The Santa Maria della Scala Church in Rome is located in one of the most fascinating parts of the picturesque Trastevere district. Inside the church is an effigy of the Madonna, which is said to possess miraculous powers. The building to the right of the church houses the oldest pharmacy of the city.
Santa Maria della Scala Church Rome
Address, opening hours and admission
Address: Piazza della Scala, 23 – Rome (tel. +39 06 5806233). Opening hours: From 10.00 till 13.00 and from 16.00 till 17.30. Admission: Free.
History and description
Tradition holds that the icon of the Madonna in the northern transept once cured a child. The icon had been placed on the stairway of the house where the child lived and when her mother started praying in front of it the child became better. Pope Clement VIII then built the church next to the house where this miracle (and some others as well) had occurred.
The Madonna della Scala, as the icon is known, shares her chapel with the funerary monument of Cardinal Prospero Santacroce, who holds the dubious honor of being the first Roman to smoke tobacco. For a while tobacco was even called erba santacroce in Rome.
The church and the adjacent convent were built between 1593 and 1610, next to what used to be the Papal Pharmacy (la Spezieria).
The Barefoot Carmelites had chosen Francesco Capriano da Volterra to be the architect, but after he died Girolamo Rainaldi finished the construction. The convent was partly designed by Matteo da Citt’ di Castello and partly by Ottaviano Mascherino. Its interior was restored in the 19th century.
The slightly convex facade was not completed until 1624. A niche in the bottom part of the facade contains a “Madonna with Child” made by Francesco Cusart in 1633.
During the resistance of the Roman troops against the French army Santa Maria della Scala was used as a hospital for Garibaldi‘s wounded soldiers and a.o. Luciano Manara died in the church.
Works of art in the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Scala
- A baroque statue of Juan de La Cruz (John of the Cross) next to the Maria icon.
- Carlo Rainaldi made the baldachin with 16 Corinthian columns as wells as the main altar.
- Carlo Saraceni‘s “Death of the Virgin” replaces the original by Caravaggio, which was moved because the latter was thought to have used a prostitute as his model. The Louvre didn’t mind.
- Pomarancio‘s “Madonna handing the scapular to San Simeone Stock” hangs above the altar of the first chapel on the left.
- The “Beheading of Saint John the Baptist” in the first chapel on the right is a work of the Dutchman Gerrit van Honthorst (in Rome known under the name Gherardo delle Notti).
- “Madonna with Child and Saints”, in the 2nd chapel on the right, was painted by Antiveduto Grammatica.
- Another “Madonna with Child” can be found in the choir loft and was done by Cavalier d’Arpino.
- There is an altar for Santa Teresa di Avila, with a relic in the shape of her right foot, designed by Pannini.
- The presbytery contains the Ciborio, a small temple with columns of Sicilian alabaster and a bronze dome.
- Next to the entrance and in the atrium portraits of Fra’ Basilio della Concezione can be seen. Brother Basilio was able to concoct potions against the Plague and against hysteria.
Antica Spezieria Santa Maria della Scala
The Antica Spezieria Santa Maria della Scala is located in the building to the right of the church façade. Originally, this pharmacy was intended only for members of the Barefoot Carmelite Order. It was not until the 17th century that anyone could buy herbs there. The medicines sold were made by the monks from herbs grown in the monastery. Since the 1980s, the pharmacy is no longer run by the order. The old part has been turned into a small museum that can be visited by appointment only.