SANTA BARBARA DEI LIBRAI (or dei Librari) is located in Largo dei Librari formerly known as Piazzetta dei Librari, which is just off Via dei Giubbonari between Campo de'Fiori and Piazza Cairoli.

The church of Santa Barbara dei Librai was built into one of the vaults under the cavea (the semi-circular seating area) of the Theater of Pompey some time before 1100 AD. The first hard date we really have for the church is 1306, in which a formal consecration was recorded. It is not possible to date its initial construction because all documents and various authors furnish only scant and uncertain information. There are, however, historical references that allow us to deduce that the church already existed in the 11th Century. One still existing registration from the 11th century says that at that time it was patronized by Giovani de Crescenzio and his wife Rogata (Senatrice dei Romani). So the 1306 ritual would have been a re-consecration. Santa Barbara was recorded in the 1461 Liber Anniversariorum along with seven other churches in the Parioni Region of Rome. During most of its periods of liturgical use, Santa Barbara was a simple parish church, but there were times when it had the greater prestige of "cardinal titular church". It was registered in that status in 1551 and again in 1597. In 1601 it was granted to the "sodalizio dei librai", a corporation or guild of printers, bookbinders and scribes, which had been formed the previous year. A Florentine printer, Zanobio (a.k.a. Zanoni) Masotti, financed a reconstruction in 1680. The baroque façade (attrib. Giuseppe Passeri), constricted by the narrowness of the site, dates from that rebuilding. Another reconstruction was recorded in 1858, but in the late 19th or early 20th century the church was abandoned and used as a warehouse, only to be reclaimed and rededicated in 1980 when it was formally given to the Comunita di Santa Barbara so that they could meet and pray.

The church apparently was also once called S. Barbara in Satro, a name still preserved in the small Piazza dei Satiri behind the church. That name was derived from two Pan statues recovered in the area in the 1300's, which were transferred to Palazzo de la Valle. For a time it also appears to have been called "S. Barbara Anglorum" reflecting, possibly, its status as the church of the British Catholic community in Rome. When the Roman British Catholic community grew after the arrival of refugees after the reformation in England, that "national church" function was attached to the larger S. Tommaso, nearby.

Santa Barbara: There is no reference to St. Barbara in the authentic early historical authorities for Christian antiquity, neither does her name appear in the original recension of St. Jerome's martyrology. Veneration of the saint was common, however, from the 7th century. At about this date there were in existence legendary Acts of her martyrdom, which were inserted in the collection of Symeon Metaphrastes and were used as well by the authors (Ado, Usuard, etc.) of enlarged martyrologies composed during the ninth century in Western Europe. According to these narratives, which are essentially the same, Barbara was the daughter of a rich heathen named Dioscorus. She was carefully guarded by her father who kept her shut up in a tower in order to preserve her from the outside world. An offer of marriage, which was received through him, she rejected. Before going on a journey her father commanded that a bath-house be erected for her use near her dwelling, and during his absence Barbara had three windows put in it, as a symbol of the Holy Trinity, instead of the two originally intended. When her father returned she acknowledged herself to be a Christian; upon this she was ill-treated by him and dragged before the prefect of the province, Martinianus, who had her cruelly tortured and finally condemned her to death by beheading. The father himself carried out the death-sentence, but in punishment for this he was struck by lightning on the way home and his body consumed. According to legend, at her grave the sick were healed and the pilgrims who came to pray received aid and consolation.

The traditions vary as to the place of martyrdom, two different opinions being expressed: Symeon Metaphrastes and the Latin legend given by Mombritius makes Heliopolis in Egypt the site of the martyrdom, while other accounts, to which Baronius ascribes more weight, give Nicomedia. Her martyrdom was said to have occurred either during the reign of Maximinus Thrax (Gaius Julius Verus Maximinus: 235-238 AD) or during the reign of Maximianus Herculius (Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximianus: 286-305 AD). S. Barbara originally was thought to protect people from the dangers of thunderstorms and fire (in clear reference to her father's death) and is now also the Patron Saint of artillery-men, bomb disposal experts, miners, firemen, and, in general, anyone who risks a sudden death. She is the Patron Saint of the Italian Navy.

Church Interior: The church, as mentioned above, was originally built into a vault below the cavea of Pompey's theater. At some point, probably in a high point of the book-guild prosperity (perhaps during the 1680's), two large side chapels were added extending the church into the two adjoining sub-cavea vaults making a transept and giving the church its current "Greek cross" floor plan. The interior is richly decorated with rare marbles and well endowed with works of art. The remarkable Venetian stucco altars date from the 1600s. The high altar, the oldest and certainly the most important, is a fine example of mother of pearl, ivory, agate, and other rare colored stone inlay work.

The main vault painting, "The Glory of Saint Barbara" was originally painted by Luigi Garzi (1638-1721), and it was subsequently restored by Monacelli.

To the right is the Chapel of Our Lady, which, according to an inscription on the chapel's right hand wall, belonged to the "Society of the Most Holy Saviour" of the "Sancta Sanctorum". A splendid wooden triptych of the Madonna and Child, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Michel, which some sources date to 1543, decorates the chapel.

