It is scenically located in a recess of a long street of the Rione Trastevere which ends, at a certain distance, with the façade of the more famous church of San Francesco a Ripa, and dates back to at least the 12th century although, for part of its long life, the church was dedicated to the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste alone – the forty Christian soldiers of the Legio XII Fulminata persecuted for their faith and sentenced to remain, in the middle of winter, in a frozen lake. Seat of various religious congregations, in 1736 it was given to the Discalced Minor Friars of St Peter of Alcantara. In the following years, the friars totally rebuilt the church rebuilt, with an adjoining convent, to a design by Giuseppe Sardi, a well-known architect of the early 18th century author, for example, of the façade of Santa Maddalena.
With its reconstruction, the church was re-dedicated, in co-ownership, also to St Paschal Baylon, the Spanish religious and mystic belonging to the same order of the minor friars. Gifted with infused science and patron of Eucharistic works, the saint was popularly considered the protector of cooks and pastry chefs, perhaps because, according to a legend, he was the inventor of Zabaglione, the liqueur made from eggs and marsala wine initially called, in honor of the saint, “San Bayon”. Probably only by virtue of an assonance with his surname, in Rome and southern Italy the saint was then invoked, in rhyme, by unmarried women looking for a husband with a well-known prayer: “San Pasquale Baylonne, protettore delle donne, deh, trovatemi un marito, bianco rosso e colorito, come voi: ma talequale, o glorioso san Pasquale”, “Saint Paschal Baylon, protector of women, please find me a husband, white, red and colorful, like you: but such as, glorious Saint Paschal”. And this is why the temple became known in Rome as the “church of the spinsters” ...
The simple yet elegant Rococo façade is connected to the adjacent building of the convent through a beautiful string course. The two orders of the façade are separated by a long Latin inscription which recalls the new title of the church. The central portal is surmounted by the coat of arms of King Philip V, who put the church under the patronage of the Spanish crown, while the upper order is dominated by an imposing elliptical tondo with a portrait of St Paschal. The interior, preceded by a vestibule, has a single nave with three chapels on each side, where many architectural and decorative elements are reused in a manner that appears to be of Borrominian derivation. On the main altar there is the “Martyrdom of the Forty Martyrs” by Arturo Tosi, while on the dome there is a beautiful fresco depicting the “The Apotheosis of St Paschal” by Matteo Pannaria.
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