The River Tiber reaches Rome from the north,
bends westwards at Porto di Ripetta and
then eastwards at the ruins of Ponte Trionfale, until it resumes its north to south
direction after Isola Tiberina. The very heart of Renaissance Rome was located in the five Rioni which were almost surrounded by the Tiber.
This area was not marked by imposing churches (Chiesa Nuova, S. Andrea della Valle, S. Carlo ai Catinari were yet to be built), but by those of the foreigners and of the tradesmen who lived there. In some cases foreign communities were particularly active in specific businesses: the Germans introduced printing in Rome and they ran inns having an adjoining stufa (German stube), a sort of public bath. The Florentines were involved in banking and cloth manufacturing.
Many streets were named after the foreigners who lived there (Via degli Spagnoli, Via dei Portoghesi, Via dei Polacchi) or after the businesses which were run (Via dei Coronari, Via dei Giubbonari) or after the related establishments (there were three -lost- Via della Stufa and two Via dei Banchi).
Roma Sancta, a manuscript written in 1581 by Gregory Martin (*) described The Temples of False Goddes Made the Churches of Christ and his Sainctes - As the practise of Infidels was, for the extinguishing of Christian monuments to build in the places of Christes nativitie, Passion, Sepulcher,
and Ascension, the temples of their false godds: (..) so contrariewise the faythfull and Christian Romaines have from Constantine the great extinguished and utterly defaced the temples of al false goddes, and consequently all Idolatrie, either by building Christian Churches in their place, or by altering and turning them from the services of Idols to the honour and service of the trew God, our lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. (..) In Rome therefore, we have for the temple of all goddes, the Church of Our Ladie and of all Saintes.
Notwithstanding Martin's enthusiasm for the change, Francino's illustration of the Pantheon was a reconstruction of the ancient temple, rather than an accurate depiction of how the church appeared in 1588. It was shown free of the buildings which surrounded it and which hid its round shape. There is no evidence of a small bell tower which was added in 1270, nor can one see the cross placed at the entrance. The fact is that the popes never managed to turn the Pantheon into a church. Its official name S. Maria ad Martyres was ignored and the building was usually called by its ancient name or by that of S. Maria della Rotonda, which was a reference to its shape, rather than to an event associated with Mary.
It was acquired by the popes in 608; a gift from Emperor Phocas whose legitimate power was doubtful. In 602 he led a revolt of the army against Emperor Maurice, who accepted leaving the throne and to retire to a monastery. Phocas had him arrested; the old man was forced to watch the killing of his three sons, before being beheaded himself. Years later Phocas did the same with the ex-Empress Constantina and her three daughters. Maybe because of such a cruel record he did his best to please the popes and the bequeathing of the Pantheon was part of this policy.
The church, notwithstanding its size and its central location, was never the site of important celebrations, as if the monument of Augustus and Emperor Hadrian (its two founders) refused to become part of Papal Rome.
The construction of S. Luigi dei Francesi was a lengthy business.
In 1478 French Cardinal Guillaume d'Estouteville, whose name is written in capital letters
upon the façade of S. Agostino, obtained the approval of Pope Sixtus IV for the construction of a national church on a site between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona.
The first stone of the new church was laid in 1518. In 1524 the completion of a small circular church was halted by lack of funds; the political events which followed (1525 - defeat of King Francis I at Pavia; 1527 Sack of Rome) delayed the restart of the construction.
Towards 1550 King Henry II financed a new project which was completed in 1589. The illustration shows the façade with the reliefs portraying two salamanders, the heraldic symbols of the Valois, the French Royal family. But when the church was inaugurated on October 8, 1589, King Henry III, the last of the Valois, was dead. He was assassinated a few weeks earlier by Jacques Clément, a Dominican friar.
The illustration showing S. Agostino is accurate in the detail, but grossly wrong as far as proportions are concerned. The actual church is wider and the central painting is smaller. Foreign engravers, especially German and Dutch engravers, tended to increase the height of Roman buildings and gave them an almost Gothic appearance. It is possible that the illustration of the book was based on a previous one which reflected this approach.
In view of the 1750 Jubilee Pope Benedict XIV promoted the construction of new façades for many important churches of Rome. This led to a major renovation of S. Apollinare which the illustration shows in its medieval/Early Renaissance appearance. The building to the left of the entrance was the residence of Cardinal d'Estouteville; it was similar to Palazzo Della Rovere ai SS. Apostoli, which was built at the same time. The illustration however is not accurate: the entrance to the Cardinal's palace was to the right of the church and the big tower was to its left.
