Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, better known by its shorter name Santa Maria degli Angeli, is a unique Renaissance church in Rome. Designed by Michelangelo, it was built inside the Roman walls of the Baths of Diocletian. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, to the angels, and to the Christian slaves who died building the baths. Like most churches in Rome, Santa Maria degli Angeli is filled with art and monumental tombs and also has some holy relics.
History of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri
In 1541, a Sicilian priest, Fr. Antonio Lo Duca, had a vision of angels in the ruins of the Baths of Diocletian. As a result, Pope Pius IV (1559-1565) ordered that a church be built within the Baths. The church was designed by Michelangelo, who began work in 1563 but died a year later in 1564. His design was completed by Jacopo Lo Duca, nephew of Fr. Antonio and pupil of Michelangelo. The church was granted to the Carthusians, who built a monastery next to it, possibly to a design by Michelangelo.
In 1749, major alterations were carried out by Luigi Vanvitelli in preparation for the Holy Year of 1750. After the unification of Italy in 1870, the Carthusians were evicted from the buildings, which for some time was used as a military barracks. It was eventually handed over to the Fransiscan Order of Minims.
In 1896, the wedding of the Prince of Naples (who became King Victor Emmanuel III) raised the status of Santa Maria degli Angeli. It has since been the scene of religious ceremonies promoted by the Italian State. The church was given the status of minor basilica by Pope Benedict XV in 1920. Also in the 20th century, the 16th century façade was demolished to expose the original walls of the Roman baths. Today, Santa Maria degli Angeli is served by diocesan clergy and functions as a parish church.
What to See at Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri
The exterior has a unique appearance for a church, since its outer walls consist in part of the brick of the Baths of Diocletian. If you walk over to Via Parigi, you can look down into the remains of the monastery, which include the cells used by Carthusian hermits when Santa Maria degli Angeli was part of their chapterhouse.
The Museo Nazionale delle Terme, an excellent archaeological museum, is located in another part of the baths.
Although the interior has changed considerably and the floor has been raised a few feet, Santa Maria degli Angeli is one of the places where you can best appreciate the size and splendor of the Roman imperial baths. Below is a detailed tour of the church and its art.
The vestibule of the church was originally a passage hall between the calidarium (hot bath, now lost) and the tepidarium (luke-warm bath). The artist Carlo Maratta (1625–1713), responsible for the Chapel of St Bruno and painting of The Baptism of Jesus, is buried here. He designed the funarary monument himself, and it may have been erected by his brother Francesco.
The tomb of Cardinal Francesco Alciati (died 1580) was erected in 1583. It was made by either Jacopo Lo Duca or by Giovan Battista della Porta. Cardinal Alciati was a protector of the Carthusian order, and the monks honoured him by burying him in their Roman church.
The chapel was built in 1575 for the Roman banker Girolamo Ceuli. The altarpiece, depicting The Crucifixion, is attributed to Giacomo della Rocca, a pupil of Daniele da Volterra. The same artist decorated parts of the walls and vault with frecoes, which unfortunately were badly restored in 1838.
The sculptor Pietro Tenerani (died 1838) is buried on the left side of the chapel. The monument has a bust of the artist, and a door which symbolizes the entrance to Hades, the Land of the Dead. A small funerary monument to his wife, Lilla Montebbio, is placed in the opposite wall. The tomb of Cardinal Pietro Paulo Parisi was erected in 1604 by the Cardinal's nephew, Bishop Flaminio of Bitonto.
The Magdalene Chapel is the baptistery of the church. It was constructed in 1579; Consalvo Alvaro di Giovanni paid for the chapel. The altarpiece with Noli Me Tangere is attributed to Cesare Nebbia by some, and by others to Arrigo Paludano. It depicts the meeting of Jesus Christ and St Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection, when he asked her not to touch him ("Noli me tangere"; John 20,1). The artist Salvator Rosa is interred in a monument contructed by his son in 1673.
