The basilica of St. Bartholomew at the Island is more than one thousand years old and is one of the most ancient presences of the Tiber island; it is located in the South-East side of the island on the site of the ancient temple of Aesculapius.
References in Rome: Square St Bartolomeo all'Isola 22 - 00186 Rome. Not parish church.
Sector Centro - Prefecture II - 1st District. Entrusted to Father Angelo Romano.
Phone: +39 - 06 687 7973.
The basilica of "St. Bartholomew at the Island" was built around the end of the X century (in 997, according to Gregorovius) wish of the Germanic emperor Otto III, in honor of his friend martyr St. Adalbert, on the ruins of an ancient Roman temple dedicated to Aesculapius (they say that Otto chose the Tiber island to be able to see the church from his building on the Aventino).
Otto III endowed the basilica with relics of saints, among which those of St. Paolino from Nola and the apostle Bartholomew. Subsequently the name of the basilica changed from Adalbert to Bartholomew: already in 1088, on some documents, it is named S. Bartholomeus a Domo Ioanni Cayetani [St. Bartholomew near Ioanni Cayetani house] and an inscription dated 1113, the lower one on the inlet portal of the basilica, testify the presence of the bodies of St. Bartholomew and Paolino from Nola only. (pict.1)
During the pontificate of Pasquale II (1099-1118) the church was completely rebuilt, as testified in the upper inscription on the same portal; probably also the Romanesque bell tower at church side dates back to that time.
The rebuilding activities ended in the second half of XII century, during the pontificate of Alexander III (1159-1181), and brought the main aspects of the church to the present configuration.
Cardinal Title in 1517 for will of pope Leone X, in 1524 the church of St. Bartholomew was entrusted to the Franciscan Observant Friars.
During the pontificate of pope Giulio III (1550-1555) the Corporation of Milled established their religious see in the chapel at the left of the main altar, remaining there up to 1846. In 1557 a disastrous flood irreparably damaged the façade and its mosaics, the right aisle and the presbytery area, also destroying the pictorial and mosaic decoration of the inside; only a fragment has been preserved, now in the Room of the Mosaic, previously monks' choir, above the portico (fig.2). The church was then temporarily disused and the relics moved to the Vatican Basilica. In 1583 the cardinal Anton Giulio Santoro sponsored the restoration of the façade, the right aisle and the presbytery, the construction of a new ciborium in place of the medieval one (of which re-used the four precious columns in porphyry, then moved in 1829 in Vatican in the Tapestries Gallery) and the return of the apostle Bartholomew relics from the Vatican Basilica. The relics were deposed in the ancient red porphyry basin that still today is the base of the main altar. (fig.3)
In 1601 the relics of St. Paolino and the holy Adalbert, Esuperanzio and Marcellus were located in the Milled chapel; in the 1636 St. Paolino from Nola became the patron saint of the Milled.
From 1608 to 1621 the cardinal Michelangelo Tonti called Anthony Carracci (1589-1616), nephew of Annibale, to fresco four of the six lateral chapels of the basilica.The construction of the new façade, the wooden ceiling and some other smaller interventions were carried out at the time of the Spanish cardinal Gabriele Trejo Paniacqua (1621-1630).The Cardinal Nephew Francis Barberini financed in 1638 the construction of the Franciscan convent wing at the left of the façade (1639), symmetrical to that built in XVI century and now demolished, but visible in some old engravings. (fig.4)In the appurtenances of the basilica the Franciscans established in 1694 their Missionary College, operating up to 1885 when it was dispossessed by Italian government.In the first decades of XVIII century the Spanish cardinal Anthony Cienfuegos, titular from 1721 to 1739, promoted and financed the arrangement of the access balusters to the chapels, the floor and the rich plaster decoration that decorate the complete central nave of the basilica.In the XVIII century some important religious institutions were established in St. Bartholomew among which the Brotherhood of the "Devoti di Gesù Crocifisso al Calvario e di SS. Maria Addolorata" [Devouts of Jesus crucifix at Calvario and of Our Lady of Sorrows], so called of "Sacconi Rossi" [Big Red Sacks] for the characteristic habit used during the processions, founded in 1760, whose members entrusted themselves to pick up the abandoned corpses and in particular the ones drowned in the Tiber, burying them in a cemetery below the oratory.In 1798 the church was occupied by the French army; the damages caused by the military occupation made necessary, in 1801, the restoration of the presbytery area. In the 1852 the pope Pious IX (1846-1878) donated a new altar to the church, arranged around the porphyry basin with the relics of the apostle, and ordered a campaign of works in the years 1865-68, promoting a money collection for the purpose.During the terrible months from September 1943 to June 1944 the basilica, similarly to the convents and religious houses in Rome, was the refuge of several Jews, hidden to avoid deportation.In 1994 pope John Paul II entrusted the basilica and the relevant appurtenances to the Community of Sant'Egidio, and since 2000 it is dedicated to the “New Martyrs of the XX century” (pict.5).
