Two popes are buried in Santa Maria sopra Minerva - both are from the Medici family. The Medici were the ruling family in Florentine history and two of the family became pope – Leo X and Clement VII. The tombs of these two Medici popes are on either side behind the high altar, Leo on the left and Clement on the right. At the tops of the monuments are the Medici coat of arms with the distinctive Medici balls clearly visible on the shield.
Pope Leo X (Dec. 11, 1475 – Dec. 1, 1521), born Giovanni de' Medici, was pope from 1513 to his death. Pope Clement VII (May 26, 1478 – Sept. 25, 1534), born Giulio di Giuliano de' Medici, was a cardinal from 1513 to 1523 and was pope from 1523 to 1534.
Fra Angelico, the Florentine Dominican monk and painter, came to Rome later in life and died in the friary of the Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Rather than sending this famous painter’s body back to his home in Florence, Fra Angelico was buried in the north transept of the church. His low relief tomb can be seen from the transept and also from the Frangipani Chapel next to the tomb, which gives the better view.
Fra Angelico’s work was spectacular and he is said to have been a very pious and sincere man, crying as he painted crucifixion scenes. Some of his best works can be seen in Florence at the monastery of San Marco, where he painted scenes in the monks’ cells and his famous Annunciation is on display in the cell corridors and his Crucifixion is in the Chapter Room.
Michelangelo’s Risen Christ stands in Santa Maria sopra Minerva on the left side of the altar by the steps; this is one of the master Florentine sculptor’s lesser known works. Christ is shown standing contrapposto (bearing most of His weight on one leg) and carrying small elements of his crucifixtion – rod and vinegar sponge, cross. In classic Michelangelo form, Christ was designed to be a male nude, however, He has a modest bronze drapery across his loins that was added later.
The sculpture stands almost 81 inches high and was created by Michelangelo between the years 1519-1521. The original piece of marble Michelangelo used for this sculpture was defective so this is his second attempt at the sculpture with a more perfect piece of stone. In addition to the later addition of the bronze loin cloth, nail holes were pierced into the hands of Christ, but neither were done by Michelangelo.
The church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva is one of the few Gothic churches in Rome. If you have been to Florence, you may recognize this church as closely resembling the church of Santa Maria Novella; according to Renaissance artist and biographer Vasari, the two churches were designed by the same architects. Not only does it look like a building in Florence, but inside this church are several memorials and tributes to famous Florentines and others from Tuscany.
The church is thought to have been built over the ruins of a temple to Minerva back in AD 800, but was rebuilt in the late 1200s by the Dominicans. It was renovated in the 1800s, altering its appearance but left the façade in a very simple manner. Outside on the piazza in front of the church is Bernini’s elephant statue that holds an obelisk on its back.
There is quite a bit of fabulous art inside the church. The highlights of my visit to Santa Maria sopra Minerva included a statue by Michaelangelo, the tomb of Renaissance artist Fra Angelico, and tombs of two Medici popes; these three have separate tips. Other features in this church that are worth checking out are:
Just off the small Frangipani Chapel is the room where St. Catherine of Siena died in 1380.
Tomb of St. Catherine of Siena: Saint Catherine of Siena, known for influencing the pope’s return from Avignon to Rome, is buried in the church. A marble effigy of St. Catherine rests in a glass case under the high altar in the center of the sanctuary.
Frescoes by Filippino Lippi: Filippino Lippi was another Florentine, son of the famous painter Filippo Lippi. The Cappella Carafa chapel in the south transept has frescoes by this artist, who had to halt his work in the Florence church of Santa Maria Novella to come to Rome for this commission. The two frescoes on the walls and lunette show scenes from St. Thomas Aquinas’ life.
Bernini memorial to Maria Raggi: Bernini wasn’t a Florentine but he has an early work in the church as well. The memorial to a nun named Maria Raggi that features a tondo relief of her with cherubs and an exquisite stone drape that gives the appearance of simply flowing. This can be found on the side of one of the columns in the nave – from the back of the church near the entrance, the column is the 5th one up towards the altar on the left side of the church.
Bernini bust of Giovanni Vigevano: As you make your way up to Maria Raggi’s memorial, a bust created by Bernini is in between the second and third side chapels on the left. This bust is of Giovanni Vigevano; in my research I have been unable to find out who he is, but obviously he was a wealthy patron to commission such a tomb.
An additional historical note: The church friary was where Galileo was put on trial in 1633 by the Inquisition for his belief that the Sun was the center of the universe and not the Earth. Because of his guilty verdict and condemnation, Galileo, a friend of Florence’s Medici family, was unable to be buried within the sacred part of the Church of Santa Croce in Florence, but rather is buried in a small side Medici chapel in the unconsecrated part of church property.
Yet another St. Mary's.
This one was built on top of the ruins of a Roman temple dedicated to the goddess Minerva (thus the funny name) and is the only Gothic-style church in Rome. The current basilica dates from 13th/14th centuries, has wonderful interior vaulting of sky blue with gold stars, and excellent frescoes by Filippino Lippi. Interred here are St. Catherine of Siena (minus her head, which is, you guessed it, in Siena), Popes Paul IV, Leo X and Clement VII, and famous Renaissance painter, Fra Angelico. Here also are Michelangelo's sculpture of Christ the Redeemer (with the later addition of some drapery to cover the naughty bits), the Bernini-designed tomb of Cardinal Pimentel, and a plethora of other interesting works of art.
Out in the piazza is Pulcino della Minerva: a fat little elephant with an obelisk on his back. The obelisk was one of a pair brought from Egypt and was discovered in the ruin of an ancient temple of Isis near the basilica. Bernini designed the sculpture for Pope Alexander VII and it carries this inscription:
"He who sees the carved images of the wisdom of Egypt on the obelisk carried by the elephant, the strongest of animals, will realize that it is indeed a robust mind which sustains a solid wisdom."
