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Santa Maria sopra Minerva is a 13th century minor basilica, a titular and former conventual church on the Piazza della Minerva in the rione Pigna. The postal address is Via del Beato Angelico 35, which is the convent. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia article here

The dedication is to the Blessed Virgin Mary.


Ancient times[]

Until the 1930's, the name of the church, sopra Minerva or “on top of Minerva”, was taken to mean that the church was built over a ruined temple of Minerva who was the ancient Roman goddess of wisdom. This is still being asserted in modern publications, sometimes qualified as “in the precinct of” or suchlike, but is incorrect.

Modern archaeologists place the site of the church in the northern half of the Saepta Iulia, an enormous colonnaded piazza which was part of the monumental complex of the Campus Martius in Imperial times. To the east of this was the Temple of Isis and Serapis (the Isaeum), located where the church of San Stefano del Cacco is now, and to the east again was the circular shrine (not really a proper temple) of Minerva Chalcidica. The surname of the goddess refers to the ancient Greek city of Chalcis on the island of Euboea, and the edifice was put up by the emperor Domitian. The identification of the site, now occupied by the deconsecrated church of Santa Marta del Collegio Romano, is derived from the Severan Marble Plan.

It is not known why the church took the name of the goddess. Just north of the Isaeum, between it and its atrium or dromos, was a connecting passageway between the Saepta and the courtyard of her shrine. This is now the Via Pie di Marmo, and might have been named after Minerva at some stage even though it was part of the property of the Isaeum. A more inventive theory, for which there is no evidence, is that the cult statue of Minerva was ceremonially smashed up and dropped into the foundations of the original church as a gesture of contempt.

Incidentally, the famous elephant obelisk in front of the church was originally at the Isaeum and was dug up in the part of the convent that impinges on the temple precinct.

Original church[]

The origins of the church are unknown, but lie in the very obscure period between the early 7th century, when the ancient monumental complex still had a civic identity, and two hundred years later when the locality had been converted into the warren of narrow filthy streets that it remained until the 19th century.

Panciroli wrote that he had found a document in the convent archives, stating that Pope Zacharias (741-52) had granted the church to a refugee community of Byzantine-rite nuns from Constantinople who were fleeing the Iconoclast policy of the Byzantine imperial government. He certainly did welcome them, and granted them the site of the later Benedictine convent of Santa Maria in Campo Marzio with its other church of San Gregorio Nazianzeno . However, the suspicion is that the tradition actually referred to the convent church of Santa Maria, not this one.

The point seems to be still disputed. However, a reference exists that Pope Celestine III confirmed possession of the church by the nuns of Santa Maria in Campo Marzio in 1194. Is an earlier contemporary source reference available, stating that the nuns owned the church in earlier times?

The first certain mention of the old church is in the Itinerary of Einsiedeln, about the year 800, where we have a reference to Minervium, ibi Santa Maria. When it was granted to the Dominicans in 1276, the pope had to exclude any possible jurisdiction on the part of the Chapter of San Marco. This was the original titulus or ancient parish church of the locality, and this hints that the church here was originally founded as a subsidiary parish church when the area was being squatted in the 8th century. The Benedictine nuns might have obtained possession later.

Repentant prostitutes[]

Before the Dominicans took over, there was a brief occupation by a religious sisterhood. Pope Alexander IV in 1255 granted the church to a community of mulieres carnis suae corrutione gesserunt who were obviously repentant prostitutes. This community was a forerunner of several later efforts of a similar sort to help women in the sex trade, especially in the 16th century. Interestingly, here the convertite used the habit and rule of the Cistercians despite not being able to be full nuns because they were not virgins.

They moved to San Pancrazio before the Dominicans moved in.

New church[]

Towards the end of the 13th century, the Order of Preachers or Dominicans were established at Santa Sabina on the Aventine, but wanted a more central headquarters. They seem to have been in possession here from the 1260's (the year 1266 is quoted in modern sources), for in 1275 Pope John XXI confirmed the independence of the church and convent from the old titulus of San Marco. It was parochial from then on.

The Dominicans immediately started rebuilding from scratch, intending a large church and convent. This was to become an important church for the Dominicans and one of the greatest ecclesiastical institutions in Rome, but initial progress was difficult because of the Babylonian Captivity of the popes at Avignon in France from 1305 to 1376. Construction began about 1280, under the authority of Pope Nicholas III, and the tradition is that two Dominicans named Ristoro da Campi and Sisto Fiorentino (“Sixtus the Florentine”) designed the church on the alleged model of the Order's church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. What is certain is that the Florentine expatriates in Rome patronized the new church until they built their own at San Giovanni dei Fiorentini.

This is the only mediaeval Gothic church within the ancient walls of Rome (there is another, ruined one at San Nicola a Capo di Bove on the Appian Way). However, several neo-Gothic churches were built by various religious orders in the city in the late 19th century, so it is not the only one per se.

Slow progress[]

The Dominican studium or theology college for the formation of the friars of the Roman province was moved from Santa Sabina to here in 1288. This amounts to the remote foundation of the present Angelicum.

Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303) provided funds for the building of the side aisles of the church, but progress then apparently stopped with, presumably, a temporary roof over the unfinished central nave. Nothing much then happened for over a hundred years.

The convent re-emerges into history when it was the setting of two Papal conclaves, in 1431 when Pope Eugene IV was elected and again in 1447 for Pope Nicholas V. The Lateran Palace was ruinous at the time, and apparently no suitable quarters were available in the new papal headquarters of the Vatican (which only became the popes' residence in 1377). In the early 14th century, the convent finally overtook Santa Sabina in importance since it had a complement of fifty friars as against the thirty at the mother house.

St Catherine of Siena was enshrined in the church in 1451, in what is now the Capranica Chapel. The Dominican bishop who performed this, Antoninus of Florence, was also later canonized.

In 1453, construction was finally resumed. The Spanish Cardinal Juan de Torquemada put up the money to have the central nave vaulted, and also to refurbish the convent. Part of the project was to provide frescoes in the cloister featuring Biblical scenes, and the cardinal was far-sighted enough to have these published as a series of woodcuts in 1467. These have survived, while the original frescoes have not.

In the same year, Francesco Orsini and Cardinal Domenico Caprianica funded the building of a façade -although what was built was left unfinished. Girolamo Francino published a woodcut of it in 1588, which shows a structure similar to the present façade of Santa Maria in Aracoeli. Back then, the façade was in bare brick with sloping aisle roof edges and an overhanging horizontal cavetto cornice on top awaiting a mosaic that never arrived. The three round windows were already there, as were the three doorways, but the entrance pediments of the latter were all triangular.

Giuliano da Sangallo made some alterations to the choir in the early 16th century. This happened in several Roman conventual churches at the time. The mediaeval practice was to have the choir in front of the main altar in a schola cantorum (see San Clemente where the arrangement survives), but this was thought to be inappropriate in the 16th century so the choir tended to be moved to behind the altar. This usually involved new building.

Glory days[]

In 1545, Cardinal Paluzzo Altieri put up a large sum of money to rebuild the convent. The architect Guidetto Guidetti oversaw the work, which included the rebuilding of the old cloister on a new site slightly northwards to allow for side chapels off the left hand side of the church. This took place between 1559 and 1569.

The Dominicans received a great boost in 1567 when St Thomas Aquinas was declared a Doctor of the Church -the first new Latin doctor since patristic times. In response, Bishop Juan Solano O.P. formerly of Cuzco in Peru funded an expansion of the convent and college. The latter was re-named Collegium Divi Thomae.