In 1639, after the construction of the left wing of the Franciscan convent, the square looked as in the Falda engrave (1676) (pict.1). The right wing had already been built at the end of the XVI century, as might be deduced from the engraves of Tempesta (1593) and of Maggi (1625) (pict.2). At the end of the XIX century the right wing, such as the other buildings on the Trastevere side of the island, were demolished for widening the right branch of the river during the construction of the embankments, and the square assumed the present aspect.
In the middle of the square, in the place of the legendary obelisk - mast of the "stone ship", there was a column on which every year were stuck up the names of people that did not get the Holy Communion on Easter; it was replaced in 1869 by a spire (Ignazio Giacometti) as mentioned in the inscription: "PIUS IX PONT.MAX IN COLUMNAE LOCUM QUAE PLAUSTRI IMPETU QUASSATA CONCIDERAT PECUNIA SUA FIERI ERIGIQUE IUSSIT - ANNO CHRISTIANO MDCCCLXIX CONCILIO VATICANO INEUNTE" [Pius IX Maximum Pontiff, in the place of the column that fallen pulled down by a cart impact, ordered (this spire) to be built and erected at his charge. Christian year 1869, beginning of Vatican Council].
Inside the four niches are located the statues of the saints: St. Bartholomew facing the church, then clockwise St. Francis, St. John of God and St. Paolino bishop. Their names are indicated at the niches top: S.BARTHOLOMAEVS AP[OSTOLUS] - S.FRANCISCVS AS[SISI] - S.IOANNES DE DEO - S.PAVLINVS EP[ISCOPUS] (pict.3).
The original building was probably smaller than the present one: the image carved in the marble disc in the emperor's hand, in a detail of the well located behind the main altar (pict.4), lets us suppose that the church had only one aisle.
In 1624-25 the façade was moved forward incorporating the old porch (visible in the engravings of Tempesta and Maggi - see pict.2) and assuming the present aspect, perhaps according to the design of Martino Longhi, already active in the basilica but dead thirty years before or, thanks to the architect Orazio Torriani.
The façade has two orders: the lower one consists of three arches spaced by two niches between granite columns, perhaps designed to hold statues. On the drip-stone of the lower trabeation is the inscription: IN HAC BASILICA REQUIESCIT CORPUS S. BARTHOLOMAEI APOSTOLI" [In this basilica lies the body of the apostle St. Bartholomew] (fig.5)
The upper order was originally limited to the three central windows area and two great volutes connected the tympanum to the lower order (see Falda in pict.A1). In the XVIII century the side windows surmounted by the small volutes has been added.
A Romanesque bell tower is at the left of the façade (pict.6): it has three orders of windows: mullioned in the lower order and three mullioned in the upper ones.
During the recent restoration of the portico, that included the remaking of the floor, the remains of the XII century portico (pict.7) have been discovered, walled in the left side, and probable remains of old entrances trabeations.
On the marble portal are two engraved inscriptions; (pict.8) the one on the inside border of the trabeation indicates the presence in the church of the bodies of the saints Paolino and Bartholomew:
+QV[A]E DOMUS ISTA GERIT SI PIGNERA NOSCERE QU[A]ERIS.CORPORA PAVLINI SINT CREDAS BARTHOLOM[A]EI [If you want to know the relics that this house contains, know that they are the bodies of Paolino and Bartholomew].
