The Church

The quarter surrounding via Giulia as a whole is rich in monuments and artistic memories; nearly in the middle of via Giulia the street of S. Eligio opens and at the end of it the Church of the Goldsmiths stands as a real gem, a wonderful Renaissance jewel. Since the XVIII century, the guide-books of Rome ascribed to Bramante the paternity of the opera.
Between 1883 and 1884 Gejmuller and Munoz were the first to suggest that the plan of the church could be ascribed to Raffaello, though recognizing the strong influence of Bramante. They based their hypothesis on the study of Sallustio Perruzzi’s drawing which shows the section, the prospect and the particulars of the church of S. Eligio together with the note linking the opera to Raffaello (Uffizi Museum, Florence, Gabinetto of drawings and prints n. 635 Ar+V).

From the documents stored in the Archive of S. Eligio, related to the building of the Church, it turns out that on June 1509 the Pope Giulio II gave the University of Goldsmiths the permission to choose near via Giulia the most convenient place for building a church.

On December, 6th 1514, the Street Courts, in expectation of the rectification of the street joining Via Giulia to the Tiber, dispossessed the goldsmiths of the land where the church of S. Eusterio stood before it was pulled down; as a return, goldsmiths had an area facing the new street of S. Eligio and obtained the permit of building their new Church. The first document that certifies the building is stored at the Historical Archive of S. Eligio and it is dated November 11th 1516 to the bricklayer Sebastiano da Como credit.

On 1522 the church is finished but the dome, as it result from the papers that certify la first meeting inside.

The building of the dome started on 1526 as written in a notarial deed of the same year, also stored at the Historical Archive; in this deed Jacopo di Verolo da Caravaggio engages himself to raise the dome for 100 ducats.

The front, the façade, the inner vault, the apse done by Antonio La Torre, the lantern and the peperino modillion frame of the dome done by Giovanni di Santagata were erected between 1532 and 1542.

On August 28th 1551 the stone-mason “Francesco scalpellino” installed the entering travertine portal for payment of “scudi cinque” - five scutes. During the second half of the XVI century, the church is consolidated several times because of alluvions and statical failures, until on February 13th 1601 a structural collapse of the building causes a partial breakdown of the Kings Magi altar located at the south west area and done by Federico Zuccari in 1575 who also restored it in 1594.

According to the papers stored in the archive, the architect Flaminio Ponzio from Milan was called as an expert and payed during the restoration of the church; in 1598 the same architect built the church of S. Maria di Grottapinta, located at the small square near via del Biscione and identical to the church of S. Eligio. Therefore it seems probable that Ponzio also planned the front of the church of the goldsmiths. The new front was realized between 1620 and 1621 the same year of the inscription written on the architrave and here translated from the Latin: “The Guild of Goldsmiths consecrated to S. Eligio a Ch

Chiesa di Sant’Eligio navata centrale, capolavoro di Raffaello da Urbino. Inizio XVI secolo

urch and adorned it with pictures, doors, marbles and several other ornaments”, the travertine portal, done in 1551 and escaped to the breakdown in 1601, was inserted in this new front.

As a result, the inside still keeps its sixteenth-century look: the Greek cross plan with an apse at the end, the dome risen on a circular tambour subtending by four central pilasters and surmounted by a lantern where eight windows open.

At the point of growth of the arches and the pendentives of the tambour there is a frame with mouldings which does not belong to the sixteenth century but to first half of the XVII century; the following inscription can be read, written in fine characters, here transcribed from the Latin: “You, my God, manifest stars and planets, we offer temples”.

In the lunettes created above this frame on the lateral walls, two windows open belonging to the so-called “palladiano” style, that’s to say with three openings, the central one with a round arch, those on the sides with platbands.

The floor, originally in cut-grinded brick “arrotato tagliato con astrico sotto”, was changed in 1864 with the present one composed by white marble and bardiglio slabs coming from the church of S. Paolo fuori le mura, destroyed in 1823 in a fire.

The decorations that actually ornate the interior of the church result from several stratifications caused by the different restorations during the centuries. The reiteration of their state of degradation, caused by the permanent damp, explains the great number of restorations and remakings.

The apse frescoes are the most ancient of the church and are dated approximately 1575.

In the middle, behind the major altar, there is the picture of Our Lady with Jesus among the Saints Eligio bishop, Stephen, John and Lawrence, done by Matteo da Lecce, a famous artist also known for his work at the Oratory of Gonfalone approximately in 1575 and 1576.

In the basin God the Father is represented sustaining Christ on the Cross; on the piers there are pictures of the Prophets, above the Disputing Apostles and underside of the arches the Pentecost; all the frescoes are ascribed to Taddeo Zuccari or to members of the Zuccari’s school. The triangular frescoes above the apse basin, whose author is unknown, were probably realized at the end of the XVI century.

On the contrary, the fresco on the left-side altar which represents the Adoration of Shepherds was painted by Giovanni De Vecchi di Borgo S. Sepolcro (1536-1614); the fresco on the right-side, which represents the Adoration of Magi, was painted by Francesco Romanelli (1610-1662) in 1639 on Federico Zuccari’s fresco of 1575, on the same subject, partially ruined by the breakdown in 1600.

Romanelli also frescoed the pendentives of the two side altars, which represent the Sibyls, and restored all the ornamental cycles of the Church.

The main ornaments of the church are the three altars with marble decorations, restored by Antonio Munoz as Inspector of the Royal Superintendence, the Giovanni Giardini di Forlì funeral monument, Academic of S. Luca, founder of the Apostolic Chamber, silversmith of the Apostolic buildings, and the marble slab, set in 1730, on the memory of Bernardino Passeri (1489-1527) roman, goldsmith and jeweler, a founder of the Guild, who died on May 6th 1527 when he was 27 years old while defending Rome from the Lansquenet siege during the sad days of the sack of Rome.

On May 24th 1926 a slab was placed, on the inner wall above the church entering door, on the memory of the roman goldsmiths and silversmiths dead during the war 1915-1918, later the slab was moved to the inner garden.

Really valuable is the fresco on the external front of the “Casa del Cantone”, which represents S. Eligio bishop and dated back to the XVIII century.

During the XX century, the following restorations were done: in 1928, the church was consecrated again on April 28th of the same year; between 1952 and 1955, the church became threatening to fall therefore the foundations, the architectural structures and the masterpieces of the church were completely restored; in 1978 the dome, the interior and a part of the Raffaelesque building were restored; in 1997 the front was completely restored thus bringing back to light the original paintings of XVII century; in 1999 the church roof was rebuilt, the lead dome covers were restored as well as the side fronts of the church and the whole nearby “Casa del Cantone”.

All these restorations were carried on by the Superintendence to the Environmental and Architectural Goods of Lazio.

It’s possible to visit the Church of Saint Eligio
Seat of the University of Worshipful Goldsmith and Silversmith Company of Rome

From Monday to Friday, from 10 am to 13 pm. Call 06.6868260. lunedì al venerdì, dalle ore 10 alle ore 13, previa prenotazione allo 06.6868260.

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