Santa Lucia in Selci

Santa Lucia in Selci

    This quite insignificant exterior belongs to the convent and church of Santa Lucia in Selci, located at Via in Selci 82, not far from the church of San Pietro in Vincoli.

The name of the church
The church is dedicated to Saint Lucy, virgin-martyr of Syracuse. In fact, this church has had several different names through the centuries. The most common, Santa Lucia in Selci, derives its name from the ancient paving-stones of the adjacent street, Via in Selci (the ancient Clivus Suburanus), which were made of pebble ("selci" in Italian, "silex" in Latin). Other variations of the denomination "in Selci" are "in silice", "in silicata" and "in siricata". For some time the church was named "Santa Lucia in Orfea", which alludes to the "Lacus Orphei" (in Italian "Fontana di Orfeo"), a magnificent fountain adorned with a statue of the mythological Orpheus. This fountain was located in the vicinity of the church.

The history of the church
The church of Santa Lucia in Selci is an ancient diaconia. The diaconia derives its meaning from the "annona" (annual proceeds of corn) of ancient Rome. The annona was kept in big storehouses (so-called "horrea"), where one stored, at the expense of the state, large amounts of corn, which, in dear times, were to be handed out to the needy at a reduced price or for free. As the power and infra-structure of the Roman empire disintegrated, the Christian authorities successively took over the storehouses and created their own. Thus the diaconia was a storehouse for food-products, which where given to the poor. The diaconias were located close to the main streets of the city as to facilitate distribution. Several of the diaconias were eventually turned into churches. The church of Santa Lucia in Selci, which is built above the ruins of an ancient Roman building, the Portico of Livia, derives its origin from the pontificate of St. Symmachus (498-514). Through the ensuing centuries the church underwent several restorations and alterations, e.g. under Honorius I (625-638), St. Leo III (795-816) and Honorius III (1216-1227). In the 13th century a monastery was attached to the church and from early on the church was served by Carthusian monks, but in 1568 pope St. Pius V (1566-1572) assigned it to Augustinian nuns, who still are the proprietors. The monastery was amplified in 1603 according to designs by Bartolomeo Bassi, active in Rome 1570-1619. However, all that remains of this amplification is the portal of the exterior. In 1878 the Italian state expropriated the convent of the Clarissian nuns of San Lorenzo in Panisperna, but the nuns found a place of refuge here.

The architecture and the art of the church
The church of Santa Lucia in Selci is one of the hidden gems of sacral baroque architecture in Rome. In 1604 the interior was rebuilt by Carlo Maderno (1556-1629), and in 1637 it was restored by Francesco Borromini (1599-1667). Having entered the main doorway (see picture above), the entrance to the church proper is to the left.Santa Lucia in Selci (interior) The church is built on a rectangular ground-plan, and it has a barrel-vault. It has a single nave with shallow lateral chapels, an architectural theme occurring frequently at the end of the 16th century and in the beginning of the 17th century. The painting of the vault, the Glory of Saint Lucy, is a 19th century work by an anonymous artist, which replaced one with the same motif by Giovanni Antonio Lelli. The painting above the high altar depicts the Annunciation and is a work by the Florentine painter Anastasio Fontebuoni (1571-1626). The high altar itself (19th century) replaces one made by Borromini. However the grating is by Borromini. In the choir of the nuns there are several paintings by Baccio Ciarpi (1578-1644), e.g. The Adoration of the Shepherds, Saint Ambrose, Saint Lucy and Saint Carlo Borromeo. On the counterfaçade is the cantory, another work by Borromini, and the painting God the Father by Cavalier d'Arpino (Giuseppe Cesare 1568-1640).

The first chapel on the right hand has Giovanni Lanfranco's (1582-1647) Martyrdom of Saint Lucy with the saint pointing upwards to the heavenly Light. The second chapel has the Vision of Saint Augustine by Andrea Camassei (1602-1649). Some say, that the painting is a work by Giovanni Battista Speranza (ca 1600-1640). The painting of the second chapel on the left hand, The Virgin Mary receiving the Communion from the hands of Saint John the Evangelist, is attributed by some to Camassei and by others to Speranza. The altar of the chapel has a small ciborium, attributed to Maderno, with polychrome marble and gilt statues of Saints Elizabeth of Hungary, Augustine, Lucy and Monica, the mother of Augustine. The first chapel to the left, the Landi chapel, is the work of Borromini, who was commissioned by the prioress Vittoria Landi. The chapel is decorated in a delicate style of stucco. Here Borromini for the first time applies an innovation, which he later would use on the exterior cornice below the dome of the church of Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza: Borromini transforms the egg-and-tongue mouldings so that the eggs are cherub's heads and the tongues are formed by their wings. The painting above the altar depicts The Holy Trinity with Saints Augustine and Monica, a work by Cavalier d'Arpino.

Santa Lucia in Selci (convent) Santa Lucia in Selci
The entrance door of the convent