The inscription on the upper border indicates the construction date (1113, at the time of Pasquale II) and the transfer of the bodies of the saints by Ottone III:
TERTIVS ISTORVM REX TRANSTVLIT OTTO PIORUM CORPORA - QVIS DOMUS HAEC SIC REDIMITA VIGET - ANNO D[OMI]NIC[AE] INC[ARNATIONIS] MILL[ENO] CXIII IND[ICTIONE] VII M[ENSIS] AP[RI]L[IS] D[IES] IIII T[EM]P[O]RE P[A]SC[A]L[IS] II P[A]P[AE] [The king Ottone III transferred the bodies of these saints - for which this so crowned house blooms - in the year of the Lord incarnation 1113, VII indiction, 4th of the April month at the time of pope Pasquale II (the indition is a 15 years period)].
At the left and at the right of the portal there are walled two marble plaques indicating papal resolutions about religious indulgences. Below the left one there is the plaque that indicates the level of the Tiber flood in 1937; another plate, relevant to the 1870 great flood, is walled on the right external side of the same portico.
The church has a basilical plant, but with the presbytery of the former basilica highly elevated (see the 1744 plan in pict.1), with three naves divided by two rows of seven columns of different materials and origins, datable around I-II century and perhaps partially coming from the porch of the ancient Aesculapius temple (pict.2); the bases of the columns are the original ones while the stucco capitals date back to the century XVIII restoration. The lacunar ceiling dates 1624 but restored by the pope Pius IX in 1865 (pict.3); the three larger panels have been painted by friar Bonaventura Loffredo: in the middle one "St.Bartholomew refuses to adore the pagan idols". The original cosmatesco floor has been lost during the restorations in century XVIII and has been completely remade in century XIX.
At the left of the entrance one can be recognize the remaining structures of the bell tower base; in 1625, when the façade was moved forward, two sides of the base of the bell tower were opened to form the initial part of the left nave.
In each nave there are three chapels, none of which have remarkable works of art: many paintings have been deeply altered and often damaged by the Tiber floodings.
Starting from the left nave one can see: the Chapel of St.Antonius from Padua, at first decorated by Antonio Caracci but subsequently altered in century XIX; the Chapel of Our Lady of Peace, perhaps the first work of a still inexperienced Antonio Caracci, performed in 1609-10 for order of the cardinal Tonti; the Chapel of the Passion or Crucifix Jesus, in a very bad state, also decorated by Caracci in 1610-11.
In the right nave, in order: the Chapel of St.Francesca Romana, born and lived in the neighbour of the basilica; the Chapel of St.Carlo Borromeo, the last work of Caracci in the basilica (1612-14); the Chapel of St.Francis of Assisi, originally dedicated to St.Bonaventura.
In the middle of the stairs leading to the presbytery there is the most remarkable element of the church: the well-curb constituting the ideal link to the ancient Aesculapius temple. (pict.4) For a detailed description refer to the section In detail.
The main altar in white marble, gift of the pope Pius IX (see section The history), is supported by a red porphyry basin with a lion shaped prothom, relief handles and a cartouche with the inscription "CORPUS SANCTI BARTHOLOMAEI APOSTOLI" [Body of the saint Bartholomew] testifying the presence of the St.Bartholomew relics (pict.5). Two fragments of the old cosmatesco floor are still inserted in the floor. In the apse is represented the "St.Bartholomew martyrdom" by Francesco Manno (1806) who performed also the architectural restoration of the apse, while the "Crhist in glory and saints" in the apse basin and the other frescoes are by Bonaventura Loffredo.
