The church is all about St Francis of Assisi. It was built by Giuseppe Sardi and it shows the influence of Borromini in decoration which is rich, but at the same time poor as it does not make use of marble or other expensive materials - true to the simplicity of the Franciscans.
St. Francis resided here for some time when he came to Rome to gain recognition for his order. Built in 1231, the church replaced a previous one dedicated to S. Biagio. The façade (photo 1) is by Bernini scholar Mattia de Rossi.
The interior is stunning and the altar is a shrine to St Francis (photos 2 and 3).
Here to the left of the altar you will see a late work by Bernini (photo 4), where he shows once again his mastery in Blessed Ludovica Albertoni, reminiscent of Bernini's Ecstasy of Santa Teresa in the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria. A beautiful dome graces the chapel to the left of the sculpture.
Inside the friary (photo 5) a series of frescoes painted by Fra' Emanuele da Como in 1684-86 celebrate the Franciscan order.
As you are walking down Via Veneto towards the Piazza Barberini you will see this lovely little church called Sant Maria della Concezione. This church was founded by Pope Urban VIII's brother. He was buried here along with thousands of other members of this church. This is the church of the Capuchin Monks. The Capuchin monks buried all their brethren under the church and used the bones of over 4000 more brothers to create alters, crowns, stars and crosses. In the five chapels you will see these bones in inticate designs. The bones line the walls and ceilings in different patterns. It is very weird to see bones in the form of lampshades and chairs. It is even weirder to see the full skeletons hanging from the walls holding other bones and dressed in robes like the grim reaper. They even have the bones of some children on display. This is not a place to visit if you are with children or are squeemish. I thought it was very grizzley and unnerving the way they had the bones displayed.
If you visit, you are expected to make a donation but may stay as long as you wish. Bring small change because the ladies in charge of the gift shop will not make change for you. Also, they do not allow pictures taken, with or without flash. They close the entire museum if someone takes a picture. The crypt is open 9-6 with a break from noon til 3. Visit it if you wish, but just be warned, this is some really weird stuff!!!
It is easy to find. If you are in the Piazza Barberini just head up the Via Venato. It is on the right hand side of the street about 3 minutes from the piazza. You must go up the stairs to enter the church. There is a small gift shop inside if you wish to purchase post cards of the displays.
Many are aware that the Basilica San Giovanni in Laterano was the first seat of the Pope. The Basilica is immense and the huge statues of the 12 apostles dominate the central nave. Off to the left of is the Cloister Garden and it is well worth taking a stroll there. In addition to many archeological ruins you will see along the square, there is a small museum with treasured vestments. The garden is well kept and the columns provide a peaceful walk - no picnics please! Donation for entry is 2 Euro.
In the Via Veneto, you can find a very strange church, in everyday language called the Chiesa dei Cappuccini. This church is decorated by the bones of 4.000 munks. It is a very strange sight, but at the same time it is beautiful. Decorations on the ceiling, against the wall, everywhere. And all made of bones and skulls.
27 Via Veneto
Tel. 06 45 28 50
The church of Santa Maria della Vittoria holds one of Bernini's most famous works: The Ecstasy of St.Teresa in the Cornaro chapel(the fourth on the left).
This Art Gem is more visited now because it is mentioned in the Angels & Demons book by Dan Brown.
Located on Via XX Settembre 17, not far from Piazza della Repubblica and Via Veneto, can be visited from 8.30 till 11am and from 3.30 till 6pm but I suggest to call ahead and check.
Even if you have no interest in art, even if you’ve never heard of Caravaggio, pay a visit to this church and the famous Contarelli Chapel (the first chapel on the left closest to the altar). If you’re near Piazza Navona, you’re less than 5 minutes away. Bring some coins with you to turn on the timed lights for the chapel.
The photo is of one of the three famous Caravaggio masterpieces – paintings on the life of St. Matthew, which marked a turning point in his career. This is the “Calling of St. Matthew” and shows the masterful technique for which Caravaggio is so famous – the use of light and dark – which so many followers imitated. Note the dark void between Christ (with the halo) and St. Peter, and Matthew the tax collector and his colleagues. And see how the dramatically lit hand of Christ visually and metaphorically crosses the void as he calls Matthew, and Matthew seems to say, “Who, me?”
The earliest of the three paintings is the one on the right, “The Martyrdom of St. Matthew”. The last was the altar piece "The Inspiration of St. Matthew." Matthew, one of the four gospel writers, as was customary, is pictured with an angel, just as Luke is usually pictured with an ox, John with an Eagle and Mark with a lion.
See this website for better reproductions of these and other works of Caravaggio.
Near the chapel, the church has placed a small display and explanation of the paintings in French, Italian and English.
The church (facade designed by Giacomo della Porta) is dedicated to St. Louis IX, king and patron saint of France, who lead the crusades. But the facade isn't stylistically representative of della Porta. It is relatively austere and static compared to Il Gesu'. One of my knowledgeable friends wonders if the French commission required something more sedate.
Address: 5 Piazza San Luigi dei Francesi / Via Santa Giovanna d'Arco. Between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona.
Hours: 8:00 a.m. to noon - 3:30 to 7:00 p.m.
This very large church in many aspects opens the Baroque period in Rome. The facade in no way prepares one for the extravagance of the interior.
Photo 1 The Jesuits believed that the richness of the decoration was an appropriate means to celebrate the greatness of God, thus the altar dedicated to St Ignatius (late XVIIth century) is most elaborate. The riches displayed in this altar are unsurpassed in all of Rome - gilded gold, brilliant blue lapis lazuli and many other gems.
