Summer Series: The Pious Establishments of France in Italy (3)

July 20, 2022
Facade of St. Nicolas of Lorraine Church

The primary vocation of this institution, 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 rectorate of the Trinité des Monts, the national chapel of France in Loreto) . Third part: St. Nicolas of Lorraine.

St. Nicolas of Lorraine Church

Located in Rome behind the Piazza Navona, the St. Nicolas of Lorraine Church was built in 1635 thanks to the financial contribution of the Lorrain sculptor Nicolas Cordier and the land ceded by Gregory XV in 1622.

Now owned by the Pious Establishments of France in Rome and Loreto, the St. Nicolas of Lorraine Church was restored in 2005, as part of an agreement with the Ministry of Culture, and has beautiful decorative art elements in which participated many Lorraine artists of the time as well as Italians.

The financial support provided by the Regional Council of Lorraine as well as by the association of friends of St. Nicolas of Lorraine Church, which launched public subscriptions for this purpose, constituted a precious help for the realization of the restoration work.

Founded in 1508, the Lorraine Confraternity in Rome initially only had a chapel in the church of St. Louis of the French, partly financed by Charles III for the Lorraine State. In 1622, the Confraternity obtained from Pope Gregory XV an old church, St. Nicolas in Agone, close to Piazza Navona. The papal bull Dum ad Sacram of October 5, 1622 formalized this acquisition.

Using the 500 crowns that Nicolas Cordier, a sculptor from Lorraine, had bequeathed in his will in 1612 to the Confraternity for a hypothetical reconstruction of their chapel at the time, the people of Lorraine decided in 1635 to completely rebuild St. Nicolas Church. The work was completed a year later as reported on the commemorative plaque on the entrance wall of the church.

In 1766 the Duchy of Lorraine was attached to France. A few years later, in 1793, the St. Nicolas of Lorraine Church was integrated into the newly created Pious Establishments of France in Rome and Loreto.

Church Architecture

The very simple architecture – a rectangular room, two chapels and a dome – was designed by the Lorrain François Desjardins, Italianized in Francesco Giardini.

The sleek facade bears the Latin inscription “In Honorem S. Nicolai natio Lotharingorum” recalling the proud Lorraine origin of the church. A secondary building was later added along the left wall between 1751 and 1759 on the site of the former house of the Marquis of Cavalieri bought in 1729.

Certain artists from Lorraine – Charles Mellin buried in the church, Claude Lorrain, Filipo Titi, Nicolas de Bar – bequeathed their paintings to the church in order to constitute the interior decoration. Today only the works of Nicolas de Bar are still visible: St. Nicolas, the Three Children and a Prisoner, the Mystical Wedding of St. Catherine of Alexandria.

To these were added in 1730 during a major renovation, works by the painter Francesco Antonozzi, St. Peter Fourier and the Virgin, as well as by the Italian Corrado Giaquinto who designed the sumptuous frescoes, in particular, The Three Theological Virtues and the Angel Freeing a Prisoner on the Entrance Wall.

On the occasion of the 1750 jubilee, Corrado Giaquinto was called back for the decoration of two altarpieces.

The architect Pietro Mariotti took advantage of this to add stucco bas-reliefs above the four doors, embellish the white marble doors, cover the sixteen pilasters in marble from Sicily and yellow from Siena.

Giuseppe Silvestri painted the trompe l'oeil frescoes on the vaults of the nave and the dome.

When Napoleonic troops arrived in 1797, the Confraternity of Lorraine was dissolved. The treasure of St. Nicolas of Lorraine was melted down and integrated into Pius VI’s war tribute.

Many original paintings disappeared from the sacristy at this time.

Interior of the church