers. The left hand one contains a wall monument to Ladislas Constantine Vasa, an illegitimate son of King Ladislas IV of Poland and papal chamberlain before he died in 1698. It is a polychrome marble work by Lorenzo Ottoni (Il Lorenzone), and is an attractive piece in pink, white, green, black and yellow marbles. Fortunately, when the church was rebuilt it was thought worth keeping.
A processional standard kept next to it was made by Ignatius Hugford in 1750, and depicts St Francis Receiving the Stigmata on the front and The Madonna and Child on the back (this object might have been moved).
The side chapels are described anti-clockwise, starting from the right side of the entrance.
Chapel of the RedemptionEdit
The chapels are structurally identical, each with a short barrel vault and with communicating portals to the neighbouring chapels. The latter allow priests and servers to access chapels for private Masses without disturbing liturgies in the main body of the church.
The first chapel on the right is dedicated to the Passion of Christ, and is sumptuously revetted in red Sicilian jasper. The altar has a pair of Corinthian columns in contrasting light green brecciated marble (imitating verde antico), and this supports a bowed segmental pediment with a recessed central section containing winged putto's heads. The frieze, column pedestal panels and altar table backing are in the same light green stone.
The altarpiece is a little ivory crucifix by Alessandro Algardi, which is on an alabaster background and is being venerated by a pair of putti on curlicued strap brackets. These flank an elliptical tondo containing a depiction of Our Lady of Sorrows by Francesco Mancini. The epigraph reads Lacrymae eius in maxillis eius -"her tears are on her cheeks".
The actual altar is a glass-fronted red stone box containing a statue of Christ dead in the tomb.
The right hand side wall has The Flagellation by Marco Benefial, and the left side has The Crowning with Thorns by Domenico Maria Muratori. The ceiling has a fresco of The Triumph of the Cross by Giovanni Odazzi, influenced here by Pozzo.
Chapel of St Michael the ArchangelEdit
The altarpiece is a bad copy of the famous work by Guido Reni at Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini, and is thought to be by Silverio Capparoni. It is flanked by a pair of pale orange marble Corinthian pilasters with gilded capitals, with another pair folded into the corners. There is no proper aedicule. The inner pilasters are flanked by a pair of round-headed niches containing little statues; St Joseph to the left, and St Felicity to the right.
Chapel of St Joseph CalasanzEdit
The third chapel on the right is dedicated to St Joseph Calasanz. There is no aedicule, and the back wall is mostly occupied by the large round-headed altarpiece showing the saint having a vision of Our Lady. This is by Marco Capriozzi (1711-78).
The three fresco panels in the vault show the Dove of the Holy Spirit in glory flanked by figures holding the Cross and Eucharist, and are 19th century.
Chapel of St Anthony of PaduaEdit
The third chapel on the left is dedicated to St Anthony of Padua, and was also re-fitted by Busiri Vici. There is a pair of pink marble pilasters supporting a tympanum in lilac, a bad colour clash, but the coffered vault is attractive with a central blue cross containing the Dove of the Holy Spirit.
The altarpiece showing the saint having a vision of the Christ-Child is by Francesco Trevisani.
Chapel of the Immaculate ConceptionEdit
The second chapel on the left is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady. In 1884 it was completely refitted for Pope Leo XIII and the members of his family, the Pecci. The architect was Federico Mannucci, the decorative work was by Emilio Cantoni, the gilding by Germano Anfossi and the new altar in the Baroque style was by the Medici brothers.
The aedicule is a straightforward piece having a pair of Corinthian columns in grey marble, supporting a triangular pediment with a recessed central section and a blank tympanum. The altarpiece showing The Immaculate Conception is by Domenico Torti (1830-90), a Roman artist. The Pecci coat of arms is on the pedestals of the columns.
Torti also executed The Birth of Our Lady and The Presentation of Our Lady on the side walls. The lunette behind the aedicule pediment has angels in monochrome. The central fresco panel in the vault has the Dove of the Holy Spirit, and the monochrome side panels show The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise and The Nativity.
The pope's mother has a memorial slab in the floor outside the chapel.
Chapel of the Forty MartyrsEdit
The first chapel on the left is dedicated to the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, to whom the older church was dedicated. They are depicted in the altarpiece by Giacinto Brandi, and the skeleton of one of them called St Justus is in a niche.
Here is a good neo-Classical memorial to Michele and Domenico Lavaggi, 1837. It has two cameo portrait medallions, and a bas-relief of Our Lady with angels. The sculptor was Vincenzo Luccardi.
In the ceiling of the sacristy is a fresco of The Pardon of Assisi by Girolamo Pesci (1684-1759). It refers to a plenary indulgence granted by Pope Honorius III to those who visit the Chapel of the Porziuncola on 2 August.
At the altar is a reliquary of crystal and silver, in which a drop of blood from the wounds of St Francis is encapsulated. It was donated to the archconfraternity by Cardinal Francesco Barberini in 1633.
In the upper storey is the private oratory of the archconfraternity. Most confraternity churches have one of these somewhere, sometimes as a separate building.
The ceiling is decorated with a painting of St Francis in Ecstasy by Filippo Lauri. The altarpiece by Giacinto Brandi depicts St Francis Receives the Stigmata.
The crypt contains accumulated bones of those buried in the church, and these have been arranged in patterns resembling the much more famous ossuary at Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini.
Arrangements for access are not advertised, and the church only seems to be open for liturgical purposes.
Try half an hour or so before the start of the Masses listed below. Do stop looking around before the Mass starts.
Serious scholars interesting in viewing artworks (not the merely curious) can try contacting the priest in charge using the info here.
Mass is celebrated (according to the Diocese):
Weekdays 8:00, 18:30
Sundays 11:30, 19:30.
The feast of St Francis is celebrated on 4 October.
The Feast of the Stigmata of St Francis (the church's patronal feast, and only otherwise celebrated by the Franciscans) is 17 September.