A few days ago, I mentioned that I’m trying to get in the habit of going inside every church I pass. There are more than 900 churches in Rome – some famous, some not so much. Obviously I’m not going to be able to see all of them during my semester here, but I’m going to try to see a lot.
A few days ago, I stopped in Santa Maria del Carmelo in Traspontina, an unassuming church along Via della Conciliazione, the main road that leads to St. Peter’s Square. It was a pity visit. How sad it would be to be the church along the same road as St. Peter’s. I can’t imagine that the little church gets many visitors since all the tourists thunder down Via della Conciliazione with their blinders on, focused solely on reaching the Vatican. The space was absolutely lovely, and I’m sure it’s vastly under-appreciated.
This afternoon, a friend and I wanted to visit the Crypt of the Capucin Monks. The crypt is part of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. Underneath the church, a series of tiny chapels display the bones of 4,000 Capucin monks. I was excited to see the Crypt of the Skulls (and also the Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones), but we got lost on the way to the church.
We weren’t particularly concerned that we didn’t see the crypt today, so we got gelato and started walking back towards Trastevere. As we came to a dead-end street, I remembered my pact. “Which way should we go?” “Let’s go in the church!”
Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is the only Gothic, medieval-style church in Rome. Most of the Roman churches are baroque, but Santa Maria was redone in the Gothic style in the 13th century. The building dates to the 3rd or 4th century, when the space was a Roman temple dedicated to Minerva.
St. Catherine of Siena is interred at the main altar because she died in a room behind the sacristy in 1380, and two Medici popes (Leo X and Clement VII) are buried behind the altar. Around a corner, we found our way to the cloister where Galileo Galilei stood trial in 1633. The Gothic style was immediately familiar – the starry ceiling and pointed arches reminded me of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame.
We also stopped in Chiesa del Sacro Nome di Gesu on the walk back to Trastevere. St. Ignatius laid the cornerstone of Chiesa del Gesu in 1551. The ceiling of this baroque church was unbelievable – the combination of fresco painting and actual sculpture created an incredible sense of depth. The figures seemed to be breaking free of the canvas as they stretched and reached onto the walls and up into the dome. We saw St. Francis Xavier’s right arm (and the hand he used to baptize people) on display, too.
That’s the thing about these churches in Rome – you never know what you might find inside, but it’s always worth a look.