Counter-Reformation Churches of Rome: Chiesa del Santissimo Nome di Gesù (The Gesù)

Continuing on with our consideration of some of the counter-reformation churches of Rome, we turn to the one which is said to have begun them all, the Chiesa del Santissimo Nome di Gesù (Church of the Most Holy Name of Jesus), better known simply as the Gesù for short.  

The Gesù is the mother church of the Jesuits with construction lasting from 1568-1580 and it would become the established template for Jesuit churches from that point on, until at least the latter half of the twentieth century. As in the case of the later Chiesa Nuova of the Oratorians, the Gesù in its artistic and liturgical orderings represents the principles and shifts of emphasis that were indicative of the counter-reformation period's response to protestant objections against Catholic doctrines. These churches were built following the Council of Trent and functioned both as places in which the sacrifice of the Mass was offered, the Eucharist emphazied and adored, and they functioned as great preaching spaces made to accommodate the throngs of the faithful who would come (which, in those days, actually happened following the Council but I digress).

The church, located just a short walk down the road from Trajan's column, was funded by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese -- the surname may be recognizable for the fact that the House of Farnese were one of the more influential families of Renaissance Italy.   The facade, designed in combination by Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola with later modifications by Giacomo della Porta is both simple and ornamental. 

The interior is exactly what one would expect from a prominent counter-reformation church within Rome -- it is a proverbial painted jewel box. No matter where the eye wanders, one is confronted by beauty, colour and texture. 

The"IHS" Christogram, which forms the first letters of Christ's name in Greek, is found prominently both within and without the church, but perhaps no more prominently than above the high altar and reredos of the church. 

Interestingly this is not the original high altar and tabernacle of the church, which can help explain its rather neo-classical look and feel by comparison with the rest of the building. The originals were lost during nineteenth century renovations and the original tabernacle now resides in Ireland. 

The Gesù is perhaps most notably characterized -- artistically speaking -- by its frescoed ceilings and dome, done in great part by  by Giovanni Battista Gaulli, which utilize trompe l'oeil to give the illusion of some of the figures protruding out into the third dimension. This technique was particularly popular at this period of time and the result is spectacular. 

Of particular interest in the "Triumph of the Name of Jesus" fresco, also done by Giovanni Battista Gaulli, located on the ceiling of the nave. 

A good example of trompe l'oeil:

One of the organ casings along with a beautiful tapestry:

The Gesù is also host to numerous side chapels, the two most of significant of which are found within the left and right transepts, the one to the left that of St. Ignatius (where the saint's remains are to be found enclosed), and that on the right, the chapel of St. Francis Xavier. The altar of St. Ignatius is that in which can be found, hidden beneath the painting found on the altar piece, the silver, bejewelled statue of the saint which is only revealed at certain times. 

Altar of St. Ignatius. To the left is the silver statue of the saint when revealed. 

Altar and relics of St. Ignatius of Loyola

Details from the altar of St. Francis Xavier

Of general interest perhaps to our readers is the fact that the famed sculptor of Baroque Rome, Bernini, came daily to pray in the Gesù.

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