There are three buildings previously owned by the Order of Saint Augustine that occupied an entire city block in Rome.
They are the Church of Saint Augustine, the Biblioteca Angelica (the Angelica Library) and the Convento Sant'Agostino (the former Generalate of the Order for over three centuries). These buildings occupy the city block enclosed by the Via dei Pianellari, Via dei Portoghesi, Via della Scrofa and Via and Piazza di Sant'Agostino.
Image (above): There are three buildings previously owned by the Order of Saint Augustine that occupy an entire city block in Rome, as shown above. They are the Church of Saint Augustine (numbered 1), the Biblioteca Angelica (the Angelica Library, numbered 2,) and the Convento Sant'Agostino (the Generalate of the Order for over three centuries, on the rear side of the block and numbered 3). The web link at the bottom of this page offers a variety of excellent drawings and photographs.
(The Pianellari were makers of a common style of Roman footwear, the pianelle. In the section of the complex facing the Via Scrofa is a scrofetta (a sow - a female pig) carved in marble that goes back to the time of the Romans. It is this feature that gave the street its name.) This Convento (the Italian term for an Augustinian priory) was the headquarters of the Augustinians from the late 15th century until its confiscation by the Italian government in 1871. Property in the inner city Rome was first given to the Augustinians of S. Maria del Popolo in 1286 by the Roman noble, Egido Lufredi for the erection of a church.
A house (convento) was built for the Augustinians serving the church, but by the end of the fifteenth century the Augustinian ownership of adjacent property made possible the construction of a much larger convento that could become the main house - the Generalate - of the Order of Saint Augustine. The date that this new Generalate began to be built is not known. On 5th August 1459, however, the Prior General sought funds for the payment for construction of this new international headquarters of the Order in Rome. He assessed each Province two ducats, each Prior Provincial two ducats, himself as Prior General ten ducats, and the Order’s Procurator five ducats - seemingly not a huge request.
Until this time, the generalate was the convento at S. Maria del Popolo. It was probably at this Convento Sant'Agostino that Martin Luther came to meet with the Prior General, Giles of Viterbo O.S.A. It is known, however, that while in Rome for four weeks during the winter of 1510-1511, Luther stayed at the convento attached to S. Maria del Popolo, Rome. The Convento Sant’Agostino was enlarged in 1601 and again after 1620. In 1659 the work continued as the adjacent Biblioteca Angelica was also enlarged. Further enlargement happened in 1673, and in 1736 the old church of Saint Tryphon was demolished.
The first of only two successive Augustinian Priors General appointed for life was greatly instrumental in the building of the Convento Sant’Agostino that essentially still can be seen today. He was Agostino Gioia O.S.A. of Giovinazzo, Italy. Elected in 1745, he died unexpectedly in 1751. Even so, in this brief period he began construction of this remarkable monastery in Rome, which still stands today (in possession of the Italian Government) as an admirable example of how the baroque love of magnificence was expressed even in the mendicant orders of the Church.
In 1746 Agostino Gioia O.S.A. commissioned the architect Luigi Vanvitelli (1700 - 1773) to give some architectural unity to the Convento Sant'Agostino, the Church of Sant'Agostino and the Biblioteca Angelica - three edifices that now together covered an entire block of central Rome. Vanvitelli was an Italian architect and sculptor of the Rococo era, and one of the most famous architects of the time. He incorporated the various Augustinian buildings into an imposing facade. Vanvitelli 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.
The Convento has six storeys, and is on three different levels where it faces three different streets. From the base upwards, the first two stories have a facing of huge stone blocks cut down to a smooth surface, topped by three additional stories and a cornice. The greater façade, in two portions, faces the Via Scrofa, but the main entrance to the convento opens to the Via Portoghesi, which is on the opposite side of this city block to the Church of Sant'Agostino and its Piazza Sant'Agostino. From this graceful entrance one is led to the clositer (clausura, patio), which features a large fountain. The courtyard of the cloister also contains four funeral monuments from the 14th century, and a large statue in stucco of Augustine on the wall of the building. On the Via Portoghesi can be seen the Tower of the Monkey. This part of the complex was already existing when acquired by the Order.
It was previously owned by the noble Roman family named Frangiopane. The name of the tower arises from a legend. It is said that the owner had a money. One day the animal took the son of the owner to the tower and enticed the infant to walk on dangerous ledges. People in the street saw this happening, and prayed to the Mary that the child be protected from falling. With this, the monkey led the child to safety, and a statue of the Virgin was placed in the tower. The Convento was confiscated by the Italian Government in 1871. Since 1932 has been used by the Avvocatura Generale dello Stato (the Attorney General and his department). A photo of its cloister (clausura, patio, chiostro) appears above. One part of the convento largely unchanged is the dining hall, which is now used as a formal meeting room. The former office and study that is the past was used by the Prior of the Augustinian community is now used by the Avvocatura Generale dello Stato (the Attorney General of Italy).
For the Augustinians today who minister in the Church of Saint Augustine, their priory (convento) is literally a very small loft located on top of the Angelica Library - literally a loft, because the rooms have a steeply sloping ceiling.
Convento di S. Agostino (Monastery of St Augustine). An excellent web site with historical text and detailed images, as already mentioned in the text above. http://romeartlover.tripod.com/Vasi123.html AN4238a