On the Scene with Bill Wilson at the Church of Sant’Ancieto

Text and photo by Bill Wilson

Church of Sant’Ancieto is on the second level of the Palazzo Altemps

Church of Sant’Ancieto is on the second level of the Palazzo Altemps

If one has the wealth and clout to have a church, not the usual chapel, but a full church with relics of a saint and everything, installed in your own palace then I guess a chance to spin a little history doesn’t much matter.

General view of the Church of Sant’Ancieto

General view of the Church of Sant’Ancieto

The church was built by Giovanni Angelo Altemps starting in 1603 and was completed by 1618. Sant’Ancieto was one of the early popes from 154-167 AD.  And he is seen on the north wall pleading with authorities for his life. Except it is not really believed that the Pope died that way. So why would he be portrayed that way? Therein lies a tale of love, family pride, and devotion to duty.

Frescoes by Pomarancio showing Christ on the way to Calvary, the martyrdom of Sant’Ancieto and a woman gathering innocent blood that has fallen on Roman soil.

Frescoes by Pomarancio showing Christ on the way to Calvary, the martyrdom of Sant’Ancieto and a woman gathering innocent blood that has fallen on Roman soil.

Giovanni’s father was Roberto Altemps the illegitimate son of Cardinal Marco Sittico Altemps. When Sixtus V became Pope in 1585 he tried to clean up the corruption and graft. He became known as the law and order Pope. Roberto was accused of adultery, a crime that in those days was a capitol offense. Ordinary the punishment would have been to require Roberto to marry the woman, but in this case that was not possible since Roberto had just been married to a member of the Orsini family. Unfortunately this was the  same Orsini family that Pope Sixtus V held responsible for the death of his nephew.

 Close up of Pope Sant’Ancieto

Close up of Pope Sant’Ancieto

Roberto Altemps was punished by beheading in 1586. Did Roberto get a fair hearing? Was he the victim of the Pope’s reluctance to show favor to any one? It depends on what history you read, but clearly the Altemps family felt him innocent and his son chose to honor Sant’Ancieto in a way that would remind people of that innocence.

View from the church window of the Painted Loggia which contains the Gallery of the Twelve Caesars.

View from the church window of the Painted Loggia which contains the Gallery of the Twelve Caesars.

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