|English name:||The New Church|
|Dedication:||Gregory the Great and Blessed Virgin Mary|
|Architect(s):||Giovanni Matteo da Città di Castello, Giacomo della Porta, Martino Longhi the elder|
|Address:|| 134 Via del Governo Vecchi|
(Piazza della Chiesa Nuova)
Chiesa Nuova is one of the great 16th century Counter-Reformation preaching-churches of Rome, and is a parish, titular and convent church as well. It was built for St Philip Neri, whose shrine is here. The postal address is Via di Governo Vecchio 134 in the rione Parione, but the main entrance is on the Piazza della Chiesa Nuova, part of the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons.  There is an English Wikipedia article. 
The church is almost always called the Chiesa Nuova or "New Church" especially in speech, but this is obviously just an nickname.
The official name is Santa Maria in Vallicella, which is used by the Diocese and parish as well as in most formal documentation. Some private authors prefer it as well.
When the foundations of the new church were being excavated in 1575, a large and wide stone wall running the length of the old church was found. This was surmised to have been the source of the name of the rione Parione (paries is one of the Latin words for "wall"), but what the wall was is unknown -and the area is not very well investigated archaeologically, anyway.
In the locality was the Tarentum, a very ancient open-air religious enclosure dedicated to the pair of gods Dis Pater and Proserpina. The site of the altar was allegedly uncovered just to the west of the church in 1887, but this is now queried. It might have been more to the north-west near the curve of the river. The sacred site was apparently marking some sort of entrance to the Realm of Hades, perhaps a spring or well or wide-mouthed sinkhole.
What is very strange about the altar here is that it was below ground level, and had to be excavated every time it was used.
Church before the OratoryEdit
By tradition, the first church on the site was built by Pope St Gregory the Great and hence was later given a subsidiary dedication to him. However, what is known from the archives of the Diocese is that there was a church here in 1179. This earliest source already refers to it as Santa Maria in Vallicella, and this official name has never changed.
In 1186, the church was listed as parochial and dependent on the basilica of San Lorenzo in Damaso nearby.
The name Vallicella is usually translated as "little valley", but this is uncertain. In Latin it is literally "room (storeroom, shrine) of the stockade (vallum) or valley (vallis)". There might have been a small stream here in the Dark Ages, but this is a surmise which cannot be supported by the present-day topography.
In mediaeval times this was a typical little parish church, one of many in mediaeval Rome, and perhaps served about thirty families or so. Also typical of the little mediaeval parish churches around here was that it was not kept in good repair, and by the time it was given to St Philip Neri it was allegedly ruinous. Also it apparently stood in a depression in the terrain (the "little valley"?), causing boggy ground and pools of water which made drainage a serious problem. The fabric must have been rotten.
An alternative name of Santa Maria in Puteo Albo occurs in the 15th century, which seems to have referred to an ancient marble well nearby.
Oratorians take overEdit
The association with St Philip Neri began in the late 16th century, but it was not the first church with which he was associated. As a young Florentine priest he had begun his ministry at Rome at the hospice at San Girolamo della Carità where he attracted his first disciples, and also with San Giovanni dei Fiorentini because that was the church of the Florentine expatriates. The actual first headquarters of the nascent brotherhood was at the latter church, but St Philip lived at the former.
However, when he formed his followers into the new secular congregation of the Oratorians they found it difficult to dovetail their pastoral activities with the other functions for which these two churches were used. A church of their own was needed, and St Philip Neri received the rather dubious donation of the dilapidated and damp chiesolina from Pope Gregory XIII in 1575.
The Oratorians immediately undertook an enormous rebuilding project, and they had sufficient funds to carry it out because of donations made. The principal benefactors were Angelo Cesi, bishop of Todi, his brother Pier Donato Cesi the Senior who was a cardinal, the pope himself, St Charles Borromeo as well as the ordinary people of Rome who were already very impressed by St Philip.
Construction of new churchEdit
The proposed large new church was to be dedicated to Our Lady (under the title of Madonna Vallicelliana) and St Gregory, but kept its old name.
