Another post travel count – churches we saw in Rome

Rome has 900 churches. We did not manage to see even five percent of them. While we saw a fair number of churches in our seven days, we were not always able to go inside. They are very inconsistent about when the doors are open. I thought churches were supposed to always be open in case you wanted to pray or needed sanctuary. Not in Rome, anyhow.

Here’s what we saw.

1. San Giovanni in Laterano is one of the major churches in Rome. It is supposed to be the oldest Christian church, founded in the 4th century by Constantine and has undergone a number of rebuilds and renovations. The last major renovation was by Borromini around 1650. Prior to the building of the current St. Peter’s, San Giovanni was where the popes lived. It retains some early mediaeval decoration, particularly mosaics. The mosaic tiled floors vary through the church. There’s a fair bit to look at as it’s a big church and when we went, not many visitors were there. We saw a number of monks walking around, or going in or out of locked chapel doors.

2. Santa Maria Maggiore has had a church on it since the 13th century. It is the largest of those dedicated to the Virgin Mary, thus the name, Maggiore. Apparently there’s 26 churches in Rome dedicated to Mary. I would have thought there were more. There are lots of golden mosaics on the inside and the wooden coffered and gilded ceiling is a huge expanse.

3. San Pietro in Vincoli was one we tried to see inside but arrived shortly after the doors closed for lunch. Italians like long lunches; the closure was from noon to 3:30. We did not return so missed seeing Michelangelo’s statue of Moses which was to be used for the tomb of Pope Julius II at St. Peter’s. That didn’t happen, instead the statue is in this smaller church.

4. Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is one church both Allie and I had seen inside before. It has a Michelangelo statue of Christ holding the cross. We did not go inside this time, but you can go right up to the Michelangelo statue and touch it, unlike the Pietà in St. Peter’s which is behind bullet proof glass.

5. Pantheon or Santa Maria ad Martyres is hardly thought of as a church since everyone still refers to it by its name as a Roman temple to many gods. The interior is incredible, particularly, the dome. A number of tombs are inside the Pantheon, but I only checked out Raphael’s.

6. Sant’Agnese in Agone is one we saw everyday from our hotel room. It’s name has nothing to do with agony. Agone was the ancient name of Piazza Navona (piazza in agone), and meant instead (from Greek) “in the site of the competitions”, because the piazza was an ancient stadium on the Greek model (with one flat end) for footraces. We never saw this church open, but I like just looking at the Borromini designed exterior.

7. Sant’Ivo alle Sapienza is one of the smallest churches, also designed by Borromini. It is only open Sunday mornings, so we made sure we stopped to look on the only Sunday morning we were there. It has a number of Borromini novelties including the corkscrew like lantern above the dome. The complex rhythms of the interior have a a rational architecture geometry to them. A floor plan shows an overlap of a circle on two superimposed equilateral triangles creating a basis for a hexagonal array of chapels and altar in a centralized church. The concave and convex undulations of the interior is jarring yet, I find it stunningly appealing.

8. Santa Maria del Popolo was originally a church in 1099 with a facade added during the Baroque era by a young Gian Lorenzo Bernini, but is best worth visiting for its interior which contains not only the Cerasi Chapel canvases of Caravaggio (Crucifixion of St. Peter and Conversion of Paul on the way to Damascus) as well as an Assumption of the Virgin by Annibale Carracci in the same chapel and sadly ignored, but also contains frescoes by Pinturicchio, sculptures by Andrea Bregno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Habakkuk and the Angel and Daniel and the Lion). The Chigi Chapel, the private chapel of banker Agostino Chigi, was designed by Raffaello Sanzio. The dome is decorated with Raphael’s mosaics Creation of the World. That chapel was under restoration this time.

9 and 10. Santa Maria di Montesanto and Santa Maria dei Miracoli churches were designed by Carlo Rainaldi and commissioned by pope Alexander VII in 1658. They’re called the twin churches because from across Piazza del Popolo, they look alike, but they actually are not identical.