In the right side of the transept two Romanic stilofori [column supporting] lions (century XII) probably previously placed at the entrance of the ancient church (pict.6-7), lead to the chapel of the Virgo or of the Holy Sacrament, also known as Chapel Orsini di Pitigliano, from the family that assumed its patronage in the XVII century; the axis of the chapel, not corresponding to the basilica one, could date back its origin to the ancient basilical building. The ceiling is attributed to Martino Longhi the Older (1601). Above the frontal of the altar decorated with polychrome marbles (pict.8) and keeping the St.Teodora's relics (as indicated by the inscription "HIC IACET CORPUS BEATÆ THEODORÆ MATRONÆ ROMANÆ" [here lies the body of the blessed roman matron Teodora]), there is an ancient fresco (end of century XIII) found out in 1904 and representing the "Virgo on the throne with the blessing Infant Jesus and saints" (pict.9).
In the left wall of the chapel it is set a cannon ball fallen into the church during the clashes in 1849; more information are in the section In detail.
On the right wall of the transept, before entering the chapel, a round brass basin of Arab make is kept behind an iron grating (century X-XI) (pict.10). According to the tradition it was the container, or its cover, used to collect the St.Bartholomew relics during their transport from Benevento to Rome.
In the left side of the transept there is the old sacristy which became a chapel due to Julius III (middle of century XVI); it was dedicated at first to St.Paolino from Nola, represented "in glory" (1704) in the middle of the vault, and at present to St.Adalberto. Above the altar, below a XVII century Annunciation, there is a painting (pict.11) representing the "Assunta with saints Paolino, Adalbert, Esuperanzio e Marcellus" (1665); their relics, with the exception of the St.Paolino ones moved to Nola in 1909, are still kept in the chapel. The chapel constituted up to 1846 the see of the Millers Brotherhood under the protection of St.Paolino and is decorated with images relevant to their activity shown in the section In detail. A plaque on the left wall commemorates a restoration carried out in 1626.
A door on the right wall leads to the present sacristy.
From the little garden at the left side of the church it is possible to come down to the crypt, originally accessible from the church nave through two flights of stairs. In the crypt, collapsed during the 1557 flooding together the upper apse, and whose restoring has been completed in 1975, it can be recognized the ancient plant of the church with small naves and cross-vaults supported by two rows of three small columns; two capitals, original from the ancient basilica, are decorated with the imperial crowned eagle (pict.12) symbol of Otto III. In a small room there are a roman tombstone, used as architrave, and two eighteenth-century grave stones (pict.13).
The position of the well-curb, currently inserted in the stairs leading to the main altar (pict.1), might correspond to that one of the ancient thaumaturgic source of the Aesculapius temple, representing the ideal link with it. The most credible hypothesis dates back its origin to the foundation of the Otto church.
Obtained from the drum of an ancient column (the base is still recognizable), it is carved with four figures, inserted in small aedicules (pict.2÷5); starting from the figure facing the church inlet and proceeding counter-clockwise we find: Christ with the opened book, a saint (probably St. Adalberto) in Episcopal dresses with the pastoral and the closed book, the emperor Otto III holding a marble disc with the image of the ancient church and St. Bartholomew with the open book and the knife of its martyrdom.
2 - The front side of the well-curb with the Christ image holding the open book and the letters OS and PV on the background
OS PU-TEI S[AN]C[T]I - CIR CU[N]DANT - ORBE ROTAN TI
[The saints in a ring surround the well-curb]
On the upper part of the well-curb there are visible (pict.6) the trails of the ropes used to draw the water from the well and that made the inscription illegible.
THE CANNON BALL
In 1849, during the siege of the French army to the Roman Republic (just proclaimed on February 9th), that brought to the surrender of the republicans on July 4th of the same year, a gun ball shot from the Via Aurelia entered the church through the wall, miraculously falling without causing damages on the altar of the Virgo chapel (the one at the right of the main altar).
The ball has been walled up in the left side of the same chapel over a plaque commemorating the event: this is the text with the relevant translation at side.
BELLICUM HOC TORMENTVM
This war bullet,
THE MILLERS CHAPEL
In the room at the left of the main altar, formerly used as sacristy and subsequently rearranged as a chapel by the pope Giulio III in the half of XVI century, the roman millers settled the religious see of their corporation "Romana Molendinariorum ", under protection of St.Paolino, until 1846, and decorated it with scenes of their activity (pict. 7÷10). The restoration of the reliquary containing the relics of the saints kept in the chapel is referred to in the inscription shown on the trabeation at the inlet of the Basilica. On the floor there are traces of an ancient cosmatesco pavement.
