The Church of Saint Augustine (Sant’Agostino in Italian) is conducted by the Augustinian Order, and contains the tomb of Saint Monica, Augustine's mother. Its various architects and contributing artists are among the most famous names in Italian history during the Middle Ages.
From about the year 1250, the first Augustinian church and monastery (convento) in Rome was at Santa Maria del Popolo. These were located near the Porta del Popolo, the gate in the Roman wall which opened on to the famous road to Rome that was called the Flaminian Way. This was the edge of the City of Rome. The members of the Order, however, desired to have their main house to be nearer to where the Pope and the general administration of the Church were located.
This became more possible in 1286, when the Roman nobleman Egidio Lufredi donated some houses in the area of the Field of Mars to the Order of Saint Augustine. They immediately sought to erect a church and a priory (convento) on the site. In a document dated on 20th February 1287, however, Pope Honorius IV (1285-1287) granted them permission to build a convento only. He did not consent to the building of a church on the land in question because it was adjacent to the church of Saint Tryphon in the Via della Scrofa. Instead, the Pope simply entrusted the Church of Saint Tryphon to the Augustinians. The small Church of Saint Tryphon had several relics. Into it the tomb of Saint Monica, the mother of Augustine, was transferred in 1430 from the Augustinian church in Ostia, the town of her death.
The Church of Saint Tryphon was a titular church, i.e., symbolically assigned to a person appointed a bishop who had not been assigned a diocese to lead. The privilege of being a titular church was passed on the Church of Sant'Agostino when that church was built. The older Church of Saint Tryphon was kept as an annex to the Church of Sant’Agostino until finally demolished in 1736. The Augustinians were not totally pleased with the decision of Pope Honorious that denied them the opportunity to build a church. The Pope died, however, on 3rd April 1287. This was only eleven days after he had signed the document for the Augustinians. A change came about nine years later, thanks to Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303), who was a great friend of the Order. With his consent, on 15th April 1296 the Augustinians lay the first stone of a new church, dedicated to Saint Augustine, on the site where the Church of Saint Augustine Church (Chiesa di Sant'Agostino) stands today. Bishop Gerard of Sabina ceremonially placed the foundation stone. Construction was to last nearly one and a half centuries. It was not completed until 1446, when it finally became possible to celebrate liturgical functions in it.
The church was rebuilt on a larger scale in the same century, during the pontificate of Sixtus IV (Pope in 1471-1484). Much of the funds for this construction (i.e., the present church) came from the second Cardinal Protector of the Order of Saint Augustine, William Estouteville, who in his own right was a wealthy man and a blood relative of the French royal family. The design was entrusted to the architects Giacomo (or Jàcopo) di Pietrasanta and Sebastiano Fiorentino. In 1468 the former had executed the restoration of the bridge at the Castel Sant'Angelo, which is still a landmark in Rome. Another architect whose name has been linked to the project is Bacco Pontelli (1450 - 1492), who for Pope Sixtus IV designed the Sistine Chapel (1475 - 1481). Associating Pontelli with Sant'Agostino is uncertain, but he definitely worked on the major renovations of the Augustinian Church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome at the direction of Pope Sixtus IV between 1472 and 1479. The design was inspired by the early Renaissance style of "Santo Spirito," (Church of the Holy Spirit) in Florence, designed by Filipo Brunelleschi (1337-1446). Santo Spirito in Florence has been administered by the Augustinians right to the present day.
Construction began in 1479, and was finished in 1483 - the year that Cardinal d'Estouteville died. The present orientation of the church on to the Piazza Sant’Agostino was arranged by the Cardinal, who was also the head of the Street Authority, which was the 'planning authority' of Rome. The church was also near the now demolished Palazzo Apollinare, where the Cardinal lived. In funding this church, Estouteville left a lasting monument to himself. It is the finest example of early Renaissance church architecture in Rome. The Renaissance façade, one of the first in this style, is built in travertine stone that is said to have come from the ruins of the Colosseum. The huge lettering on the façade reads: GUILLERMUS DE ESTOUTEVILLA EPISCO.OSTIEN.CARD.ROTHOMAGEN.S.R.E. CAMERARIUS FECIT MCCCCLXXXIII. It states that "William d'Estouteville, Bishop of Ostia, Cardinal of Rouen, Camerlengo, built this in 1483." Above the central door is a painting, The Handing Over of the Augustinian Rule. It was added a later date and, exposed to the weather, it has been damaged by the passage of time. In order for the Augustinians to have proper administrative facilities, the Convent of Sant’Agostino - beside the Chiesa di Sant'Agostino - was expanded. This convento served as General Curia (international headquarters) of the Order.
In 1482 more than 100,000 ducats was still needed for the completion of both projects. At the Augustinian General Chapter at Padua in 1482, the Order pleaded for the continued assistance of Cardinal William Estouteville, but his death on 27th January 1483 left the Order with a debt that imposed a severe financial strain. It should be noted that for 140 years during the 15th and 16th centuries there were three Augustinian church venues in Rome, i.e., Santa Maria del Popolo, Sant’Agostino and on the Quirinal Hill the Church of Santa Susanna. The latter was under Augustinian administration from 1448 to 1587 (see Augnet’s pages on Santa Susanna for details.)