In Michelangelo's design, the passage from the vestibule was the right arm of the transept. It was rearranged by Vanvitelli, who made an opening with four columns in false granite. On one wall is the painting The Banishment from Earthly Paradise by Francesco Trevisani. This is the last painting made by the artist, who died in 1746. The holy water font, in the shape of a beautiful angel, is attributed to Giovanni Battista Rossi, a pupil of Bernini. There is a statue of St Bruno of Cologne (1035–1101), founder of the Carthusians. It was made by Jean Antoine Houdon between 1766 and 1768. Pope Clement XIV is reputed to have said that the statue was so lifelike that it would have spoken if the order had not forbidden it (the Carthusians take a vow of silence). His head is bowed in humility and thoughtfulness, and the statue is placed so that the saint is turned towards the centre of the apse.
The Chapel of St Bruno was built in 1620 for the Polish Monsignor Bartolomeo Puvinski. The altarpiece, by an unknown artist, depicts the saint. Vanvitelli added the monumental entrance, imitating the style of Michelangelo. The Chapel of St Peter was constructed in 1635 at Pietro Alfonso Avignonese's expense. The façade is by Vanvitelli. In the chapel is the painting The Delivery of the Keys by [Girolamo Muziano]]. On the left wall is the painting St Peter Freed by an Angel, and on the right wall Sts Peter and Paul, both by M. Carloni.
The transept is located in the tepidarium (luke-warm bath) of the Baths of Diocletian. It was first adapted by Michelangelo, and then altered by Lo Duca and Vanvitelli. The cross vault is 29 metres high, and the columns 17.14 metres including bases and capitals, with a diameter of 1.62 metres. Eight of the columns are from the baths, while the other eight are imitations covered with stucco. The eight large paintings that decorate the transept were originally in St. Peter's Basilica and were moved here in the 18th century. The floor was laid in the 18th century by Giuseppe Barbieri.
On the left side is the Meridian Line, a sundial laid down along the meridian that crosses through Rome, at latitude 15º. At true noon, about 12.15 pm (1.15 pm in summer time), the sun casts its light on this line. Part of the cornice on the right side of the transept wall has been cut away to provide the effect. The markings were made by the astronomer, mathematician, archaeologist, historian and philosopher Francesco Bianchini. Bianchini had been commissioned by Pope Clement XI to make them for the Holy Year of 1700. It took a bit longer; they were completed in 1703 with the assistance of the astronomer G.F. Maraldi.
In the left transept, the new Chapel of St Bruno was constructed as part of the restoration works for the 1700 Jubilee. The prior of the Carthusian charterhouse, Fr. G.M. Roccaforte, decided to turn the former entrance hall into a chapel dedicated to the founder of his order. It was designed by Carlo Maratta. The altar was made from an older altar by Francesco Fontana in 1864.
Above the altar is Giovanni Odazzi's painting The Apparition of the Virgin Mary to St Bruno. It was painted for the 1700 Jubilee, and shows the Blessed Virgin handing the Order's Rule to St Bruno. The vault was painted by Andrea Procaccini with figures of the Evangelists, while the rest of the decorations were painted by Antonio Bicchierai. The sculptures to the sides of the altar depict The Meditation (1874) and The Prayer (1875), and are copies of statues at the entrance to the Verano cemetery by San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, by Francesco Fabi-Altini.
On the left wall of the Chapel of St Bruno is the monumental organ built by Bartélémy Formentelli in the 1990's. It has 77 registers, and is made in cherry, walnut and chestnut wood. It is often used for concerts. Placido Costanzi painted The Resurrection of Tabitha. It was originally made for the altar of Tabitha in St. Peter's, where it has been replaced by a mosaic copy. The painting shows the widow Tabitha being brought back for the dead by St Peter (Acts 9, 36). The Immaculate was painted by Pietro Bianchi in the 18th century. It was made for the altar in the Chapel of the Choir in St. Peter's. Francesco Trevisani painted the two canvases on opposite sides of this arm of the transept; he also painted two canvases in the other arm. Both are called The Baptism of Blood and refer to the Catholic belief that an unbaptised person who dies for the Faith is baptised through his blood.
The Fall of Simon the Sorcerer by Pompeo Batoni, painted in 1765, is one of two paintings with this subject in the church. The painting depicts the legend of Simon the Sorcerer, who challenged Sts Peter and Paul. He levitated in front of them, asking them to show if their god was as strong. The Apostles prayed, and Simon plummeted to his death. Pierre-Hubert Subleyras' The Mass of St Basil was painted in 1745 for the altar of St Basil in St. Peter's Basilica. The Eastern Doctor of the Church is shown celebrating Mass before Emperor Valens, who was an Arian. The saint's devotion was so strong that the Emperor fainted and later converted to Orthodox Christianity.