The plaque walled up in the left side (pict. 11) quotes, over the image of a water mill, the following inscription, relevant to a restoration carried out in 1626:
CAPPELLA DELL'ARTE DE MOLINARI
Otto III was born in 980; he was the son of the Saxon emperor Otto II and the Byzantine princess Teopliano (or Teofano), daughter of the East emperor Romano II. Being orphan of his father when only three, the child-emperor grew educated by his mother, from which assumed the love for the culture, and by the most scholar teachers of that time. He get the effective head of the empire in 995 when it was only fifteen.
Otto deeply felt that the over-nationality of his role coincided with the revaluation of the "romanity" of the emperor; he therefore considered the revaluation of the role and the image of Rome among the most qualifying features of his kingdom.
He forced the roman clergy to nominate Brunone of Carinzia, his cousin, Pope with the name of Gregorio V (996-999). The next year he went to Rome to receive from the new Pontiff the imperial coronation, in the same way as Carlo Magno did almost two centuries before.
In order to obtain the union of the different European nations through the faith, Otto carried out a series of pilgrimages: in Germany he was informed about the martyrdom of Adalberto (997), to which was bound by personal friendship and sincere veneration, by the Prussian that he was trying to convert.
In memory of him he erected a church on the southern end of the Tiber Island, where in the antiquity was a temple devoted to Asklepios, god of medicine (it is related that Otto chose the Tiber Island in order to see the church from its Aventino building).
In 1000 he went in solemn pilgrimage to Gniezno, in Poland, to pray on the grave of the friend martyr, and got some relics to be brought in the church on the Tiber Island. The church was endowed with many other relics, among which the skin of St. Bartholomew, whose name in short time replaced the St. Adalberto one.
In February of 1001 the incomprehension of Roman people developed into a revolt: besieged in the Palatine buildings, Otto left Rome taking refuge in the castle of Paterno, at foots of Soratte mount, waiting for reinforcements from Germany. But on January 23rd of 1002, also worn out by malarial fevers contracted in the Ravenna marshes, he died when was only 22 years old.
His faithful soldiers moved the body of their unlucky emperor to Acquisgrana where, according to his desire, he was buried close to the great Carlo Magno; by now it has been lost the memory of his grave.
Ref. link: "Bulletin of cultural information of the Pro Loco of Sant'Oreste (RM-Italy) " [Italian language only]
Born around 956 at Libice from a family of the Bohemian aristocracy, Vojtech (this his native name) was soon initiated into the ecclesiastical career. It studied at the Episcopal school of Magdeburgo in Saxony, under care of Adalbert, the bishop that gave him the confirmation and from whom he got the name. He was ordained priest in Prague from Thietmar, first bishop of the city. Adalberto was member of the clergy of the Prague cathedral and assumed the guide of the diocese in 983.
During his travelling across Europe he became in touch with important monastic milieus: after a stay at Montecassino he approached St. Ni1o, founder of the Byzantine rite monastery of Grottaferrata. In Rome he found hospitality at the monastery of the Sts. Bonifacio and Alessio on the Aventino.
During the second Roman stay (994-996?), he had the opportunity to become in friendship with Otto III, that since then felt great veneration for him.
Adalbert decided to devote himself to the conversion of the pagan populations of Poland. He went therefore to Prussia, but his mission lasted only few days: as he arrived to Tenkitten to preach, he suffered the martyrdom on April 23rd 997. After having pierced with lances and arrows, his body was furiously attacked and his limbs dispersed . The duke Boleslao recovered his remains and made them transferred to Gniezno, the ancient Polish capital. Some relics were later on transported to the Basilica of St. Bartholomew by the friend emperor Otto III. He was canonized in 999.
The presence of the relics of the Bohemian saint has attracted in this place, during centuries, pilgrims from those countries. The cult of St. Adalbert is spread in Boemia, Italy and Poland.
The most ancient trace of his cult in the basilica of St. Bartholomew is the white marble well, obtained from part of an ancient column, located in front of the altar. In one side it is carved the picture of St. Adalbert with the pastoral stick and the Episcopal vestments.
