Counter-Reformation Churches of Rome: Sant'Ignazio

If you take a very brief stroll from the Pantheon you will come across one of the great counter-reformation churches of Rome: Sant'Ignazio. Construction on Sant'Ignazio was begun in 1626 with the church finally being consecrated in 1722 -- though the first worship in it began in the year 1650. As the name suggests, the church's patronal saint is St. Ignatius of Loyola founder of the Jesuits, and thus also one of the second important Jesuit churches of Rome, the first and foremost being the Gesù of course.  

The facade feels quite large, placed within the confines of a cozy piazza (aptly named after the church itself) which the church dominates. 

It is the interior, however, which is the star of this particular show and when one enters the church, it immediately opens up into an immense space, so typical of Jesuit churches of this period. 

Detail of the high altar

The interior follows a typical cruciform plan with various chapels lining the nave and the two main side altars adorning the transepts of the church.

One of the side altars of one of the transepts depicting the Glory of St. Aloysius Gonzaga (whom is entombed within the altar)

Carved angel sculptures that adorn the altar of St. Aloysius Gonzaga

However, what the church is especially known for are the splendid fresco cycle of Andrea Pozzo, S.J.  Obviously there is the apse fresco which depicts St. Ignatius being received into heaven, with representations of four continents reflecting the missionary efforts of St. Ignatius' order. 

Located beneath these are paintings taken from the life and apotheosis of St. Ignatius.  These include, from left to right, "The Siege of Pamplona" where St. Ignatius was wounded, centrally is found the "Vision of St. Ignatius at the Chapel of La Storta" wherein St. Ignatius is said to have received his calling, and finally the third depicts St. Francis sending St. Francis Xavier to India. Going down around either side of the central painting above the high altar are chandeliers which are lit to great theatrical effect thereby framing the high altar. 

When one first walks in the main doors of Sant'Ignazio, one will very quickly look up and see Pozzo's baroque masterwork, which depicts St. Ignatius and his order in glory, but what is especially noteworthy about it is the use of trompe l'oeil by which technique it is difficult to tell when the actual building ends and the painting begins. Rather, the strong illusion that one receives is of there being no ceiling at all, lifting the view from their grounded, earthly confines, into the realm of the eternal and heavenly. 

After this is the "dome" -- which, from the perspective of the nave appears to indeed be a darkened cupola, but as one walks beneath it and past it toward the altar, one realizes that it too is a bit of trompe l'oeil, for it is an illusion and in actuality there is no dome at all. A wonderful surprise to first time visitors of the church who might not have read about it.  (Originally there was to be an actual cupola here but it was never built and as such, Pozzo painted a canvas to represent this faux dome. Regrettably this was lost at the end of the 19th century so what one is seeing here is actually a relatively modern replacement.)

The "dome" seen from directly beneath it facing toward the narthex of the church, the high altar behind.

One actual cupola to be found in the church is this, found in the St. Robert Bellarmine chapel where St. Robert Bellarmine is entombed beneath an altar:

A few more random details from the church:

Effigy of Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi

If, like me, you always enjoy seeing these structures liturgically ordered as they were built to be, here are a couple of vintage photos showing Sant'Ignazio un-encumbered by re-orderings of the latter twentieth century. 

Of course, as with most all Roman churches, we haven't even touched on the numerous other side chapels located within, but we shall leave those for our readers to explore for themselves. Suffice it to say though, if you find yourself in the heart of Rome near the Pantheon, you'll certainly want to add this nearby counter-reformation jewel to your itinerary. 

Join in the conversation on our Facebook page.