Baroque Rome – Navona and Campo

Santa Maria sopra Minerva

The name of the church reveals that it was built sopra (over) the ruins of a temple of Minerva, ancient goddess of wisdom. Erected in 1280 by the Dominicans on severe Italian Gothic lines, it has undergone a number of more or less happy restorations to the interior. Certainly, as the city’s major Gothic church, it provides a refreshing contrast to Baroque flamboyance. Have a €1 coin handy to illuminate the Cappella Carafa in the right transept, where Filippino Lippi’s (1457–1504) glowing frescoes are well worth the small investment, opening up the deepest azure expanse of sky where musical angels hover around the Virgin. Under the main altar is the tomb of St. Catherine of Siena, one of Italy’s patron saints.

Left of the altar you’ll find Michelangelo’s Risen Christ and the tomb of the gentle artist Fra Angelico. Bernini’s unusual and little-known monument to the Blessed Maria Raggi is on the fifth pier from the door on the left as you leave the church. In front of the church, the little obelisk-bearing elephant (under restoration at the time of this printing) carved by Bernini is perhaps the city’s most charming sculpture. An inscription on the base of Bernini’s Elephant Obelisk references the church’s ancient patroness, reading something to the effect that it takes a strong mind to sustain solid wisdom.


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