S. Francesca Romana a Tor de'Specchi
Community ID
Alternate Names
S. Maria Annunziata a Tor de'Specchi; S.Franciscae Romanae Turris Speculorum
Medieval Location
Via del Teatro di Marcello 32
Corporate Status
S. Maria Annunciata, S. Francesca
Date Founded
1434, July 4 (this is the date of the inaugural bull -- the original foundation date is unknown)
Date Terminated
Still extant as a Benedictine community
Religious Order
Monte Oliveti
Foundation Information

Foundation attributed to Francesca (nicknamed Ceccolella) Busa, wife of the Roman nobleman Lorenzo de Ponziani. She was later canonized as NULL.

Notable Members/Residents/Guests

Early members: Four women, "Agnelotia, filia Antonij dello Saccho de regione Campitelli, Ceccha Petri Macthey de regione Campitelli, Antonia quondam Grassiellj ortulanj de regione Transtiberis et Rentia filia Johannis Perella de regione Ripe," offered themselves to Agnese, the gubinatix the Oblates and to the abbot of Monte Oliveto, as recorded by a notarial act dated August 21, 1451.

Priveleges & Papal Exemptions

Approved by Eugenius IV on July 14, 1433 (house had originally been a community of laywomen who had established themselves as oblates).

Dependency Of

Began as a dependency of the Benedictine monastery of Monte Oliveto (see "Ecclesiastical relationships," below). Later, subject to the Holy See.

Other Ecclesiastical Relations

Although the monks of Santa Maria Nova, a reformed Benedictine monastery, were responsible for the spiritual care of Francesca's community, they did not, as an early papal document explicitly states, have the authority to control them. However, the oblates of Tor de'Specchi soon found themselves defending their independence from the monks' authority. By the 1460's the monks were claiming the right to discipline and punish the community. This claim appears to have been resisted with some success during the medieval period. For interference of monks who seek to "regere, ... punire ac reformare" the women see Santa Francesca Romana e i Monaci di Monte Oliveto, esp. 424; and L'istituzione delle oblate di Tor de Specchi secondo i documenti, 7.


Initial patronage came largely from the families of the member. The Savelli, Petrucci and Orsini families were important supporters. The Savelli, whose family compound was adjacent to the original site of the community donated propterty and through real estate trading helped the community unify its property holdings. The Orsini helped promote the cult of Francesca in the city and especially in the papal curia. The family of Francesca's husband, the Ponziani, are conspicuously absent as patrons in the first century of the community's existence.

Social Characteristics

the great majority of Francesca's supporters turn out to have been closely related to a group of prominent municipal leaders who had lost all their political power, and some thier lives, when they attempted a coup against Boniface IX in 1398.

Relative Wealth

Very affluent, esp. during the 15th and 16th centuries.


The community tried to build up a base of properties within the city of Rome and in the surrounding countryside (the Roman Campagna). The community's assets grew steadly during the course of the 15th c.


Work in the various Roman hospitals, including S. Maria della Curte and S. Spirito in Sassi. Also provided advocacy, counsel and aid to other groups of women in Rome, particularly to lay communities. Finally, practiced midwifery and other medicine.


Litigations over various disputes, including disputed rights over properties received through bequest and oblation.

Early Documents

[1] August 15, 1425: vow of oblation;

[2] July 14, 1433: papal confirmation (Eugenius IV)

Art & Artifacts

[1] Frescoes of the Old Chapel (see Italy, Rome, Tor de' Specchi: Francesca heals man with diseased leg; Italy, Rome, Tor de' Specchi: Francesca revives child; Italy, Rome, Tor de' Specchi: Francesca and the Oblates of Tor de 'Specchi give vows of oblation in 1425; Italy, Rome, Tor de' Specchi: Oblates harvesting grapes; Rome, Italy, Tor de' Specchi: Funeral of Francesca de 'Bussa; Italy, Rome, Tor de' Specchi: Francesca heals man with wounded arm): An elaborate fresco cycle, dated 1468, depicting scenes from the life, visions and miracles of Francesca Romana. The frescoes, attributed to Antoniazzo Romano and his workshop, covers the entire interior of the fifteenth-century chapel in Tor de'Specchi (known as Capella Vecchia to distinquish it from a seventeeth-century chapel in same complex) -- see Three scenes from the legend of Santa Francesca Romana, pp. 50-61, and 86.