Approximately every hundred years from the 16th century to the present time, the Church of Sant'Agostino has been the object of renovation and further decoration. Early in the 16th century, one of the artists commissioned for the decoration of the church was the young, but already famous, Michelangelo Buonarroti. In the early 16th century, he started painting The Entombment (Burial) of Christ for the Church of Sant'Agostino. He never finished it, and this incomplete work is now in the National Gallery in London. The high altar of the church is the work of the famous sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 - 1680). He designed it in 1627. It is decorated with a Byzantine icon of the Blessed Virgin, the Madonna of Saint Luke. The icon was moved here from the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople in 1453. The church also houses the famous painting, Madonna of the Pilgrims by Caravaggio (1573-1610), as seen at right. This painting disturbed some people in Rome because it depicted dirt on the feet of the people. For more details of this painting, go to http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/c/caravagg/07/42loreto.html
The church also contains a fresco by Raphael. Two statues in particular represent Renaissance and Baroque styles: the Madonna del Parto (Mary of childbirth - photo on next page) by Jacopo Sansovino and Saint Thomas of Villanova by Melchiorre Caffà, one of the most talented pupils of Bernini. The statue by Sansovino is clearly inspired by classical models (such as a statue of Apollo) and it is framed in an altar similar to a triumphal arch. The statue of Thomas of Villanova and the poor by Melchiorre Caffà is a perfect example of the Baroque attempt to create a link between the fictitious world of art and real life. The floor plan (layout) as it is today is a result of the work done in 1661. It was drawn by Francesco Borromini (1599-1667) in 1661-1662. A noted Baroque architect, Borromini was esteemed almost as much as Bernini, alongside of whom he occasionally worked. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francesco_Borromini
Adjacent to the church, the Convento de Sant’Agostino nearby was restored in the 18th century. (See next page.) The work was completed in 1756. By then, the dome and the cross-vault of the church were in a bad condition, and it was decided to undertake its restoration. Luigi Vanvitelli (1700-1773), who had successfully designed the façade for the Convento di Sant’Agostino, was commissioned to lead the work on the church. Luigi Vanvitelli (1700-1773) was the most famous Italian architect of his day. He had been commissioned as architect of Saint Peter’s Basilica in 1726, and did some consolidation and adjustments to its dome in 1750. In 1732 he had done the façade of the Church of Saint John Lateran, the official cathedral of Rome. Vanvitelli had previously been engaged by the Order of Saint Augustine. He was the architect chosen for the renovations after the thirteenth-century gothic Church of Sant’Agostino in Siena had been devastated by fire in 1747.
He was an excellent choice for the dome restoration of the Church of Saint Augustine in Rome. He altered the tower by lowering it, building a new bell chamber, and by adding its small drum and dome. Because in 1751 Vanvitelli had moved to Naples to design the Royal Palace at Caserta for the Bourbon, Charles III, the King of Naples, most of the actual work at Chiesa di Sant’Agostino in Rome was left to Carlo Murena. The church was closed while restorations were carried out, and was reopened in 1763. A new and more spacious sacristy was built at the same time, and the bell tower was altered. Another restoration was carried out under Pope Pius IX (1846-1878); it was completed in 1870. The floor was renewed, and the pillars were strengthened and encased in marble. Frescoes by Pierto Gagliardi were added in the nave, transept, choir and in the chapels.
The most recent work was carried out in 1998-2000 by the Soprintendenze di Roma per i Beni Ambientali ed Architettonici e per i Beni Artistici e Storici, the authority responsible for among other things the architectural and artistic patrimony of Rome. Artistic features include the work by Bernini and Caravaggio mentioned above, the chapel and tomb of Saint Monica (picture 2), and a statue of Mary, the Mother of Childbirth. (See picture above.) The most famous Augustinian saints are all represented by chapels and statues, including Nicholas of Tolentino, Thomas of Villanova, and Rita of Cascia.
This page has dealt with the Church of Saint Augustine. The next page introduces the former Convento (monastery) of Saint Augustine adjacent to the church.Photo GalleryFor the Augnet gallery on Sant'Agostino Church, Rome, click here.
Sant’Agostino. A comprehensive Wiki website. http://romanchurches.wikia.com/wiki/Sant'Agostino
Seven images of Sant'Agostino, Rome. http://members.tripod.com/hckarlso/Rome5.html
Chiesa Sant’Agostino, Rome. Excellent description and photographs. Search carefully for Sant'Agostino. http://www.romeartlover.it/Vasi175.htm
The Pontificial Parish of St Anne in the Vatican. (Parish website written in Italian). This is NOT Sant'Agostino church. The parish of the Vatican is conducted by the Augustinians. This website contains an excellent photo gallery. http://www.pontificiaparrocchiasantanna.it
Michaelangelo: The Entombment of Christ. Wikipedia. The painting mentioned in the text above. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Entombment_(Michelangelo)