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Santo Spirito in Sassia

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Santo Spirito in Sassia

English name: Holy Spirit in Saxony
Dedication: Holy Spirit
Denomination: Roman Catholic
Built: 12th cent., rebuilt 1475 and 1538-1545
Consecrated: 17 May 1561
Architect(s): A. Sangallo or B. Peruzzi, O. Mascherino
Contact data
Address: Via dei Penitenzieri 12
00193 Roma
Phone: 06-68.79.310

Santo Spirito in Sassia is a 16th century titular and former hospital church at Via dei Penitenzieri 12 in the rione Borgo. The main entrance is on the Borgo Santo Spirito. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons. [1] There is an English Wikipedia page. [2]

The dedication is to the Holy Spirit.


Historically, the church has been part of the complex of the Ospedale di Santo Spirito in Sassia. This is no longer the case, and it is now the Italian shrine of the devotion to Divine Mercy.

There is a strong Polish presence here.

Also, it may be noted that the old hospital buildings are no longer used for health-care purposes. The modern hospital, with a walk-in clinic, is to the south on the triangular site (with an address at Lungotevere in Saxia 1) but the older part on the Borgo Santo Spirito is now a conference centre under the title of Complesso Monumentale Santo Spirito in Sassia.



By the 8th century, colonies of expatriates had settled around Old St Peter's. These included Greek, Syrian and Armenian monks in several monasteries, whose presence was maliciously airbrushed from Rome's historical awareness in the early Middle Ages.

Four kinds of Germanic barbarians established colonies also, the Schola Langobardorum for the Lombards at the lost church of San Giustino to the north (the site is under the north colonnade of the piazza of the basilica); the Schola Frisonum for the Frisians to the east, at what is now Santi Michele e Magno, and the Schola Francorum for the Franks. (It is thought, unprovably, that the present church of San Pietro in Borgo originally served the last-named.) The last of these Scholae was the Schola Saxonum for the Saxons, further to the east.

The Scholae served as hospices for pilgrims visting Rome. Interestingly, back then the languages of the four nations were sufficiently similar for them to be able to talk to each other after a fashion. One word in common use was burghmeaning "fortified settlement", which gave the modern borgo.

Schola SaxonumEdit

The Schola Saxonum was not for the Saxons of Germany, but for those who had migrated to settle in Britain. It was actually founded in 727 by King Ine of Wessex, one of the new Germanic kingdoms of Britain, who had abdicated the previous year in order to make a pilgrimage to Rome. He endowed a pilgrim hospice, with a little church attached called Sanctae Mariae Saxonum which is the predecessor of the present edifice. It was later known as Santa Maria in Saxia (the spelling Saxia is sometimes used for the present church).

Oddly, at the time the various Germanic tribes in Britain were developing a common identity as "English", taking the name of the Angles and not the Saxons. Rather, the Celtic enemies of the English in Britain used the latter name as an epithet -and so the Welsh call the English the Sais, and the Scots call them Sassenachs. It is not clear why the name was attached to the institution at Rome, unless the name of the originating kingdom ("Wessex" means "West Saxons") was partly preserved.

The hospice and church were gutted by fire in 817, were sacked by Muslim raiders in 846 (they also pillaged St Peter's), and were again burned in 852. They were rebuilt by Pope Leo IV, as part of his project to create the walled Leonine City.

The complex went into decline after the conquest of England by the Normans in 1066. In 1073, Emperor Henry IV seized and fortified it as part of his campaign against Pope Gregory VII. The end of the functioning institution seems to have been in 1167, when Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa made use of the premises during his fourth Italian campaign.

Foundation of hospitalEdit

According to the legend, Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) had a nightmare concerning the number of unwanted new-born babies ending up in the Tiber. As a result, he ordered the foundation of the Hospital of Holy Mary in 1198, and put Guy de Montpellier from France in charge. This was an example of many similar institutions being founded in western Europe at the time, and was initially more like an alms-house for poor and infirm people. Because of the dream, proietti were taken in -unwanted babies who had been abandoned in the streets. The church was rebuilt as part of this project, and put under the charge of the Vatican chapter (the priests running St Peter's).

King John of England conceded the alienation of the property from the crown of England.

The name was changed from Santa Maria to Santo Sprito in 1208. As a result of many donations and interest shown by wealthy people, the institutution was able to expand and prosper over the next century, and became known for medical treatment as well (such as it was at the time).

Pope Innocent III instituted a station for the first Sunday after the octave of the Epiphany in this church. A procession carried the Veil of Veronica from San Pietro in Vaticano, and the Holy Father celebrated Mass in the church. Indulgences were granted to those that took part, and money was given to the poor.


The Avignon captivity from 1309 to 1377, when the popes lived in France, was an absolute disaster for the hospital as well as the rest of the city. The latter was taken over by the local nobility who terrorized the population, plundered public institutions and engaged in vendettas with one another. The patients and residents at the hospital were "cleansed", and the buildings turned into an armed camp.

