Lesser-Known Roman Churches, Part V

For the whole series, click here.

Today we look at the Church of San Giovanni della Pigna, or in English, St. John of the Pine Cone. The St. John named is St. John the Baptist; the pine cone is a reference to the name of the neighborhood where the church is located; the square in front of it also has the same name – Piazza della Pigna, or Pine Cone Square.

There has been a Catholic church on this spot since at least the 10th century; the present church was built upon the foundations of the original one and was completed in 1624. As the Latin inscription on the facade indicates, the church was entrusted to the archconfraternity (a type of association of the faithful) dedicated to caring for the incarcerated. So this would have been their “home base”, where they prayed and encountered the Lord in the sacraments before going to encounter Him in the imprisoned.

The church is – for central Rome – rather small. I think about 70-80 people could comfortably sit in the pews. And although it looks very richly decorated, much of it is trompe l’oeil painting: there is very little real marble in this church. So it was built very economically.

It is located in the same neighborhood as the Pantheon and the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, but is on a side street that would probably not be on the typical tourist track. This is why, if you come to Rome, it is always interesting to walk down the side streets (in the historic center) and see what you find that is not in the tourist guides.

Here, then, are some pictures, with some commentary in the caption beneath each one:

The Madonnella, or Marian aedicule on the left side of the church, seen as one approaches through the alley coming off a main street. This fresco is contemporaneous with the current church (i.e. about 400 years old) and depicts Our Lady holding the Christ Child and seated on the clouds, with Saints Peter and Paul looking on in adoration.

The church’s facade on the little square; very simple. Again, one has the impression that this association may not have had a lot of money, so they had to keep things simple and economical. That is just a guess.

The simple interior of the church, almost entirely decorated in trompe l’oeil painting. Note the crystal chandelier. If I am not mistaken, when the church was restored about 6 years ago the side altars were reduced in depth to become nothing more than shelves; a pity.

A closer look at the sanctuary. Immediately above the original or “high” altar, there is a painting of a young John the Baptist. At the top, there is a depiction of the pietà; that is, Christ’s body cradled in Our Lady’s lap after being taken down from the Cross. Above the choir stalls on either side of the sanctuary, there are devotional images of the Sacred Heart (l) and St. Joseph with the Christ Child (r).

One of the side “altars” – again, more recently reduced to “shelves that look like altars” – on the left side of the nave. The large painting of Our Lady is an 18th century copy of the Madonna of St. Luke, an icon kept in a shrine in the city of Bologna of the same name; this copy, however, has also been adapted and expanded to include angels around Our Lady. Below the main painting, you can see a devotional image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

This would be a very nice church to stop in for a few moments of prayer; it is quiet and intimate, and not too far off the beaten track.


Chiesa di San Giovanni della Pigna
Vicolo della Minerva, 51
00186 Rome, Italy

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