San Benedetto in Piscinula Church Rome
Address, opening hours and admission
Address: Piazza In Piscinula, 40 – Rome (tel. +39 06 58331609). Opening hours: Normally the hours are from 08.30 till 12.00 and from 16.30 till 19.30 on weekdays and from 10.00 till 12.00 and from 16.30 till 19.30 on Sundays and holidays. At the moment the church is closed.
History and description
It is supposed to have been built in 543 on the ruins of the “domus Aniciorum” or the “home of the Anici family”. One of the members of this noble family was San Benedetto da Norcia, who lived there in 470 during his stay in Rome, and to whom the church is dedicated.
The structure of its walls and some capitols reveal the existence of an 8th century oratorium. After the sacking by the Norman adventurer Robert Guiscard, this oratorium was restored and expanded into the present church.
The name derives from the Italian word for “swimming pool” (piscina). The reason it is called that it is built on top of the remains of ancient public baths.
Several restorations took place in the course of the centuries. The roof stems from the 15th century and was by another family of nobles, the Castellani.
In 1678 the facade was redone and the collegio di Sant’Anselmo, a convent for Benedictines visiting Rome, was built next-door. At the same time Don Lami attached a hospital to the building, which was closed when the Ospedale di S. Maria e S. Gallicano was inaugurated in 1726. Both buildings were later destroyed.
In 1825 San Benedetto in Piscinula was abandoned, by order of Pope Leo XII. Two restorations, in 1825 and in 1844, followed. The architect Pietro Camporese was commissioned by the Massimo family to redo the facade.
Camporese restored the main entrance with the architrave, the semi-circular window and the tympanum.
In 1939, after having been closed, the church was reopened. Another restoration was ordered, this time by the Vicariate of Rome.
Between 1941 and 2002 the church was the seat of a religious community for women, called Nostra Signora del Carmelo. At the moment it is under control of the Araldi del Vangelo (“Heralds of the Gospel”).
The church’s bell tower is not only the smallest in Rome, but can also boast the oldest (1069) bell itself. The square tower is made of bricks and is divided into two parts by means of a saw-tooth ledge.
The facade is decorated with marble fragments of various shapes and colors. A second ledge separates the floors from the attic and the slanting roof.
The interior of the church has three naves. The 12th century floor is cosmatesque. The painting Virgin with Child on the main altar was done in the 14th century.
The small oratorium called the “Chapel of the Virgin” to the left of the portico has a groin vault resting on four columns with 8th century capitols.
The altar was consacrated in 1604 and is decorated with a cosmatesque strip made of porphyry and a “Madonna with Child”, which has acquired the nickname Madonna della Misericordia, or “Madonna of Mercy”. It is thought that Saint Benedetto himself used to pray before this fresco, which told him to start his Order.
From this chapel one enters a bare cell, thought to be the one where a young Benedict lived an did penitence. The inscription inside says, roughly translated: “These bricks, part of the ancient walls on which the church was built, are the only visible ruins of the Domus Aniciorum, the only witnesses of the presence, around 495 AD, of a young man of a patrician family, called Benedetto, who had moved from Norcia to Rome, as was the habit of the times, to prepare himself for a senatorial career. From here he left for Affile, the city where his first known miracle took place. He then reached Subiaco, where the sublime contemplative adventure of the Benedictine family began, becoming thus, for posterity, the Saint and Glorious Patriarch of western monasticism”.