The 18th century painting The Fall of Simon the Sorcerer by Pierre-Charles Tremollière, is a copy of Francesco Vanni's 16th century painting in St. Peter's. The tomb of Vittorio Emmanuele Orlando was made in 1935 by Pietro Canonica, a Piemontese sculptor. Orlando is known in Italy as "President della Vittora" (President of the Victory) in the First World War. The sarcophagus is in yellow Sienese marble with a bronze medallion. There is a relief on the Carrara marble base. An arch stretches above the sarcophagus, symbolizing fame and glory.
Opposite that tomb is that of Admiral Thaon de Revel, known as the "Duca del Mare" (Duke of the Sea). This too was made by Canonica, in 1948. The sarcophagus is made in the same type of stone, and the monument is likewise crowned with an arch. The shape is different however, as it is carved to resemble a rostrated ship, fitting for the Admiral. The base is in red Levantine and black Belgian stone. In the centre of the base is a clipeus relief portrait.
The Chapel of Blessed Niccolò Albergati has the same plan as that of St Bruno on the opposite side. It was designed by Clemente Orlandi in 1746, and dedicated to the Carthusian monk Albergati, who had been beatified by Pope Benedict XIV in 1744. The cross vault is decorated by Antonio Bicchierai and Giovanni Mozetti. In the middle of the vault is the Holy Spirit with a cherub, and in the panels the four Western Doctors of the Church: Sts Jerome, Augustine, Ambrose and Gregory. The altarpiece depicts A Miracle by Blessed Niccolò Albergati, and was painted by Ercole Graziani c. 1746. Flanking the altar are two statues by the German sculptor Friedrich Pettrich, made in 1834, depicting the Angels of Peace and Justice.
On opposite sides in the right arm of the transept, above the funarary monuments, are the two paintings Baptism of Water and Baptism of Desire by Francesco Trevisani, painted in the 18th century. The latter refers to the Catholic belief that converts who die before they can be baptized are considered baptized through their desire for the Sacrament.
The tomb of General Armando Diaz, hero of the First World War, was made by Antonio Munoz in 1920. The sarcophagus is of Assuan red granite, and is placed in the transept floor. The monument itself rises above that. In the centre is a dedication stele flanked by two slabs of African green marble with bronze decorations in the shape of swords with laurel crowns.
Francesco Mancini's painting A Miracle of St Peter was probably first placed in the Quirinal Palace. It depicts the miraculous cure of a leper at Porta Speciosa. A mosaic copy has been made for St. Peter's Basilica. The Sermon of St Jerome, late 16th century, by Girolamo Muziano was left unfinished by the painter at his death in 1592. Paul Brill completed it by painting in the background. It was originally made for St Jerome's altar in St. Peter's but was moved here.
The passage was the left arm of the transept in Michelangelo's design. The Chapel of St Hyacinth (Cappella di San Giacinto) was founded by Allessandro Litta, a Milanese nobleman, in 1608. He had it dedicated to Our Lady and St Hyacinth. The altarpiece was painted by Giovanni Baglione. It depicts The Virgin with the Child and Angels, Saint Raymond and Saint Hyacinth. On the right side of the chapel is Saints Valerian and Cecilia and on the left Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata, both by Baglione. He also painted the frescoes of Our Lord and Angels in the ceiling.
The Chapel of the Savior is the oldest in the church, founded in 1574 by the De Cinque family. Later, the Catalani family became patrons of the chapels, and a member of that family wrote a book about the construction of the church in the 17th century, providing important information about its history. On the right wall, a marble slabs with an inscription informs us about an indulgence granted by Pope Gregory XIII to the followers of the Brotherhood of the Seven Angels.
The altarpiece depicts The Incarnation of Jesus and The Adoration of the Seven Angels, by Domenico da Modena. It is surrounded by 24 small paintings of scenes from the life of Christ, attributed to the 16th century artist Hendrik van der Brock (known in Italian as Arrigo Fiammingo). It is certain that van der Brock decorated the ceiling in the chapel with depictions of Our Lord and St Michael the Archangel. On the side walls are Giulio Mazzoni's The Souls of Purgatory and The Praying Pope, painted in the 16th century. The characters in the latter painting are all connected to the founding of the church; we find Pope Pius IV, Cardinal Serbolloni, Emperor Charles V, Antonio Lo Duca and many more.