Construction was begun in 1575 with the laying of the foundation stone by Cardinal Alessandro de' Medici, the future Pope Leo XI (for less than a month). The work was initially overseen by Matteo da Castello, and initially progressed quickly enough for the first Mass to be celebrated in a roofed section of the nave in 1577. However, then Matteo left and progress slowed right down. Martino Longhi the Elder was appointed as architect by Cardinal Cesi in 1581, but work only resumed in 1586 and continued under his direction until 1591. Giacomo della Porta took over in 1594, and altered the plan to allow for two more nave chapels, also for narrow side aisles between the nave side chapels and the central nave. He constructed the transept, dome and sanctuary. As a result, the church was consecrated in 1599.
The church was modelled on the Gesù, regarded at the time as the foremost example of Counter-Reformation architecture and, as such, immensely influential architecturally in Catholic Europe.
Foundation of oratoryEdit
Meanwhile, the Oratorians had moved to a nearby house from San Giovanni dei Fiorentini in 1577, by which time part of nave had been completed. However St Philip prefered to stay resident at San Girolamo della Carità, where he had lodged when he had first come to Rome from Florence. He was stubborn about this, until he was ordered by the Pope to move in with his disciples in 1583 and accept his responsibilities as Superior.
As superior, one of the things that he insisted on was that the young noblemen wishing to join the Oratory were to do actual manual work in helping with the church building project. At the time it was a disgrace for a noble to work with his hands, and this was one of the ways that the saint found out which of his disciples had genuine vocations to the life of an Oratorian.
The provision of a proper convent was not high on the list of the saint's priorities. In fact, he was still working out the importance of community life in the new Oratorian charism when the new church was begun. As a result, no work was done on the convent until after the saint's death in 1595 when he left a legacy for the purpose.
Work began in 1629 by Paolo Maruscelli, who managed to finish a nucleus by 1637. Then Borromini took over, and worked here until 1667. He was responsible for the main convent façade to the left of the church and for the two cloister courts behind. Finally, from 1650 to 1660 Camillo Arcucci added a third cloister behind the church by erecting a wing on the Via di Governo Vecchio just west of its junction with Via della Chiesa Nuova.
The resulting large complex, taking up the entire city block, has been little changed since then.
Oratorio as musicEdit
This convent is the source of the musical genre known as the Oratorio, and gave its name to it. The first example of the genre is argued to have been performed at the convent in 1600, the Rappresentatione di Anima, et di Corpo by Emilio de' Cavalieri.
Fitting out the churchEdit
Originally the church had very little decoration, but against St Philip's wishes it was decorated with spectacular frescoes after his death. His original plan was to have only depictions of the Blessed Virgin and scenes from her life, and they were meant to be rather unobtrusive. The rest of the surfaces were to have been whitewashed.
A painting of the church as it was when new can be seen in the Vatican Pinacoteca, by Andrea Sacchi and entitled The Interior of Santa Maria in Vallicella during the Festivities of 13 March 1602. It depicts the church as it looked when St Philip Neri was canonized.
Famously, the Oratorians commissioned Rubens in 1606 to paint three pictures for the sanctuary. He delivered in 1608, then went home to Antwerp. Amazingly, they are still here and not in some gallery.
The side chapels were made available to wealthy families. They were given a letter of concession, and were then expected to decorate and maintain the chapel. This is common in many churches in Rome (consider the family chapels in Santa Maria Maggiore and Santa Maria del Popolo), but this is a rare example of the process being planned from the start. Memorial plaques in the chapels name the families. It is obvious from the state of certain chapels that some families fell behind on maintenance.
The ten nave side chapels are decorated with a cycle of scenes from the life of Our Lady, conforming to St Philip's request. Some of them, such as Federico Barocci's Visitation, were commissioned by the saint himself. The dedications of these chapels are according to a scheme, drawn up by the saint, which allows visitors to meditate on each episode in the order that they occurred. In other words, the patrons were not allowed to choose their own dedications which was standard practice elsewhere.
