Oratorio dei Filippini and Chiesa Nuova

Oratorio dei Filippini and Chiesa NuovaThese twin buildings were new in the 17C, and the church is still called NEW (nuova).
The Franciscans (who wanted a return to simplicity), built it because they needed a larger church.

The more famous of the two is the Oratory, constructed for the order of St Phillip Neri Oratorians, the Declaimers (founded 1561).

In the wake of Martin Luther and the Protestant movement, the Catholic Church's answer was the aggressive Counter Reformation, from which emerged Baroque Art. The extravagant aspect of that movement makes it the exact opposite of what the protesters hoped for.

Oratorio dei Filippini

Borromini, son of a master mason from Lugano, Switzerland, cut his building teeth on Milan’s Duomo, where his father was sculpting on the roof of the dome. He had envisioned undulating waves for the Oratory facade, but financial constraints watered down the design.

Borromini was a brick enthusiast, admiring the long thin ancient Roman examples. He had special bricks baked - but we mourn the vetoed convex and concave.

The 17C Library upstairs can be visited, and is well worth it. The massive oak bookcases and their contents are extraordinary.

Piazza della Chiesa Nuova (Map E 5)

Chiesa Nuova

(1575-1605). Cardinal Cesi initiated a competition won by Marino Longhi to transform the original church of San Giovanni (12C).

The later facade was by F. Rughesi (1605). Poor austere Filippo Neri did not get his wish for a simple place of worship. His decrees were ignored since the inside is positively redolent with baroque busyness.

Church Baroque is all exuberance; such is the splashy ceiling painting by Pietro da Cortona. Rubens painted the 3 pictures around the altar, on slate to prevent reflections.

Our favorite: around the corner in Piazza del Orologio is the Oratory's Clock Tower which is extremely successful in its rhythmic undulations. As the eye travels up, concaves and convexes succeed each other to make something like those waves Borromini had wanted for the facade.

Piazza della Chiesa Nuova (Map E 5)

St. Maria della Vittoria

St. Maria della Vittoria(1612, Maderno). Carlo Maderno churned out Baroque churches the way Perugina Chocolate turns out Bacis. St. Mary of Victory, completed after his death, was originally quite plain and monochromatic on the inside.

But in 1646 one of Maderno's disciples, the great Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), transformed the interior by installing in the Cornaro Chapel his world-acclaimed masterpiece:

The Ecstasy of St. Theresa. The saint's excitement, when her heart was pierced by an angel's spear, is unabashedly sensual. Her whole palpitating body is rippling with delight; her half-open mouth is groaning in pleasurable pain.

The handsome angel smiles down at his ravished conquest, and the whole scene is up on a theatrical stage, surrounded by the donor-witnesses.

St. Theresa of Avila was a 16C Spanish nun who reacted so emotionally to her vision of the angel spearing her that she founded the extremely ascetic Order of Discalced (they wore sandals rather than shoes) Carmelites which now serve this church. She was also called St. Theresa-of-Jesus, presumably after she dreamt of her mystical marriage.

The whole church is now bathed in Baroque, with three paintings by Domenichino (second chapel on the right) and a plethora of gaudy marble and stucco.

But Bernini's "Ecstasy" is perhaps the single greatest example of Baroque in Rome, being a multi-media production combining sculpture, architecture, painting and lighting to recreate an emotion.

Via XX Settembre, 17 (Mappa K 3)
Open daily 6:30-12 am, 4:30-6:30 pm.

St. Susanna

St. Susanna, interior(Facade 1603, Maderno). Was Pope Benedict XV trying to teach a lesson when in 1922 he gave Rome's American Catholic community this church named for a 3C girl (daughter of a Christian priest) who gave up her life to save her virginity? In any case, he put it in the hands of the Paulist Fathers, a purely U.S. order, but also maintained the convent of the Cistercian Sisters, all of whom are Italian and spend most of their life cloistered in silent service.

The cloister was founded by Pope Sixtus V's sister, who endowed an annual prize in St. Susanna's honor awarded to the nine maidens of the parish who lived the most exemplary lives. That prize is no longer given.

The facade is considered Carlo Maderno's masterpiece of early Baroque that influenced the later more flamboyant churches of Bernini and Borromini.

It is the last of a series of religious buildings on this site that go back to the original home of little Susanna who was put to death by Emperor Diocletian for refusing to marry his heir and adopted son. Both she and her martyred father, St. Gabinus, are buried here.

Piazza San Bernardo (Map K 3)