Bartholomew was one of the twelve apostles; he was never mentioned in the Scriptures and usually is identified as the Nathanael of the first chapter of the Giovanni's Gospel, taken to Jesus by the apostle Phillip and known with the patronymic Bar-Talmae that is Bartholomew.
This Gospel page is the only reliable source relevant to Natanaele-Bartholomew. In the Gospels his name appear always together the names of other disciples. Also Bartholomew's events after the death of Jesus are not clear.
He was born at Cana of Galilea and, according to the legend, he spread the news of the death of crucified Jesus. Later on we have news of his presence in the whole Lower Asia, from Persia to Armenia, to Mesopotamia, to Egypt, from the coasts of the Black Sea, to Frigia and Licaonia (Licaonia was also one of the Tiber Island names during the Middle Ages).
They say that, after the Ascension of Christ, he preached the Gospel in India.
In the "Martirologio Romano" [Histories of Roman Martyres] it is written: "predicò nell'India il Vangelo di Cristo; recatosi nell'Armenia maggiore, avendo convertito moltissimi alla fede, fu dai barbari scorticato vivo, e, per ordine del re Astiàge, colla decapitazione compì il martirio" [he preached in India the Gospel of Christ; gone to Greater Armenia, after converting many people to the faith, he was skinned alive by Barbarians, and, by king Astiàge order, he suffered the martyrdom by decapitation].
The ancient Christian Church remembers him, together with St. Taddeo, with the title of "First lighter of Armenia."
His relics were moved to Lipari Islands in 809, and from there to Benevento in 983 and finally to Rome.
St. Bartholomew is the protector of all the workers that are involved with skins, blades and knives as butchers, but also tanners, numerous during the Middle Ages just on the Tiber Island.
The day of St. Bartholomew, August 24th, was celebrated in Rome with the "cocomerata" [watermelon happening], when the boys competed swimming to recover the watermelons thrown into the Tiber.
The remains of St. Bartholomew [ From «Reliquie Insigni e "Corpi Santi" a Roma» by Giovanni Sicari ]
In 410 the remains of Bartholomew were moved to Martyropolis and Maiafarqin by the bishop Maruta. In 507 they were moved again by emperor Anastasio I to Darae in Mesopotania. In 546 they were in Lipari and in 838 at Benevento. From 983, borne to Rome by Otto III, they are in the ancient porphyry basin of the main altar in the church of St. Bartholomew Apostle in the Island. His relics result spread in various european churches. In 1238 the skull-cap was brought to the cathedral of Frankfurt-on-the-Main . Others are in the Chartreuse of Colony and in the monastery of Lune near Luneburg. St. Edward donated a part of an arm to the cathedral of Canteerbury. More of them are in France. In Italy the city of Pisa claimed the possession of part of his skin. The city of Benevento, that always sustained to have given to Otto III a wrong body, claims the possession of his relics kept in the church dedicated voted to him. In Rome, due to a Tiber flooding, in 1557 the relics were moved to St. Piter in the Vatican. In 1560 Pius IV made them bring back to the Tiber Island with a solemn procession. Due to the damages caused to the church by French in 1798 some relics were moved to St. Mary in Trastevere. In this basilica, on the Albis Sunday, they showed a famous relic of the saint. According to the Inventory (1870), on the Easter day part of his head was exposed in St. Prassede. On May 1st and on August 24th it was exposed (Roman Diary, 1926) part of an arm at the Sts. XII Apostles.
"Isola Tiberina" Fabrizio Plateroti - 2000 - Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato
"S. Bartolomeo all'Isola Tiberina" Marco Pupillo - 1998 - Ed. Angelo Guerrini e Associati SpA
"Guide rionali di Roma: R.XII - Ripa; Parte I" Daniela Gallavotti Cavallero - 1977 - Flli Palombi Editori
"Dizionario di erudizione storico - ecclesiastica da S. Pietro sino ai nostri giorni" Gaetano Moroni - 1855 -
Tipografia Emiliana - Venezia