If the outside of this church, located at less than 200 m of Piazza Venezia is sober, the interior by its exuberant decoration is astonishing. Here everything is luxury: gold, silver, bronze, polychrome marble.
You might think that after having visited San Pietro, Santa Maria Maggiore, San Giovani in Laterano you have seen the best but that is not true until you have visited the Chiesa del Gesù. This is the principal church of the Society of Jesus.
Its construction was started on the initiative of St Ignacio de Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, in 1575. The baroque decoration extended over 17th c. with the frescos from Baciccia and the famous altar of St Ignacio de Loyola carried out by Andrea Pozzo (left part of the transept). It faces the chapel of St François Xavier realized by Pietro da Cortona.
This church is a work of the Counter-Reformation. Its decoration affirms the conclusions of the council of Trente, the fight of the Roman Church against the Turks and the Protestants.
The church is unfortunately very dark but the introduction of one Euro in some switches makes it possible to light some parts of the church.
The Chiesa del Gesù is becoming more and more a success with the tourists. Be attentive at the opening hours. The Gesù is closed in the early afternoon from 12.30 till 16 h.
Open: 7 - 12.30 h and 16 - 19.45 h.
Your eyes are dazzled by a Baroque assault of glittering silver and gold, fluttering angels and lushly frescoed apse and dome. Then slowly, slowly you look up to the vault of the nave...
Gesù is one of the most beautiful of all of Rome's churches with a ceiling that defies description. To gaze upon it is to break the bonds of earth; to soar high above all of its gilded vanities to the pure and brilliant light of heaven. It was the work of Giovanni Battista Gaulli (aka Baciccia) - who also painted the frescoes for the apse, dome, windows and other bits of architecture - and is a masterful illusion of paint and plaster figures designed specifically for the viewer ‘di sotto in su’: from beneath.
The 16th-century, single-aisle layout of this chapel was born at a time when the Catholic church was in defense mode against the Protestant movement and was implementing multiple reforms established by the Council of Trent. Initially a rather plain interior, the embellishments added over the next century reflect a strong response to Martin Luther’s converts in the form of painted and sculpted images - however artful - illustrating the damnation in store for heretics of the ‘true’ religion. It was also designed so that the attention of entering parishioners would be intentionally directed to the high altar instead wandering to glimmering side chapels or shrines; a format that became the model for successive Jesuit churches all over the world.
It does have those peripheral chapels and shrines though, including the reliquaries of various Jesuit saints, the most treasured being that of patron St. Ignatius of Loyola. This last features a silvery statue hidden by a painting that is raised and lowered once daily to reveal the likeness. One of the chapels also contains a 14th-century icon of the Virgin from a previous church on this site that Ignatius was said to have personally revered.
But it’s Baciccia's vision of heaven that puts Gesù on every art-lover’s itinerary. A large mirror has been thoughtfully provided for long, long looks without the experience being a pain in the neck.
Entrance is free; visiting info:
The Gesù, also known as the Church of the Most Sacred Name of Jesus, was the first church of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Rome. It was built in the mid-1500s through the commission of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese.
The Gesù’s Baroque interior has a nave without side aisles and a transept that houses the tombs of the Jesuits’ founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and his assistant Francis Xavier, each on one end of the transept. Loyola’s tomb was designed by Jesuit Andrew Pozzo, the same artist that created the magnificent vaulted ceiling painting in the church with Loyola’s name on it, Sant’ Ignazio di Loyola. This massive funeral monument extols the concepts of the Counter-Reformation, during which Loyola and his Society of Jesus served as principal enforcers. As the Reformation was occurring and the stripping of churches in the iconoclast movement was taking place, the Counter-Reformation sought to bring back the beauty in the church through rich artistic embellishments.
Xavier’s monument is not as elaborate as Loyola’s, but it runs a pretty close second. It has the relic of Xavier’s arm inside a silver and glass reliquary, prominently displayed on the altar. Xavier is actually buried in Goa, but they brought his arm back to Rome for this church.
Similar to the other Jesuit church in Rome, the ceiling of the Gesù is worth coming into the church to see. The vault is frescoed with an amazing almost three dimensional painting that includes really good foreshortening techniques (painting the bodies so that they appear to be fading as they get more distant – the closer the body part, the larger it is; likewise, the farther away the body part, the smaller it gets since it should appear to be farther away). The painting on the dome’s cupola is very striking as well.
With all this looking at the ceiling, your neck could begin to hurt. But the Jesuits have considered that and provide an angled mirror in the nave from which you can look into and see the ceiling effortlessly.
The high altar has a painting with an interesting topic that you don’t see often in churches - The Circumcision, painted by Alessandro Capalti.
As you leave the church, to the left of the façade are the rooms where St. Ignatius of Loyola lived for 12 years, which display artifacts from his life. This small museum is open daily, except for Sunday, from 4-6:00 pm).
All the world has eyes to Michelangelo and his Sistine Chapel, and easily forgets some other wonders easily accessible and absolutely astonishing.
The roof painted by Andrea Pozzo in this church is a vertigo that absorbs and puts us in ecstasie. All the church has a perfection that makes it the justice that it deserves.