11. Santa Maria delle Fratte has a bell-tower and dome that are the work of Borromini, completed 1653.

12. Collegio di Propaganda is probably not a church proper since it is the headquarters for the college for training missionaries, but it does have a chapel inside. The south facade is by Borromini. It is near the Spanish Steps and wasn’t open when we went past.

13. Il Gesù, or the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus, is the main church for the Jesuit order, finished in 1584. It is intended to incorporate Jesuit values and articulate Catholic doctrine as reaffirmed by the Counter Reformation. Architecturally, it marks a transition between Renaissance and Baroque. The interior decor is later, mostly Baroque and most notably, ceiling frescoes by Giovanni Battista Gaulli, known as Il Baciccia, which represents “The Glory of the Holy Name of Jesus” and seems to open up a hole in the ceiling, through which heavenly light pours onto downwards-cascading colossal figures and into the nave and altar. Allie decided this was her favourite.

14. Chiesa di San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane also called San Carlino was Borromini’s first independent commission. It is squeezed into a little corner with one of four fountains. The concave-convex facade undulates in a non-classic way and the interior, with its oval dome, is both complex and extraordinary. I think this or San’Ivo are my favourites.

15. Sant’Andrea al Quirinale is just down the street from San Carlino. Designed by Bernini, it’s also an oval dome, yet could not be more different from San Carlino with its rich looking gold gilding and coloured marble.

16. Santa Maria della Vittoria houses the Cornaro Chapel and Bernini’s theatrical masterpiece, The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa di Avila, which portrays her experience of being pierced through the heart by an angel with a golden arrow. The figures of Saint Teresa and the angel are seen upon a stage, witnessed by members of the Cornaro family looking on from flanking balconies.

17. Santa Maria degli Angeli e Martiri is built within the remains of the Baths of Diocletian. Its design was begun by Michelangelo and finished by Jacopo Lo Duca, Michelangelo’s student, after his death. We intended to go here before going to the train station, but we ran out of time.

18. Chiesa Americana San Paolo or St. Paul’s Within the Walls. We saw this walking down Via Nazionale, one very busy street, and it was with some difficulty that I found its name. It’s an Anglican church.

19. San Luigi dei Francesi is the French national church in Rome, but must be visited for the cycle of paintings in the Contarelli Chapel by Caravaggio in 1599-1600 about the life of St. Matthew: The Calling of St Matthew, The Inspiration of St Matthew, and The Martyrdom of St Matthew.

20. Santa Maria della Concezione in Campo Marzio we only saw from the back but could see it is a Greek cross plan with a dome.

21. La Maddalena or Santa Maria Maddalena in Campo Marzio, we also only saw from the outside. Designed mainly by Carlo Fontana, it is the only true Rococo church in Rome.

22. St. Peter’s, of course.

23. Chiesa Nuova or Santa Maria in Vallicelli, was built in the 16th century. It has huge ceiling frescoes painted by Pietro Da Cortona: The Holy Trinity in the dome, the Assumption of Mary in the apse and Angels with the Instruments of the Passion of Our Lord in the ceiling of the sacristy. The high altar has three paintings by Peter Paul Rubens.

24. Santa Barbara dei Librai is located in Largo dei Librai, supposedly where Julius Caesar was assassinated. The church is described in the book I was reading on the plane to Rome, The Raphael Affair, by Iain Pears, as the location where a fictional painting gets stolen.

25. Santa Maria in Aracoeli is located in the Piazza del Campidoglio rising above the Roman forum and dating back to the 6th century. We did not try going inside. It’s on the left in the photo. Look at all the steps.

26. Trinità dei Monti is located on the top of the Spanish Steps. Didn’t go up all the steps to go inside this one, either.

27. Santa Maria delle Pace has a facade designed by Cortona in the 17th century although the main building was erected in 15th century. It wasn’t open when we saw it on our last day in Rome, which was too bad because the interior has a cloister designed by Bramante that I would have like to have seen.

3 thoughts on “Another post travel count – churches we saw in Rome

  1. Are you running an Excel spreadsheet on your iPhone or some other way of keeping track of all of these details?


  2. Just using my Rome guide book — which I left at the hotel for another visitor — and sometimes googling. One advantage of this blog is that I usually write something before I forget everything!


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