The sanctuary was redesigned by Clemente Orlandi on the occasion of the arrival of the paintings from St. Peter's Basilica. The choir stalls and decorations were made by Vanvitelli. He also altered the plan, so that the sanctuary got an polygonal shape, and he made a new high altar. It was altered again, more or less to its present state, in 1867.
The chancel is protected with metal barriers with the arms of the Carthusian Order, golden stars and harp-shaped gates. This was designed by Angelo Santini, with the ornaments designed by Giuseppe della Riccia. Just before the altar are two works by Innocenzo Orlandi, dated 1866: The Angel with an Eagle and the pulpit, which is placed upon a bull and a lion. These symbols of the four Evangelists remind the viewer of the evangelic presence in the Eucharist. On the right wall is Giovanni Francesco Romanelli's The Presentation of the Virgin Mary at the Temple. Next to that is Domenichino's The Martyrdom of St Sebastian. It was made for the saint's altar in St. Peter's Basilica. The horseman on the right was damaged when it was transferred here. In the dramatic painting, Jesus Christ is welcoming the saint, while an angel comes down with the palm and crown of martyrdom.
In the apse, there are two doors surmounted by busts, one of St Charles Borromeus and one of Pope Pius IV. At one side are memorials to Pope Pius IV and Cardinal Serbelloni, the first titular of the church. In the center is the painting The Virgin Mary on the Throne between Seven Angels, by an unknown artist. It was commissioned by Antonio del Duca in Venice in 1543. The Blessed Virgin is portrayed suckling the Holy Child and being crowned by the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. The seven angels represent the Angelic Principles, and each hold a scroll indicating his duties. In the corners are the prophets David and Isaiah.
The door below the painting opens into the ancient chancel, which has been restored. Directly above the door is an enshrined copy of the sculpture Saint Bruno of Slodtz, made for St. Peter's Basilica in 1744 and moved here. The vault in the apse was frescoed by Daniele Seyter; the motif is The Assumption of the Virgin Mary and Virtue.
The Chapel of Relics, also known as the Cybo Chapel after the founder Camillo Cardinal Cybo. It was built in 1742 to hold relics of martyrs connected to the building of the Baths of Diocletian. Cardinal Cybo also gave four precious relics of the Western Doctors of the Church, Sts Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine and Gregory. Among the martyrs some names have been preserved, such as Sts Cyriacus, Largus, Smaragdus and Maximus the Centurion. The chapel was decorated by Nicola Ricciolini, a pupil of Maratta.
Outside the chapel is The Baptism of Jesus by Carlo Maratta, painted in 1697 for St. Peter's Basilica and moved here after his death in 1713. This was one of the first paintings moved here by Pope Benedict XIII. Jesus Christ and St John the Baptist are shown surrounded by angels. Pomerancio's The Death of Anania and Saphira was also painted for St. Peter's Basilica, in 1604. The painting shows St Peter reprimanding Ananias and Saphira, who lied to the Christian community to keep some of the money they had earned by selling their earthly possessions (Acts of the Apostles). Saphira is shown as she is dying - God's punishment - while Ananias is carried to the grave in the background. The new high altar was made by Umberto Mastroianni in 1928. On the front is Mastroianni's relief of The Deposition. The sculptor later turned more towards an abstract and futuristic style.
The sacristy has nice decorations from the 18th century. The old sacristy, first designed by Michelangelo and later altered, can be entered through this room. The Cartusian Choir, or Chapel of the Epiphany, was originally in the old sacristy.
Quick Facts on Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri
|Names:||Church of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs · Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri|
|Dedication:||Virgin Mary (of the Angels)|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||41.903153° N, 12.496970° E|
|Address:||Via Cernaia 9|
|Hours:||Mon-Sat 7am-6:30pm, Sun 7am-7:30pm|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri|
- Personal visit (July 2006).
- Santa Maria degli Angeli - Churches of Rome Wiki (text adapted under GFDL)
- Photos of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, Rome
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