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Nov 25, 2016

San Marcello al Corso: a less known church.

According to tradition it was founded by the pope Marcellus, martyr under the emperor Maxentius and exiled from Rome after the riots caused by his severity against lapsed Christians who had renounced to their faith under the recent persecutions. Another version claims he was condemned to work as a slave attending the horses (he is the patron saint of horse breeders) at the catabulum:  the headquarters of the Imperial Post stables.
His remains are supposedly under the main altar of the church.
The present church, rebuilt several times, was designed by Jacopo Sansovino and Antonio da Sangallo the Younger after a fire in 1519.
The façade was added by Carlo Fontana at the end of XVII century while the interior was partly redecorated also in the XVIII century and restored by Vespignani in 1867. 

The church hosts a bizarre funerary monument:  the double tomb of Cardinal Giovanni Michiel known as Cardinal S. Angelo for his first title as cardinal of the church of S. Angelo in Pescheria (up above) and his nephew bishop Antonio Orso (down below). Designed by Jacopo Sansovino in 1520 (according to Giorgio Vasari). They seem to rest on a on a bunk bed. The bishop lies on a pile of books: an allusion to his donation of 730 codes to the library of the monastery.

The Cardinal was the nephew of the pope Paul II and belonged to a prestigious Venetian family. A candidate for the papacy during the conclave of 1492 which ended with the election of Rodrigo Borgia (Alexander VI), he died in 1503, poisoned by Cesare Borgia, the pope's son,  after 2 days of agony. The truth of those rumors was never proved. Cantarella, a variation of arsenic, was the poison of choice of the Borgias. If dosed right it wasn't immediate and obvious. The cook, accused, was executed and the enormous wealth of the cardinal was confiscated by the Borgias.

Crucifixion (detail). 1613

A huge Crucifixion by Giovan Battista Ricci is frescoed on the counterfacade. The Lombard artist was also an excellent draughtsman. Mainly active as a fresco painter during the pontificates of Sixtus V, Clement VIII and Paul V, Ricci was one of the busiest painters in Rome during this period, and was elected to the Virtuosi al Pantheon in 1583 and, five years later, to the Accademia di San Luca.  

A well preserved medieval fresco (XIV century) survives in the Grifoni Chapel. The Madonna is crowned by a couple of later cherubs painted by Perin del Vaga, a pupil of Raphael. They were particularly praised by Giorgio Vasari: '...i più belli che in fresco facesse mai artefice nessuno... '.

The baptistery of the ancient church was found in 1912: one of the few for the immersion rite surviving in Rome.  The bricks are still coated with marble (VIII century, although V century remains were also discovered).  

Opening hours - 7,30 am - 11 pm (weekdays) - Saturday and Sunday 9,30 am - 11 pm.
If you wish to visit the archaeological remains under the church ask at the Sacristy (a little donation is highly appreciated).