The decay remained after the popes returned, for almost a century. A serious fire in 1471 destroyed the remaining usable buildings.


In 1475, Pope Sixtus IV visited the derelict hospital, and was disgusted enough to order a complete rebuilding. The new complex that resulted constituted the present so-called Corsia Sistina, two very long halls on the Borto Santo Spirito separated by a chapel surmounted by an octagonal dome. The architect was Baccio Pontelli, who also apparently rebuilt the church (he was responsible for the present campanile). The Corsia was given a very important series of frescoes in 1478 illustrating the history of the hospital; there were over fifty of these, and forty-two scenes survive.

In the same campaign the pope provided two cloisters for the hospital workers, one for the men and the other for the women.

When Rome was sacked in 1527, the church was devastated and it was decided to rebuild again. The work began under Baldassare Peruzzi in 1536, and continued under Antonio da Sangallo the Younger from 1538 to 1545. The façade was added under Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590), perhaps by Guido Guidetti to a design by Ottaviano NonniIl Mascarino (the latter was certainly responsible for the entrance stairs).

The result was the present edifice, which had its interior decoration completed about 1595 and has not been altered much since.

The external lay helpers of the hospital had a confraternity which built its own little church or oratory, Santa Maria Annunziata in Borgo.

The church was parochial.

Ruota degli EspostiEdit

The hospital became the main one for the city, and took over the administration of most other hospitals in Rome. It concentrated on medical matters in the 18th century, and responsibility for social care was passed on to the institutions at San Michele a Ripa.

However, the department for unwanted babies was kept going. In the hospital frontage you will find a marble hatch with a little tiled roof, which is the Ruota degli Esposti (roughly translating as "The thing that goes round for the exposed ones"). This is a revolving cupboard, and the idea was that a mother (or whoever) could put a baby in it and deliver it into the care of the hospital anonymously. The feared alternative was that the baby might be dropped into the Tiber instead. The babies so collected were checked for disease before being farmed out to peasants in the Campagna, the hospital having the ultimate responsibility for care until they grew up.

Too many babies were turning up in the early 18th century, so from 1759 only illegitimate ones were taken -in theory.

Modern timesEdit

When Italy conquered Rome in 1870, the hospital was nationalized and the formal link with the church broken. However, the parish was continued and the church remained responsible for spiritual matters in the hospital.

The Via della Conciliazione scheme of 1940 seriously reduced the population of the Borgo. However, the parish was continued until 1984 when it was suppressed and the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina was put in charge of one parish for the entire rione. This included the transfer of the remaining hospital chaplaincy responsibilities as well.

In 1991, the church finally found a new function. In that year it was made titular, with Fiorenzo Angelini the first (and so far only) cardinal. Also, it became the Italian sanctuary of the devotion to Divine Mercy.




The bell-tower is older, built under Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484).


The present façade is the result of the restoration under Pope Sixtus V, and was built by Ottavio Mascherino,

Spiritu Santo in Sassia

That's St Faustina on the poster on the façade.

inspired by a draft left by Sangallo. It has two stories, with Corinthian pillars dividing the lower one into five sections, and the upper divided into three sections. In the upper middle section is a circular window, and above that is the coat-of-arms of Pope Sixtus V. The façade is crowned by a pediment. It is strongly reminiscent of Renaissance architecture.



The church has a single nave, and nine apsidal chapels along the sides.

The frescoes are by several 16th and 17th century painters.



The painting of Pentecost in the apse is by the brothers Jacopo and Francesco Zucchi of Florence.

The choir has an organ from 1547, which is of very good quality.

Chapel of the Holy SpiritEdit

​Chapel of the AssumptionEdit

Side entranceEdit

​Chapel of Edit

​Chapel of the Holy TrinityEdit

​Chapel of St John the EvangelistEdit

​Chapel of the Holy CrossEdit

​Chapel of the Coronation of Our LadyEdit

​Chapel of Our Lady and St AugustineEdit

​Chapel of Edit


In the sacristy is a series of paintings depicting the history of the hospital.


The church is open:

Weekdays 7:15 to 12:00, 14:50 to 18:30.

Sundays 9:00 to 13:00, 14:50 to 18:30.

Only those attending are permitted in the church during Mass and other liturgical celebrations. Check the times below, as these are extensive.


Mass is celebrated;

Weekdays 7:30 and 18:30.

Sundays 10:00 (in English), 11:00, 12:30, 16:00 (in Polish), 18:30.

There is a Holy Hour in honour of Divine Mercy every day at 15:00.

Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is every day at 17:30. This is followed by Rosary at 18:00, then the evening Mass at 18:30.

External linksEdit

Official diocesan web-page (under reconstruction, August 2014)

Italian Wikipedia page

Nolli map (look for 1238)

Sanctuary website

"De Alvariis" gallery on Flickr

"Romeartlover" web-page

Website of the Complesso Monumentale

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