Photo 2 The large canvas above this gold altar is, in fact, a very complicated mechanism that rolls up from the bottom on special Jesuit occasions to dramatically reveal the figure of St Ignatius.
Photo 3 The interior is a tumult of virtuosity in painting, marble scuplture, in architecture. Statues sprawl into frescoed figures at points in the roof, and frescoed figures emerge in marble at others.
It would be a mistake for the spectator to imagine that anything has been done here for the sole purpose of induging excess which might be the perception in the current age; everything is the expression of devoted faith, executed in the forms that the art of the time offered. Consider it a non-issue with the Jesuits who would not be disposed to address, much less apologize for the extravagant expressions of devotion bestowed by their predecessors.
Photo 4 The nice façade by Giacomo Della Porta shows a statue of St. Ignatius with a striking contrast between the total placidity of the face of the Saint and the rather violent action he is performing. The dome was designed by Iacopo Barozzi known as il Vignola, but it was built under the direction of Giacomo della Porta and completed in 1584.
The Basilica San Giovanni is here - the first seat of the Pope and the site of the huge sculptures of the 12 apostles. Here also you will find the Shrine of the Holy Stairs - Santa Scala - and one of the oldest images of Christ - given the name of Acheropita because, according to legend, it was miraculously painted without human intervention. It is the Christian custom to climb the Holy Stairs on ones knees and you can expect to see pilgrims ascending the stairs if you visit. There was, for me, an unmistakable aura of reverence and sanctity inside this shrine.
Up on the Aventine hill above the forum, there is a nice walk to do… first visit the church of Sant' Anselmo with its lovely courtyard. Pass the Santa Sabina Church. Soon, you will see a building with a green door. This is the retreat of the Knights of Malta . The door is seldom open but you will surely notice some people peeping through a hole. They are not being too curious or impolite, they are just having one of Rome’s best view of St-Peter’s. I won’t say much about it, you’ll have to discover for yourself but to me, it’s one of Rome’s little treasure.
In the swanky area of Via Venetto, just off Piazza Barberini, is a little church, Santa Maria della Concezione that would not be distinguishable from the hundreds of Roman churches if it wasn’t for its crypt. What’s special about that? All the ornaments are made with bones of deceased monks of the capuchins order. It is at the same time horrific, beautiful, funny and thought-provoking. It seems like the main goal of the “decorator” and the capuchins was to display Men’s Vanity. The entrance is free but a donation is appreciated.
We were honored to be able to have a glimpse into the remarkable life of Mother Teresa. The Convent that houses the Sisters of Charity of Calcutta is within the confines of the Church of San Gregorio (near Circus Maximus). Here is the inside the small, sparce "cell" that was Mother Teresa's room. We are working on an album that will show more of her days in Rome.
Less than a two minute walk from Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the "pilgrim" basilicas, and one of the most famous churches in Rome, stands a smaller jewel of a church - Santa Prassede. Don't miss what may be the best mosaics you'll find in Rome.
The picture I've included is of the apse mosaic behind the main alter. My camera couldn't do justice to the Chapel of St. Zeno, to the right of the altar as you face it. Bring along some .50 euro coins to turn on the lights and be prepared to be delighted. It is literally like stepping inside a jeweled box. The mosaics date from the 9th century and are in the Byzantine style, which is uncommon in Rome. You'll see a resemblance to the mosaics of Santa Cecelia in Trastevere if you go there.
You'll also find a broken marble pillar, said to have been brought back to Rome by St. Helen, the mother of Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperer. It is supposed to be the pillar at which Jesus was scourged before he was crucified.
The floor, which is 20th century, is still an exquisite version of the Cosmati floors.
If you take a look at the photo, you'll see most of the halos are round - but the one on the far left is square. This indicates that the person being represented wasn't dead at the time the mosaic was being completed.
Address: 9/a Via de Santa Prassede/Via San Martino ai Monti
Normally open daily 07.30-12.00 and 16.00-18.30.
For more information check out:
The crypt of the capuchins is found in the Church of the Immaculate, on Via Veneto, 27. There is a small fee. There are 6 crypts lined up on one side of a narrow hall. The crypts are decorated with the bones of deceased friars. There are thousands of bones arranged along the walls and ceilings. The picture shown is from the Crypt of the Skulls. Another crypt is named Crypt of the Pelvises. Then there is the Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones, and Crypt of the Three Skeletons. Hours are: 9-12 and 3-6, closed on Thursdays. No pictures allowed. (This picture is from a postcard)
There are bizarre and macabre chapels of this cemetery, where the decorative elements - from the picture frames to the light fittings - are all made of human bones.
The crypt is located just under Santa Maria della Concezione, a church commissioned by Pope Urban XIII in 1626
Hours: Fri-Wed 9:00am-12:00pm & 3:00pm-6:00pm
After mistakenly entering the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria I did manage to make my way a few doors south on Via Settembre to the American Church of Santa Susanna. It was crowded and Mass was in progress - in English and accompanied by a full choir singing and the music of Easter. A wonderful double "doubting Thomas" First Sunday after Easter. The two churches were both designed by the same architect, Giovanni Battista Soria (a favorite architect of Cardinal Scipione Borghese) but depict very different styles.
The American Catholic Community in Rome has been a thriving parish for 80 years. They provide a home-away-from-home for English-speaking people living in Rome and their mission states their calling to be a place of welcome. There is a volume of information and extraordinary services for the visitor - including a web form to request a Papal audience or blessing. Check them out before you come to Rome.
The Church is open every day from 9 to 12 Noon and again from 4 to 7 PM. Rome churches are closed in the afternoon.
(photos courtesy Roberto Piperno)