Santissimo Nome di Maria al Foro Traiano is an 18th century confraternity and titular church, the larger one of the two familiar domed landmark churches at the north end of the Imperial Fora, just by Trajan's Column. (The other is Santa Maria di Loreto). The postal address is Foro Traiano 89, in the rione Trevi. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia page here.
The dedication is to the Holy Name of Mary.
The first church on this site was San Bernardo a Colonna Traiani, which had been taken over by the Confraternita di San Bernardo in 1440 (the church is first recorded in 1418). This was a secular confraternity devoted to charitable works, originally founded at the Cistercian abbey of Tre Fontane and using the church of Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio alle Tre Fontane located there.
The little church was also dedicated to Our Lady, and had on its high altar an ancient icon of the Blessed Virgin which had once been in the chapel of San Lorenzo in Laterano. This icon had been given to the confraternity by Pope Eugene IV in about 1430, when it was still based at Tre Fontane, and was believed to have been painted by St Luke.
The side altars were dedicated to St Bernard of Clairvaux and St Nicholas, and the ceiling had a fresco of St Bernard in Glory by Avanzino Nucci. The dedication to St Nicholas came from another little church, San Nicolò della Colonna, which was actually attached to Trajan's Column and was pulled down as a result in an early fit of antiquarian puritanism in 1541.
The confraternity remained here until 1585, when they moved to Santa Susanna. They were then responsible for setting up the Cistercian nunnery there. The church of San Bernardo became nothing more than a devotional chapel, attracting pilgrims wishing to venerate the icon.
Foundation of confraternityEdit
The feast of the Holy Name of Mary was introduced by Blessed Pope Innocent XI (1676-1689) victory over the Ottoman Turks at the second Siege of Vienna in 1683. This battle permanently broke the power of the Turks in Europe. A cult devoted to the name of Our Lady was instituted in San Stefano del Cacco in 1685 by Dom Giuseppe Bianchi, an abbot from Sabina of the Sylvestrine monastic congregation (now Benedictine).
Soon after, he established a Confraternity of the Most Holy Name of Mary (Confraternita del Santissimo Nome di Maria) which was formally approved in 1688 in order the propagate the devotion. In 1694 they moved to San Bernardo, which was in a bad state of repair by then, and renovated the building.
Foundation of churchEdit
However, they decided that the old church was too small, so they acquired the adjacent plot and built the present church from 1736 to 1741. The architect was French, Antoine Dérizet. The older church was only demolished in 1748.
The actual site the confraternity acquired was the north-eastern corner of the small Piazza di Colonna Trajana, so that the new church was only attached to other buildings for a quarter of its circumference. The famous column was in the opposite, south-western corner of the piazza.
Dérizet's design proved faulty. It originally provided for a pair of side entrances, but in 1751 the dome demonstrated structural problems and these entrance were walled up as a result.
Opposite the new church were the back doors of the monasteries of Sant'Eufemia and Santo Spirito ai Monti. These were demolished for archaeological excavations even before the French occupation, in order to uncover the Basilica Ulpia of the Forum of Trajan. Thus the present, anomalous situation of the church began to be created, whereby it looks over a vast excavation containing a few ancient Roman bits.
In 1811, a detailed plan was drawn up by Giuseppe Valadier to demolish the church and create a new piazza with the Trajan's column in the centre. After this was abandoned the same architect provided the confraternity with a private oratory, the façade of which is to the left of the church.
The Second World War arguably saved the church, and much else in the vicinity, from demolition since Fascist "archaeologists" suspected (probably incorrectly) that the undiscovered Temple of Trajan lies underneath.
This church should not be confused with Santissimo Nome di Maria a Via Latina, also titular.
Like Dérizet's other church in Rome, Santi Andrea e Claudio dei Borgognoni, this is a dome with a church tucked underneath. The ground-plan is based on a square with the front corners chamfered. Superimposed on this is the dome itself, which has a very tall drum and is just slightly elliptical.
The exterior walls are all in white. The first storey has pairs of Composite pilasters occupying its corners, and supporting an entablature. Two pairs of semi-round Composite columns flank the entrance, and above the entablature corresponding to these is a blank segmental pediment with its central section recessed. The rest of the entablature is crowned by a balustrade which supports free-standing statues of the four evanglists.
The drum of the dome, proportionately very high, has eight pairs of double Corinthian pilasters, and in between these are eight large round-headed or centinate (not arched) windows with curved raised lintels above looking rather like eyebrows.
The dome itself, in lead and with eight large ribs corresponding with the paired pilasters, has eight round windows in Baroque frames with volutes. The intricately designed lantern has eight little swagged Ionic columns with tall arched windows in between and eight flaming torch finials above. There is an ogee cupola supporting a central ball finial.
The campanile is behind the church, and is in the form of a triumphal arch with a tall, narrow single arch in travertine containing two bells. There is a crowning triangular pediment.
The private oratory that Valadier designed for the confraternity was erected between 1812 and 1815, and the interior fittings finished in 1839.
The simple façade is rendered in pale orange, and has two storeys. The first storey only has the entrance, approached by a short flight of steps. It has a molded doorcase, over which is a cornice on brackets which acts as a sill for a semi-circular lunette window. The archivolt of this is also molded.
The storeys are separated by an entablature with a very wide frieze and a tiny cornice. On this is a serliana, or a horizontal set of three windows the central one of which is arched. There is a crowning pediment, slightly oversized.
The interior is slightly elliptical, the minor axis of the church being the major axis of ellipse. However, this is difficult to notice.
