Churches of Rome Wiki

Sant'Andrea al Quirinale is the 17th century former convent church, now titular, of the Jesuit novitiate, and is located at Via del Quirinale 29. This is in the rione Monti (not the rione Trevi; the boundary is in the street outside).

Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia article here.

The dedication is to St Andrew the Apostle.


Before the Jesuits[]

The first church on the site, Sant'Andrea in Monte Cavallo, was possibly a parish church but its origin is very obscure. The archaeologist Giovanni Battista De Rossi discovered a mutilated papal bull of the 11th century with the following reference (transcribed by Armellini): 

Concedimus domum magnum, tegulatum in integro, cum terra in qua olim fuit ecclesia Sancti Andreae et parietinos, omnia posita Romae, in regione tertia iuxta venerabilem titulum Sanctae Susannae.

("We grant the big house, completely roofed in tile, with the land on which once was the church of St Andrew, and its walls, all located in Rome in the third region near the venerable titulus of St Susanna.")

This indicates that there was an abandoned and apparently roofless church dedicated to St Andrew close to Santa Susanna. Unfortunately, this reference is isolated and there has to be doubt as regards both the site and the continuity of the church referred to. If this reference is to the ancestor of our church, it is wholly unknown as to who rebuilt it later, and why. 

The next documentary references are from the church catalogues of the Middle Ages, notably the Catalogus of Cencius Camerarinus at the end of the 12th century which lists a Sancto Andree de Caballo. The word caballo is from the Latin caballus, which originally seems to have meant "horse only fit to enter the human food chain" as distinct from equus which was a horse you could ride. The catalogue also notes that the church was ignotae et sine clericis, in other words that it was disused. The Quirinal had lost its resident population in the early Middle Ages.

The Catalogo del Signorili of 1425 makes it fairly clear that the horse was a reference to the marble sculptures called the Horse Tamers which are now on the fountain in the Piazza del Quirinale. The name is given as Sancto Andree de Equo Marmoreo or "marble horse". The pair of monumental sculptures used to be thought to have come from the Baths of Constantine, but are now considered to have been part of the Temple of Serapis where the Palazzo Colonna now is. Somebody seems to have dragged them up to the top of the hill at some stage, perhaps when the temple was destroyed, because the Quirinal was called Monte Cavallo in the Middle Ages and this is how the church obtained its name. (The sculptures were put in their present location in 1591.)

Panoramic depictions of the city dating from the 16th century make it clear that this old church was on the site of the present one. By then it was in ruins.

Jesuit takeover []

The Society of Jesus or Jesuits received its official confirmation in 1540, and as a centralized religious order needed a single noviciate to train its candidates. This was established here in 1566 when the old church was donated to the then Superior General of the Jesuits, St Francis Borgia, by Giovanni Andrea Croce, Bishop of Tivoli. One of the Jesuits in Rome named Giovanni Tristano had been trained as an architect, and he was given the job of rebuilding the church and adding a convent building for the noviciate. This work was completed in 1568 with the financial assistance of Giovanna d'Aragona, Duchess of Tagliacozzo who owned much land on the southern slope of the hill. She had a palazzo to the west of the new noviciate, which she donated to her new foundation of Santa Chiara al Quirinale. The Poor Clares here were to be neighbours to the Jesuits until the late 19th century.

The immediate and explosive growth of the new order meant that the noviciate was inadequte as soon as it was finished. One response was the incorporation of the ancient basilica of San Vitale and its grounds into the complex in 1598. Paradoxically, today the church of Sant'Andrea is dependent on the basilica which is now a parish church.

All the great Jesuit Counter-Reformation saints after the first generation necessarily spent time in the noviciate under training. Among those who were here are St Aloysius Gonzaga, St Stanislaus Kostka and St Robert Bellarmine. The second-named died here, and his room was converted into a richly decorated chapel.

