Santi Apostoli, Rome

Church of the Twelve Holy Apostles
Santi XII Apostoli (Italian)
SS. XII Apostolorum (Latin)

View of the church from the Vittoriano
Basic information
Location Italy Rome, Italy
Geographic coordinates 41°53′53.18″N 12°28′59.54″E / 41.8981056°N 12.4832056°E / 41.8981056; 12.4832056Coordinates: 41°53′53.18″N 12°28′59.54″E / 41.8981056°N 12.4832056°E / 41.8981056; 12.4832056
Affiliation Roman Catholic
Ecclesiastical or organizational status Parish church, titulus, minor basilica
Leadership Father Mario Peruzzo[1]
Website Official website
Architectural description
Architect(s) Baccio Pontelli, Carlo Rainaldi, Carlo Fontana
Architectural type Church
Architectural style Baroque
Groundbreaking 6th century
Completed 1714
Length 75 metres (246 ft)
Width 40 metres (130 ft)
Width (nave) 18 metres (59 ft)

The Church of the Twelve Holy Apostles (Italian: Santi Dodici Apostoli, Latin: SS. Duodecim Apostolorum) is a 6th-century Roman Catholic parish and titular church and minor basilica in Rome, Italy, dedicated originally to St. James and St. Philip whose remains are kept here, and later to all Apostles. Today, the basilica is under the care of the Conventual Franciscans, whose headquarters in Rome is in the adjacent building.

The Cardinal Priest of the Titulus XII Apostolorum is Angelo Scola. Among the previous Cardinal Priests are Pope Clement XIV, whose tomb by Canova is in the basilica, and Henry Benedict Stuart.


Built by Pope Pelagius I to celebrate a Narses victory over the Ostrogoths, and dedicated by Pope John III to St. James and Saint Philip the Apostle, the basilica is listed as 'Titulus SS Apostolorum' in the acts of the synod of 499. Santi Apostoli was ruined by the earthquake of 1348, and left abandoned.

In 1417, Pope Martin V, whose Colonna family owned the adjacent Palazzo Colonna, restored the church, while the facade was built at the end of the same century by Baccio Pontelli. It was frescoed by Melozzo da Forlì whose wall-paintings at Santi Apostoli were renowned for their innovative techniques of foreshortening and came to be regarded as Melozzo's masterpiece.

Pope Clement XI instigated dramatic renovations of the church. Melozzo's frescoes were either destroyed or moved partly to the Quirinal and partly to the Vatican Museums. A new Baroque interior was designed by Carlo Fontana and Francesco Fontana, and was completed in 1714. The church was later restored again, with the facade completed by Giuseppe Valadier in 1827.

The inscriptions found in SS. XII Apostoli, a valuable source illustrating the history of the church, have been collected and published by Vincenzo Forcella.[2]


Facade of the Basilica and plan
Entrance to the crypt

This church has three naves, divided by a row of Corinthian pillars, supporting the ceiling, on the middle of which is painted in 1707 the Triumph of the Order of St Francis, by Baciccio. There are also frescoes of the Evangelists by Luigi Fontana. The use of perspective is very good, and the angels appear to come out of the vault. Above the sanctuary is a fresco from 1709 by Giovanni Odazzi, representing the "Fall of Lucifer and his Angels".

To the right of the high altar are the tombs of Count Giraud de Caprières (died 1505) and Cardinal Raffaele Riario (died 1474), tentatively attributed to Michelangelo. To the left is a monument to Cardinal Riario, by the school of Andrea Bregno and possible designed by Andrea Bregno himself. There is also a Madonna by Mino da Fiesole.

On the wall, to the right of the portico of the ancient church, is an antique bas-relief of an eagle surrounded by an oak crown thagt it holds in its talons. Opposite is the monument of the engraver Giovanni Volpato executed and erected by his friend and countryman Antonio Canova. It consists of a large bas-relief, representing "Friendship" in the form of a woman weeping before the bust of the deceased Volpato.[3]

On a pier of the nave on the right-hand side, near the first chapel, is enshrined the heart of Maria Klementyna Sobieska, wife of the Old Pretender, James Francis Edward Stuart. Her tomb is in St Peter's Basilica. Her monument is by Filippo della Valle. Her husband used to pray here every morning. James III was laid in state here himself in 1766, before he was buried with his wife at St Peter's.

