The Places of the Saints
The ancient and modern history of Christian Rome may be well represented by the figures of saints, of different nationalities, who have lived or stayed in the city. Each of these figures constitutes, for the activity carried out in the spiritual and social fields, the mirror of the historic reality of his age. In addition to Saints Peter and Paul, who suffered matyrdom in Rome, and to whom the great basilicas in the Vatican and on the Via Ostiense are dedicated, numerous other saints arrived in the papal capital, leaving important traces.
The following itinerary will illustrate only some of the places, where access to the public is easier.
On Via Monserrato stands the Church of San Girolamo alla Carità, built, according to tradition, over the house of the matron Paola who gave hospitality to St. James, called to Rome in 382 by Pope Damasus. In the 16th century, Pope Clement VII donated the church and the adjoining convent to a Florentine brotherhood, the “Compagnia della Carità”, which had the privilege of having with them for over twenty years their fellow countryman St. Philip Neri, who founded his own oratory here in 1551. The convent rooms were also used, for example, by St. Charles Borromeo, St. lgnatius of Loyola, and St. Felix of Cantalice.
In 1654 the Spada Chapel, the first on the right of the entrance, was built in the church. Long held to be the work of Borromini, it is very probably attributable to the Oratorian Father Virginio Spada. The marble decoration of the walls simulated, imitating the Etruscan chamber tombs, domestic damask tapestries, on which medallions with portraits of the deceased are “hung”.
From Via Monserrato we reach the Piazza della Chiesa Nuova, dominated by the façade of the church, also called Santa Maria della Vallicella, built between the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The church was given in 1575 by Pope Gregory XIII to the Congregation of the Oratory, guided by St. Philip Neri. In the church, which has fine paintings by Pietro da Cortona, Federico Barocci and Rubens, the Saint's remains, contained in a crystal um at the end of the left side of the transept, are venerated.
From the church sacristy we reach the Rooms of St. Philip (to visit them, apply to the sacristan), which are on two floors. It is still possible to visit the Saint's little private chapel and the red room, originally the convent pantry. In the internal chapel of St. Philip, part of the masonry of the Saint's bedroom, destroyed by a fire in 1620, is also kept. Lastly, of particular interest are the relics and works of art on display in the rooms.
The church also has an ampulla with the blood of St. Pantaleon which, every 27 July, the Saint's feast-day, liquefies and bubbles. The Church has not yet made an official pronunciation on the phenomenon, which occurs simultaneously in other cities such as Ravello and Madrid.
To visit the Room of St. Catherine of Siena, we reach the Pantheon, near which we find the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.
Under the high altar is exhibited the body of the Saint, the patron saint of Italy together with St. Francis of Assisi; the head, however, is missing, and is kept in the Church of San Domenico in Siena. From the sacristy we pass into the small room where the Saint died on 29 April 1380. The room, originally in the house of Paola Del Ferro, who offered hospitality to Catherine (at Via di Santa Chiara 14), was transported here in 1637, together with the detached frescoes by Antoniazzo Romano (1482).
St. Catherine of Siena is often portrayed at the moment she marries Christ in what has been called the Mystical Marriage. It is said, in fact, that during the night of Carnival in 1367, Christ appeared to Catherine and gave her a wedding ring, which she kept on her finger for evermore, even though it was invisible to others.
After a short break we arrive easily at Piazza del Gesù, where we find the Professed House of the Jesuits, built between 1599 and 1623, as the seat of the Company of Jesus, after a design by Girolamo Rainaldi. Inside (entrance on Via delle Botteghe Oscure) it is possible to visit the Rooms of St lgnatius of Loyola. The Spanish monk, who founded the Jesuit Order, moved to Rome, to the seat of the Company of Jesus, where he died in 1556. The rooms, which are reached through a corridor splendidly frescoed by Andrea Pozzo in 1695, were used by Ignatius, who is remembered here with relics and furnishings. Of particular interest is the visit to the room where the Saint studied and slept, as well as the chapel where he died.
In the church of Il Gesù, the remains of St. lgnatius are buried in altar-tomb, in the left transept, with bas-reliefs by Alessandro Algardi.
We recommend that you continue the visit at the Monastero delle Oblate a Tor de' Specchi, open only on 9th March, at Via del Teatro di Marcello 40, where St. Frances of Rome, a patron saint of Rome together with Sts. Peter and Paul, lived. Together with a group of eleven companions, the noblewoman founded the Oblates of Mary, a society under the Rule of St. Benedict. The devout women, without abandoning their families, devoted themselves to worshipping Mary and to Charity.
Widowed at forty years of age, Frances decided to move into the community of Tor de' Specchi founded by her, where she died in 1440. Her body, how- ever, rests underneath the high altar of the church of Santa Maria Nova, better known as the Church of Santa Francesca Romana, at the Roman Forum.
Beyond the Colosseum starts the Via di San Gregorio, where the majestic Church of San Gregorio Magno stands. It is situated on the area of the Monastery of St. Andrew, founded in 575 on the properties of Gregory’s family. In one of the three oratories visible to the left of the church, that of St. Barbara, St. Gregory used to feed the poor, offering them meals on a marble table that is still preserved. Legend has it that one day, While Gregory was serving supper to twelve poor persons, a thirteenth person joined the table: an angel, to whom Gregory offered the food. Following this event, it became customary for popes, up until 1870, to serve the Holy Thursday supper to thirteen guests in the Caelian oratory. Inside the church, at the end of the right-hand aisle, is the Room of St. Gregory, where an ancient marble seat, a few relics of the saint, his pastoral staff, and the stone used as a pillow are presented.