The church of Santa Maria Nova, also known as Santa Francesca Romana, started life as an oratory. It was built during the reign of Pope Paul I (r. 757-67) in part of the ancient Temple of Venus and Roma.
By the end of the 10th century the oratory had been rebuilt as a church. It was called Santa Maria Nova to distinguish it from another church in the Forum dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Santa Maria Antiqua, which had fallen into ruin. Santa Maria Nova was rebuilt during the reign of Pope Honorius III (r. 1216-27), who added the bell tower and the beautiful mosaic in the apse. In the mosaic, the Virgin and Child are flanked by St Peter and St Andrew (right) and St John and St James.
In 1440 Francesca Bussa de' Leoni, a wealthy Roman noblewoman, who, in 1425, founded the Olivetan Oblates of Mary, was interred in Santa Maria Nova. Following her canonisation, on May 29th, 1608, the interior of the church was remodelled by Carlo Lombardi (1559-1620), who also designed and built the porch and façade.
The relics of Santa Francesca Romana are to be found in the crypt. In 1925 Pope Pius XI (r. 1922-39) declared her to be the patron saint of car drivers.
The painter Gentile da Fabriano (c. 1370-1427) is also interred in the church. However, no trace of his burial place remains.