Baroque Theatricality and Vestments as Seen in the Altar of St. Ignatius in the Gesù in Rome

Within the Roman church of the Holy Name of Jesus (affectionately known simply as the "Gesù") is contained a spectacular sculpture of one of the founders of the Society of Jesus, St. Ignatius of Loyola -- the Spanish priest who lived from 1491 to 1556.  If you've been to the Gesù and wondered why you missed this statue, while it is possible that you simply missed it amidst the baroque splendour that is the Gesù but it may also be because it -- along with St. Ignatius' mortal remains -- is actually concealed behind the painting that is found on the side altar of St. Ignatius, located in the transept that sits to the left side of the high altar as you face toward it:

This mechanism is actually dated to the baroque era and constitutes a bit of baroque theatre -- something that was only restored a few years ago. Each day, at around 5:30pm, the baroque machinery goes into action, the painting is lowered and thus is revealed the remains of St. Ignatius and the statue of St. Iganatius, entirely changing the look and feel of this altarpiece.

The spectacular statue of St. Ignatius it reveals was originally designed by Pierre le Gros the Younger (1666-1719) in completed in the year 1699.  I say "originally" because, regrettably, almost 100 years after its creation, in 1798, the arms, head and legs were taken off the status and melted down in order to pay war reparations to Napoleon. The missing pieces were re-created about 5 years after their removal.

Fortunately the chasuble itself, which is one of the most striking parts of this statue of St. Ignatius, was left in fact, and so we can yet admire le Gros' original work in all its splendour, showing a chasuble shape of the era (which we typically refer to today as a "Neri"). Here are a couple of closer looks.

Upon closer inspection, one will note how the silver has been designed to replicate embroidery, while the orphrey, set in gold, is ornamented by beautifully coloured stones

A truly remarkable piece of liturgical art in its own right, and one which testifies to the beauty of other liturgical arts, in this case sacred vestment work, from the period.

Join in the conversation on our Facebook page.