In 1588 Spain was at the peak of its power: in 1580 King Philip II of Spain managed to become King of Portugal adding to his possessions Brazil
and other territories in Asia and Africa. In Italy Sardinia was a direct possession of Spain; Sicily, Southern Italy and the Duchy of Milan were ruled by Spanish viceroys/governors.
The Papal State and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany had very limited autonomy, only the Republic of Venice retained its independency. It is no surprise to learn that the Spanish church in Rome was attended by twenty priests.
Three large processions started and ended at the church: at Easter, at Corpus Christi (60 days after Easter) and at Ferragosto (August 15). In 1588 the Spanish Embassy was located in the palace adjoining the church.
For the 1500 Jubilee Year the Spanish Pope Alexander VI enlarged the church and gave it a second façade in Piazza Navona. Today the old façade is lost, because the church was shortened to enlarge a street. The façade on Piazza Navona lost its upper part in the XIXth century when the church was abandoned for many years.
S. Maria dell'Anima, the church of the German nation, was built for the 1500 Jubilee Year on the site of a previous church belonging to that nation. The new church was completed in 1514; the façade was based on a small scale model by Giuliano da Sangallo, brother of Antonio da Sangallo who designed S. Maria di Loreto; both churches are characterized by white Corinthian pilasters. The illustration shows part of the very unique bell tower of S. Maria dell'Anima.
S. Maria della Pace was initially called S. Maria della Virtù: this name was given to a small church (formerly dedicated to St. Andrew) to celebrate a sacred image of the Virgin Mary. A gambler, who was in despair over losing his money, attacked the image with his dagger. Sprouts of blood came out of the image which immediately became the object of devotion. This happened in 1480:
two years later Pope Sixtus IV visited the church and prayed at the image asking for an end to the war which was going on between: a) on one side the Republic of Venice allied with the Papal State and b) on the other the Duke of Ferrara and his two main allies: the King of Naples and the Duke of Milan.
The Neapolitans invaded the Papal State with the help of the Colonna family; although the troops sent by Pope Sixtus IV managed to repel the invaders, he felt uncertain about the outcome of the war and asked for a truce: this was agreed with the King of Naples on December 1482. To celebrate the event, Pope Sixtus IV decided to build a new church to house the miraculous image and to dedicate it to Peace rather than Virtue. The war went on among the other belligerents and it eventually ended on August 7, 1484; overall there were one winner: the Republic of Venice and one loser: Pope Sixtus IV who had promoted the war with the hope of making territorial gains for his nephew Girolamo Riario. When the news of the final peace agreement reached Rome, the pope had such a fit of temper that he died on August 12, 1484.
The illustration shows the church before the changes made by Pietro da Cortona in 1656-1658.
(left) S. Trifone in posterula; (right) S. Tommaso in Parione
S. Trifone: who was this saint? S. Trifone in posterula: where was this church?
Reading an old guide often leads to making some discoveries.
A small church dedicated to S. Trifone (it was also known as S. Salvatore in Primicerio) was located near Via dei Coronari,
but that shown in the guide was described as being next to S. Agostino. As a matter of fact it could be called the parent church of S. Agostino because in 1590 Pope Sixtus V transferred the cardinal titulus from
S. Trifone in posterula to S. Agostino and in 1603 Pope Clement VIII did the same with the parish. So when the guide was written this church was both a parish and a cardinal titulus. It was demolished in the XVIIIth century to make room for convento degli Agostiniani.
St. Tryphon was a young Christian man who took care of geese. He was beheaded in 250 during the Decian persecution. Farmers relied on his protection against infestations of rodents and locusts. He is the patron saint of many rural towns in areas of southern Italy where they grow cereal grains.
In 1581 Roma Sancta carefully detailed all the relics pilgrims could see in Rome. It did not mention those kept in S. Tommaso in Parione, while Francino's guide had a list of thirty relics including the stones by which St. Stephen was killed. The increased relevance of the church is explained by the fact that between 1581 and 1588 S. Tommaso in Parione was almost entirely rebuilt. The renovation was paid for by Camillo Cerrini who inherited a fortune from his uncle Mario; the money however was not accompanied by an equivalent social status. The Cerrini had large estates near Corneto, but their origin was humble; Camillo Cerrini was a member of the greengrocers' guild of that town. By financing the renovation of a church he improved his rank so that his daughter could marry a Crescenzi; this family had a long history, but its members were short of cash. Camillo Cerrini very generously financed the construction of Palazzo Crescenzi al Seminario (now Serlupi).
