The Santa Francesca Romana Church in Rome was originally called Santa Maria Nova. It is located among the ruins of the Temple of Venus and Roma on the edge of the Roman Forum. The most famous landmark within the church is a 5th century icon discovered by accident.
Santa Francesca Romana Church Rome
Address, Opening Hours, and Admission Price
The address of the Chiesa di Santa Francesca Romana al Palatino is Piazza di Santa Francesca Romana, 4 (tel. +39 06 6795528). Metro: Colosseo. Opening hours: From 10:00 to 12:00 and from 15:00 to 17:00. Entrance fee: Free of charge.
Santa Francesca Romana is the patron saint of motorists. Every year on March 9th (she died on that date, in 1440), Romans come to the church to have their cars blessed.
History and Description
Founded in the year 850 as Santa Maria Nova by order of Pope Leo IV, the Santa Francesca Romana Church is located between the ruins of the Temple of Venus and Roma. The Nova (“new”) part of the name was due to the fact that the church replaced the Santa Maria (which then immediately became the Santa Maria Antiqua Church), razed to the ground by an earthquake three years earlier.
According to tradition, the church was built on the spot where Simon Magus wanted to show Emperor Claudius that he was able to fly. Peter, who was present, thought this was blasphemy and prayed that God would let him fall. Simon fell, broke his leg in three places, and was stoned to death by Peter’s followers.
In 1440, the church was dedicated to Santa Francesca Romana when this Roman benefactress was buried under the main altar. Francesca di Paolo de Buscis, as she was called, was declared a saint in 1608. At the age of 12 she was married to the nobleman Renzo de’ Ponziani, but she used his property and house only to help poor people. After her husband’s death, she retreated to the adjacent convent until her son became seriously ill during a plague epidemic. She managed to cure him, but was herself infected and died a few days later.
Of the many renovations to which the church has been subjected, the one in the 17th century is the most important, as the medieval appearance was replaced by a Baroque style.
The Santa Francesca Romana Church consists of a single nave, with a number of side chapels.
The façade of travertine marble was designed by Carlo Lombardi in 1615. The tympanum is crowned by three statues. The portico is part of the facade. Above the portico is a large window with a balcony. On the lower levels of the facade there are two more statues on the sides.
The former Oratory of Saints Peter and Paul was incorporated into the church by Pope Paul I in the 8th century. The oratory itself used to be the portico of the Temple of Venus.
Since 1352, the church has been maintained by the Benedictine Monastic Order of Monteoliveto.
Part of the monastery that used to belong to the church now serves as the Antiquarium, where the most important objects found in the Roman Forum are kept and exhibited.
What to see
Inside the church is a stone strip with the knee prints of Saint Peter. These are said to be the imprints of the moment when the saint prayed to God to bring down Simon Magus (see above).
Santa Francesca Romana is buried under the main altar.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini designed the sculpture group Confessione (“The Confession”) at the end of the nave.
In 1649, Bernini made a gilded bronze statue of “St. Francesca”. However, this was looted during the Napoleonic era and later replaced with a copy by Giosuè Mieli.
The painting La Natività (“The Birth”) was done by Carlo Maratta and is in the first chapel on the left.
In the apse, there is a mosaic depicting the “Madonna and Child on the Throne” (12th century).
In 1949, during excavations, an icon from the 5th or 6th century was accidentally discovered. The icon depicts the Virgin Glykophilousa. It is only occasionally displayed in the church.
The antique Romanesque bell tower is characterized by windows with double bifurcations.