In 1600, Carlo Maderno executed a major restoration of the church which involved enlarging the apse and adding early Baroque decorative elements to the interior. The work on the sanctuary involved the destruction of the mediaeval baldacchino. He also altered the façade to its present form, but left it undecorated -the proposed Baroque decoration was not, in the event, added.  

In 1627, the room in which St Catherine of Siena died was dismantled and re-erected next to the sacristy. The void it left in the house on Via di Santa Chiara is now a little chapel called Santa Caterina da Siena in Transito. The room was dedicated in 1630, after being frescoed.

In 1628, the convent received a further boost when it was made the headquarters of the Holy Office; as such, it was the setting for the trial and condemnation of Galileo in 1633.

From 1636 to 1657, the convent and attached palazzo (the public administrative area) had another major enlargement supervised by Cardinal Antonio Barberini and carried out by Vincenzo Giustiniani who was master-general of the Order (not to be confused with his namesake of the previous century). After a short pause, a guest-house was added and, in the process, the obelisk now in front of the church was found buried. It says a lot for the power and prestige of the Dominicans that they were able to keep hold of this treasured ancient item for themselves.

This progamme of building works also included further Baroque remodelling of the church interior; almost nothing of this survives.

Modern times[]

A fourth institution was added to the site in 1698, when Cardinal Girolamo Casanate donated his extensive library to the Minerva convent. The Biblioteca Casanetense was opened in 1701, and a public reading room on the Via di Sant'Ignazio was opened in 1725. This was the last major addition to the complex, which now occupied the entire city block -the so-called insula dominicana.

In 1725, the friars finally decided to finish off the façade which had been left in naked brick by Maderno. To save money, no decorative elements were added but the surface was rendered in the very simple style in which it remains.

The French occupation of Rome from 1798 to 1814 saw two regiments of infantry billeted at the convent. In 1810 the friars were expelled, and on their return found the church in a bad state since it had been used as a stable. Only in 1848 was a thorough restoration undertaken, the project being carried out by the Dominicans themselves with Fra Girolamo Bianchedi as the supervising architect.

The involved removal of the Baroque decoration, the addition of stained glass in the windows and the provision of pseudo-mediaeval wall and vault frescoes. Structuaral altarations were: The replacement of pier pilasters with marble ones, the re-laying of the main floor in marble, the replacement of the rectangular central nave windows with circular ones and the provision of new vaulting over the transept and sanctuary to match that over the nave. The work went on until 1855, when the relics of St Catherine of Siena were taken out of the Capranica Chapel and enshrined in the new shrine made for her in the main altar.

The parish was suppressed in the 19th century.

In 1871, the convent was sequestered by the Italian government and turned into offices for the Finance Ministry. In 1884 the college was also sequestered; it eventually found a home at Santi Domenico e Sisto, and a new identity as the Angelicum University. 

In 1929, the Dominicans regained the church and some accommodation around the old cloister. The rest of the insula belongs to the Chamber of Deputies, as from 1974 and includes the library of that body as well as that of the Senate. These were consolidated into a Parliamentary Library in 2007. Those now in charge of the convent buildings have been showing a refreshing respect for the spiritual and cultural associations of the site.


The church was made titular in 1557, the first cardinal being the future Pope Pius V.

The current titular priest of the church is António Dos Santos Marto, who was appointed in 2018. He replaced H.E. Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, formerly Archbishop of Westminster in England who had been appointed on 21 February 2001, and who died on 1 September 2017.


Layout and fabric[]

The large church has a basilical plan. The nave, with side aisles, has six bays and then comes a transept which is structurally slightly wider on both sides than the nave and aisles. The sanctuary and choir is beyound this, and is U-shaped with an apse.

Both nave aisles, the ends of the transepts and the sides of the sanctuary have external chapels added which are of different sizes. Apart from the façade and the apse, the entire church is surrounded by them.

The fabric is in brick. The tiled nave roof is unusual, in that the pitch on each side is a cat-slide that continues over the aisle and has wedge-shaped recesses containing the windows of the central nave walls. The cat-slide pitches continue over some of the side chapels, but not all. The transept, sanctuary and apse each has its own pitched roof.

Part of the right hand exterior of the church is visible from the street, and consists of the back walls of the aisle chapels which are rather jumbled. However, here is also the side entrance with a molded doorcase having a semicircular tympanum above its cornice, the latter enclosed within a molded archivolt. A mosaic or fresco must have been intended here. The archivolt has a pretty rosette finial.

If you look at the window immediately to the right of this entrance, you will see some surviving Baroque polychrome marble decoration in its deep embrasure.


The campanile is invisible from the street, and not very easy to see from anywhere. It's on the roof of the eastern range of the cloister, just by the left hand end of the transept.

In form it's a rectangular kiosk, with two open arches in the long ends and one in the short ones. These arches are molded, without imposts. Separating them are blind pilasters supporting an entablature with posts. On top is an attic on a slightly smaller rectangle, styled identically to the entablature, and this has six ball finials on its parapet.


The façade is not very impressive, but you can see the one unique thing about this church - the 

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rose windows show that it it is Gothic, the only mediaeval church in this style within the walls of Rome. However, the windows are deeply set and have had plate-glass glazing inserted to keep the pigeons out. So, the tracery is not easily visible.

The original façade was added in 1453, and is attributed to Meo del Caprina. It was paid for by the Orsini family. Of it, the form of the windows and doorways survive. Maderno designed the present structure in 1600, changing the triangular pediments of the side entrances to the present semi-circular tympani. He also put screen walls over the aisles to create a rectangular composition, and removed Caprina's cavetto cornice. The decorative elements that he intended were never added, and the façade was tidied up and rendered in its unfinished state in 1725.

It has a single storey, with three entrances the central one of which is much larger than the other two. Over each entrance is an oculus (a round or rose window), the central one being slightly larger and much higher. The frames of these are molded, with dentillations.Six doubletted blind pilasters in shallow relief on very high plinths support an entablature the cornice of which forms the roofline.

The central entrance has a doorcase with barleysugar twisted molding and an inscription on its lintel commemorating Andrea Capranica (1582-1634), who put up money for the 1600 restoration: Andreas Caprianica Dominici F[anum] restituit A. D. MDCX. The triangular pediment, embellished with dentillations and egg-and-dart, is over a frieze having swags and putto's heads. The doorcase lintel cracked and sagged a long time ago.

Above the door is the Caprianica coat-of-arms.

The tympani over the side entrances contain what look like 19th century frescoes of St Dominic, with Christ on the left and Our Lady on the right.

Flood markers[]

The side wall of the external chapel to the right of the main façade displays a series of plaques showing how high various floods of the Tiber reached. This is the best set left in the city.

Before the embankments were begun in 1875, the core of the mediaeval city in its river meander was completely unprotected from flooding. This seemed not to have occurred more than once a lifetime in Classical and mediaeval times, but in the Renaissance the problem suddenly became serious. The overarching reason seems to have been the deforestation of the hills in the upper catchment basin of the river. 

The earliest flood marked here is 1422. The highest was the massive flood of Christmas 1598, when the waters were four metres above street level. The latest is 1870, or just before the embankments. Italy had just conquered Rome in that year, and Bl Pope Pius IX gave a massive propaganda coup to the new government by saying that the flood was God's punishment of the citizens for rejecting the pope's rule.