There are two inscriptions on the wall: the higher of the two celebrates the founding, in 1600, of the Guild of Book Sellers; the second, placed by the Guild in 1688, is dedicated to Zenobio Masotti, a famous printer and book seller in Rome. It is from this inscription that we learn that Zenobio Masotti, who is buried in the church, financed the 1680 reconstruction and enhancement of the decoration of the church.

On the walls of the cross vault there are additional works by Luigi Garzi depicting Saint Frances, Saint Anthony, Saint Theresa and Saint Filippo Neri. Cross-vault ceiling frescos by Monacelli show the Evangelists and Faith, Hope, Charity and Love of God.

The Chapel of the Crucifix, (wood, dating to the 1300s) is off the right transept. The Madonna and Saint John at the foot of the cross are by Luigi Garzi.

Next is the Chapel of the Presbytery: in the lunette above the arch prior to entering the chapel is Saint Barbara's martyrdom, painted by Monacelli. Another lunette, high on the chapel's right hand wall, depicts the Saint's escape and the cleaving of the mountain, which allowed her to flee her father's ill treatment. This work is also by Monacelli. Below is a painting by Garzi of the Madonna and Child, Saint Barbara, Thomas Aquinas and various members of the Guild of BookSellers. On the altar is another panting by Garzi representing Saint Barbara as she worships the Holy Trinity. To the left of the altar there is an inscription, dated 1306, carved around a mosaic Greek cross indicating the saints whose relics are kept within. According to an inscription reported by Rossini, the altar was made by Giacomo, Giuseppe and Domenico Malagog. In the lunette high up on the left wall, is a fresco by Monacelli representing Saint Stanislas Koska communicated in Vienna by the angels through the intercession of Saint Barbara. Below is the marble bust and sepulchral monument of Zenobio Masotti. Both were erected by Nicola Inghirlano, another Florentine and heir and successor to Masotti in the book-selling firm. The inscription records the deceased's professional and civic merits.

In the left transept there is another altar and above it, a painting, by Francesco Ragusa, of the Virgin Mary and Child, with Saint Joseph, Saint Peter, Saint Paul, Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint John of God.

On the wall to the right side of the transept, facing the exit, are three inscriptions. The topmost indicates that Paolino Arnolfi from Lucca restored the church in 1601 The second, probably dating to the 11th Century, states that the church including all its properties was donated by Crescenzio di Roizo and his wife Rogata for the redemption of their souls and those of their relatives. The third is the funeral inscription of the Roman bookseller Antonio Gherardino, who died May 15, 1685, which notes that on his death he bequeathed his estate to the guild of booksellers.

Lastly another chapel. An inscription, on the left wall indicates that it belonged to the Specchi, a noble Roman family. It was placed there by Francesco Orazio Specchi, son of Alessandro Specchi, a Roman patrician. The painting, by Brugi, represents Saint Saba. (The Specchi had previously financed a chapel in the church of St. Saba.)

Over the principal entrance door there is the choir loft, in which there is an organ, by an anonymous builder of the 1600s. The organ case is against the wall, and attached to the ceiling there is a façade of 21 pipes, arranged in three rows. The keyboard of 45 keys (only three octaves and half) in boxwood and ebony, the slightly inclined pedal keys, the eight registers activated by knobbed levers and all the accessories present in the instrument, make of it an extremely interesting and rare example for the city of Rome.

Exterior: The only real "exterior" of the church is the façade. The sides and back are completely enclosed by other structures built into or on the ruins of the cavea of the Theater of Pompey.

The two-level façade, designed and built in 1680, is the work of the Roman architect and painter Giuseppe Passeri, a pupil of Carlo Maratta. In the lower section, the "first order", we find the door, framed by two columns capped with composite capitals and an arched tympanum enclosing the head of a cherub. The architrave bears the Latin inscription "S.Barbarae V.M. Sacr."

In the second (upper) order there is a niche enclosing the travertine statue of Saint Barbara by Ambrogio Parisi. Flamboyant candelabra flank the terminal tympanum. Two windows with an elegant seashell motif almost form small lateral wings. Below the right hand window a Latin inscription indicates that on the 22nd February 1638 the Guild of Book Sellers bought the whole piazza in front of the church up to the public thoroughfare for "scudi 400".

What appear to be 18th century structures encroach on the left side of the second level of the façade.

Information on this church is particularly scanty -- I found only a few pix and very short descriptions on the Internet. Most of the information in this article is from a printed sheet distributed by the Comunita di Santa Barbara Secretariat at Largo dei Librai 85, 00186 Rome, Italy, (Telephone/fax 06 168 33 474.) The story of S. Barbara is excerpted from the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Internet Links: (in Italian) (a picture of the interior) (a picture of the façade) (Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Barbara entry) (What's in the neighborhood)

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P.S.: At 88 Largo dei Librari, on the same tiny square as the Church, is the locally famous "Filettaro di Santa Barbara": Golden-fried cod fillet (filetto di baccala'), puntarelle (chicory) in anchovy vinaigrette, anchovies with bread and butter, and Frascati wines. Open only in the evening.