In 1622, the Jesuits received general Papal authority to rebuild the complex. However, finances were a problem and only in 1653 did Cardinal Francesco Adriano Ceva promise the necessary funds. Francesco Borromini was to be the architect. In the event, Pope Innocent X refused permission for the proposed buildings because he did not want any large edifices too close to the Quirinal Palace. The Jesuits had to wait until he died.

Bernini's masterpiece[]

The next pope was Alexander VII, who authorized the project in 1658 with the proviso that the new buildings were to be completely screened from the street by a high wall. Cardinal Camillo Pamphilj was in charge, and that was the end of the involvement of Borromini. The two of them had fallen out over the latter's work at Sant'Agnese in Agone. So, the cardinal commissioned Gian Lorenzo Bernini instead and this was confirmed by the pope.

The body of the present church was built in 16581661. Bernini designed it, but he left the actual work of construction to a brilliant committee of architects and artists among whom were Mattia de' Rossi and Antonio Raggi. Wisely, they left the entrance arrangements unfinished and in limbo until the pope died, whereupon the Pamphlij family paid for the façade which went up in 1670. The Papal requirement to hide this behind a screen wall was forgotten. The whole building was finally finished and consecrated in 1678.

The church is considered one of the finest examples of Roman Baroque, with its superb balance and harmony in the choice of materials and the flow of light in the interior. It is said that Bernini did not charge a fee for designing this church, and his only payment was a daily donation of bread from the novitiate's oven. According to the biography written by his son Domenico, Bernini considered it his only perfect work and often came here to hear Mass in his old age.

Modern times[]

The church was attached to the noviciate of the Jesuits, with a hiatus when they were suppressed from 1773 to 1814. During the French occupation, the shrines were pillaged of their jewels and precious metals

However, in 1873 the new Italian government sequestered almost all the convents in Rome and the Jesuits were expelled from here. The property was then taken over by the Italian crown, in order to accommodate various royal officials working in the Quirinal Palace which was where the king resided. The complex was substantially and destructively modified to meet their expectations in 1888; royal flunkies expected more comfort than Jesuit novices. The work involved the destruction of the Room of St Stanislaus Kostka, but the interior was dismantled and re-erected in another room nearer the church.

Another intrusion was the cutting of the Via Piacenza through the gardens immediately to the south of the convent; most of these very extensive gardens were then built over, and the direct footpath to San Vitale was lost.

The church hence lost its reason for existence, but the fame of Bernini preserved it from demolition. Its neighbours were not so lucky. Of the formerly eight churches on the street between the Piazza del Quirinale and Santa Susanna, five were demolished by the government in this period (Santa Chiara al QuirinaleSanta Maria Maddalena al QuirinaleSanta Teresa alle Quattro FontaneIncarnazione del Verbo Divino and San Caio in Via Porta Pia) and one was deconsecrated later (Santi Gioacchino e Anna alle Quattro Fontane).

After the sequestration, the church was administered by a secular priest for a period. However, the Jesuits managed to regain it in the mid 20th century, and they continue to be in charge.

The convent is now called the Palazzo Sant'Andrea, and is part of the Agenzia del Demanio or the state property office.

At present, the church is one of the most popular attractions in Rome for educated visitors -as opposed to the "Been there, done that, got the T-shirt" tourist rabble. As a result, its profile online is especially good.

The contrast between the works of the two great Roman Baroque architects, that of Bernini here and Borromini's San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane just up the street, is now regarded as one of the world's greatest architectural experiences. Bernini demonstrates Baroque as theatre, and Borromini Baroque as mathematics, and it is impossible to decide which of the two is more awesome.


The church only became titular in 1998, when Adam Kozłowiecki was made cardinal. The current titular is Odilo Pedro Scherer, archbishop of São Paulo, who was appointed in 2007.


Layout and fabric[]

The church was innovative in that it is on an elliptical plan, having its major axis on the minor axis of the ellipse. This transverse elliptical layout was, however, nothing new to Bernini, who had alread used it in his famous colonnade at Saint Peter's. It has been claimed that the plan was necessitated by the restricted nature of the site, but this is incorrect; there was no street frontage originally planned, and a larger church could have been put here longitudinally to the street. It appears that the motivation was artistic, and not a result of exigency.

