Stuck on a busy road junction, this modest and not particularly enticing church is an unlikely setting for one of the great works of European art by Bernini.
The church was begun in 1605 as chapel dedicated to St. Paul for the Discalced Carmelitans. After the Catholic victory at the battle of White Mountain in 1620, which reserved the Reformation in Bohemia, the church was rededicated to the Virgin Mary. Turkish standards captured at the 1683 siege of Vienna hang in the church, as part of this theme of victory.
The order itself funded the building work until the discovery in the excavations of the Borghese Hermaphroditus Scipione Borghese. nephew of Pope Paul V, appropriated this sculpture but in return funded the rest of work on the facade and granted the order his architect Giovanni Battista Soria. These grants only came into effect in 1624 and work was completed two years later.
The church is best known for Bernini's sumptuous Baroque decoration of the Cappella Cornaro (Cornaro Chapel), one the left as you face the altar, where you'll find his his interpretation of heavenly ectasy in his stayte of the Ectasy of St. Theresa. Your eye is drawn effortlessly from the frescoes on the ceiling down to the marble figures of the Cornaro family (who commissioned the chapel), to the two inlays of marble skeletons in the pavement, representing the hope and despair of souls in purgatory.
As evidence in other works of the period, the theatricality of the chapel is the result of Bernini's masterly fusion of elements. This is one the key examples of the mature Roman High Baroque. Bernini's audacious conceit was to model the chapel as a theater: Members of the Cornaro family -sculpted in colored marbles- watch from theater boxes as. center stage, the great moment of divine love is played out before them. The swooning saint's robes appear to be on fire, quivering with life, and the white marble group seems suspended in the heavens as golden rays illuminate the scene.
An angel assists at the mystical moment of Theresa's vision as the saint abandons herself to the joys of heavenly love. Bernini represented this mystical experience in what, to modern eyes, may seem very earthly terms.
Or, as the visiting dignitary President de Brosses put in the 19th century, <<If this is divine love, I know what it is>>. No matter what your reaction, you'll have to admit it's great theater.
It's an amazing stunning work, bathed in shoft natural light filtering through a concealed window. Go in the afternoon for the best effect.
Beautiful Angels and frescoes by Gian Domenico Cerrini
Cappella della Madonna del Carmine
The altar by Domenichino (1630)
The triumph of Baroque in Rome. Its interior has a single wide nave under a low segmental vault, with three interconnecting side chapels behind arches separated by colossal corinthian pilasters with gilded capitals that support an enriched entablature. Contrasting marble, revetments are enriched with white and gilded stucco angels and putti in full relief. The interior was sequentially enriched afer Maderno's death, its vault was frescoed in 1675 with triumphant themes within shaped compartmens with feigned frames. The Virgin Mary Triumphing over Heresy and Fall of the Angels executed by Giovanni Domenico Cerrini.
The church is the only structure designed and completed by the early Baroque archictect Carlo Maderno, though the interior suffered a fire in 1833 and required restoration, Its facade howere was erected by Giovanni Battista Soria during Maderno's lofetime (1624-1626), showing the unmistakable influnece of Maderno's Church Santa Sunanna nearby (left side in the picture)