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The annual festa patronale is almost upon Testaccio – the day when the rione’s patron saint, Santa Maria Liberatrice, is celebrated in the piazza with a parade and party. The official festival period officially opened Friday evening with a church service and over the next eight days, the main piazza will be filled with music and celebration. The festa culminates on Sunday, June 2nd, when an effigy of the Madonna is carried down the steps of the Santa Maria Liberatrice church and through the district’s streets after the 18.00 evening mass.

The church of Santa Maria Liberatrice with its beautiful turn-of-the-century mosaics was constructed between 1906 and 1908, at a time when the population of Testaccio was made up of blue-collar workers, living in subsidised apartments. The name of the church was chosen by Pope Pio X, who wanted it to have a particular resonance for the local people. Accordingly, he called it after one of Rome’s most historic churches, Santa Maria Liberatrice, which used to stand in the Roman Forum. That church had been built on top of the ruins of Santa Maria Antiqua al Foro, known as the first Marian temple in the Roman world, dating back to the 6th century, also making it the oldest Christian structure in the Forum. The original Santa Maria Liberatrice was completed by Onorio Longhi in 1617 but was later demolished in 1900 to bring to light the structure of  the more ancient Santa Maria Antiqua.

To bring the connection with the lost church full circle, Pio X also arranged for the fresco, “Sancta Maria libera nos a poenis inferni”, salvaged from the original  Santa Maria Liberatrice church and thus slightly concave in shape to be installed in the new building. In recent times, it had been stored in the Monastery of Tor de’ Specchi at the foot of the Campidoglio. The inscription under the fresco recounts its journey home.

“Questa chiesa perpetua il culto di S.Maria Liberatrice ereditando titolo e icone dell’omonoma chiesa demolita che dal secolo XVI all’anno MDCCCXCIX tenne il luogo e custodì le memorie di Santa Maria antiqua, primo santuario della madre di Dio nel mondo. I Salesiani del venerabile Giovanni Bosco con l’aiuto dei loro cooperatori e delle Nobili Oblate di Tor de’ Specchi eressero il rinnovato Santuario perché fosse solenne e non perituro omaggio a S.S.Santità Pio X nell’anno giubilare del suo sacerdozio.”

Testaccio’s only parish church,  Santa Maria Liberatrice was designed by architect Mario Ceradini and entrusted first to the Benedictines, before being taken on by the Salesians, who run it to this day. On the facade, a beautiful mosaic – repaired in 1925 after it started to come away – faithfully reproduces a fresco from Santa Maria Antiqua. The central aisle of the church features black and white marble mosaics, containing geometric patterns and the signs of the zodiac, in a sequence starting with Aquarius and culminating with Capricorn under the altar, representing the month in which Christ was born.

Testaccio’s Festa Patronale

Wednesday 29 May

21.00: “Serenata a Petrolini” in Piazza Santa Maria Liberatrice, featuring  Stefano Antonucci and Gaetano Mosca with musicians Fabio Costa and Denis Negroponte

Thursday 30 May

19.30: “Concerto Bandistico” – Performance in church by Rome’s Vigili Urbani band

21.00: “Four Essentials” – live rock in the Piazza from Marco Piacentini, Walter Lutri, Federico Buccinini and Fabrizio Anticoli

21.30: “Penta Re” – concert in the Piazza with music from Matteo Michael Deledda, Marco Pichiorri, Andrea Iannotta, Francesco Maselli and Massimiliano Rosano

Friday 31 May

16.45: The children of Testaccio lay a floral tribute in the church to Santa Maria Liberatrice

21.30: “Acustico Zero” – Tribute to Renato Zero with Marco Rinaldi, Daniele Napodano, Marco Pichiorri and Ilaria Verrascina

Saturday June 1

21.00: “Beatles Tribute Band” All Beat Back with Stephen Cox, Andrea Sanarica, Alessandro De Leoardis and Augusto Lucignani

Sunday June 2

10.00: Holy Mass presided over by Parrocco Don Giovanni

18.00: Eucharist with Mons. Matteo Zuppi

19.00: Procession of Maria Liberatrice accompanied by band

The parade will pass through the streets of Piazza S. Maria Liberatrice, Via Nicola Zabaglia, Via G.B. Bodoni, Via Evangelista Torricelli, Via G. Ferraris, Via B. Franklin, Lungotevere Testaccio, Via Rubattino, Via A. Vespucci, Via Marmorata, Via G. Branca, Via L. Della Robbia, Via G.B. Bodoni, Via Zabaglia, Sagrato Chiesa

21.00: “Con un vecchio ritornello”, concert of traditional Roman music and magic display from Maestro Maurizio Francisci

23.30: Firework display in honour of Santa Maria Liberatrice

Words and photos © Isobel Lee