The Oratorio del Santissimo Crocifisso (Oratory of the Most Holy Crucifix) in Rome is a beautiful and but not well known large chapel which was built in memory of a miraculous event. On the night of 23 May 1519, the church of San Marcello al Corso was destroyed in a fire. At dawn, people ran to the site and discovered that the only thing that remained untouched in the smoking rubble was the wooden crucifix from the main altar.
In 1522 the crucifix put an end to a plague epidemic during a solemn procession organised to that effect and in 1526, the Confraternity of the Most Holy Crucifix was founded. In 1568 the Oratory was built and became famous in the 17th century, as it was part of the creation of new forms of religious music.
The crucifix on the altar is an 18th century copy of the miraculous one, which is now kept in the church of San Marcello. Since 1650, the 14th-century crucifix has been and is still carried in a procession to St Peter’s Basilica in holy years, Every year, the Archconfraternity, which heads some 120 confraternities scattered throughout various countries organises a penitential procession along Via del Corso as far as San Marcello. The Archconfraternity also celebrates the miracle on 23 May and the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross on 14 September with great solemnity.
The interior of the Oratory is indeed quite beautiful with its walls frescoed by major artists. Worth noting are Paris Nogari’s Procession of 1522, Baldassarre Croce’s The Approval of the Statutes of the Confraternity, Pomerancio’s The Miracle of the Crucifix, Giovanni de’Vecchi’s The Exaltation of the Cross and Niccolo Circignani’s The Miracle of the Cross.
There is a macabre legend associated with the cross. It is said that the sculptor of the crucifix murdered a sleeping man to obtain the most realistic model he could find to represent the suffering of Christ on the Cross!!!
So, next time you are in Rome, pay a visit to this beautiful Oratory – the frescoes alone are quite stunning.