The parish was suppressed in 1622, in order that the Oratorians could concentrate on a wider apostolate among the people of the city as a whole. Their large new church was designed primarily as a preaching-hall, and it fulfilled this function for almost the next three hundred years.
The Oratorians fell on hard times in the 19th century, and in the latter part of that century the church was in serious disrepair. The problem became especially acute after 1870, when the convent was sequestered by the Italian government and the Oratorians were left with only a few rooms. The complex was then turned into a law court, a function it performed for the next fifty years.
Before the 1880's the church was on a piazza surrounded by a little grid of side streets, and was not easy to find. However, then the new trunk road from Piazza Venezia to the Vatican, Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, was built and this massively raised the church's civic profile.
In 1905 it was decided that the local parish church of San Tommaso in Parione was too small for its parish, so the Chiesa Nuova was made the parish church instead. The parish remains in the charge of the Oratorians.
In 1922, the convent became the home of the Archivio Storico Capitolino or the city's historical archives. Ten years later this was joined by Istituto Storico Italiano per il Medio Evo, although this has since moved to the Palazzo di Propaganda Fide.
In 2000 the convent became the home of the Casa delle Letterature.
A major restoration of the church was finally completed in 2006, but evidence for the previous disrepair can still be seen in damaged frescoes.
As well as appropriating its parish, the Chiesa Nuova also took away its cardinalate title from San Tommaso. This was in 1937. The church had not been titular beforehand.
The present titular is Edward Bede Clancy.
Layout and fabricEdit
The church is built on a plan of a Latin cross within a rectangle, and has a short and wide nave with aisles and five enclosed chapels off each aisle. The transepts are short, and do not extend beyond the outer nave walls. There is a central dome, and the apse is three-sided and flanked by two large chapels. The roofs are pitched and tiled.The dome is externally low and unobtrusive, having a lead saucer on a very low drum, and was finished in 1650 by Pietro da Cortona. The disproportionally tall lantern has a cog-wheel entablature supporting a lead cupola which itself has a ball finial.
By the far corner of the right hand transept is the campanile, designed in 1666 by Camillo Arcucci. There are two storeys containing bells, the first with Doric pilasters supporting an exaggerated cornice. Between these on each side is squeezed an arched sound-hole with its own little balustrade. The top storey has bell-holes with ogee curved tops flanked by outward-facing double volutes, and the corners of the parapet have stone pineapples topped by rather spiky bronze three-dimensional stars.
To the left of the church is the Oratory (the convent of the Oratorians), which is extensive and contains two cloisters separated by the church's large sacristy. The latter is, unusually, detached from the church itself.
Rughesi's 17th century façade, in travertine limestone, has two storeys and is crowned by a triangular pediment. The central vertical zone is brought forward slightly for its entire height, and the two corner strips recessed slightly; this feature of the design was so as to prevent the façade looking like a cliff.
In the first storey, this central zone has four Corinthian half-columns supporting an entablature, the latter continuing across the façade on either side where it is supported by eight Corinthian pilasters. The frieze of the entablature has a rather bombastic and cheeky inscription reading Angelus Caesius Episc[opus]. Tudertinus fecit Anno Dom[ini]. MDCV ("Angelo Cesi, Bishop of Todi, did this AD 1605"). This implies he built the church, but what he actually did was to pay for the façade only. His brother Pier Donato Cesi paid for most of the rest.
The doorway is flanked by a pair of Corintinan columns in the round, supporting a raised triangular pediment which is broken at the top in order to accommodate a large tablet bearing a dedicatory inscription. This latter is flanked by a pair of especially slinky double volutes looking like G-clefs from a piece of written music. The aisle entrances have raised segmental pediments supported by volute corbels, and above them is another pair of inscription tablets bearing praises addressed to Our Lady from the Biblical Song of Songs:
Tota pulcra es amica mea, and macula non est in te ("You are completely beautiful, my girlfriend, and there is no blemish in you").