The elephant -"Il Pulcino"[]

The curious statue of an elephant carrying a small Egyptian obelisk, which is in the piazza outside the church, was erected on behalf of the friars in 1667. The obelisk itself was dedicated by Pharaoh Apries in the 6th century BC, who is mentioned in the Bible as Hophrah (Jeremiah 44.30). It belonged to the then Egyptian capital of Sais originally, and was allegedly brought to the the Roman Isaeum by the emperor Diocletian in the late 3rd century. It was found buried by the Dominicans when they were building a new guest-house next to their garden in the mid 17th century. They had the influence to keep hold of it, in order to embellish their church.

The elephant was designed by Bernini, but carved by Ercole Ferrata who was one of his pupils. The original design was for a monument in the garden layout of Palazzo Barberini that Bernini sketched in the 1640's, but he used the idea for this location on the suggestion of Pope Alexander VII, who composed the inscription on the monument's plinth. The symbolism comes from a 15th century romance called the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.

The inscription reads: Sapientis Aegypti insculptas obelisco figuras ab elephanto, belluarum fortissima, gestari quisquis hic vides, documentum intellege robustae mentis esse solidam sapientiam sustinere. ("Whoever you are, who sees here the figures of the Egyptian wise man carved on the obelisk carried by the elephant, the strongest of wild animals, understand the symbolism to be that a strong mind supports firm wisdom.")

The bronze finial of the obelisk is the heraldic symbol of the Chigi family to which the pope belonged.

The story as to why the elephant has a saddle-cloth is as follows: Originally, Bernini designed the sculpture as standing on four legs only. However, one of the friars called Giuseppe Paglia (who fancied himself as an architect) objected that this was unsafe, and insisted on no void under the elephant's belly. Bernini knew that this was nonsense, but had to alter the design nevertheless. In revenge, he arranged the sculpture so that the elephant's rear end is facing the convent with its tail slightly displaced, as if it were farting (the last bit of the story is probably ben trovato).

To be fair to Paglia, he had talent -look at the interior of Santi Ildefonso e Tommaso da Villanova  on the Via Sistina.

The elephant and obelisk features surreally in Salvador Dali's Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee.


The enormous convent was north of the church, and as mentioned occupied the entire city block. The Palazzo to the left of the church (north side of the piazza) was for public functions such as hearings held by the Holy Office or disputations by the college. The main cloister is just next to the left hand aisle side chapels, and has arcades on all four sides. A large garden court is to the north-east, and a third court with a smaller garden is to the north.

The part now occupied by the friars is based around the south-east corner of the cloister, and is accessed via Via del Beato Angelico which is a cul-de-sac off Via di Sant'Ignazio.

The original convent entrance is to the left of the church façade, and has a large arch decorated with pyramids. The little doorway to the right of this actually fronts the external chapels off the left hand aisle, and leads into a gatekeeper's chamber.

Giustiniani Cloister[]

The main entrance leads to the convent cloister, straight ahead. The latter was rebuilt in the 16th century by Prior Vincenzo Giustiniani, and lost its original fresco cycle. However, a new one was provided on the walls and cross-vaults of the walks; unfortunately the damp has got to the paintwork, but the effect is still spectacular.

Much of the work is anonymous. Going anticlockwise, notable individual frescoes are: St Dominic Dreaming About the Rosary (the tradition is that he was inspired to invent this devotion by a vision of Our Lady), The Annunciation by Gianluigi Valesio, The Visitation by Giovanni Antonio LelliThe Nativity, The Presentation of Mary by Giuseppe Puglia del BastaroChrist Among the Doctors in the Temple, and The Battle of Lepanto by Valesio again. Turning the corner, there are depictions of Our Lady with various Dominican saints. The next walk has three works by Francesco NappiThe Ascension, Pentecost and The Assumption. The last walk has The Coronation of Our Lady. As may be obvious, a walk around the cloister frescoes follows the Mysteries of the Rosary.

There are two funerary monuments in the cloister. The first is of Cardinal Pietro Ferrici di Tarragona, 1478, which is attributed to the school of Andrea Bregno but which has a representation of the Madonna and Child with angels which may be by Mino da Fiesole. The second memorial is to Cardinal Astorgio Agnese, 1451, also of the Bregno school. The foresco of Our Lady on this might be by Melozzo da Forlì, but has been repainted.

The cloister contains two impressively tall palm trees, veterans of their species.


Layout and fabric[]

As mentioned, the church is in the Gothic style - notice that it has pointed arches, rather than the rounded ones of the Romanesque style otherwise used in Roman churches. The style was partially mutated by Carlo Maderno, who added Baroque elements to the 13th century nave after 1600, but the friars gave the church a neo-mediaeval makeover in the 19th century which removed these additions as well as making some structural alterations. The stained glass in the windows is from this restoration.

The nave has side aisles with external chapels, then comes a transept as wide as the nave and its chapels, and then you have the sanctuary with its apse. There are further chapels off the transept.


When you enter the church, you will find a pair of marble putti holding up holy water stoups. These are by Ottaviano Lazzeri, 1638.

The main entrance is flanked by a pair of monuments. Diotisalvi Nerone, died 1482, was a Florentine nobleman who was banished by Piero de'Medici after conspiring against his family in 1466. The other one is to Giovanni Battista Galletti, 1553.

The window in the counterfaçade features twelve Dominican saints in tondi, focusing on Our Lady in the middle. The ones at the bottom ends of the side aisles feature angels and starbursts.


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The nave has six bays, with aisles having arcades with pointed arches separated by square piers. Nave, aisles and transept all have ribbed cross-vaulting, which springs from marble Corinthian semi-columns attached to the piers and to the side-walls opposite in the aisles. The archivolts of the arcade arches also spring from marble Corinthian semi-columns. Above each arcade arch is a rose window of twelve sectors (which actually look more like Japanese chrysanthemums), in the same style as those in the counterfaçade and bottom ends of the aisles.

The marble floor is 19th century as well, and is not very interesting. It is in white and dark grey marble, and was designed by Giuseppe Cassetta.

On the left hand side of the central nave near the transept is a late 16th century wooden pulpit with figurative carvings. These feature St Dominic, St Thomas Aquinas, The Resurrection, The Rosary and The Death of St Peter Martyr.

Vault frescoes[]

The fresco scheme of the vaulting has been criticized for being too showy, but is very impressive and actually echoes what some mediaeval churches really looked like (northern Europeans are too used to mediaeval churches that have lost most of their colour owing to Protestant vandalism and neglect).

The scheme is that of the empyrean, or symbolic heaven. The background colour is dark blue with golden stars; in the nave are figures of the apostles (helpfully labelled), in the transept crossing are the Evangelists, in the transept wings are Doctors of the Church and in the sanctuary are the Major Prophets. The vault ribs are empasized by figurative decoration in red, blue and gold, including hexagrams and rosettes. The arch intradoses have little portraits of saints in tondi, and others in larger tondi are below the central nave windows (two for each window). The aisle vaults are not painted blue, and look unfinished.

The team of artists responsible for the fresco scheme were Bernardino Riccardi, Pietro Gagliardi, Tommaso Greggia from Genoa and Raffaele Casnédi.

The following description starts from the bottom right hand corner, the near end of the right hand aisle, and proceeds anticlockwise. Don't forget to look into the roof-vaults of the chapels, as there is a lot of good stuff above.

Monument to Virginia Pucci Rudolfi[]

At the bottom of the right hand aisle is a monument toVirginia Pucci Rudolfi, who died in 1568. She was a niece of the Florentine historian Francesco Guicciardini. The monument was made at the end of the 16th century by an unknown artist, possibly a Tuscan, in the style of Nicolas Cordier. It is in the form of an aedicule, with a pair of caryatids in place of pilasters and polychrome marble decoration.


