The Church of Saint Susanna at the baths of Diocletian (in Italian: Chiesa di Santa Susanna alle Terme di Diocleziano) is a Roman Catholic parish church on the Quirinal hill in Rome, with the first church of that name on that site dating back to about the year 280. The current church on that site dedicated to Saint Susanna was rebuilt in 1585–1603.
Images (below): The church in the centre of the top picture is the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria. The convent between it and the church at the right of the top picture was demolished in the 1920s to make way for the road connecting Piazza Barberini with Termini, Rome's central railway station. The site is of Augustinian interest because members of the Order of St Augustine ministered and lived there for 140 years before the remodelling of the church into its present architectural design. At left of the top image is the Church of Santa Susanna as drawn in 1771 andin the bottom images as photographed in colour in recent times. This facade by Carlo Maderno was added sixteen years after the Augustinians were withdrawn. Maderno subsequently was responsible for the façade of St Peter’s Basilica.
But, to begin at the beginning, this church site dates back to the third century. Saint Susanna was a Roman virgin-martyr who died in the persecution of Diocletian. Her name was given to the titulus Caii, the church established in the house of her uncle Pope Caius. The church was later to become a parish church within Rome. Remains of a third-century house have been found in the crypt of the existing church. The current Church of Santa Susanna displays little evidence of its former early Christian and medieval incarnations. The church as seen there today is not of early medieval style, but rather is a splendid showcase of late Renaissance art and architecture. Video: Church of Santa Susanna in Rome. (12 minutes.)
In comparison with most Roman churches, Santa Susanna seems broad and spacious, filled with light and awash with pastel colours. The nave is richly frescoed with huge figures, classical vistas and luminous green gardens, and speckled with light golden stucco-work throughout. This was the work of Rome's most important artists of the late sixteenth century. Their style was a bridge between Renaissance classicism and Baroque exuberance, called Mannerism (emphasis on style rather than on representations of reality), and characterized by a light palette, distorted figures, and unorthodox perspectives.
In the late sixteenth century, Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590) was investing Rome with an unprecedented flurry of building activity - providing new streets and piazzas, raising obelisks and aqueducts, and increasing the number of churches, fountains and villas. The Quirinal Hill, with Santa Susanna at its peak, was one of the favourite building sites of Pope Sixtus V (Moses Fountain, Montalto Villa, Quirinal Palace, Via and Porta Pia). The Pope gave his Roman Vicar and Santa Susanna's titular Cardinal, Jerome Rusticucci, free reign to appropriately transform the church. The Cardinal did so. In the end, a façade, in travertine, remained to be constructed. The renovation of the present Church of Santa Susanna was the first independent commission in Rome for Carlo Maderno, who had trained as an assistant to his uncle Domenico Fontana, the chief architect of Pope Sixtus V.
In 1603, Maderno completed the façade, a highly influential early Baroque design. In 1605 Pope Paul V then named Maderno as the architect of Saint Peter's Basilica, where he completed the nave and constructed the great façade. It appears that the arrival of Cardinal Rusticucci coincided with the departure of the Augustinians from Santa Susanna. At that time a branch of the Cistercian Order obtained a decree whereby Pope Sixtus V granted to a new group of cloistered Cistercian Nuns the monastery of Santa Susanna where previously the Augustinians had been living.
The Pope also ended the Augustinians’ permission to staff the Church of Santa Susanna; the Order had ministered there by papal licence, and not by Augustinian ownership of either the church or monastery. Augustinian administration of this church and monastery took place from 1448 until 1587. This role was given initially to the Roman Province of the Augustinian Order. With the advent of the Augustinian Observant movement within the Order, Santa Susanna was made the responsibility of the Augustinian Observant Congregation of Carbonaria, and finally the Augustinian Observant Congregation of Lombardy.
Images (at right): Picture 1: Drawing of the facade of S. Susanna, built in 1603. Picture 2: Part of the facade. Picture 3: Interior view of Santa Suzanna.
During the period from 1448 until 1587, there were three Augustinian churches in Rome. These were Santa Maria del Popolo, which came to a precursor Augustinian congregation about six years before the Augustinian Grand Union of 1256, and St Tryphon that was slowly replaced by the Church of Sant’Agostino from 1287 onwards. The noted English Augustinian, John Capgrave O.S.A., who visited Rome – probably in the Jubilee Year of 1450 – reported on these Augustinian churches in his later publication, The Solace of Pilgrims.
In the year 1587 Pope Sixtus V moved out the Augustinians from the monastery, and allowed its use by the Cistercian Nuns, who remain there still. As a parish church in Rome, Santa Susanna had a cardinal appointed as its titular head. Between March 1561 and March 1563 this Titular Cardinal was a noted Augustinian Cardinal, Jerome Seripando O.S.A., one of the most influential Augustinians in the long history of the Order.
You Tube: Church of Santa Susanna in Rome. (12 minutes 31 seconds.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X02o04XKyLo AN4243