For centuries the Orsini were one of the most powerful families of Rome. One of their residences was located on Monte Giordano; they regarded the nearby church of S. Salvatore in Lauro as their chapel to the point that they placed their family symbol (a bear) at the sides of the entrance (in the illustration two small bears are visible at the foot of the columns). In 1591 a violent fire destroyed the church (including the bell tower). Within a few years S. Salvatore in Lauro was rebuilt by Cardinal Michele Bonelli, a relative of Pope Pius V, who did not regard bears as appropriate patrons for the new church.
Pope Julius II planned to relocate all the tribunals of Rome in a new building located in Via Giulia. The task was assigned to Donato Bramante, but the building was not completed because the project was abandoned after the death of the Pope in 1513. Bramante designed a church to be placed in the new tribunals. It had the shape of a round Corinthian temple and it was used for some time as a small theatre. Eventually it was bought by the association of the inhabitants of Brescia and in 1578 it was dedicated to the patron saints of that town. Later on it was consecrated also to S. Anna and it became known as S. Anna dei Bresciani. It was pulled down in 1888.
The Kingdom of Spain was the result of the dynastic union between the rulers of Castile (Queen Isabella) and those of Aragon (King Ferdinand II). In Rome the community of foreigners coming from Aragon, Catalonia and Valencia did not regard S. Giacomo degli Spagnoli as their own national church and in 1518 they started the construction of a large church dedicated to the Virgin of Montserrat, a statue venerated in a monastery near Barcelona. Financial difficulties and disagreements among the members of the community, slowed down the actual construction of the church, which was resumed in 1577. The façade was designed by Francesco da Volterra, on the base of a drawing by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger: it was similar to that of S. Giacomo degli Incurabili (rear entrance), but in 1588 only a minor portion of it was built. Eventually the façade was completed in 1929 (its upper part is not in line with the original plan). During solemn ceremonies unfinished churches were covered with painted images of the planned buildings and the illustration in the guide followed the same approach.
S. Lorenzo in Riario would be a more appropriate name for S. Lorenzo in Damaso. Pope Damasus I (pope from 366 to 384) was the son of a priest of S. Lorenzo fuori le Mura and he was elected pope in S. Lorenzo in Lucina. He decided to dedicate another large church to that saint. It was built inside the Damasus, a library the Pope had built to keep the records of the Church and to which he gave his own name. This explains why the church is in rather than of Damaso. The old church was pulled down in the late XVth century. It was rebuilt very close to the original location and for the second time as the added part of another building, in this case Palazzo Riario (which eventually became known as Palazzo delle Cancelleria). For this reason the illustration shows a Renaissance palace rather than a traditional church façade.
Similar to the approach followed for the Pantheon, Francino chose to illustrate the ancient Roman portico as it had been in antiquity and not as it was in 1588. In the Vth century two columns were replaced by an arch, but the illustration ignores this change and it attempts a reconstruction of the whole ancient building. Notwithstanding the reference to S. Angelo in Pescheria, the church is ignored.
".. the maydes of the citie called Zittelle that are of better parentage, but their houses fallen to decay, or such whose mothers are or have been harlots: such are placed in St. Catharines de Funari, yea these later taken from their mothers by force if neede
be, and here are brought up in al vertue and good life, 18 of them commonly Nonnes: the rest 150, after certayne yeres either to be married, if they wil: or to be professed Nonnes, if they make the better choise" (Gregory Martin - Roma Sancta). The monastery of Compagnia delle Vergini Miserabili Pericolanti was founded in 1558 and its church was built in the following years: it was dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria, also known as St. Catherine of the Wheel. She was a Christian martyr of the early IVth century and she
was regarded as a holy virgin; because of this she was chosen to watch over the young women of the monastery, whose virtue was much at peril.
The church was built by Guidetto Guidetti, who assisted Michelangelo in the redesigning of Piazza del Campidoglio.
(*) Gregory Martin (c. 1542 - 28 October 1582), was an English Catholic scholar, the translator of the Douai Version of the Bible from the Latin Vulgate.
Introductory Page - The Seven Churches.
The Churches of Trastevere and Borgo.
The Churches near Via del Corso.
The Churches of Ripa and Campitelli.
The Churches of Monti.
Flaminius Vacca's discoveries of antiquities which took place in his lifetime - 1594.