The first chapel off the right hand aisle is the baptistry, a reminder that the church used to be parochial. It was fitted out in 1639, but completely made over in a restoration by Filippo Raguzzini in 1724. It originally had as its altarpiece a stucco relief of The Baptism of Christ by Paolo Benaglia, with statuettes and bronze font cover by Ceccarini. In 2000 the altarpiece was replaced by an oil painting Noli me Tangere by Marcello Venusti.

The ornate Baroque monuments on the side walls are to Cardinal Ladislao d'Aquino, 1610, and Albano Ferregallo, 1612. The bust of the former is by Francesco Mochi.

To the left outside is a monument to Antonio Castalio, 1533.

Cappella Caffarelli[]

The second chapel on the right is dedicated to St Louis Bertrand, and belonged to the Caffarelli family. It was built in 1498, decorated with frescoes in the early 17th century but refitted in 1671 in an ornate Baroque style by Giuseppe Paglia and Antonio Maria Borioni. The former was Bernini's adversary over the elephant. There was a restoration in 1825, and another one in 1999.

The altarpiece shows St Louis Bertrand in Ecstasy and is by Giovanni Battista Gaulli, 1670. In the lunette above the altar is an early 17th century representation of St Dominic. The fresco panels in the cross-vault depicting scenes from the life of St Louis are of the same period, as are the side wall frescoes discovered in the 1999 restoration. This earlier work has been formerly described as being at least influenced by Gaspare Celio

The right wall has a monument to Francesco Caffarelli, 1615. Outside are monuments to Uberto Strozzi, 1553 by Vincenzo de' Rossi and to Natale Moncardi 1831 with a bust by PietroTenerani.

Cappella Colonna[]

The third chapel on the right was constructed in 1540 in honour of the Trinity, but was refitted and re-dedicated to St Rose of Lima in 1685. She is a patron of Latin America, and so the chapel is a focus of devotion on the part of pilgrims especially from Peru.

The decoration, which is rich, is all by Lazzaro Baldi -including paintings and stucco work. It makes a very impressive show of talent from one man. The altarpiece features St Rose Holding the Christ-Child, and the flanking pictures show her giving alms to poor people and having a vision of Our Lady. The charming fresco in the cupola shows her being crowned by Our Lady in heaven, while Christ gives directions.

On the right hand wall is a monument to Isabella Alvárez de Toledo, 1860 by Giuseppe Lucchetti, and outside is one to Carlo Emanuele Vizzani by Domenico Guidi, 1661. The latter is very good -the tondo containing the bust is being clasped by a skeleton.

Cappella Gabrielli[]

The fourth chapel on the right is dedicated to St Peter Martyr, who was the first martyr of the Dominicans. The altarpiece by Ventura Lamberti shows him being assassinated by Waldensian dualists (usually described as heretics, but actually not Christians at this time) while on a journey between Como and Milan in 1252. He had been a successful preacher against them.

The side walls have frescoes by Giovan Battista Franco, depicting The Adoration of the Shepherds and The Resurrection. He was also responsible for the lunette frescoes, while Girolamo Muziano painted the vault.

Here are memorials to a Polish bishop named Antonio Valagin Manatusky, 1869, the painter Bernardino Riccardi, 1854 and Girolamo Ameto, 1608. Outside is one to Alessandro Valtrini, 1637, of the school of Bernini.

Side entrance[]

The side entrance vestibule is between this chapel and the next one. In the early 20th century, the following monuments were listed here: Pietro Scorni 1613, Bernardino Nicolini 16th century, Francesco Neri 1563, Anastasio Pezzati 1567 and Pietro dei Pierleoni 1692. The last two had had their busts stolen.

Chapel of the Annunciation[]

The fifth chapel on the right was not sponsored by a noble family, but by a confraternity founded in 1460 by the Spanish Dominican Cardinal Juan de Torquemada, who died in 1468 and was an uncle of the infamous inquisitor. He was a major benefactor of the church. The Confraternita dell'Annunziata later employed Carlo Maderno to give the chapel a Baroque makeover, but very fortunately they kept the superb altarpiece which is a treasure of the church.

The painting is of the Annunciation to Our Lady, the dedication of the chapel, and is by Antoniazzo Romano who executed it in 1500 (later than previously thought). The Biblical scene is shown at the moment when the dove of God the Holy Spirit is on the way between God the Father (top right) and Our Lady in order to impregnate her with God the Son. Very unusually, this scene is combined with a depiction of a charism of the confraternity. Our Lady is giving bags of money as dowries to three little girls kneeling before her along with the cardinal. He had set up a fund to provide dowries for poor girls, which were handed out by the Pope at this church on the Feast of the Annunciation before 1870.

Above are depicted SS Dominic and Hyacinth, attributed to Niccolò Stabbia. The lunette and vault frescoes, unfortunately damaged by the rain getting in, are by Cesare Nebbia. They depict scenes from the life of Our Lady. The lunette above the altar shows the Nativity, and the central vault fresco shows her Assumption.

Flanking the altar are memorials to Cardinal Torquemada, to the left, and Cardinal Benedetto Giustiniani of 1658 to the right. Torquemada's cenotaph was erected in 1660 after the friars decided that such a benefactor deserved a suitable memorial and put up the money for it.

To the left is a large memorial statue of Pope Urban VII, a great benefactor of the confraternity. This is by Ambrogio Buonvicino, 1606 (the pope had died in 1590).

Here also are memorials to Lazzaro Magoni from Pisa, 1603 and, outside, Lorenzo de' Ginnasi, 1637.

Cappella Aldobrandini[]

The sixth chapel on the right is the largest private one in the church. It was originally built by the Dominican Cardinal Matteo Orsini in 1340, but was given over to the Aldobrandini family in 1587. Pope Clement VIII Aldobrandini employed Giacomo della Porta and Girolamo Rainaldi to decorate it sumptuously, but the upper parts were finished under the supervision of Carlo Maderno. 

The altarpiece depicts The Institution of the Holy Eucharist, and is by Federico Fiori, Il Barocci 1594. The altar is flanked by statues of SS Peter and Paul by Camillo Mariani, and on the side walls by them are two more: Pope Clement VIII by Ippolito Buzzi di Viggiù to the left, and St Sebastian by Nicolas CordierIl Franciosino on the right.

The latter statue is interesting, because it was claimed that it was the first attempt by Michelangelo at his Risen Christ which was discarded because of a flaw in the marble. Allegedly Cordier saw the potential, and re-worked it. However, this story was disproved in 2000 when the actual discard was discovered in the church of San Vincenzo Martire at Bassano Romano

Below these statues are busts of Aldobrandini family members, the ones by the altar also by Mariani and the one under the pope by Buzzi. Their identity has been lost. The one under St Sebastian, by Cordier, is of Silvio Aldobrandini.

The side walls are dominated by the tombs of the pope's parents, which are spectacularly over-the-top with polychrome marble decoration including Corinthian columns in verde antico. Silvestro Aldobrandini is to the right, and Lesa Deti to the left, and they are depicted reclining on their sarcophagi in a way evoking ancient Etruscan funerary art. The designs are by Della Porta and the main sculptures by Cordier, but the angels are by Maderno. On her tomb, the statue of Charity is by Cordier but that of Religion is by Mariani.

