SAN GIOVANNI BATTISTA DEI FIORENTINI – The house of Florentines in Rome

When you visit Rome, you may have the opportunity of walking through Largo Argentina, a very important meeting point for public transportation and also of very important historical ruins. You will also see the Feltrinelli Bookstore here, one of the main bookstores in the historic center of Rome. Now, if you stand in front of the bookstore, looking towards the right you can see the path that leads to the train station, Stazione Termini. If you look towards the left, you can see the side view of Piazza Navona and many other touristic attractions. The avenue that is on the left is called Corso Vittorio Emanuele.

At the end of this avenue there is a bridge that brings you directly to the Vatican, because you are right at the beginning of Via della Conciliazione and you can see Saint Peter’s Basilica and Square right in front of you. But for the moment we do not need to cross this bridge. At the end of Corso Vittorio Emanuele, a few meters ahead of the bridge, on the left, stands a very beautiful minor Basilica, San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini. Let us look at a bit of history. 

In the 16th century, Pope St Leo X gave a little church called San Pantaleo to the Florentines living in Rome, which was situated in the area we are describing. Why this area? Because it is here that the people who came from Florence lived. Here they had their shops and ran their business. Florentines demolished the little church and built a new one, San Giovanni Battista. The construction of this church was undertaken by a famous architect, Jacopo Tatti “Sansovino” (1486-1570). 

It took a century for the completion of this building, as many famous architects worked on it, like Antonio da Sangallo the Younger (1484-1546), Giacomo Della Porta (1532-1602) and Carlo Maderno (1556-1629). The first lived very close to the church, about ten minutes walk, and he was buried inside the Basilica together with his nephew, one of the greatest artists in Baroque Rome, Francesco Borrromini (1599-1667), the great rival of Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) who committed suicide in the house where he was living. You may ask, why was a person who committed suicide buried in a church? Because he did not die immediately, and so in between the time of this frightful act and his passing he could repent for what he did and explain that this was due to his personal condition that gravely afflicted him. Thus, he was able to receive the Sacraments. 

The church was made a parish in 1906 and became a minor Basilica in 1918. Some years ago, the pastor of the Basilica was Don Mario Canciani (1928-2007), who had a peculiar apostolate: the one toward animals. He wrote several books about the right understanding of the role of these creatures in the plan of God and admitted the presence of the animals in church during Mass. (Photo from Wikipedia)