There are six small side chapels, the four original ones being on the diagonals and the two to the sides occupying the original side entrances. Their plans are in the form of irregular, squashed hexagons.
The interior layout fits into the chamfered square of the exterior by means of having very thick and solid walls which help support the dome. The exception is the far left hand corner, where there are passages leading to the sacristy and oratory.
The interior is richly decorated in polychrome marble and gilded stucco, much of it the result of the 19th century restoration. The side chapels contain good paintings of the mid 18th century, and are also rich in polychrome stonework including alabaster.
The side spaced are separated by gigantic Corinthian pilastes in veined pink marble, with gilded capitals. These support an entablature running round the interior, with a post in shallow relief above each pilaster and the cornice embellished in gilded stucco acanthus fronds. The architrave bears four ultramarine plaques bearing titles of Our Lady, one over each major archway.
The sanctuary, entrance and main side chapels are entered through arches with their archivolts springing from a subsidiary entablature which runs round the interior behind the main pilasters. This entablature is supported in turn by Composite half-pilasters in verde antico with gilded capitals, a major design feature of the interior.
The chapels on the diagonals are entered through lower arches, with the archivolts springing from Doric imposts fitted within pairs of these green half-pilasters supporting the subsidiary entablature. Above are galleries, with balustrades having a bowed ogee curve. These galleries or cantoria sit on the chapel vaults.
The entrance arch contains a larger gallery in the same style, which contains the organ.
The drum of the dome is of the same dimensions as the space below, so that there are no pendentives. It has eight large windows with the frames embellished with gilded festoons and acanthus, and these are separated by shallow pilasters panelled in polychrome marble arranged in concentric rectangles. The dome itself is ribbed, and these eight ribs spring from the pilasters and meet at the lantern oculus. A symbol of the Trinity is in the oculus. The ribs have gilded stars and rosettes.
The eight sectors of the interior of the dome are decorated with white and gold stucco work, with garlands and palm fronds. Eight tondi with reliefs depicting scenes from the life of Our Lady are at the bottoms of these sectors, supported by angels and putti.
The sanctuary is square, and has a saucer cupola with pendentives. Beyond is a segmental apse with a conch, the latter embellished with ribs in the same style as those of the dome.
The main altar is against the curved apse wall, and its wings are actually matched to the curve. Its altarpiece is the ancient icon of Our Lady, enshrined in a spectacular Baroque gloria inserted into the apse in between a pair of ribbed bronze Composite semi-columns. This gloria consists of a gang of angels and putti in stucco, in front of gilded rays and holding both the icon and the monogram of Ave Maria. On top of the glory is an enormous bronze crown, supported by a further pair of angels.
The icon is a 13th century version of the ancient Hodegetria tradition, with the peculiarity that the image is laterally reversed so that Our Lady is gesturing at Christ with her left hand instead of the right one as is usual.
Note the pair of bronze double-headed eagles on the main pilasters flanking the sanctuary, emblems of the Hapsburg Empire whose capital Vienna was.
The chapels are depicted in anticlockwise order, beginning at the bottom right.
Chapel of St Aloysius GonzagaEdit
The first chapel on the left is dedicated to St Aloysius Gonzaga, with an altarpiece by Antonio Nesi of 1748 showing St Aloysius Adoring the Crucifix. This painter was active in Rome from 1739 to 1773.
Because of the shape of these diagonal side chapels, their vaults have an unusual shape with a kidney-shaped cupola on pendentives. The frescoes of putti on cupola and pendentives are from the 19th century restoration.
Chapel of St AnneEdit
The second chapel on the right is dedicated to St Anne, with an altarpiece showing her teaching Our Lady to read by Agostino Masucci of 1751. Here as well are a sculpture of Our Lady from the previous church dating to about 1550, and an 18th century fresco of the Immaculate Conception.
The small 17th century crucifix on display belonged to Pope Innocent XI, who has been beatified.
Chapel of St JosephEdit
The third chapel on the right is dedicated to St Joseph, with three paintings by Stefano Pozzi. The altarpiece shows the death of the saint, while the oval paintings on the side walls show him being instructed by an angel, and with the Holy Family. The stucco work depicting angels and putti is by Andrea Bergondi.
The little picture on the altar is of St Vincent Pallotti.
Chapel of the CrucifixEdit
The third chapel on the left is dedicated to the Crucifixion, and has a large 16th century wooden crucifix. There are 18th century side wall frescoes, of Our Lady to the left and St John the Evangelist to the right, and the vault has a 19th century fresco of The Triumph of the Cross.
Chapel of St BernardEdit
The second chapel on the left is dedicated to St Bernard of Clairvaux, with an altarpiece by Niccola Ricciolini of 1751. It shows him writing while having a vision of Our Lady (he is a Doctor of the Church, and she was one of his favourite subjects.)
The little picture on the altar is of St Vincent Ferrer.
Chapel of SS Peter and PaulEdit
The last chapel on the left is dedicated to SS Peter and Paul, with an altarpiece by Lorenzo Masucci of 1750.
The vault fresco shows The Triumph of the Trinity, and is 19th century. The side walls have St Joseph to the left, also 19th century, and St Teresa of Lisieux to the right, 20th century.
The church is open 10:00 to 13:00 and 16:00 to 18:00, but is closed Fridays.
Mass is celebrated on Sundays at 11:00 (unofficial source).
Once a year, the icon is taken in solemn procession from the site of the now destroyed church of San Bernardo to its present place in this church.
The feast-day of the Name of Mary is 12 September.
Nolli map (look for 272) (shows original side entrances)