Paintings of the Old Sacristy of the Gesù in Rome

One of the major counter-reformation churches in Rome, located just off the Piazza Venezia in the heart of the city is the Gesù -- the main church of the Jesuits which is more fully named the Chiesa di Sanctissimo Nome di Gesù. It is said to be one of the first churches specifically built around an explicitly counter-reformation, Eucharistic piety -- which is simply to say that it presents the model that would become dominant for the next half millennium with the tabernacle fixed firmly in the centre of the church, set directly upon the high altar itself (as opposed to the older Roman models with its freestanding altars with ciboria and so on). 

The church is quite popular with pilgrims in particular for its beautiful frescoes and myriad of altars, however one thing visitors should not neglect in the midst of all that splendour is the Old Sacristy, which is located just off to the right as you stand about midway up the nave. If you peer through the door you're likely to think you're merely seeing an administrative area worth skipping, however if you go into the old sacristy and look up, you will be greeted with a beautiful cycle of anonymous paintings that depict personages and events linked to the early history of the Jesuits, and perhaps even more of interest to our readers, you will also be greeted with some beautiful details of the classic ceremonies, vestments and vesture of the Roman church.

Pope Paul III with St. Ignatius of Loyola confirming the Jesuit Order

Pope Gregory XV with Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi at the canonization of St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis Xavier

Another scene of canonization. Clearly shown here in this painting are the symbolic offerings that were traditionally made in the rites of canonization. 

Portraits of Cardinals Alessandro and Oduardo Farnese

Examining the details of paintings like these can be an interesting way to learn about the traditions of the Church, the style of the vestments and vesture of the period in which the painter painted (in this instance, around the mid 1600's) as well as details of the ceremonies of canonization. It can be easy to give these objects a quick glance, or even to skip them altogether, but for those of a historical mind, they are frequently some of the most interesting objects of all.   The good news is that because many people seem to ignore the old sacristy, you'll have plenty of opportunity to study them and take them all in.

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