The lunette and vault frescoes are by Cherubino Alberti, 1605. The central vault fresco depicts The Triumph of the Cross, while the side lunettes depict the Eritrean Sibyl on the left and the Prophet Ezechiel on the right.

The first Blessed Sacrament Confraternity to be approved by the Holy See was established in this chapel, with St Ignatius of Loyola as one of its earliest members.

Outside are memorials to Cardinal Francesco Bertazzoli 1830 by Rinaldo Rinaldi, and Giovanni de Victorii 1617.

Chapel of St Raymond of Peñafort[]

The seventh chapel on the right is dedicated to St Raymond of Peñafort, and was founded by the Spanish cardinal Juan Diego della Coca before his death in 1447. His monument in the right hand side wall is by Andrea Bregno, to which a Renaissance frame has been added. There is a fresco here of Christ in Glory over the recumbent effigy.

The altarpiece depicting the saint is by Niccolò Magni d'Artesia. The lunette of The Universal Judgement is by Melozzo da Forli.

On the right, as well as the Coca tomb, are monuments to Natalia Komar Spada with a bust by Pietro Tenerani and Filippo Rufini 1860, a baby, by Giuseppe Luchetti. On the left hand wall is a monument to Benedetto Sopranzi, 1495 in the style of Bregno. Other monuments are to Giuseppe Pighini 1708, Angelo Galli 1859.

Shrine of SS Lucy and Agatha[]

Before the transept there is an aedicule shrine containing a damaged painting by Girolamo Siciolante da Sermoneta which shows SS Lucy and Agatha. The subject is rather creepy -these virgin martyrs are carrying bits of their anatomy, which their legends allege were removed before their deaths. St Lucy is carrying a plate with her eyes on it, and St Agatha one with her severed breasts.

Near this are memorials to Vitoldo Stablewski with a bust by one J. Kope, to Giuseppe Szymanowski, 1867 with a bust by Oskar Sosnowski and to Vifredo Bronislaw 1868. So this is the church's Polish Corner.

Chapel of the Crucifix[]

The tiny Chapel of the Crucifix has its entrance round the corner of the right end of the transept. The doorway is a Gothic archway with an ogee curve and a crocketed gable, and a theory has it that the materials for this were scavenged from the mediaeval baldacchino over the high altar which was destroyed in 1600.

The wooden crucifix is 15th century, and replaced a Crucifixion allegedly by Giotto which "went missing" in the 20th century. The fresco underneath it features St Barnabas the Apostle.

Outside are monuments to Amerigo Strozzi, 1592 by Taddeo Landini, and to Enrico Pucci 1590 in the style of Giacomo della Porta. The latter is next to the entrance of the following chapel.

Cappella Carafa[]

The chapel at the right end of the transept is the church's greatest treasure, Michelangelo's statue notwithstanding. It was commissioned by Cardinal Oliviero Carafa in 1489, and dedicated to the Assumption of Our Lady and St Thomas Aquinas. The consecration was in 1492. Previously it had belonged to the Rustico family.

The magnificent triumphal arch is attributed to Mino da Fiesole, Andrea del Verrocchio and Giuliano da Maiano with the last thought to have made the greatest contribution. A pair of massive doubletted ribbed Corinthian pilasters support a pair of doubletted posts from which the semicircular archivolt springs. This has a dedicatory inscription: Divae Maria e Virgini Annuntiatae, et Divo Thome Aquinat[o] sacrum, and on the keystone is a little epigraph commemorating the cardinal.

There are two statues of boys by Andrea Verrocchio on the posts either side of the archivolt, and these were scavenged from a dismantled monument to a member of the Tornabuoni family in the 17th century. The figure of the deceased ended up in a museum at Florence.

The marble balustrade at the entrance is worth a glance, as the balusters are unusually long and thin.

Filppino Lippi painted both the altarpiece in oils, and the wonderful frescoes on the wall and vault. The former depicts St Thomas Presenting Cardinal Carafa to Our Lady; the angel of the Annunciation is to the left in the picture. The wall behind the altar features The Assumption of Our Lady, accompanied by angel musicians and with the apostles below. The damage to the bottom part of this fresco is a reminder of the Tiber floods.

The right hand wall is Lippi's masterpiece: The Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas. He is depicted seated in judgment over two defeated intellectual adversaries, identified as the heretics Arius and Sabellius. The former denied the divinity of Christ, and the latter the three persons in the Trinity. The saint holds a book reading Sapientiam sapientum perdam ("I will destroy the wisdom of the wise"), and in front of him is a prone figure representing the Devil, with a scroll saying Sapientia vincit malitiam ("Wisdom conquers malice"). The four female figures seated with St Thomas are allegories of Grammar, Rhetoric, Dialectic and Philosophy which were the four secular subjects of study in mediaeval universities. The saint himself is representing Theology. The two youths in the crowd to the right are thought to represent Giovanni and Giulio de' Medici, the future popes Leo X and Clement VII. The vista to the left is of the old mediaeval Lateran Palace, with the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius before it was moved to the Campodoglio.

Above, the lunette fresco shows The Vision of St Thomas at the Crucifix; the lunette opposite is a window. The left hand wall used to have a third fresco, The Triumph of Virtue, but this was destroyed when the tomb to Pope Paul IV (Gian Pietro Carafa, pope 1555-1559) was installed in 1566. The memorial was designed by Pirro Ligorio, and sculpted by Giacomo and Tommaso Cassignuola.

The cross-vault has frescoes of sibyls, and used to be attributed to Raffaellino del Garbo. It is now thought that Lippi was responsible for these as well. The coat-of-arms of the Carafa family is in the centre.

The floor of the chapel is original, in pietra dura. The book motif is the symbol of a Doctor of the Church.

The chapel has its own English Wikipedia page here.

Tomb of Bishop Guillaume Durand[]

Guilaumme Durand, Bishop of Mende, died in 1296 and was buried in the Cappella Altieri. His Cosmatesque monument, signed by Giovanni di Cosma was moved out to here during a re-fitting in 1670. Unfortunately, it was put rather high up on the wall -perhaps because the Camaiani monument was already there.

The work has a gabled Gothic canopy, with angels at the head and foot of his effigy. Above the effigy is a mosaic of the Madonna and Child with SS Dominic and Privatus, with a smaller figure of Bishop Durand kneeling in prayer. The two saints are identified by labels in the mosaic (S PRIVATVS and S DOMINICVS) and by visual attributes: for Privatus, a bishop's mitre; for Dominic, a Dominican habit, a tonsure, and a star next to his shoulder. Privatus was traditionally the first bishop of Mende.

This monument was restored in 1817 by Camillo Ceccarini.

Below it is the monument to Onorio Camaiani, 1575, and nearby is a little entrance leading into the funerary chamber of Cardinal Carafa with four frescoes on its vault by Raffaellino del Garbo. These depict a pagan sacrifice and the legend of Verginia

Cappella Altieri[]

The chapel in the far right hand corner used to belong to the Vittori family, but passed to the Altieri. It is dedicated to All Saints, and was fitted out in 1671 under the supervision of Pope Clement X Altieri (1670-6) to a design by Cardinal Camillo Massimo.

The altarpiece, featuring Our Lady, St Peter and Other Saints is by Carlo Maratta. The saints concerned were canonized by the pope, and are: Louis Bertrand, Rose of Lima, Cajetan, Philip Benizi and Francis Borgia.

Above the altar aedicule is a lunette fresco, in indifferent condition, of the Trinity by Il Baccicio. The side walls have matching monuments to Lorenzo Alitieri and Giovan Battista Altieri, the pope's father and brother respectively, with busts by Cosimo Fancelli.

