Navigation Menu+

Santa Maria dell’Orazione e Morte

Posted on Aug 23, 2009 | 11 comments

Today I bring you a photo from one of my favorite churches. It’s probably one you’ve never heard of before and I’ve never actually been inside because it’s so rarely open. Santa Maria dell’Orazione e Morte is located on the via Giulia (right behind Palazzo Farnese) and is easily recognizable with its skull decorated facade. I’ve had people ask before why there are so much skull and skeleton imagery in Catholic churches here in Italy, and the answer is that death was all around these people during the times when these churches were built. Plague and famine were common and people were much more used to dealing with death than we are in this modern age.

This particular church was the home of a confraternity that helped provide burials for the impoverished and anonymous. Let’s remember that in the 16th century when this confraternity was created, it was these sorts of organizations that did charitable works. There was no sort of government intervention, but rather these lay communities tied to the Catholic church banded together to perform various charitable activities. Of course there was also a social aspect to the confraternity, and in cities like Venice, they would take on a larger social importance within society.

The facade of the church was reworked in the 18th century, but retains features that would be appropriate for an organization handling burials. Aside from the skulls, you’ll also find hourglasses with wings. This is a very common symbol to convey the message that one cannot escape the sands of time and that our souls at some point will eventually fly away.

The angle featured is of a skull atop a pilaster that flanks the left side of the doorway. You will also find marble plaques, probably from the original 16th century church, to either side with slots for donations. The one on the left asks for donations to help keep the lamps at the cemeteries lit, while the one on the right goes toward the burial fund. Ominously enough, the skeleton on the lefthand plaque holds a flag that reads Hodie mihi cras tibi (It is my lot today, yours to-morrow).

For some great shots inside and outside of the church check out Photographic Travels in Italy. Congrats to Steve for happening upon it while it was open!

11 Comments

  1. amazing church and photos-a must see the next time I'm in Rome

  2. I'm fairly certain I showed it to you guys. It's on the same street where we bought that cool silver ring.

  3. Great angle on that first pic, Jessica. And I expect you probably would figure I would know about this church, which I did. But I think it's great that you include info like this. I expect I have a couple of pictures of this facade, but not your angles. Another idea to keep in mind for next time!
    Joan

  4. really amazing photo–i was so blown away by all the churches i visited when in rome–never been to this one.

  5. Here's a description (in Italian only sorry) of this church from the "Guida di Roma" book I am writing right now….
    S. Maria dell'Orazione e Morte
    1575/76. Già Santa Maria della Morte per l'Arciconfraternita della Morte fondata nel 1538 che dava sepoltura ai poveri. Riedificata 1733/1737 Ferdinando Fuga (1699/1782), che chiese come unica ricompensa il diritto di sepoltura gratuita per sè e i suoi eredi, con l'aiuto del capomastro Giuseppe Sardi (1680/1753). Dorature e altri interventi interni 1867. Dal 1992 è dedicata ai Caduti sul lavoro – 1°d CAPPELLA DI S. CATERINA D'ALESSANDRIA "Sposalizio mistico di S. Caterina" di ignoto di fine 1500 probabilmente proveniente dalla vecchia chiesa. Alle pareti affreschi staccati tra le cappelle a d. "S. Antonio Abate e S. Paolo di Tebe", tra le cappelle a s. "S. Simeone Stilita" (ce n'è un terzo coperto sopra l'ingresso) Giovanni Lanfranco (1582/1647) primi suoi lavori indipendenti provenienti da un camerino della distrutta Palazzina Farnese. 2°d CAPPELLA DI S. MICHELE 1741 Paolo Posi con copia 1740/50 di autore ignoto del "S. Michele Arcangelo" di Guido Reni nella chiesa di S. Maria della Concezione. ALTARE MAGGIORE "Crocifissione" c.1680 Ciro Ferri allievo di Pietro da Cortona che fu qui chiaramente influenzato dal quadro con lo stesso soggetto di Guido Reni in S. Lorenzo in Lucina. 2°s CAPPELLA DI S. GIULIANA CONFALONIERI "S. Giuliana Falconieri riceve l'abito da S. Filippo Benizi" c.1740 Pier Leone Ghezzi. 1°s CAPPELLA DELLA SACRA FAMIGLIA "Riposo dalla fuga in Egitto" metà 1700 Lorenzo Masucci fi-glio di Agostino – SAGRESTIA tele "S. Michele Arcangelo atterra il demonio" c.1576 forse Raffaellino da Reggio, "Cristo deposto" di ignoto seicentesco, "S. Michele Arcangelo salva le anime del Purgatorio" e "S. Michele Arcangelo, il demonio e il trapasso di un moribondo" c.1660/70 Giacinto Brandi – CIMITERO SOTTERRANEO ambiente ridimensionato dai lavori per il Lungotevere ma edificato originariamente nel 1762. Le decorazioni con scheletri di appartenenti all'Arciconfraternita erano molto macabre

  6. Joan – I would think nothing less than for you to already know this church!

    Cathy – There are so many churches everywhere you'll find all sorts of cool little things as you go.

    Ciao David – Grazie per mettendo questa informazione sul sito. Sapevo della zona sotterraneo. Spero di entrare un giorno. Se hai bisogno una fotografa per la guida fammi sapere 😉

  7. Ciao!

    Se vuoi vedere una cripta sotterranea decorata con ossa umane a Roma puoi andare alla cripta dei cappuccini, all'inizio di via Veneto, quasi all'angolo con piazza Barberini:

    http://www.cappucciniviaveneto.it/Cripta.htm

    E' aperta al pubblico, se non erro tutte le mattine

    Un salutone
    JJ

  8. Ciao JJ – Grazie per la segnalazione! Si' so che posso andare scendere alla cripta dei cappuccini. Non so perche ma non ci sono mai stata. Forse e' anche la interessa di scendere in un posto che non e' sempre aperto al pubblico 😉

  9. I have never been to this church and noticed the facade just the other day on my way to Ponte Sisto.

    I'm going to try and check it out this week.

  10. This is fantastic!! I love skulls in Churches! I didn't notice anything like this in Venice, but it is everywhere in the Czech Republic!

  11. NYC, did you make it over there?

    Lone Beader – That's true, I haven't noticed it quite as much there. I"ll be on the lookout next time I'm up.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *