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Vicolo Valdina

The Historical Complex

The Complex of Vicolo Valdina, which stands a few dozen metres from Palazzo Montecitorio, has an ancient history. Set in the heart of the Campus Martius [the Field of Mars], it began life in the Late Middle Ages as a small convent for nuns who had gathered around the Oratory of St. Gregory Nazianzus. Over the centuries, the original building with its Romanesque tower underwent substantial transformations and additions, in the Renaissance period and then again in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The entire complex was renovated in the twentieth century. In 1870, when most buildings belonging to religious orders in Italy came under public ownership, a section of the convent was set aside to house the State Archives. In the 1970s, the Complex in its entirety was acquired by the Chamber of Deputies and underwent a radical renovation that restored the premises to their original form.

Today the Complex comprises the former Benedictine nunnery of Santa Maria in Campo Marzio, the attached church of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, a Romanesque bell tower, the remnants of a thirteenth-century chapterhouse where the cafeteria is now located, a sixteenth-century cloister around a central fountain, and various annexes that have been added to the convent cells over the centuries.

The façade of the church and the bell tower were recently restored by the Department of Public Works as part of a project running from 2009 to 2015 for the refurbishment of part of the Complex. At the end of the project, the Chamber of Deputies was able to move into rooms that had formerly belonged to a municipal primary school, taken into the ownership of the State and assimilated into the Complex. The cloister courtyard, which had served as a building site during the works, was renovated under the attentive direction of the Superintendence, which oversaw additional restoration work on the external façades of the cloister, the courtyard itself and the fountain. This latter phase of restoration was completed in June 2017 and rounded off with the installation of a new and aesthetically striking system of led lighting.

The Complex of Vicolo Valdina now houses the offices of MPs. The main halls adjoining the cloister, the Cenacolo Hall and the Sacristy, are used for hosting events.

The Church of St. Gregory Nazianzus

The church dedicated to St. Gregory Nazianzus, which is located at the northeast corner of the cloister, is a small building 16.3 metres long and 7 metres wide with a single nave leading down to an apse. The church is the oldest remaining part of the original convent and is the physical and spiritual centrepiece around which the rest of the Complex was developed.

The church is first mentioned in the ninth century in the Liber Pontificalis, a collection of papal biographies, which reports that in 806 it received the gift of a silver chandelier from Pope Leo III. Its origins, however, date back to the previous century, when it was founded by the Sisters of St. Basil the Great, who had fled from Constantinople with the relics of St. Gregory Nazianzus to escape the fury of the iconoclasts.

The church was rebuilt in the eleventh century. The frescos that are partially visible in the apse (Christ between St Gregory and another figure, probably St. Quirinus) and on the right wall (Christ the Redeemer and other figures) were painted between the late eleventh and first half of the twelfth century, while the fresco on the left wall (Virgin with Child and Saints) is from the end of the thirteenth century. The elegant bell tower standing over the church is from the twelfth century.

In 1505, the relics of St. Gregory Nazianzus were found in the church, and later (1580), under the papacy of Gregory XIII, transferred to St. Peter's Basilica.

The current façade of the church is the result of an eighteenth-century restoration (which is commemorated in a memorial plaque that is still visible). In 1987, after most of the twentieth-century restoration work had been completed and the Complex had passed into the ownership of the Chamber of Deputies, a new altar consisting of an ancient Roman sarcophagus was consecrated in the church.

The Cloister

As the memorial plaque on the eastern wall indicates, the cloister, which is most likely the handiwork of Lombard builders, dates back to 1520 when the convent was under the direction of Abbess Marzia Palosci. The covered arcade running along the sides of the courtyard is divided from the garden area by rows of octagonal columns with bases and capitals of travertine marble and brickwork shafts. During the most recent restoration, the Superintendence ensured that the original courtyard paving of herringbone brickwork was recovered from underneath the lawn that had covered it since the 1980s.

The sixteenth-century fountain is attributed to Giacomo Della Porta. The recent restoration work recovered an inscription inside the well bearing the message that in 1648 Abbess Angelica Clementini had "Acqua Vergine" drinking water channelled here from the Pincio Hill.

The Cenacolo Room

The Convent Refectory or Cenacolo lies under a broad eighteenth-century vaulted ceiling. Dominating the wall flanking the entrance is a sixteenth-century fresco of the Last Supper. At the far end of the room, the wall is hung with a canvas painting entitled Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, by Sebastiano Conca (1741).

The Sacristy

The right wall of the Sacristy retains a fragment of a fourteenth-century fresco of the Crucifixion. The left wall, which divides the room from the church, is decorated with sixteenth-century frescoes of St. John the Baptist, St. Jerome and St. Catherine of Alexandria.

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