In the floor are tomb slabs to an earlier Lorenzo Altieri 1431, who died aged 110, and Angelo Altieri who was "only" ninety. The pope died aged 86, so the Altieri family had longevity in their genes.


Over the pier between this chapel and the next is one of the two church organs, in an elaborate gilded Baroque case. The other one is in the corresponding position in the other end of the transept. 

The pair were assembled by Ennio Bonifazi in 1630, with the cases being by Paolo Maruscelli. Cardinal Scipione Borghese paid for them. The instrument here is out of commission, but the left hand one was restored by the firm of Vegezzi Bosi at the start of the 20th century.

Cappella Capranica[]

The chapel on the right hand side of the sanctuary is dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary. It was the shrine chapel of St Catherine of Siena from 1451 until 1855. It was dedicated to the Annunciation in 1499, and refitted by the noted humanist and theologian Cardinal Domenico Capranica whose memorial is by Bregno, 1470. The dedication to Our Lady of the Rosary was made in 1579.

The altarpiece is an anonymous work of the 15th century, and the aedicule features SS Dominic and Catherine of SIena. It is no longer believed that the altarpiece is by Fra Angelico.

The frescoes on the wall show scenes from the life of St Catherine, and are by Giovanni de' Vecchi. The fresco panels in the richly stuccoed barrel-vaulted ceiling, 1573, are by Marcello Venusti and depict The Mysteries of the Rosary. One of the panels, however, The Crowning with Thorns, is by Carlo Saraceni.

The lunette window over the altar has stained glass depicting The Coronation of Our Lady by Christ. The other monument in the chapel is to Pio Capranica, 1855.

The yellow Siena marble balls on the balustrade at the entrance have been pointed out as the Palle di Santa Caterina, in that she had the masculine temperament to confront wrongdoers in the higher echelons of the Church, -including the pope himself. 

St John the Baptist[]

Outside Cappella Capranica is a statue of St John the Baptist , sculpted by Giuseppe Obici in 1858 in order to match the Michelangelo statue on the other side of the sanctuary. Georgina Masson in her magisterial guide to Rome referred to it as "a very poor thing".

High altar and confessio[]

The high altar has no canopy. In front is the shrine of St Catherine of Siena (died 1380), Doctor of the Church, patron of Italy and co-patron of Europe, who has been interred beneath the altar since 1855. The work was designed by Giuseppe Fontana, and consists of a rectangular glass and gilded metal box having Gothic arches on three sides (seven in front and two on the sides). The arches frame windows, through which you can see the original effigy commissioned by St Antoninus of Florence in 1430 when he enshrined her in the Capranica Chapel. If you want to have a word with her, you can get up close -there should be cushions on the steps for you to kneel on.

The metalwork was made by Ceccarini. The Four Cardinal Virtues either side of the shrine are by Francesco Podesti, who also executed the eleven putti in the tondi below the altar candlesticks (two more are round the sides). It looks as if he used real babies as models.

Her marble effigy was thought to be by Isaia da Pisa, but the attribution is not conclusive. It is on a plinth with gilded angels and scrollwork flanking an epigraph, which dates from 1579. Before the end of the 20th century, the effigy was painted in polychrome rather like a plaster statue. However, the tomb was restored in 1999-2000 for the Holy Year which involved cleaning off the 18th and 19th century paintwork, leaving the effigy unpainted, and restoring the gilding on the plinth.

The relics of the saint are known to be in a gilded silver urn, except for her head which was taken back to SIena in 1385.

Apse and choir[]

The apse of the original 13th century church was radically transformed between 1536 and 1540 by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, to accommodate the conventual choir and also the enormous funerary monuments of Pope Leo X (1513-1521) and Pope Clement VII (1523-1534), both of the Medici family. You met them as young men in a fresco in the Carafa Chapel. Maderno refitted the sanctuary and choir in a Baroque style in 1614, but the 19th century restoration made it Gothic again.

This restoration provided the three two-light windows in the apse, with stained glass of six saints executed by Bertini and Moroni. They are: Vincent Ferrer, Stephen the Deacon (holding the rocks with which he was stoned), Catherine of Alexandria, Catherine of Siena, Dominic and Pope Pius V.

The papal monuments are a matching pair. The statue of Pope Leo is by Raffaello da Montelupo, and that of Pope Clement is by Nanni di Baccio Bigio. The statues of prophets and the bas-reliefs on the monuments are by Baccio Bandinelli.

Besides the tombs of the two Medici popes, there are several memorial slabs in the floor including one to the humanist Cardinal Pietro Bembo, died 1547, in the centre.

Michelangelo's Risen Christ[]

The statue of Christ to the left of the sanctuary is, with some necessary qualification, by Michelangelo. It was originally commissioned by Metello Vari and Pietro Castellani in 1514, but the master only started work in 1519. This was because the first attempt was a failure which he discarded when a black inclusion emerged in the marble. Vari took the unfinished first attempt for his garden, but this was sold on in 1607 and only in 2000 was it recognized in the church of San Vincenzo Martire in Bassano Romano.

In 1521 Michelangelo left Rome and delegated the completion of the work to his school. Pietro Urbano took over the work, but apparently had to give up when he made a mess of it and so the job was finally finished by Federico Frizzi.

The statue was originally nude, in a heroic ancient Greek style, and holds the Cross, Sponge and Reed of the Passion. At some stage a bronze disc halo, modesty cloth and a sandal on the right foot were provided, the last to stop the foot being worn away by the kisses of the faithful. The halo and sandal have been removed, but the cloth has been left for some reason. If this is because putting the cloth on meant the amputation of the statue's penis, then the fate of the latter is unknown (there is an old myth that a drawer somewhere in the Vatican Museums -predictably called the cazzetto segreto- is full of amputated phalluses from ancient statues mutilated when their fig-leaves were added).

The theological message behind the statue is that of Christ the New Adam, the perfect re-creation of humanity.

The statue has its own English Wikipedia page here.


To the left of the sanctuary is the so-called vestibolo, which is a chamber leading to the church's back door and the Via di Fra Angelico. It used to be the Chapel of St Thomas Aquinas before being converted in 1600. There are three spectacular Baroque monuments here, as well as the tomb of Fra Angelico and some other earlier memorials.

To the left is that to Cardinal Michele Bonelli, 1604, designed by della Porta and with the statue of the cardinal sculpted by Silla Longhi da Viggiù. He is depicted reclining on his black marble sarcophagus, and the monument is in black, red and pink marble polychrome. He is sometimes referred to as Cardinale Alessandrino. The statue of Prudence is by Maderno.

To the right is that to the Spanish Cardinal Domenico Pimentel, 1653, designed by Bernini and with the central statue of the cardinal sculpted by Ercole Ferrata. Charity on the left is by Antonio Raggi, and Religion on the right by Giovanni Antonio Mari. The work is a study in black and white marbles.

Over the exit is the massive monument to Cardinal Carlo Bonelli, designed by Rainaldi and executed by Cosimo Fancelli. Charity has been attributed to Filippo Carcani, Religion to Michele Maille and Justice to Mari. It is in the form of a coved aedicule with four black marble Corinthian columns. Modern art critics have been surprisingly rude about the work.

The other memorials in here are listed as to Cardinal Matteo Orsini, 15th century, Cinzio Rustico, 1488, Agostino Rustico 1482 and Nicola Ardinghelli 1601. The Rustico slabs were apparently moved from the old Cappella Rustico when it made way for the Cappella Carafa.