The fabric of the body of the church is in red brick. Structurally it is a brick drum with an ambulatory, but the latter has blocking walls inserted to create two chapels on each side, and antechambers to the entrance as well as to the two exits to the convent. There is an external segmental apse, but this is part of the wing of the convent that abuts the church on its far side which also includes the sacristy and the rebuilt Room of St Stanislaus Kostka.

The ambulatory wall has its brickwork exposed, but the upper drum wall is rendered in orange. This wall has six enormous volute buttresses, three on each side, in between round-headed windows. These buttresses are actually tiled. Above them is a cog-wheel entablature in white, forming the roofline.

The exterior dome is a very shallow saucer, surrounded by a flat roof. There is a tall lantern, with a hemispherical lead cupola. The dome itself is also in lead, but is completely invisible from the street.

The façade is a separate design element, and in its elevation does not relate well to the church exterior. Rather, it acts as a screen and hence the body of the church is rather sequestered from the streetscape. However, its curvaceous plan does echo that of the church.


The facade is entirely in limestone, and has three horizontal design elements. In the middle is an enormous propylaeum crowned by a triangular pediment. This is on top of an entablature borne on a pair gigantic Corinthian pilasters, which are tripletted around the corners and stand on high plinths. The cornice of the entablature and the pediment are dentillated.

The actual entrance is above street level, and is approached by a semi-circular set of stairs. It has a molded doorcase and a floating triangular pediment above, also a pair of Ionic pilasters with swagged capitals which are doubletted along their outer edges. Above the entablature supported by these pilasters is a large lunette window.

The entablature below this window, which is also dentillated, is bowed outwards to form  the edge of the flat roof of a semi-circular porch at the top of the stairs. This roof is supported by a pair of Ionic columns, and supports a large coat-of-arms flanked by two halves of a split segmental pediment with curlicued tops. Predictably, this coat-of-arms is of the Pamphilj family. Note the dove.

The other two design elements of the façade are identical, and consist of two coved or inwardly curved screen walls on either side of the propylaeum. These have been described as forming quarter-circles in plan; they do not, but are just slightly quarter-elliptical and this is Bernini's design connection between the plans of the façade and the church. There is also a hint of an architectural joke on his part, in that the incurving walls echo his colonnades at St Peter's in a very small way.

Each of these walls has four vertical rectangular recessed panels with stepped edges above a plinth. The fourth panel, nearest the outer edge, is very narrow. There is an identical pair of gateways at the outer ends of the walls; each has a molded archway, without imposts but with a slight ogee curve, within a frame over which is a pediment formed from two double curlicues pressing against a central scallop shell. The left hand gateway leads into what is left of the garden of the noviciate, but the right hand one is disused.


The main frontage of the convent complex is to the right of the church, a large symmetrical three-storey restrained Baroque block with an enormous main entrance in the middle. The coat-of-arms above this, with lions and cornucopias used to be of the king, but the shield has been blanked out. The entrance used to lead into two transverse rectangular courts, one behind the other on a symmetrical axis, but the building between the courts was demolished in the 19th century re-ordering and it was here that the Room of St Stanislaus used to be.

Behind the church is a third court, at an angle to the church's major axis which shows that the original 16th century noviciate building used to stand here. This part of the convent has a short wing running south into the gardens from its south-east corner. If you go round into the Via Piacenza at its west end and look at the 19th century range on the left hand side facing east, you will notice that the end of the range is structurally separate and has its first storey façade in rusticated blocks. This is the end of this wing of the convent.

Just south of this façade, in what is now the roadway of the street, used to be a garden fountain. The storey is that St Stanislaus Kostka used to be so overcome emotionally at receiving the Eucharist that the skin on his chest used to become inflamed, and he used to bathe it at this fountain. 

The footpath to San Vitale used to run down through the gardens to the west of this fountain, via a flight of stairs.



