The church is located in the Rione Colonna, between Piazza di Spagna and the Trevi Fountain. Its first documentary evidence is from the 12th century with the name of Sant'Andrea "infra hortos", a title later translated into "delle Fratte" or “degli arbusti” (meaning “bushes”). In 1585, Pope Sixtus V assigned it to the Minim Friars of Saint Francis of Paola. They started an ambitious project to rebuild it due to the poor conditions of the preexisting church.
Much of the funding came from Marquis Ottavio del Bufalo – whose coat of arms with a buffalo head is depicted in the pediment of the portal and in the bell tower – but the money available was minimal. So, the works proceeded slowly, lasting over a century. The general layout and the façade are due to Gaspare Guerra, who worked on it from 1604 to 1612. In 1653 the task passed to Francesco Borromini, who designed the apse, the bell tower and the tambour of the dome, which remained uncompleted for the artist death. In 1691 the works were finally completed by Mattia de Rossi.
Both the bell tower and the dome are the result of Borromini’s genius, extraordinarily original for the complex articulation of their concave and convex surfaces. The lantern containing the circular dome is reinforced by diagonal buttresses that make the structure take on the image of the cross of Saint Andrew (the patron saint of the church). Its brick curtain contrasts with the white marble of the bell tower, an architectural jewel of rare finesse. It has a square base and circular columns culminating in the figures of angel caryatids bearing the emblems of the saint. The bell tower is nicknamed as “dancer” because when the big bell rings, the structure swings.
The interior has a large central barrel-vaulted nave, with three chapels on each side and two little chapels tucked into the corners on either side of the entrance. The nave ends in a transept, designed by Borromini and flanked by two other small chapels. In the left transept is the Chapel of Saint’Anna, designed by the two of the greatest artists who worked in Rome in the 18th and early 19th centuries: Luigi Vanvitelli and Giuseppe Valadier. The third chapel on the left is dedicated to the “Madonna of the Miracle”, renovated in the fifties by architect Marcello Piacentini. It commemorates where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to the French Jewish lawyer Alphonse Ratisbonne on 20 January 1842, leading him to convert to Catholicism.
The church keeps the two Angels (1667-1670) with instruments of the Passion sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini for the Sant'Angelo Bridge. The statues are the only ones realized for that project by the seventy-year-old artist since he entrusted the execution of the others to his pupils. Pope Clement XI considered them too valuable to be exposed to the elements, deciding to leave the sculptures in Bernini's studio. In 1729, the artist's heirs donated them to the church.
The church of Sant'Andrea delle Fratte houses the only Putridarium in Rome.
Behind the high altar, a trapdoor allows you to go down to the crypt where, in a small room, there are 13 seats with a hole in the centre. It drained the liquids from the corpses into a vase placed below during the decomposition process. Another hole in the ceiling dispersed the mephitic smells of putrefaction outside the room. Finally, when the bodies were decomposed, the religious collected the remains (usually skin and bones) to transfer them to an ossuary after careful washing.
The Putridarium also performed the function of memento mori: it was used by the monks as a place of penance and expiation, which reminded them, through the stages of the decay of the body, of the transience of the flesh and the immanence of the soul in the journey to eternity.
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