Tomb of Fra Angelico[]

To the left of the Vestibolo, you'll find the tomb of Blessed Fra Angelico (Fra Giovanni da Fiesole), the patron of artists, who died in the convent here in 1455. The effigy was probably sculpted by Isaia da Pisa, but the evidence is stylistic.

Brother John of Fiesole, as he was, is best known for his paintings in the monastery of San Marco in Florence; unfortunately, there is no work of his in this church (wishful thinking notwithstanding). He received the nickname "Angelic Brother" because of his talent. In 1984, Pope John Paul proclaimed him patron of artists in front of his tomb (which amounted to an equivalent beatification), and in 1997 the effigy was raised on its present plinth. This project was executed by the firm Pediconi and Paniconi and, unfortunately, it involved removing the charming epitaph composed by Pope Nicholas V. This is now to the right of the altar in the chapel next door, and reads:

Non mihi sit laudi quod eram velut alter Apelles, sed quod lucra tuis omnia Christe dabam. Altera nam terris opera extant, altera caelo, Urbs me Johannem flos tulit Etruriae.

("May I not be praised because I was another Apelles, but because I gave all the benefit to your [interests], O Christ. For some works exist on earth, others in heaven. The city [of Rome] took me, a flower of Tuscany".)

Cappela Frangipane e Maddaleni-Capiferro[]

The chapel in the far corner of the left hand end of the transept is dedicated to St Mary Magdalen, and in its floor are 14th century tomb slabs of members of the Frangipane and Capiferro families.

The altarpiece used to be La Maddalena by Francesco Parone, but now is a Madonna and Child by Benozzo Gozzoli, 1449 (a fragment of a processional banner painted on silk). The flanking paintings are by Parone, and feature St Francis of Assisi and St Frances of Rome with her guardian angel.

On the left side is the 15th century Renaissance tomb of Giovanni Arberini. This uses an ancient Roman sarcophagus which itself is a copy of a Greek one, from the 4th or 5th century BC. The relief depicts Hercules fighting the Nemean lion. This monument apparerently was in the side entrance vestible until the 20th century, when it was moved.


The sacristy is accessible via a corridor through a door in the far corner of the left hand side of the transept. It is a majestic room, designed by Andrea Sacchi, with a coved ceiling richly decorated in stucco having a central fresco depicting The Apotheosis of St Dominic. This is by Giuseppe Puglia del Bastaro; the stucco work is by Armanno Fiammingo. Over the entrance is a fresco depicting The Conclave That Elected Pope Eugene IV by Giovanni Battista Speranza, an event that took place here.

The sacristy altar has an altarpiece depicting The Crucifixion with Saints, by Sacchi. The relief sculptures depicting St Mary Magdalen and St Mary of Egypt are anonymous, 17th century. Whoever was responsible for them was showing some scholarship, because these two saints have been seriously confused in the Western artistic tradition.

The decorations were paid for by Cardinal Antonio Barberini, and the Barberini bees hence appear.

Room of St Catherine[]

Beyond the sacristy is the room where St Catherine of Siena died in 1380. It was reconstructed here by Antonio Cardinal Barberini in 1637. The frescoes on the walls are by Antoniazzo Romano and his students. The scenes are: The Crucifixion, The Annunciation, SS Onuphrius and Jerome, St Augustine, Pietà, St John the Baptist, SS Apollonia and Lucy and A Group of Saints. 

In the lttle corridor is a monument to St Catherine that Blessed Raymond of Capua had commissioned for her after 1380. He had been her confessor and biographer.

Sala dei Papi[]

The corridor leading to the sacristy (through the door on the right) continues beyond to a door on the left. This opens into the so-called Sala dei Papi, the "Hall of the Popes", and it was in here that the popes had their base when they came to visit. In here is now an unfinished statue of the Madonna and Child, attributed to Bernini or his school.

Chapel of St Dominic[]

The left hand end of the transept is occupied by the chapel dedicated to St Dominic, the founder of the Dominicans. It is the largest chapel in the church, and was was designed by Filippo Raguzzini in 1725 on the instructions of Pope Benedict XIII who was himself a Dominican. The two worked closely in various Roman building projects.

The pope's grandiose tomb is to the left in the chapel, and was erected in the pope's lifetime. One hopes he liked it. The design is by Carlo Marchionni, who executed the relief sculpture on the sarcophagus of the pope presiding over a council. The aedicule has a pair of Doric columns in black marble, which flanks a little apse with a conch and its own pair of columns. This contains the pope's statue which is by Pietro Bracci. Two allegorical female figures are leaning on the sarcophagus; Religion on the left is by Bartolomeo Pincellotti, and Purity on the right is by Bracci again.

The altarpiece is a composite. The central panel is a copy of a depiction of St Dominic by Fra Angelico, and it is in the context of an oil painting by Paolo de Matteis which shows Our Lady with SS Catherine of Alexandria and Mary Magdalen. You can spot which is which, because the Magdalen is the bionda. The three look as if they are presenting the smaller painting for auction.

In the chapel is a free-standing sculpture of Our Lady with with three children - the Divine Child, St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist. There is a lamb in the huddle, too. The work is by Francesco GrassiaFranco Siciliano, 17th century. The pedestal with its reliefs of the Nativity is of the following century.

Four statues of saintly Dominican bishops are in niches; these are anonymous, 18th century. The vault is frescoed by Cristoforo Roncalli.

Altar of St Hyacinth[]

To the right at the top end of the left hand aisle is the altar of St Hyacinth of Poland. The altarpiece of him having a vision of Our Lady is by Ottavio Leoni.

The memorial to the artist Andrea Bregno (1421-1506) is now here after being brought in from the cloister in the 20th century. It is attributed to Luigi Capponi.

Cloister exit[]

The exit to the cloister from the church is on the left at the top end of the left hand aisle, but there is also a door from the Sala dei Papi.

The community of friars opened a little museum, the Museo della Basilica, in a room off the cloister in 1974. It is not clear whether this is still open -the friars would have better things to do than to staff it. The most important thing on display was a 13th century fresco of the Madonna and Child which was taken from the wall of the old sacristy before it was given its Barberini makeover.

Chapel of St Pius V[]

The sixth chapel off the left hand aisle is dedicated to Pope St Pius V. It has had several family patrons -the Porcati, then the Millini and then the Braschi.

The altarpiece shows him in triumph over an allegorical Turk, and is by Andrea Procaccini (1671-1734). The paintings on the side walls are by Lazzaro Baldi, and depict Pope St Pius at Prayer and the Assumption. The vault frescoes of the Holy Spirit and angels are by Michelangelo Cerruti, early 18th century.

Below the altar is enshrined the relics of an obscure martyr called Santa Vittoria or Wittoria. Her clothed wax effigy is that of a child, and is in a glass-fronted box.

Ouside is a memorial to Augusta Piccolomini, 1865.

Monument to Maria Raggi[]

The arcade pier opposite the above chapel has the monument to Sister Maria Raggi (1552-1600), which Bernini executed in 1647. It is a small, exquisite work in black marble and gilded bronze in the form of a banner, and is one of several examples of Bernini demonstrating his genius in carving cloth. This one is early in his career.

The nun concerned was descended from a Genoese family that settled on the Greek island of Chios. The Ottoman Empire conquered the island from Genoa in 1566, and deprived her of her husband in 1570. In response, she became an expatriate consecrated religious at Rome in 1584 where she acquired a reputation for holiness. The monument was commissioned by her surviving relatives, among whom was Cardinal Lorenzo Raggi.