Sant'Andrea al Quirinale floor plan .png

As mentioned, the plan is entirely elliptical. Normally in elliptical churches, the major (entrance to altar) axis is set on the longer axis of the ellipse, but here it is on the shorter. There are four side chapels, a pair on each side flanking the minor (transverse) axis, and four large niches which could have been chapels but aren't. Two of these, either side of the high altar, contain doorways leading into the convent; the right hand door leads to the sacristy and to the Room of St Stanislaus as well. The left hand door is now disused.

The other two of these niches are either side of the main entrance, and they are only there for the sake of symmetry and to contain confessionals. The chapels are rectangular in plan, but the niches have little semi-circular recesses on their side walls. Finally, the entrance is in its own rectangular alcove and the high altar is in a small segmental apse.

Those who know something about religious orders may wonder at the lack of a choir, and why such a large convent had such a small church. The reason is that the Jesuits innovated in not committing its members to the Divine Office in choir. For liturgical functions attracting a large congregation, the noviciate here used San Vitale.


As mentioned, this church is Bernini's essay in Baroque as theatre. The plan means that the high altar immediately confronts the visitor on entering, and its design forces the gaze upwards into the dome. The theme of this guided view is the martyrdom and apotheosis of St Andrew.

The walls are clad in marble from Cottanello near Rieti, which is red with white veins. The same stone is used for the four fluted Corinthian columns of the enormous aedicule of the high altar, which here is not enclosed in the apse (as might be expected) but takes the place of the triumphal arch. Bernini obtained this stone from its source quarry, unworked since ancient Roman times, and so was able to procure matching stonework for the entire church. (The quarry is again disused, but if ever you visit it you will find partly finished columns lying abandoned.)

In between each pair of side spaces is a gigantic ribbed Corinthian pilaster in white Carrara marble. There are three of these on each side, another pair partly hidden by the aedicule and a quadrupletted pair flanking the entrance. They support an entablature that runs right round the church, with its architrave, frieze and dentillated cornice respectively in Carrara, Cottanello and then Carrara again. This entablature also serves as that of the aedicule, stepped slightly forward.

Each chapel is entered through an archway with a semi-circular molded archivolt resting on a pair of Doric pilasters with Carrara capitals, and is lit by a lunette window behind the altar aedicule. The niches, however, have rectangular ingresses topped by molded cornices in Carrara, and above these are four cantoria or balconies for solo singers. These have balustrades, above which are gilded bronze grilles to protect the anonymity of the singers (the motivation for this was that the singers were accompanying the liturgy, not giving person-centred performances).

High altar[]

As mentioned, the aedicule frames the apse containing the high altar. This is in gilded bronze. Unfortunately, a ridiculous altar "for the people" (that is for Mass with the priest facing the congregation) in the form of an ordinary table is usually placed on a carpet in front of the aedicule, spoiling the view.

On the wall above the altar  is a painting of the Martyrdom of St Andrew which is by Guillaume Courtois, a French artist nicknamed Il Borgognone, who executed it in 1668. Around it the wall is painted blue, a strong contrast to the red, white and gold of the main body of the church and a trick to catch the eye. Above is a Baroque gilded glory by Antonio Raggi with many angels disporting themselves on it, and rays focusing on a concealed window which sends down light on the altar. This leads the eye upwards. The next artwork meant to catch the theatrical attention is the white stucco statue of St Andrew Ascending to Heaven also by Raggi, which is in the segmental pediment of the aedicule. This curves back to accommodate it. The saint is shown with his gaze focused upwards into the dome, inviting the viewer to look upwards also.

The side walls of the apse are in green marble veined in white, which material is also used on the side walls of the chapel and on the entrance counterfaçade.

Dome []

The interior dome completely dominates the space, and is Bernini's version of the dome as an empyrean. That is, looking into the dome is meant to persuade the viewer that heaven is open to the gaze and this was usually done by painting a fresco showing a sky with saints, angels and divine beings. However, Bernini chose to use the numinousness of golden light. The dome itself is coffered in gilded stucco, patterned in hexagons which get smaller with height and which contain rosettes. Ten rays in the form of stylized palm fronds focus on the lantern; there should be twelve if they were to be equally spaced, but the ones that would have been on the major axis are omitted. The palm motif is a symbol of martyrdom.

