Lesser-Known Roman Churches, Part VII

For the whole series, click here.

Today we look at the church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte (St. Andrew’s at the Thickets), dedicated to St. Andrew the Apostle. The current building dates to the 17th century, though it took quite a while to finish it – well into the 19th century, it seems. This church is located between the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps, so it is one that you would be fairly likely to walk past during your sightseeing in the city. However, as it is not noted in a lot of guidebooks, you might also pass up the opportunity to go inside.

Here is the facade of the church, not particularly interesting, but at least you know what to look for now:

Wow, look, another church!

Diagonally across the street is the palazzo in which Gianlorenzo Bernini, the famous artist who did a lot of work in St. Peter’s Basilica and the Piazza in front of it – among many other famous projects in the city and beyond – lived and died. This plaque indicates the house; my translation is in the photo caption:

“Here lived and died Gianlorenzo Bernini, sovereign of art, to whom Popes, Princes, and People reverently bowed.”

Inside, there is a very beautiful and famous chapel of Our Lady on the left-hand side. Daily Mass is celebrated here, and a significant amount of the nave (main seating area) is arranged in orientation to this chapel:

The lettering on the arch says, “Here appeared Our Lady of Miracles”. Note all the ex-votos around the chapel.

It was in this chapel – which used to be dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel – that the Blessed Mother appeared to a lapsed Jew named Alphonse Ratisbonne (who had happened to enter the church) on January 20, 1842; he converted on the spot and went on to become a Catholic priest, founding a religious order aimed at the conversion of Jews to Christianity:

The bust of Ratisbonne on the left side of the chapel of Our Lady, with ex-votos beyond it, and in the background there, a painting depicting the experience of the apparition.

Another very interesting thing – this church has quite a history! – is that St. Maximilian Kolbe celebrated his first Mass in this chapel. He would go on to give his life in the concentration camp to save another man:

St. Maximilian Kolbe had great Marian devotion. It says on the plaque that he celebrated his first Mass here on April 29, 1918.

Across from the chapel of Our Lady is a chapel to St. Michael the Archangel. Just above the altar is a smaller image – the practically-obligatory image of St. Rita that is found in most every Italian church:

Defend us in battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil…

Now we take a look at the area around the main sanctuary. In the left transept there is a major altar to the Holy Family, of which I did not take a wide shot. I only got this close-up of the sculpture under the altar, which depicts the death of St. Anne:

Look at the amazing carving, how the folds in the fabric are shown, etc.!

Since Bernini lived across the street, some of his work ended up in the church as well. It is known for the two enormous angels that are guarding the sanctuary. Here is the one on the left, with a view of the sanctuary beyond it to the right:

The angel holds the crown of thorns. You can see the main altar painting in the center depicts the crucifixion of St. Andrew.

These angels were carved by Bernini to be placed on the bridge over by Castel Sant’Angelo (close to the Vatican); the angels that actually ended up on the bridge were all carved by his pupils, with these two that were carved by him ending up in this church – but not until the 18th century. Here is the angel on the right-hand side of the sanctuary, holding the scroll for the crucifix (that would read “INRI”):

The Bernini family donated them to the church.

Here is the ceiling and dome. The lighting in this church is not very good (and furthermore, I photographed it on an overcast day), hence the odd bluish hue to a lot of the pictures and the overall darkness. But you can still see that it is quite an impressive ceiling:

Too bad the dome looks so blue; when it is properly illuminated it is quite impressive.

Finally, here we have a beautiful chapel dedicated to St. Joseph:

This painting dates to the first half of the 19th century, so it is a more recent work.

Well, as you can see, it is quite an impressive church; I have included a lot more photos than I typically do in the posts in this series!

But wait – there’s more! This church has another historical curiosity. In the crypt, which, as far as I know, is not open to the public, there is a putridarium!!! What, you don’t know what a “putridarium” is, you say?

A putridarium is a subterranean room in which the dead friars would be placed. Instead of being buried in coffins, the cadavers would be sat-up on throne-like furnishings in these underground cavern-like rooms. In the seats there were holes through which fluids from the decomposing cadavers could drain out. Then, after everything was… all dry, they could dismantle the remaining bones and flesh and put those remains in ossuaries for permanent burial. It’s not clear how they handled flies and other vermin, or how they vented the smell out. But in any case, while there are a number of old putridariums known in various parts of Italy (especially in the South), this is the only one known of in Rome! I must ask to go down and see it sometime.

Here is a photo from the Italian Wikipedia page for putridariums of what one of these subterranean caverns would look like (NB: this is NOT the one in Sant’Andrea):

This one was apparently for Poor Clare nuns on the island of Ischia, which I posted about here. Photo source.

Well, after that, what more is there to say? This is quite an interesting place, with a history of miracles, conversions, saints, and… a unique way to handle corpses!

Be sure to visit, it is open daily, though closes for the afternoon break (reopening at 4pm).

I should add: the priests here are quite hospitable and it is relatively easy for a visiting priest to obtain use of the altar of Our Lady to celebrate a Mass privately or with a group.


Basilica di Sant’Andrea delle Fratte
Via di S. Andrea delle Fratte, 1
00187 Rome, Italy

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