Summer Series: French Pious Establishments in Italy (1)

July 06, 2022
Interior of the Trinité-des-Monts church

The primary vocation of this institution of “pious establishments,” in accordance with the testamentary provisions of its numerous legatees, is to maintain the religious communities which serve its five churches (community of St. Louis, convent and rectory of the Most Holy Trinity of the Mountains, the national chapel of France at Loreto).

The History of the Church and Convent of La Trinité-des-Monts

The Order of Minims: 1494-1798

The church and convent of La Trinité-des-Monts were built at the request of King Charles VIII, who provided the funds necessary for the acquisition of land in 1494, on Mount Pincio. The King of France wanted to express his gratitude to St. Francis de Paola, founder of the Order of Minims, for the spiritual support he had provided to his father, King Louis XI, during the last years of his life.

On February 21, 1495, Pope Alexander VI authorized the construction of the convent and its installation of only the French Minims in it, according to the wishes of St. Francis de Paola. Work on the church began in 1502, following a late Gothic style popular in France at the time and using, among other things, French stone.

In 1527 the estate was devastated by the landsknechts of Charles V, but after its destruction other land was purchased and in 1550 the construction of the convent was completed.

The consecration of the sanctuary took place on July 9, 1594, after a century of work. Since 1586, the church has been a titular church for a cardinal. The 35th holder is Cardinal Philippe Barbarin who took possession of it on February 7, 2004.

In 1798, because of the French Revolution, the Minims had to leave Rome and the Order was dispersed. The French troops of the Directory moved into the convent and all the buildings were ransacked.

The Sisters of the Sacred Heart: 1828-2006

In 1828, the French branch of the Minims having disappeared, the estate was entrusted, by an agreement signed between the Holy See and France, to the Society of the Sacred Heart, a congregation founded in 1800 by St. Madeleine-Sophie Barat and dedicated to the teaching and education of young girls.

The same year, the sisters founded the Teaching Institute of Trinité-des-Monts. An Italian educational establishment where French is taught at all levels, from kindergarten to the end of secondary school. The school now has 480 registered students, boys and girls. A French kindergarten, a “Petite Ecole” completes the system.

Following the dissolution of religious congregations, ordered by the new Italian government in 1873, an agreement concluded in 1975 between Italy and France recognized the property of Trinité-des-Monts as belonging to the administration of French religious foundations (Pious Establishments of France in Rome and Loreto).

On the occasion of the Jubilee Year of 1975, the Institut Saint-Joseph de la Trinité-des-Monts was founded, which aims to welcome young French-speaking pilgrims.

The Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem: 2006-2016

On September 1, 2006, the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem replaced the Community of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart as the administrators of the facilities.

The Emmanuel Community: since 2016

By an amendment dated July 25, 2016 between the French State and the Holy See, the domain of Trinité-des-Monts has been entrusted to the Community of Emmanuel.

The Trinité-des-Monts Church is, like St. Louis-des-Français, one of the French churches in Rome. Masses in French are celebrated there especially on Sundays at 9:30 a.m., and on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:30 p.m.

The Artistic Heritage of Trinité-des-Monts

Non est in tota laetior urbe locus - There is not a more pleasant place in all Rome.

This motto, affixed to the door of the Trinité-des-Monts library, clearly underlines the extraordinary reputation that the convent already enjoyed in the 17th century. Located beside the Pincio and built on the ancient foundations of the Trinité-des-Monts Church and its bell towers, the convent and its terraces overlook the entire city of Rome and presents itself to the Eternal City.

Connected to the Piazza di Spagna by its famous double-flight staircases (of French origin despite their incorrect name of “the Spanish Steps”), built according to the plans of Francesco de Sanctis to the glory of France between 1723 and 1725, the Trinité-des-Monts is a haven of peace, art, knowledge, and meditation in the heart of Rome.

The Trinité-des-Monts Church

World famous for its facade, the Trinité-des-Monts Church stands out in the Roman landscape dotted with domes, thanks to its two symmetrical bell towers, typically French. Often wrongly attributed to Giacomo della Porta, it was actually built by Annibale Lippi and Gregorio Caronica. Its bell towers and typical French-inspired architecture would later be copied in Rome.

It also has two masterpieces by one of the masters of Roman style, Daniele Da Volterra: the “Deposition from the Cross,” and “the Assumption of the Virgin.” A recent restoration campaign revealed the extent of Da Volterra's genius and the beauty of his paintings.

The Trinité-des-Monts Convent

The Trinité-des-Monts convent contains numerous iconographic works by the Minims and their founder:  anamorphic frescoes, an astrolabes table, the “parrot’s room,” the library, and above all the refectory by Brother Andrea Pozzo, master of the trompe-l’œil.

View of Rome from La Trinité-des-Monts