Tradition has it that the first church to occupy what was thought to be the spot where St Jerome’s house had stood was built in 382. However, no documentary evidence dating back earlier than 1419 exists – that was the year when Pope Martin V authorized the Franciscan Observants to build a hospice and chapel. That building was replaced in 1508. In 1524 it was taken over by the Archconfraternita della Carità (Archconfraternity of Charity), a society of noblemen founded by Giulio de' Medici before he became Pope Clement VII. By 1657 the current building and decorations were in place. The Church of St Jerome of Charity, along with its appointments, are baroque, typical of this period in Rome. Overall the building is beautifully arrayed in marble and gold.
St Philip Neri was assigned to this church after his ordination, and it was here in the upper nave balconies that his band of secular clergy met for prayer, hymns (some written by one of Philip’s followers, a certain young chap named Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina), readings from scripture and other sacred writings, and discussion. In 1575 Pope Gregory XIII formally recognized Philip’s society as the Congregation of the Oratory. The church is open daily to visitors. Mass is celebrated on Sundays, preceded by the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Vespers is said Tuesday through Thursday evenings.
The church is a block from the French embassy and is surrounded by other beautiful, baroque churches. It is also across the street from the Venerable English College, a seminary founded in 1579 for the training of priests for England and Wales.
The parish priest.
What was the name of the service?Santa Messa (Holy Mass).
How full was the building?
About 30 people were in attendance.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I walked in, a religious sister smiled at me. I don't speak Italian so there was limited ability to converse.
Was your pew comfortable?
Not particularly. It was a wood slab. But there was padding on the kneeler, which was thick and quite comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet. People were silently waiting for mass to begin.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Nel nome del Padre, del Figlio e dello Spirito Santo.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. There was a printed service sheet provided by the Diocese of Rome. I noticed it was in every church I visited, so it must be used by all the churches locally.
What musical instruments were played?
None. There was a cappella singing.
Did anything distract you?
A man and woman with a small dog were in the pew opposite me. The dog was not identified by a vest or other sign as a service animal. But it was excellently behaved. It sat on the kneeler the entire time and didn't move. It was an exceptionally cute dog.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a reverently celebrated Catholic mass. The priest's liturgical actions were more pronounced than usual.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
I honestly can't comment because it was in Italian. I had no idea what was said.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Being in the building itself. It was absolutely majestic.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Because the building was built in the 1600s, there is no central heat. So they use portable heaters during mass. These get really, really warm. I could feel my calves heating up all during mass.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No one spoke to me, but it was clearly because they knew I didn't speak Italian. The priest mentioned that he was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, and did speak English. We had a brief chat, as other people were in line for him.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 — If I'm back in Rome I'd love to visit this church again.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?