Pulcino della Minerva translates to "Minerva's Chick." It had been nicknamed "Porcino della Minerva" (Minerva's Piggy) by amused locals, and confusion around the similar pronunciation of pig and chicken may have run 'afowl'? HA! It may also be a nod to the diminutive size of the obelisk as it's the shortest of the 11 imported from Egypt.
Entrance is free; visiting info:
PS: - The relic in altar of the Pius V Chapel (5th photo) is Santa Wittoria: an obscure child martyr that I could find no information about.
We visited this church just after the Pantheon (it is literally about 2 minutes from the Pantheon's entrance) and we were very pleasantly suprised to find this was another gem. It was a lot quieter than the Pantheon but still had a fair few tourists in there so not quite "off the beaten track", but it is quiet (which is often a delight to find in central Rome!). It's a much darker space inside than many of the other churches in Rome but this helps to create the peaceful atmosphere inside. There is also a famous work by Bernini in the square outside, but sadly this was surrounding by scaffolding and barriers when we visited as it was undergoing restoration.
Just before we reach the Pantheon we came across the piazza della Minerva(pic 1). At the centre of the square is a sculpture of an elephant! The marble monument was erected in 1667 by the artist Gianlorenzo Bernini(1598-1680) and has an obelisk(from 6th century BC) atop it!! There’s inscription is about the great strength is required to bear wisdom.
There are some nice buildings but the one we checked was the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva (pic 2). It’s minor three-aisled basilica belongs to the Dominican order and it was built on the site that once was the temple of Minerva. Although the construction begun in 1280 it was completed in 1453. The church is the only gothic church in Rome although different styles added after the numerous renovations through the centuries (the facafe was in typical baroque style at the beginning).
When we got inside(pics 3-4) we noticed the gothic arches and then we checked the side chapels, some of them have some interesting frescos from 15th century but also Michelangelo’s marble statue of the Risen Christ. I forgot to take a picture of it because there were other visitors in front of us so when I remembered about it we were already away!)
The church is open daily 8.00-19.00
Boasting works by Michelangelo, Bernini and Filippino Lippi, this church is one of the few gothic-themed in Rome. It is the turf of the Dominicans famous (or infamous?) for their inquisitions and the trial of Galileo.
Even if you are not a big fan of the Dominicans (their infamy during the Spanish occupation in the Philippines makes for interesting read, to put it lightly), their Santa Maria sopra Minerva will awe you with their artistic collection including a sculpture of the Risen Christ by Michelangelo (picture 3), Filippino Lippi's frescoes, and the very interesting sculpture of an obelisk-carrying elephant by Bernini at the church's piazza (picture 4). On top of these, the church contains the tombs of popular Italian saints Santa Cecilia of Siena and Fra Angelico.
“A strong mind is needed to support a solid knowledge.”
— Pope Alexander VII (1599-1667) his allegorical phrase on one side of the base of the Chick of Minerva
AN ELEPHANT NEVER FORGETS Here’s what this one remembers. It was the idea of that brilliant Baroque sculpture, designer, and architect Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) to decorate the Piazza della Minerva with his sculpture, affectionately known to Romans as the Chick of Minerva, Pulcino della Minerva.
The design is by Bernini; but it was carved by his student Ercole Ferrata in 1667. Bernini dedicated it to his patron, Pope Alexander VII, who wrote, in the inscription at the base, that the elephant symbolizes the vast store of knowledge needed for wisdom.
The obelisk that the pachyderm carries on his back dates from the sixth century BC; it is the smallest that the Ancient Romans brought back from Egypt. Like the one in the nearby Piazza della Rotondo it came from the Temple of Isis.
This sculpture is a favorite piece of art of ours. He’s so cute!
The Piazza della Minerva is around the corner from the Pantheon and it can be seen in the background of photo #3. This small square sits in front of the Dominican church, Santa Maria sopra Minerva.
This was our favorite church in Rome, my wife in particular was taken by this church. This is the only gothic church built in Rome. The bright blue, pointed ceiling was stunning. My picture below does not do it justice.
The body of Catherine of Siena lies under the beautiful alter.
A statue of Jesus bearing the cross (picture below) is also very striking.
There are numerous other alters along the sides of the church, all very beautiful, which you can light up with a coin or light an offering candle.
We also liked the Nativity Scene.
The facade of this church is simple, the inside of this church is the only Gothic style.
This is only one in Rome.
Many works of art are collected, so that it can be called a small art museum.
In pictures, "Saint Thomas Akutinasu", "Christ" ,"Saint's mother and child "
In sculptures, "Christ " by Michelangero.
In the churches of Rome, it is decorated with Stainedglasses.
So it is unusual and is beautiful.
Chiostro is on the left of the front of a church.
Here, the famous trial of Galileo Galilei's Corpenican theory performed in the 17th century.
there is a heresy referee place.
One of my favorite things when in Rome is going into all the churches. It seems that the plainer the facade, the more amazing the interior. The church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is a beautiful church with lots of stained glass and side chapels and mosaics. It is just behind the pantheon behind the elephant obelisk. It is the only gothic church in Rome. When you enter you will see the cobalt blue, starry ceiling. It is incredible. Make sure you take the time to look at all the stained glass windows this small church has to offer. Take some small change with you to turn on the lights in the side chapels. Take a look at the wonderful floor. Imagine how many people over the centuries have walked on this floor. The alter is beautiful and you can go up to it for a closer look. The body (excluding the head) of Saint Catherine lies under the alter. To the left of the alter is a statue of christ bearing the cross by Michealangelo. It didn't originally have the girdle, that was added years later.
This is a wonderful church and should not be missed when you visit the Pantheon