Santi Michele e Magno

Santi Michele e Magno


    The church of Santi Michele e Magno is not easy to find. It is situated on a small hill called Palazzuolo (Palatiolum in Latin), which forms the northern-most part of the Gianicolo hill. Palazzuolo rises to the left of Piazza di San Pietro. Walking along Borgo di Santo Spirito, a street which runs parallel to Via della Conciliazione, you reach Largo degli Alicorni, from which you climb a steep flight of steps, the so-called Salita dei Santi Michele e Magno, which leads up to a small square. To your left you will discern the somewhat simple fašade of the church.

The history and the name of the church
The Frisians, ancestors of a Teutonic tribe, wanted their own church and community near the tomb of the Apostle Peter. The Frisians had been converted to the Christian faith and aspired to be represented in Rome. (It should be mentioned, that today's Frisians live in the Netherlandish province of Friesland, in East Friesland and North Friesland in Germany, and on the Frisian Islands off the northern coasts of the Netherlands and Germany.)

According to one tradition the church was built by emperor Constantine in the 4th century, but there is no proof to support this theory. More probably the church was founded by St. Leo III (795-816), or possibly by St. Leo IV (847-855), who dedicated it to Michael the Archangel. For a period of time the church was entitled San Michele in Sassia, i.e. St. Michael in Saxony. Later, in the early 17th century, the relics of a certain Magnus, bishop and martyr under the persecution of Decius, were transferred from the town of Fondi, and the church got the name Santi Michele e Magno.

The architecture and the art of the church
The small church of Santi Michele e Magno was rebuilt in the 12th century. The high and well preserved bell-tower dates from the 13th century. In 1440 the church was in a state of delapidation, and it was restored anew. In the 1750s the church underwent a thoroughgoing restoration by Carlo Murena (1713-1764).

The high altar painting shows Michael the Archangel appearing before saints Gregory and Magnus. It was executed by Niccol˛ Ricciolini (1687-1763). The left side-altar has a painting which depicts Saints Peter and Paul, a work by Ludovico Stern (1709-1777). All that remains of the Cosmatesque pavement is a rosone in the middle of the central nave. In the left aisle we find the tomb of Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779), a famous German painter, active in Italy and Spain. Mengs was a friend of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, and he was one of the protagonists of the Roman Neo-Classicism. Mengs has executed the painting of the nave in the church of Sant'Eusebio, not far from the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. The tomb of Mengs was designed by Vincenzo Pacetti (1746-1820).

In the left aisle we also find the top of the church's own Scala Santa, one of Rome's holy stairs. Next to the entrance of the church is the funerary inscription of the Frisian Hebi, who died in 1004.

The church of Santi Michele e Magno was restored in 1860, and again in 1908. The most recent restoration was undertaken in 1985.