Enclosed and partly hidden by the surrounding buildings on the corner of Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II and Via Napoleone III, the complex of Sant’Eusebio is one of the jewels of the Rione Esquilino. It is one of the oldest churches in Rome and has its first historical mention in a graffito of the year 474 in the catacombs of St. Marcellinus and Peter: according to tradition, it was built over the Domus of Eusebius, a 4th century Roman presbyter who died of starvation in his house after being sentenced by the Arian emperor Constantius II to house arrest.
Recorded in the acts of the Council of Pope Symmachus in 499 and counted among the Lenten stations of Rome during the reign of Pope Gregory the Great, the church was restored for the first time already in the 8th century. In 1238 it was rebuilt again by Pope Gregory IX, who re-consecrated and dedicated it to Saints Eusebius and Vincent: a tablet commemorating the rebuilding may still be found in the porch of the church. In the Middle Ages, the church was granted to the Celestine congregation; at the end of the 16th century, the annexed monastery housed one of the first printing workshop in the city. At the beginning of the 19th century, the complex was granted to the Society of Jesus who in turn were expelled in 1873, when the monastery was seized by the state. The future of the church was finally settled in 1889 when the parish was erected and staffed by diocesan clergy.
Due to the many restorations and renovations that have marked its centuries-old history, the bell tower with three-mullioned windows is the only piece of Gregory XI’s building from the 13th century basilica and the church today goes mostly back to the extensive work of the 18th century. The elegant and lively facade with a five-arched portico was built in 1711 by Carlo Stefano Fontana, nephew of the more famous Carlo Fontana, under the pontificate of Clement XI. The double flight staircase giving access to the church, which is raised above the street level, is much more recent and is due to the excavation works for the construction of Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II and the new residential area on the Esquiline Hill after the Unification of Italy.
The interior of the church was renovated in the 17th century by Onorio Longhi (who remodelled the high altar and presbyterium area) and by Niccolò Picconi around the middle of the 18th century, and it is mostly painted in a cream colour with some gilded stucco. The most important artwork in the church is the fresco on the main nave ceiling with St Eusebius in Glory and a multitude of angelic figures: it was commissioned to Anton Raphael Mengs in 1757, the Bohemian artist later acclaimed throughout Europe as the greatest exponent of neoclassical art. From the sacristy it is possible to admire the cloister attributed to Domenico Fontana, now belonging to the Italian police forces.
Outside the church, a small piazza hosts an annual blessing for the animals of Romans, on the 17 January – the feast of St. Anthony the Abbot: this tradition dates back to 1437 and was transferred here in the early 20th century for security and public order reasons from the nearby Church of Sant’Antonio Abate.
For the timetable of the masses and visiting conditions, please consult the contacts.
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