Sant'Andrea al Quirinale, Rome

This article was contributed by Kurt Nemes.

Sant'Andrea al Quirinale is a splendid Baroque church designed by Bernini in Rome. It is a tender scene to imagine: the great Baroque architect, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, in his last years, sitting for hours in this gem of a church, admiring the wondrous space he had created. A painter, sculptor, architect, playwright and stage designer, Bernini fashioned a visually integrated masterwork, which tells the story of Sant'Andrea's martyrdom and ascension into heaven.

The novel elliptical worship space, with the entry on the long side, thrusts one immediately into the action, and one can sit for hours admiring the church's spectacular features, from paintings to sculpture, from the rich coffered dome to the sumptuous pink marble columns. This church truly is a sight for sore eyes, and must have been even more so before our electronic age.


History of Sant'Andrea al Quirinale

Sant'Andrea's origins are tied to the Pamphilj family, which produced four cardinals and a pope, Innocent X, who reigned from 1644–55. Innocent's sister-in-law was Olimpia Maidalchini, who scholars suspect of having poisoned her husband. She is said to have been the brains behindInnocent X and had him make her son, Camillo Francesco Maria Pamphilij, a cardinal when he was just 22.

Camillo Pamphilj's heart wasn't in the job, and he resigned his cardinalate three years later to marry a Borghese heiress, who came with a huge dowry. A student of the liberal arts, philosophy, mathematics and architecture, Camillo Pamphilij became an avid art collector, and his collection (which includes the famous portrait of Innocent X by Velasquez) is now in the Palazzo Doria Pamphilij.

In 1658 the Jesuit order, to which Bernini was devoted, commissioned him to build the church, which Camillo Pamphilij bankrolled. The third church dedicated to the newly founded Jesuit order (after Il Gesu and San Ignazio de Loyola), it was to serve as a base for inductees, known as novices, into the order.

Bernini demolished an existing 16th century church on the Quirinale hill to build Sant'Andrea, and chose an elliptical floor plan. This was not without precedent. Several years earlier Bernini's rival, Borromini, had built a small church, San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, just down the road. This church was elliptical in shape and austere on the inside, with the entrance on the long axis. Bernini turned his ellipse sideways to fit the small lot, and decorated the interior in multimedia splendor, which some say was intended to thumb his nose at his rival. Bernini was a devout catholic and took no payment for his efforts, except for a daily donation of bread from the novitiate's oven.

What to See at Sant'Andrea al Quirinale

For Sant'Andrea, Bernini created one of the most unique façades in the city. First, he chose not to hide the elliptical shape of the church behind a large façade. Instead, he created a narrow but tall entrance, which he flanked with two huge pilasters (flattened columns) topped by Corinthian capitals.

Atop these, he placed a triangular pediment, and at the bottom, a semi-circular staircase that seems to cascade down from the entrance like flowing water. At the top of the stairs, Bernini created a semi-circular porch, using two Ionic columns, which he topped with the Pamphilij coat of arms, containing the family's symbol, the dove.

When you walk into Sant'Andrea al Quirinal, you can quickly see why Bernini considered this his most perfect work. It may take a moment to orient yourself, as you are immediately enveloped the curving walls and decorations that might make you feel like you're inside a gigantic Easter egg.  Chapels sweep around you. Ornate, carved marble abounds. The inlaid mosaic on the floor mirrors elliptical dome overhead. Architectural molding running around inside wall divides the space into an upper and lower church.

Some scholars have said the lower part of the church represents the earthly realm, filled with sorrow and suffering. And indeed, here we find the main altar, opposite the entrance, containing a large painting Saint Andrew in agony as he is crucified on an X-shaped cross. It is set in a frame made from the same pink, mottled marble as the four columns on either side of the altar. (This marble, by the way, has been likened to prosciutto with its red meat and streaky fat.) The saint's passion is illuminated by golden light from a small hidden window. Sculpted rays of divine light shine down on the saint to show the way to his heavenly reward. Bronze angels fly down on the rays waiting to carry Saint Andrew heavenward, while cherubs look on.

The transition from the lower church to the upper takes place in a niche in the molding above the altar. There, Bernini placed a statue by Antonio Raggi of Saint Andrew, who now looks upward to heaven and the eternal reward that awaits him. He is made of white stucco and floats above the somber, dark earth tones of the lower part of the church.

The church also houses four chapels, two of which are dedicated to the founders of the Jesuit order, Saint Francis Xavier and Saint Ignatius. The chapel of St. Francis is the second one on the right from the entrance and contains three paintings by Baciccio, who painted the ceiling of Il Gesu. 

Bernini's dome drives away the dark and gives us a glimpse of heaven. A ring of white stucco sculptures of fishermen (Saint Andrew's trade and that of his brother, Saint Peter) lounge on the ledge of the molding. The architect has divided the dome with 10 ribs a window pierces each section to bring in a flood of light. The gilded ribs join in a ring at the base of the lantern where putties look down lovingly. In the oculus of the lantern, a dove hovers in the golden light. The dove is an apt symbol—it represents the peace awaiting the faithful in heaven where all the pains and suffering of mortal existence will be washed away, just as we see happen to Sant'Andrea.

Sant'Andrea also houses a chapel and chambers of a famous Polish saint, Stanislaus Kostka.  His chambers warrant a visit. Kostka, a pious boy from a wealthy Polish family, came to Sant'Andrea to become a Jesuit on his 17th birthday in 1567. He arrived after an arduous journey on foot from Vienna, where he had fled his family, who were against his joining the order. The trip weakened his health considerably, and he died just 10 months later, but not before having impressed the Jesuit's with his piety. The centerpiece of Saint Stanislaus' rooms is a life-sized polychrome marble sculpture of the dying saint by the French sculptor, Pierre Legros. The rooms are also sumptuously decorated and contain paintings of the life of the saint by Father Andrea Pozzo.

Getting There

From the Fontane del Tritone near the Barberini Metro station, walk up Via delle Qattro Fontane. Turn right at Via del Quirinale; pass the church San Carlo alle Quatro Fontane (built by Bernini's rival, Borromini). Pass the park and Sant'Andrea is on the left at the end of the gardens. 

Quick Facts on Sant'Andrea al Quirinale

Site Information
Names:Sant'Andrea al Quirinale · Sant'Andrea dei (Padre) Gesuiti al Quirinale
Styles:Baroque style
Dedication: St. Andrew
Status: active
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:41.900722° N, 12.489362° E
Address:Via del Quirinale 29
Rome, Italy
Phone:06 47 44 801
Lodging:View hotels near Sant'Andrea al Quirinale
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

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© Anthony M

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