“We stepped into St. Gesù, the grand and rich church of the Jesuits. We sat down near the chapel of St. Ignazio, which is adorned with a picture over the altar, and with marble sculptures of the Trinity aloft, and of angels fluttering at the sides. What I particularly noted was the great ball of lapis lazuli, the biggest in the world, at the feet of the First Person in the Trinity. The church is a splendid one, lined with a great variety of precious marbles. We made but a very short stay, our New England breeding causing us to feel shy of moving about the church in sermon time.”
— from the 1858 “French and Italian Note-Books” of Nathaniel Hawthorne
GREAT BALL OF LAPIS That ball of lapis lazuli that Mr. Hawthorne refers to is part of St. Ignatius’ chapel/altar/tomb (see photo #2). This altar is an explosion of Baroque magnificence; in addition to lapis lazuli, it is decorated with alabaster, semi-precious stones, marble of many colors, gilded bronze and silver. It took more than 100 artists to accomplish this luxurious frenzy in the late 17th century. The original solid silver figure of Our Saint was carted off and melted down by Napoleon’s invading Grande Armée in 1798.
The ceiling (see photo #4) was decorated by Giovanni Battista Gaulli. His frescoes, illustrating the glorification of the Holy Name, are framed by a decorating scheme that includes Chinese characters celebrating the success achieved by the Jesuits in the Orient.
Open hours are daily 8:30-12:15 and 4-7:30, Sat. 8:30-12:15 and 4-10
I knew that church Sant Ignazio was the second Jesuit church in Rome so we walked 5’ to see the first one which is Gesu church(chiesa del Gesu).
It was built in 1580 by architects Giacomo Vignola and Giacomo della Porta on the spot where the church Santa Maria della Strada was before.
Unfortunately it was closed at 12.45 and couldn’t check the interior where there are a lot of interesting old paintings (especially the one from Santa Maria della Strada, it was that church that St Ignatius of Loyola was going to pray). We also missed the impressive painting of the ceiling made by G.Gaulli (thanks to internet you can find/check anything in our days but it’s different to be there with your own eyes) so we just took pictures of the exterior.
The baroque façade is beautiful anyway (pic 1) and was imitated by later churches. By the way St Ignatius was living at the building next to the church (now it houses a jesuit college). The back side of the church (pic 2) was just boring but I was trying to calm down because I couldn’t get inside :)
The church is open daily 6.00-12.30 and 16.00-19.00.
The Gesu was the first Jesuit church to be built in Rome, it dates from between 1568 - 1584. It's Baroque design has been much copied. Inside is a large nave with side pulpits for preaching to the crowds. Inbetween them a main altar. The highlight has to be the fresco on the nave ceiling. A Baroque masterpiece - Triumph of the Name of Jesus by Il Baciccia (1676-79).
Be aware that the opening hours are 7.00 to 12.30 in the morning & 4.00 to 7.45 in the afternoon. I didn't plan ahead & arrived when it was closed.
Gosh! Wow! And for the more religious: Alleluia! These are probably the words you''d utter when confronted by the magnificence of Chiesa del Gesu, the Jesuits' first church in Rome, where the order's Spanish founder, St Ignatius Loyola actually lived in from 1544 until his death in 1556.
The interiors, whose master designer Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola is a student of Michelangelo, is a masterpiece of gold and marble. The most dramatic frescoes are by Giovanni Battista Gaulli (also known as Il Baciccia) whose ingenious perspectives made the figures appear to be hanging in suspension from the ceiling (picture 3). Baciccia also designed the cupola frescoes, which were too rich an artwork for my uninitiated eyes (picture 1)
The Jesuits spared no expense in building this masterpiece to attract followers to their fold. Hundreds of years on, the main audience may be the tourists, but the reaction would have remain unchanged: one of inspiring awe.
PRACTICAL TIP: As in most churches in Rome, you need to drop a euro to reveal the glorious frescoes that adorn the church's cupola and ceiling. Needless to say, it is a euro WELL spent - what you are about to witness is simply priceless.
Celebrated for its most astonishing ceiling frescoes, la Chiesa del Gesù was Rome's first Jesuit church. Funded by the prominent Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, its construction began in 1568 in a style that became the footprint for Counter-Reformation Baroque style. The amazing ceiling frescoes include trompe l'oeil that extend beyond the painted frames. The church contains the tomb of the founder of the Jesuit Order, Saint Ignatius Loyola (Sant'Ignazio di Loyola). The church's Baroque exterior façade dominates Piazza del Gesù in the heart of the central Roma.
Built between 1568 and 1584, the Gesu was Rome's first Jesuit church. The Jesuit order was founded in Rome in 1537 by a Basque soldier, Ignatius Loyola, who became a Christian after he was wounded in battle.
Currently (May 2005) the churches wonderful exterior facade is under renovation and can't be seen which is a shame as it's meant to be rather good.
Built between 1568 and 1584, this was the first Jesuit church built in Rome. Like many other baroque churces,the Gesù church cointains works of many artists, like Bernini, Andrea Pozzo and Il Baciccia. Look out for Bernini’s bust of cardinal Bellarmino.
I think this church is by many overlooked. But why? It is in my opinion one of the most beautiful of all of Rome. The frescoes on the ceiling almost seem to fall down. They seem very real and the shadows behind them give a special look to them. There are quite some churches in the area of the Gesù that tried to copy this ceiling, but they didn't succeed at all.
This beautiful Roman church was dedicated to the Jesuit order, who always has been regarded as especially devoted and loyal to the Papacy.