There are eight windows above the entablature, with slightly curved tops crowned by scallop shells. The ones over the side chapels are slightly larger and each has a pair of saints in white stucco sitting on top of them. The other four are smaller, and each has three frolicking putti on top. Swags of flowers droop in between the windows and under the lower ends of the rays, and the putti are playing with their portions of them.

The rays end at concentric ellipses of flower swags and one of putti surrounding the oculus. Inside the oculus is the lantern, which has yellow glass in its windows to accentuate its effect. Finally, at the very top of the lantern is the Dove of the Holy Spirit encircled by more putti.

The ring of putti surrounding the oculus has an odd feature. Some have escaped to the other side of the inner ring of flowers, leaving the ring incomplete and thus breaking the symmetry of the dome -another architectural joke?

The stucco work is by Raggi again, and is superb.


In contrast to the general red, white and gold colour scheme, the wall containing the entrance door is revetted in pale green marble veined in white. Above the wooden internal doorcase is a memorial to Cardinal Camillo Pamphilj, which proclaims him as the founder of the church. Two winged female figures which look like angels but are apparently meant to be fates are in a triangular pediment; on is sitting comfortably and holding onto the heraldic shield of the cardinal, while the other is falling off while blowing a trumpet. Above is a billowing banner with the memorial inscription. This work was designed by Bernini, and executed by Giovanni Rinaldi (other sources allege Raggi again).

Side chapels[]

The side chapels are all of an identical design, with altars having a pair of Corinthian columns in Cottanello marble supporting a triangular pediment with modillions. The side walls are in pale green marble with white veins, and the pictures on them are identically framed in yellow marble with the dove of the Pamphilj below.

From the near right hand side and proceeding anticlockwise, the dedications are: St Francis Xavier, Passion of Christ, St Stanislaus Kostka and St Ignatius Loyola.

Chapel of St Francis Xavier[]

Here there are three paintings by Il Baciccio depicting events in the life of St Francis Xavier.  The altarpiece is famous; it shows him dying on the island of Shangchuan in China, down the river from Canton (Catholics used to call this place Sincian, because the name came to them from Chinese via Portuguese and Latin). The paintings on the side walls depict his preaching and baptizing (very European-looking East Asians!), and in the vault is The Glory of St Francis Xavier by Filippo Bracci.

Chapel of the Passion[]

The Chapel of the Passion, also known as the Chapel of the Flagellation, has three canvases with scenes from Our Lord's Passion by Giacinto Brandi, completed in 1682. The Deposition (the bionda is St Mary Magdalen), Flagellation and the Way to Calvary are depicted. The vault shows God the Father by Bracci again.


The disused left hand convent exit has a large crucifix in front of it. This is not a chapel, as there is no altar. Here also is the tomb of King Carlo Emanuele IV of Sardinia and Piedmont, which is by Andrea Testa. He abdicated to enter the Society of Jesus, but never went forward to ordination. As a result, he lived here until he died in 1819 at the Palazzo Colonna down the hill.

Chapel of St Stanislaus Kostka[]

St Stanislaus Kostka's urn, by Pierre Legros

The relics of St Stanislaus Kostka are enshrined here. Under the altar is the shrine, an urn of bronze and lapis lazuli which is by Pierre Legros and was made in 1716. The altarpiece of The Madonna with Child Appearing to St Stanislaus is by Carlo Maratta, c. 1687. The pictures on the side walls are by Ludovico Mazzanti, and show the saint receiving communion and falling into ecstasy. The fresco in the vault showing the Apotheosis of St Stanislaus is by Giovanni Odazzi.

