Pope Benedict XVI has a special relationship with the campus of the German-speaking institution of Santa Maria dell’Anima, and with its sacristy.

From the top of the sacristy, statues of six Popes from Deutschen Lande (German countries) look out over visitors with dignity and austerity.

It’s a certainty of tradition that someday a statue of Pope Benedict XVI will also be placed here. For the rector, Franz Xaver Brandmayr, this is a difficult task. He must order a statue that conforms with those of the other Popes, and then he must find a space to place the statue. “It is not easy at all,” says Brandmayr humorously during a talk with Inside the Vatican. Besides the Popes there are statues of Ecclesia, the Church, and of Religio, Religion, “and you cannot easily relocate them.”

According to the monsignor, who was born in Austria, the sacristy is a jewel of Baroque art, one of the most beautiful sacristies in Rome.

Joseph Ratzinger started a friendship with the Anima (as it is informally known) as a young priest and visitor. At that time he was employed as theological counselor to Cardinal J. Frings of Cologne and had his first experience of Rome. Cardinal Frings, an alumnus of the Anima, loved this place — which is only a stone’s throw from the Roman Piazza Navona — in a special manner.

According to Brandmayr, the German-speaking participants in the Second Vatican Council met here once a week to exchange ideas. Only three months before his election on April 19th, 2005, the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith visited the Teutonic College of Santa Maria dell’Anima. During his visit Joseph Ratzinger shook his head with worry and said, “The sacristy needs immediate restoration.”

Brandmayr says, “During the festivities of the six-hundred-year anniversary of our institution we had an audience with the Pope. The Pope asked immediately, ‘How is the sacristy doing?’”

Since then the restoration has been completed, and the building radiates a golden aura. Some photographs have been sent to the Pope.

Pilgrims from the entire world visit Santa Maria dell’ Anima, and not only during the month of May.

The church was built more than six hundred years ago in the “German manner.” It is a preferred address for German-speaking pilgrim groups, who want to celebrate Holy Mass with their spiritual directors in their own language. Reservations can be made here.

Recently also, a chapel has been set aside for confessions. From 9:00 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. and in the afternoon, you can find a priest from the multilingual college there who will administer the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This initiative of the rector has once again attracted attention to one of the most beautiful churches in the center of Rome. Spiritual guidance of pilgrims is of utmost importance to the rector. Here you can confess in twenty-two languages, he says.

There is a tradition of priestly fraternity and hospitality among the priests at the Anima.

Where does the name “Anima” originate? We find the answer in the sculpture over the main door of the church whose original is in the interior. It is a statue by the famous sculptor Andrea Sansovino (1467-1529) of the Heavenly Queen with the Child Jesus between two “souls” of the “living” and of the “dead.” The two naked figures raise their arms to the Mother of God beseeching her intercession.

The sacristy was designed by the architect Paolo Maruscelli (1635-1644). The figures made of stucco above the molding depict the Popes from the German-speaking regions. This is evidence of the former presence of the German nation in Rome. Two sets of paintings are dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The stations of the life of the Virgin Mary are portrayed by different painters. When the visitor looks up to the frescoed ceiling, he can admire the portrayal of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Twenty symbols on the walls venerate the purity of the Virgin Mary as a unique privilege granted by God for all times.

This magnificent sacristy with its golden stucco was intended to serve as a meeting place for the Anima Administration, which met for the first time on August 17th, 1643, though the sacristy was not yet complete. The architect chose the narthex of St. Peter’s Basilica as the model for his design. This also explains the special interest of Pope Benedict XVI in Santa Maria dell’Anima.

Would not the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council on October 11th, 2012, be a good date to once more invite Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Cardinal Ratzinger, for a visit? The rector of the Anima will think about it, he says.

The tomb of Pope Hadrian VI is one of the most famous works of art in the Anima. This Pope, born in Utrecht in the year 1459, was until the election of Pope John Paul II on October 16th, 1978, the last non-Italian in the See of St. Peter. Here the memory of the flawless and ill-fated Pope is cultivated, who died on the September 14th, 1523, after a pontificate of thirteen months. To fully appreciate the artistic decorations in the side chapels, one can make use of the visitors’ guide. Of special interest for visitors of the former East Germany is the St. Benno Chapel with a painting of the miracle of St. Benno, who died in the year 1106 as bishop in Meißen and was canonized by Pope Hadrian VI on March 31st, 1523. But for pilgrims from Augsburg the chapel of the Fuggers is a special attraction. For those devoted to Our Lady, the Pietà by the sculptor Lorenzetto, a marble sculpture from 1532, invites prayer and meditation.

Brandmayr is the 208th rector of the institute. He says there are approximately 10,000 German-speaking Catholics in Rome. The institute has contact with 2000 of them, but only some hundreds belong to the “core community,” which is widely scattered. It often takes German Catholics in the area an hour and a half to drive to Holy Mass on Sundays. The German community is not a territorially limited community. One of the reasons they attend this Holy Mass is so that children of “mixed” German-Italian marriages will still speak and understand some German. As rector of the Anima, Brandmayr is a member of the administrative board of the German school on the Via Aurelia Antica in Rome. It is the task of the Anima’s parochial vicar to prepare the students for First Communion and Confirmation. Thirty children received First Holy Communion this year, and twenty were confirmed.

