The church of Santa Maria dell’Orto is not located in the more picturesque part of Trastevere, but in the area that, until the end of the 19th century, was mostly dedicated to trade. It is close to what used to be the most important harbor of Rome in those days, the Ripa Grande, where the barges from Ostia used to unload their wares. Nowadays the area is characterized by uninteresting, modern buildings.
Santa Maria dell’Orto Church Rome
Like many Roman churches the Chiesa di Santa Maria dell’Orto owes its existence to a miracle. (Probably) in 1488, a sick farmer was cured after having prayed to a picture of the Madonna, which had been painted next to the entrance of a vegetable garden (orto). The painting became popular and a chapel was built there, followed by a entire church.
The facade was designed by Vignola and finished by Francesco da Volterra, while the interior was created by Guidetto Guidetti. Guidetti changed Giulio Romano‘s original project (a Greek cross, hence with 4 apses) into a design with 3 naves. Construction of the church, which has a number of obelisks on its roof, was completed in 1579.
The church was paid for by 12 professional associations that were called “Università” and included the Università of the fruit vendors (fruttaroli), millars (mulinari) and pasta makers (vermicellari). At the time the term Università meant “association” or “union”, rather than its modern significance. These unions are all honored in the church by means of decorations like the turkey that was placed there for the chicken sellers’ guild.
Santa Maria dell’Orto has often been used in films, the most notable of which was Rossellini‘s famous post-war neo-realist “Roma città aperta”.
As of the year 1588 the church enjoys the rare privilege of being allowed to ask pardon for one person condemned to death per year.
Until recently Santa Maria dell’Orto was usually closed, except during Sunday mass and on special evenings when concerts were held, but since its restoration has been completed it is open every day, morning and afternoon.
On Holy Thursday, the day before Good Friday, the “Machine of the 40 Hours” (Macchina delle Quarant’Ore) is shown to the faithful. This is a 19th century gilded wooden structure with over 200 candles lighting up the ceremony called “La Candelora“.
On the 3rd Sunday in October the Festa Titolare di Maria SS. dell’Orto is celebrated. During this event the those present are given blessed apples.
Santa Mara dell’Orto is the church of the Catholic Japanese community in Rome.
Works of art
- The polychrome floor is made by Gabriele Valvassori.
- First chapel on the right: The Annunciazione by Taddeo Zuccari. Zuccari, together with his brother Federico, was also responsible for the Life of the Virgin– fresco cycle in the apse.
- Third chapel on the right: Madonna with Child and Saints (1630) by Giovanni Baglione.
- Main altar: 15th century Madonna with Child.
- First and third chapels on the left: wall paintings by Baglione, who also painted the frescoes along the side walls of the church.
- Second chapel on the left: Baptism of Jesus (1750), fresco by Corrado Giaquinto.