In Rome, Churches are the Museums
I know I know…how many times could I possibly talk about how WOW Rome is? Well, actually eternally! Kidding aside I can’t talk enough about Rome because there is so much one could say. If I would never step into another museum in Rome but step into every single church, that would be enough for me.
I haven’t stepped into every single church yet, but here is my must-not-to-be-missed list.
Photo by Björn Fritz via Creative Commons
Santa Maria della Vittoria
Attending a Tuesday evening Mass with my husband in August 2010 we sat quite up front and to my left was Bernini’s “The Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila”. All through Mass, instead of paying attention to the service, I was sneaking peeks to my left and concentrating on parts of the sculpture in the little chapel. There was the angel’s left hand lifting St. Teresa’s cloak in order to better pierce her heart with his arrow. Then to the sides, there are carvings of men seated and chatting in what looks like box seats at an opera. Then another peek at the saint’s hand, a lovely, fleshy, drooped hand. I was the one in ecstasy.
Photo by Richard via Creative Commons
San Pietro in Vincoli (Saint Peter in Chains)
In August of 2012 my daughters and I climbed up some twenty steps off of Via Cavour up to a small piazza in front of this church. The story is that the Empress Eudoxia received from her mother the chains which held St. Peter when he was imprisoned in the Mamertine Prison. But what takes my breath away every single time I step into this church is the statue of the Moses by Michelangelo. To think that his hand and hammer and chisel were close to where I am standing! All these stories and people who were real…every church has some story like this.
Santa Maria del Popolo
On the north side of the huge Piazza del Popolo is a church smack in front of a Carabiniere station and a fast food joint. You climb up a travertine stairway and step into a church with works by Raphael, Bernini and Caravaggio. At the very back and to the left is a chapel with two paintings by Caravaggio – “Crucifixion of St. Peter” and “Conversion on the Way to Damascus”. Caravaggio was not afraid to shock his patrons and the dirty feet and muscular behind of a faceless man struggling to upright the cross where poor St. Peter is nailed to…all part of a hard view of a hard reality.
Sant’Agostino in Campo Marzio
I remember it was just before closing in the early evening, and my husband and I were very hot and tired from walking all day. We stepped into this church about a five-minute walk behind Piazza Navona. It was dim and cool. This church has the tombs of Saint Augustine’s mother, Saint Monica and the lover of Cesare Borgia, Fiammetta – again, real stories and real people…not just names in books!
But when I saw Caravaggio’s painting, “Madonna of Loreto”, I was mesmerized. Pilgrims with dirty feet and gnarled hands, kneeling in front of a dark-haired woman. She was comfortably leaning against her doorway, holding a sweet, chubby, long-legged baby boy. I was transported to this wonderful event portrayed so matter-of-factly in Caravaggio’s painting.
This is a very short list of must-see churches. But if you have just a little time in Rome these are my choices.
Not too long ago I promised my husband that the next time we go back to Rome I will step into every single church on my path. “It will take us forever!” he told me. And, what’s so bad about that?
Featured image by Bert Kauffman via Creative Commons