[2] Frescoes of the Refectory: A series of grisailles frescoes, recently restored, which have been roughly dated to the mid-fifteenth century. Each of the 10 scenes depict Francesca enduring assault by demons in various guises and are, perhaps, an elaboration on moments of temptation traditionally associated with Saints Benedict and Anthony. Some, but not all of these demonic encounters are recorded in the the vita and the account of her visions authored by Giovanni Mattiotti, one of Francesca's confessors, and in the testimonies by witnesses in the first three processi for her cannonization. The collection of visions recorded by Francesca's confessor was instrumental in keeping her memory vivid and in shaping the identity of the community she left behind. Reading the visions out loud to each other was a regular practice of the pinzochere at Tor de'Specchi. Some of her visions were also illustrated: first in the 1450's in a series of panel paintings, three of which survive; and then among a series of frescos finished in 1468 which still adorn the small private chapel within Tor de'Specchi. One of the panels, now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, later reproduced in a fresco, conflates two visions as recorded by Francesca's confessor; the same visionary moment also appears in one of the frescoes in the Old Chapel. In the upper half of the panel Francesca receives a blessing from the Virgin who sanctioned her desire to establish a lay community. Here the Virgin has replaced the role of the ancient bishops, whose blessings once authorized the entrance of laywomen into a non-monastic religious life. Francesca's petition to the virgin is supported by three saints: the penitent Magdalene, Saint Paul and Saint Benedict. Essential bibliography. For good description and essential bibliography regarding this panel entitled, "Santa Francesca Romana Clothed by the Virgin," see The Robert Lehman Collection., as well as Three scenes from the legend of Santa Francesca Romana cited above.

[3] Finally, the convent contains textiles , clothing and liturgical items dating to the medieval period.

State Of Medieval Structure

Parts of the medieval structures remain on their original site, encased by sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth century facades, additions and other efforts at remodeling. The current address is Via del Teatro di Marcello, 32

Manuscript Sources

Benedettini Olivetani, S. Maria Nova alias S. Francesca Romana al Foro romano;
Archive of Tor de'Specchi;
Archivio del Vicariato (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Archivio Segreto);
Biblioteca Alessandrina, Codex 92. This seventeenth-century manuscript contains transcriptions of documents relating to life of Francesca Bussa and her community made by Abbot Costantino Caetani (sometimes written Gaetani or Gaetano) in the late sixteenth and early seventeeth century. The oldest known document for the community, the formula of the oblation of Francesca Bussa, appears on folio 96r.

Published Primary Sources

Vita di S. Francesca Romana scritta nell'idioma volgare del sec. XV;
I Processi inediti per Francesca Bussa dei Ponziani (Francesca Romana), 1440-1453;
Fonti per la storia sociale romana al tempo di Nicolò V e Callisto III: See pages 95-110 for documents, dating from 1451-1455, that relate to the community of oblates at Tor de'Specchi, which have been transcribed from notarial protocols in the Archivio di Stato in Rome.

Conversi/ae and servants

The community was a lay community until the early seventeenth century, when it became a Benedictine convent ordered according to the norms of the council of Trent. The community consistently resisted strict enclosure and other requirements of regular nuns. The coincidence of the canonization of Francesca Romana (1609) with the renunciation of lay status and liberties by the seventeenth century community suggests an interesting connection and requires further research.

Admin. Notes

Link MS sources to archive info when available.

WRL Project
Date Started