Skip to content

Sant’Onofrio al Gianicolo: A look inside Cardinal Pizzaballa’s new titular church

By tradition, when the pope makes a bishop a cardinal, he assigns him a titular church in the Diocese of Rome, a link back to the College of Cardinals’ roots as a consistory of the diocesan clergy in Rome.

Practically, the link with a cardinal remains important to many Roman churches themselves — while some are more modern buildings, many are historical and artistic treasures and their cardinal patrons can be an important help in raising money for their upkeep.

On Wednesday, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa took possession of his titular Roman church, Sant’Onofrio al Gianicolo.

Cardinal Pizzaballa’s coat of arms (R ), opposite Pope Francis’ coat of arms at Sant’Onofrio. Credit: The Pillar.


Sant’Onofrio al Gianicolo is not among the most well-known churches in Rome. In fact, it is often known for the steep road leading up to it, which might deter walking pilgrims at nearby St. Peter’s. 

Still, the church’s story includes interesting nuggets of history, art, architecture, and even an award-winning poet.

Inside Sant’Onofrio al Gianicolo. Credit: The Pillar.

Subscribe now

Here are some fun facts about Sant’Onofrio:

  • In addition to it now being the titular church of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, it’s also the official mother church of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, a papal order of knighthood dating back to the 1100s that is today charged with helping provide for Christians in the Holy Land. 

A plaque recognizes the church’s connection to the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. Credit: The Pillar.
  • While one of the order’s former grand masters is buried in the church, today the site is run by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, a U.S.-based religious community dedicated to promoting unity and healing.

    The Franciscan Friars of the Atonement were founded as an Anglican religious community, who were received into the Church in 1909 and given custody of the church and its attached monastery.

Leave a comment

  • It’s named after the Desert Father St. Onuphrius. A 4th century hermit in Egypt, St. Onuphrius was the subject of great religious devotion in the Middle Ages, although his popularity has largely faded since then. 

17th century image of Saint Onuphrius by Emmanuel Tzanes. Public domain.

Give a gift subscription

  • The site’s first religious use dates back to the early 15th century, when the land was bought for a hermitage by Nicola da Forca Palena, one of the co-founders of the Poor Hermits of St. Jerome. The church was added onto a monastery that was built on the site of the original hermitage.

    While the church and monastery were both built in the mid 1400s, artistic and architectural features were added on in the centuries that followed, and the church is known for its blend of Gothic and Baroque styles.

  • The church contains five side chapels, which are larger in total area than the nave of the church.

One of the side chapels at Sant’Onofrio. Credit: The Pillar.

Share The Pillar

  • The Italian epic poet Torquato Tasso spent his last days at Sant’Onofrio in 1595. He was staying at the monastery before a ceremony in which he was to be crowned poet laureate, in a ceremony arranged by Pope Clement VIII. 

    Instead, Tasso succumbed to illness just one day before the ceremony was to be held. The room in which he died is today preserved as a museum, featuring some of his manuscripts and personal belongings.

Image credit: The Pillar
  • In 1873, the monastery was briefly seized by the Italian government, which used it as a pediatric hospital. The hospital, known as Bambino Gesu, was eventually relocated to the site next to the church, where it still stands today. 

Subscribe now

Comments 8