The shrine has the monogram IHS, which is the logo of the Jesuits and can be seen elsewhere in the church. There is much misunderstanding concerning this; it is often stated that it stands for Iesus Hominum Salvator, but this is completely incorrect. Rather, it stands for the name Jesus in Greek: IHΣYΣ, with the second letter H being an eta which is pronounced as a long "e".

Chapel of St Ignatius Loyola[]

The first chapel on the left is formally dedicated to St Ignatius and the Founders of the Society of Jesus, but in practice is given over to the veneration of Our Lady since the church itself has no altar dedicated to her (there is one in the sacristy). The altarpiece shows SS Ignatius, Francis Borgia and Aloysius Gonzaga Venerating the Madonna and Child, and is by Ludovico Mazzanti. The paintings on the side walls are by Ludovico David, and depict two scenes of the Nativity. The fresco depicting the Glory of the Angels in the ceiling vault is by Giuseppe Chiari; the angels are having a party.


The floor of the church displays three memorials to cardinals in spectacular polychrome opus sectile stonework. They are to Cardinals Pietro Sforza Pallavicino, Giulio Spinola and Camillo Melzi.


The sacristy is through the door to the right of the high altar. Unlike many other Roman convent church sacristies, which could double as choir chapels, the one here is a rather narrow room with wooden wardrobes down each side and an altar dedicated to Our Lady at the end. The altarpiece depicting the Immaculate Conception is by Andrea Pozzo, the same Jesuit artist who did the famous ceiling fresco at Sant'Ignazio.

The spectacular frescoed ceiling vault depicts the Apotheosis of St Andrew, and is by Giovanni de Brosse. 

The lavabo or holy water stoup is possibly by Bernini himself. It is a micocosm of the church's design, and uses the yellow, green, white and red marbles to be found there. A picture of Our Lady in an elliptical tondo is supported by a pair of putti, and clasped by a pair of palm fronds which end in roses. This is an exquisite work, and should not be missed.

Room of St Stanislaus Kostka[]

The noviciate room of St Stanislaus Kostka in which he died has been reconstructed - the part of the house where it was originally was destroyed in 1888. It is up a flight of steps from the sacristy, and is a spacious chamber divided by an archway and with an altar at one end. The latter has an altarpiece of the saint in a Baroque glory. The walls are in blue and white, with much flowery decoration in gilded stucco. It is perhaps not necessary to mention that the room did not look like this when the saint was residing in it.

Here is sculpture in polychrome marble by Pierre Legros, made c. 1700, which depicts the dying saint lying on his bed. His habit is in black marble, his head, hands, feet and pillows are in white marble and the bed coverlet is in yellow marble from Siena. The effect is startlingly lifelike (so to speak). The sculpture is placed on a slab of alabaster, and used to be embellished with a silver balustrade until the French looters arrived.

Andrea Pozzo again painted the scenes from the life of the saint on the walls.

Ask the sacristan if you wish to see this room, as well as the sacristy. You can also visit the room in which King Carlo Emanuele IV of Sardinia lived after his abdication. 2 euro donation required


The church is open:

Tuesday to Saturday: 09:00-12.00 and 15:00-18.00.

Sunday and Solemnities: 9:00-12.00 and 15.00-18.00.



Mass is celebrated on Sundays and Solemnities at 10:30. You cannot visit the church during it.

The feasts of St Andrew, on 30 November, and of St Stanislaus Kostka, on 13 November, are celebrated with great solemnity.

The church is now part of the Centro Storico marriage circuit, so be aware that it may be in use for weddings especially at weekends.

External links[]

Official diocesan web-page

Italian Wikipedia page

Church's website (2017: defunct)

Interactive Nolli map Website

"De Alvariis" gallery on Flickr

Jemolo gallery

Flickr search gallery

Roma SPQR web-page

Info.roma web-page

"Laboriatoraroma" web-page

"Romeartlover" web-page

"Smart History" web-page

"Great Buildings" web-page

"Sacred Destinations" web-page

Williams College tour

Bluffton University web-page

Youtube video from Smart History

Roman Despatches - blog with gallery