The memorial has its own English Wikipedia page here.

Cappella Lante della Rovere[]

The fifth chapel off the left hand aisle is dedicated to St James the Great. It originally belonged to the Salviati family before passing to a branch of the della Rovere.

The altarpiece featuring the saint is attributed to Marcello Venusti. To the right is a monument to Maria Colonna Lante, 1840, with a very impressive sculpture ofThe Angel of the Resurrection by Pietro Tenerani. Opposite is a matching memorial to her husband Giulio Lante della Rovere, 1865 and their daughter Carlotta. It has a seated figure of Christ by the same sculptor.

Outside is a monument to Ottaviano Ubaldini della Gerardesca, army commander of Pope Urban VIII, by Giovani Battista Calandra . The depiction of the deceased, in a ruff, is good. Here also are memorials to the brothers Zacchei, 1865 and Gerolamo Gabrielli from Gubbio, 1587.

Cappella Giustiniani[]

The fourth chapel off the left hand aisle is dedicated to St Vincent Ferrer and had the Giustiniani family as patrons. The famous altarpiece by Bernardo Castello (1557-1629) shows him at the Council of Florence.

Here are monuments to Vincenzo Giustiniani, 1582 and Benedetto Giustiniani, 1600. Outside is a monument to Ippolito and Fabio de Amicis, designed by Pietro da Cortona -Baroque at its most elegant. Also here is a monument to Gerolamo Melchiorri, 1585.

Monument to Giovanni Vigevano[]

Also outside the above chapel is a monument to Giovanni Vigevano, 1630, which is attributed to Bernini. The bust is certainly by him, and was carved in 1618 when the subject was still alive. Note how the bust shows the deceased pulling his cloak down in front with his hand; this derives from ancient Roman works. The very realistic skull below the epitaph is worthy of admiration.

The memorial has its own English Wikipedia page here

Cappella Grazioli[]

The third chapel on the left is dedicated to St Sebastian. It was originally the funerary chapel of the Maffei family of Verona, then it belonged to a confraternity called the Compagnia del Santissimo Salvatore. It now pertains to the Grazioli Lante della Rovere family.

The tiny altarpiece depicting Christ the Saviour was donated to the confraternity by Pope Clement VIII. A rather debatable attribution to Pietro Perugino has been made, with an equally arguable rival one of Pinturicchio. To the right of the altar is a statue of St John the Baptist, attributed to Ambrogio Buonvicino but lately also to Maderno, 1604, and to the left is one of St Sebastian attributed to Michele Marini (some claim Mino da Fiesole or Tino da Camaino). Below is a statue of St Philip Neri by a Roman sculptor, 1727.

The lunette fresco above the altar shows The Adoration of the Shepherds, and is anonymous of about 1600.

The monuments on the side walls are of Benedetto Maffei, 1494 to the right and Agostino Maffei, 1490 to the left. These are claimed to have been by Luigi Capponi or his school.

St Philip Neri is known to have prayed in this chapel several times in 1559, which is why his statue is here.

Chapel of St John the Baptist[]

The second chapel on the left is dedicated to St John the Baptist. It used to belong to the Naro family, but passed to the Patrizi. The fitting out was originally by Fabrizio Naro in 1588, who left memorials to Orazio Naro, 1575 and Giulia Maria Cenci Naro who was still alive when her monument was made because nobody could be bothered to add the date when she died. These are by Jacopo Antonio Fancelli with his brother Cosimo Fancelli who were both of the school of Bernini. There are several other Naro monuments: Cardinal Gregorio Naro 1634, another Fabrizio 1697, Bernardino 1671, Prudenza Naro Capizucchi 1786, Silvia de' Cavalierii 1707, Lucrezia Machiavelli 1687, Giovanni Battista Naro 1644 and yet another Fabrizio 1623.

The monument of Gregorio Naro has recently been attributed to Bernini.

The paintings in the chapel are by Francesco Nappi, early 17th century. He executed the altarpiece featuring the saint, the vault frescoes featuring prophets and angels, the pendentives which show the Evangelists and the lunette fresco which depicts The Preaching of John the Baptist. 

Outside are monuments to Andrea Piggiani, 1661, and to Cesare Fabbretti 1700 by Camillo Rusconi which is as good as a work by Bernini.

Chapel of the Sacred Heart[]

The first chapel on the left is now dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but was originally dedicated to the Resurrection when it was built in 1577. The altarpiece depicting La Maddalena by Marcello Venusti was replaced in the early 20th century by Christ with St Catherine and St Margaret Mary Alacoque by Corrado Mezzana, 1922. The vault frescoes showing The Ascension of Christ and The Triumph of the Lamb are modern.

To the left is a monument to Girolamo Butigella of Pavia, 1515 with a bust attributed to Iacopo Tatti Il Sansovino. 

Outside is a monument to Cesare Magalotti, 1602.

Tomb of Francesco Tornabuoni[]

At the bottom of the left hand aisle is the monument of Francesco Tomabuoni, 1480 which is securely attributed to Mino da Fiesole and is his only certain work in the church.

Above this is a memoral to Cardinal Giacomo Tebaldi, 1466 which is attributed to Andrea Bregno and Giovanni Dalmata. The latter executed the cardinal's effigy, also possibly the statue of St James and a putto. Bregno sculpted the statue of St Augustine.

Hereabouts also are monuments to Cardinal Fornari, 1855 and Cherubino Buonanni 1545.


According to the church's website (May 2019), the church is open:

Mondays to Fridays 6:55 to 19:00;

Saturdays 10:00 to 12:30, 15:30 to 19:00;

Sundays 8:30 to 12:30, 15:30, to 19:00.

Weddings are held here, which can restrict visiting especially at weekends.


According to the church's website (May 2019), Mass is celebrated:

Weekdays 7:15 (not Saturdays), 18:00;

Sundays 11:00, 18:00.

According to the Diocese (May 2019), the weekday morning Mass is celebrated at 8:00 with Lauds in "summer".

Divine Office: The Office of Readings is combined with Lauds at 6:45 on winter weekdays, but Lauds (only) is at 8:00 on summer weekdays (with Mass) and 8:15 on Sundays. Sext is at 12:50 on winter weekdays only. The evening weekday Mass is combined with Vespers.

Confession is available, according to the Diocese (but do check with the brethren if interested):

Weekdays 16:30 to 18:00 in St Dominic's Chapel;

Sundays 10:45 to 12:30 (12:00 in summer), 16:30 to 18:00.

The patronal feast of the church is the Annunciation, 25 March, and this used to be celebrated with a procession involving the Pope before the convent was suppressed in the 19th century.

On 29 April, the feast of St Catherine is celebrated with great solemnity. In recent years the ceremony has been starting with a gathering outside the church, awaiting runners arriving from Siena with a burning torch of "Faith and Love".

External links[]

Official diocesan web-page

Italian Wikipedia page

Church's website

Interactive Nolli Map Website

Info.roma web-page

"De Alvariis" gallery on Flickr (Three pages)

"Romeartlover" web-page

Article on history of convent

Article on the elephant

Article in (has photo of cloister and campanile)

"Sightsofrome" web-page

Medioevo.roma web-page

Virtualtourist web-page

"Sacred-destinations" web-page

List of cardinals

Article on Rome floods

"Messagerovideo" video on Youtube

George Putzenheimer video on Youtube

Roman Despatches - blog with gallery