Frescoes of Melozzo da Forlì

A fragment of the removed fresco by Melozzo da Forlì
Baroque ceiling

Melozzo da Forlì painted, on the ceiling of the great chapel, the Ascension of our Lord. According to Giorgio Vasari, "the figure of Christ is so admirably foreshortened as to appear to pierce the vault; and in the same manner the angels are seen sweeping through the field of air in two opposite directions." [4] This painting was executed for Cardinal Raffaele Riario, nephew of Pope Sixtus IV about the year 1472.

During the dramatic renovation of the church, it was removed and placed in the Quirinal Palace in 1711, where it is still seen, bearing this inscription: "Opus Melotii Foroliviensis, qui summos fornices pingendi artem vel primus invenit vel illustravit". Several heads of the apostles which surrounded it, and were likewise cut away, were deposited in the Vatican palace.

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Frescos from the apse by Melozzo.


The twelve chapels in total, with three domed ones on each side, are adorned with marbles and fine paintings; the painting in the first chapel to the right, is by Nicola Lapiccola; and that in the next, by Corrado Giaquinto. The Chapel of St. Anthony contains eight fine marble columns, and a painting by Benedetto Luti.

The first chapel on the right-hand side is the Chapel of the Immaculate. It has a 15th-century Madonna donated by Cardinal Bessarion (1403–1472).

The Chapel of the Crucifixion on the right-hand side is divided into a nave and two aisles. The 8 columns are from the 6th-century church. The tomb of Raffaele della Rovere (died 1477), brother of Pope Sixtus IV and father of Pope Julius II, is found in the chapel on the left side of the crypt. It was designed by Andrea Bregno.

The confessio was constructed in 1837. During its construction, the relics of St James and St Philip, which were taken from the catacombs in the 9th century to protect them from invaders, were rediscovered. The wall paintings are reproductions of ancient catacomb paintings. An inscription explains that Pope Stephen IV walked barefoot in 886 from the catacombs to the church carrying the relics on his shoulders. The other chapels were decorated 1876-1877.

Pope Clement XIV (1769–1774) is buried in the last chapel on the left side, near the door of the sacristy. His Neo-Classical tomb is by Antonio Canova, made in 1783-1787. Besides the statue of that Pope, there are two uncommonly fine figures of "Temperance" and "Clemency". This was the first major work Canova did in Rome.

Beyond the sacristy is the chapel of St. Francis, painted by Giuseppe Chiari. On the altar of the following chapel, The second chapel on the left has an altarpiece from 1777 by Giuseppe Cades, depicting Saint Joseph of Cupertino. The two columns of verde antico, green marble, are the largest known in that type of stone. The "Descent of the Cross", on the altar of the last chapel, is a famous work of Francesco Manno.

On the second pillar on the left side is the epitaph of Cardinal Bessarion, and a 16th-century portrait of him. His mortal remains were moved here in 1957.


For a short time, the basilica housed the tomb of Michelangelo, before its transportation to the Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze. Upon the death of James Francis Edward Stuart in 1776, his body lay in state here before he was buried with his wife at St. Peter's Basilica.

List of Cardinal-priests since 1059

List of the cardinal titulars of the church [5][6][7][8]


  1. Official website of the vicariate of Rome Archived February 20, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. V. Forcella, Inscrizioni delle chese e d' altre edifici di Roma, dal secolo XI fino al secolo XVI Volume II (Roma: Fratelli Bencini, 1873), pp. 219-298.
  3. Vasi, Mariano (1824), A new picture of Rome and its environs in the form of an itinerary, Cradock, & Joy, p. 176
  4. Lanzi, Luigi (1828), The History of Painting in Italy: The schools of Bologna, Ferrara, Genoa, and Piedmont, W. Simpkin and R. Marshall, p. 43
  5. Rudolf Hüls, Kardinäle, Klerus und Kirchen Roms , 1049-1130 (Tubingen: Max Niemeyer 1977), pp. 150-153.
  6. Conradus Eubel, Hierarchia catholica medii aevi I, editio altera (Monasterii 1913) pp. 39-40.
  7. GCatholic Cardinal Title Santi XII Apostoli
  8. Salvador Miranda, The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church: XII Apostolorum Retrieved 03/08/2016
  9. Angelo Fumagalli, Delle Istituzioni Diplomatiche (Milano: Al Genio Tipografico 1802), p. 140.
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