The college has twenty rooms for priests, who are studying to receive licenses or doctorates in nearby Roman universities in the various disciplines of theology to serve their dioceses in pastoral, academic or administrative duties as requested by their bishop. The priests who reside here come from all over world.

Holy Mass on Sundays takes place at 10:00 a.m. so visitors have enough time to walk to St. Peter’s Square to participate in the Angelus with the Pope and for a cappuccino and croissant as “refreshment along the way” in one of the cafés in the vicinity.

Also, many from Holland visit the church, among other reasons because of the priest Fr. Antoine Bodar, who is well-known in his home country for his journalistic columns and television interviews.

The institution today owns nineteen palazzi (apartment complexes) administered by the rector of the Anima. Brandmayr is proud of the fact that the six-hundred-year-old institution has suffered no loss of assets.

Msgr. Brandmayr, the rector, was born in Marchtrenk in Upper Austria. From 1993 until his appointment as rector in January 2008, he was parochial vicar of St. Gertrud/Wäring in Vienna and also served on the ecclesiastical tribunal of the archdiocese of Vienna. In Austria he is known as director of many beatification processes, such as those of Fr. Petrus Pavlicek and Hildegard Burjan. He was also involved in the beatification process of Emperor Karl I. At the moment he is spiritual director of the Emperor Karl I League of Prayers for Peace.

The founders of the Anima, originally a pilgrim house called a hospice, were Netherlanders. During the flourishing era of the Holy Roman Empire, Rome, being the center of Christianity, attracted pilgrims from its various countries. These pilgrims organized themselves into brotherhoods based on nationality, and operated pilgrim houses, i.e., hospices for their fellow countrymen. These houses were the focal point for residents from different nations as well as for pilgrims. The German Brotherhood had people from all parts of the Empire, which extended from the Netherlands to Austria. Only the Bohemians possessed their own hospice. Among the Germans who settled in Rome there were members of many guilds: craftsmen, proprietors of guest houses, merchants, and of course clerics. During the time of Rome’s dilapidation resulting from the transfer of the Curia to Avignon (1309-77), the city was deprived of its government. Around 1350 Johannes Petri from Dodrecht with his wife Katarina from the Netherlands, who owned a shop close to St. Peter’s Basilica, founded a German hospice in honor of beatae Mariae animarum. For that reason he purchased three houses west of Piazza Navona. In the meantime he founded a chapel. In the year 1395 the private foundation was transformed into a brotherhood by Westfalen, born Dietrich von Nieheim. In the year 1406 this was transferred to the administration of the cardinal vicar of Rome. Between the years 1431-46 the German Brotherhood erected a church with the layout of a basilica and relocated the hospice behind the sanctuary. This was the first church of a foreign nation in Rome after the return of the Curia from exile. It inspired other nations to follow suit.

In the course of the 15th century the German Brotherhood enjoyed increasing influence. In 1444 Pope Eugene IV (1431-1447) entrusted to the brotherhood the pastoral care of German pilgrims and the poor. Johannes Burckhard from Straßburg, as director of the Brotherhood and Master of Ceremonies, founded this college, Santa Maria dell’Anima, in the year 1496 with seven chaplains to serve pilgrims. He recorded the events of the pontificates of the Borgia-Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503) and Pope Julius II della Rovere (1503-1513) and won lasting fame. In the year 1499 he was the driving force behind the construction of a new church for the German Brotherhood, which would considerably exceed the old one in magnitude. The foundation stone was laid on April 11th, 1500, by Bishop Matthias Scheit, the procurator of Emperor Maximilian in Rome. The construction costs were borne by the abundant proceeds from the realty of the Anima and by donations from Germany given by rich merchants such as the Fuggers from Augsburg, whose business also had a branch in Rome. A typical German construction style was adopted for the church.

Pope Leo X Medici (1513-21), who is remembered in the history of the Church with his motto “Godiamoci il papato perche Dio ce l’ha dato” (Let’s enjoy the papacy, because God gave it to us), approved the selling of indulgences for the purpose of financing the construction of the church. In 1514 the façade was given the inscription: Templum Beate Marie de Anima Hospitalis Teutonicorum MDXIII. Only in the year 1539, after the armies of Emperor Karl V caused commotion in Rome, was the main portal erected. The German members of the Curia were particular targets of the so-called “Sack of Rome” because in their homeland, not only among the Lutherans and Reformers, they had the reputation of sucking out the prebends to be able to make a good living in the south…

The present church of Santa Maria dell’Anima is the third one on the same spot. It is located in the immediate vicinity of the Church of Santa Maria della Pace.

(Translation by Don Raffi Sakayan — Lebanese priest, Collegio Santa Maria dell’ Anima)

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