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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Off-the-beaten-path churches: The Basilica of San Pancrazio

"Here San Pancrazio was decapitated."

The basilica of San Pancrazio wasn't always so off-the-beaten-path.  It sits less than half a mile from the famous Porta di San Pancrazio, a gateway to the Gianicolo.

Of course, RST thinks it's worth a visit.  Even though we've lived close enough to the neighborhood several times, it did take several tries to get both of us there.  One problem, the reluctant visitor to churches that were built before 1920, and the other problem of timing our visit when the church is open.  It's widely acknowledged it gets few visitors and tourists and, therefore, is no longer always open (hours at end of this post).

Time, wars, history, have not been kind to this - originally - 7th-century church built on the alleged site of the named saint's martyrdom (see photo at top).  As Wiki Roman Churches puts it,  "It was thoroughly looted by the French in 1798, and was partially destroyed by the Garibaldians during their futile defence of the Roman Republic against the French army in 1849. This vandalism included having the shrine broken open and the relics of the martyr disposed of. Whatever the vandals did with them, whether they put them down the toilet or shot them from a cannon, it is the case that not a fragment was recovered. Hence, when substantial necessary repairs were carried out to the church in the later 19th century, a small relic was brought back from the head of the saint at St John Lateran to be enshrined."
(For more on Garibaldi and this area, which we find fascinating, see one of RST's posts.)

And if that wasn't enough, there was a collapse in 2001 that closed the church and catacombs for a while.

Yes, catacombs.  One of the reasons I like the basilica.  Like several Roman churches, it sits atop an immense catacomb, and this one is not full of a line of visitors with buses waiting outside for them.   The upside - you can have a free, private tour of the catacombs.  The downside - only in Italian.  Our guide was a sweet and dedicated man, who seemed surprised when we made a 5 Euro offering.  I like the church's Web site explanation for no fee for the visits:  "The memory of the Martyrs has no price."  The entry is inside the main body of the church - just don't fall down the hole.

The coffered ceiling.
Trompe l'oeil fresco being restored.
 The setting of the church is evocative - it's at the end of a shaded lane, with walls on each side housing the monastery and a small museum.  All of this is couched in a corner of the immense park Villa Pamphili.

And, yes, it has art works, among them a restored monumental wooden coffered ceiling and frescoes attributed to the Cavalier d'Arpino, both 17th century. 

For more information, the Roman Churches Wiki site is decent, and the church offers a pamphlet in English.  Or, you can go to the basilica's Web site, which has some extensive history; use a translation program if you don't read Italian (click on "I Monumenti"  and then either "Basilica" or "Catacombe."

The catacombs are open Wednesday and Thursday mornings, 9:30 a.m - noon, and Wednesday afternoon, 4:30 - 7 p.m.  The church is open 8:30 a.m. - noon, every day (8 a.m. - 1 p.m. on Sundays and holidays) and afternoons 4:30 - 7 p.m. (7:30 p.m. July - September, and  8 p.m. on Sundays and holidays).  It's at Piazza San Pancrazio, at the end of via San Pancrazio (where it turns into via Vitellia). The location is "due passi" (2 steps - i.e., only a little way) from part of the first water itinerary in Rome the Second Time: 15 Itineraries That Don't Go to the Coliseum.


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