The handles of the entrance doors are decorated with flaming hearts, since the cor flammigerum is St Philip's emblem.
In the centre of the upper storey there is a round-headed window with a balustrade. This is flanked by a pair of Ionic columns with swagged capitals and supporting a segmental pediment. Below this, on top of the entablature above the four entrance columns, is a large segmental pediment containing a relief of the Madonna and Child, the Madonna Vallicellliana. She is seated on a throne with water gushing out on either side, this throne being on a bank of clouds and accompanied by a pair of angels. Either side of the window is a round-headed niche containing a statue and with a triangular pediment, the statues being of SS Gregory the Great and Phillip Neri. These statues have empty inscription tablets above them. There is a pair of gigantic single incurved volutes flanking this upper storey.
The crowning pediment's tympanum is empty except for a small coat-of-arms in its apex.
In the archives of the Oratorians, in the convent adjacent to the church, there is a wooden model of the façade as it was originally intended to be; some changes were made at a later point. It has been suggested that it was Carlo Maderno who introduced the changes.
As mentioned, the church is on the plan of a Latin cross with three naves, or a central nave with side aisles. (NB Italian practice is to refer to a church like this as having three naves, whereas in English it is more correct to talk about a nave with two side aisles.)
Off the side aisles are five chapels on each side. Since the church was built in one campaign, the side chapels are all of identical architectural design, being on a square plan with chamfered far corners having large windows which throw light onto the altar. Each chapel is entered through a gate in a low balustraded screen, and narrow passages connect adjacent chapels. The reason for the latter is to allow those celebrating private Masses in side chapels to access them without disturbing any liturgical event in the body of the church.
Di Castello's original design had only a single nave, and four chapels on each side. Giacomo della Porta changed the plan, making the side chapels deeper and the nave consequentally more narrow, and giving the nave side aisles. He also changed the number of chapels on each side to five.
The edifice is continued by a transept with a crossing dome, a chapel at each end and a further pair of chapels flanking the sanctuary. The latter has the same plan as the nave chapels, an almost square rectangle with chamfered far corners.
The nave has five bays, with its arcades supported on massive piers. These have ribbed Corinthian pilasters in white, grey and gold which support an entablature with dentillations and modillions which runs around the interior. The arcade arches have Doric imposts, and are embellished with stucco vegetation on their archivolts and intradoses. Stucco angels occupy the spandrels.
The piers also support buttress-arches which divide the aisles between the chapels.
The nave ceiling is barrel-vaulted, over a spacious area which was designed to accommodate the congregations attracted to the sermons of the Oratorians. The ceiling fresco is by Pietro da Cortona, painted in 1664–1665. It depicts a miracle mediated by the Blessed Virgin during the construction of the church. St Philip was warned in a dream that the roof of the church would collapse, and so had it repaired. The roof was in bad shape, and many would have been killed if it had collapsed during Mass. Something went badly wrong with the building work; perhaps the saint was not so wise in using his Oratorian disciples as amateur builders.
Da Cortona supervised the stucco work in the vault, which was executed by Ercole Ferrata and Giacomo Antonio Fancelli in collaboration. The stucco detailing on the walls, including the angels, was by Cosimo Fancelli.
On the nave walls above the arcades are fourteen paintings of the end of the 17th century, painted by five artists who undertook pairs opposite each other. From the high altar, from left to right, these are: Creation of the Angels and the Fall of Lucifer by Lazzaro Baldi, the General Resurrection on the Last Day and the Expulsion from Eden by Giuseppe Ghezzi, the Last Supper and the Fall of the Manna by Daniele Seiter, the Penitent Magdalen and Rebecca at the Well again by Ghezzi, St Peter Accepting the Keys from Christ and Moses Breaking the Tablets by Giuseppe Passeri, the Immaculate Conception and Judith with Holofernes again by Seiter, and finally the Cleansing of the Temple and the Ark of the Covenant by Domenico Parodi. On the wall above the entrance is the Preaching of St John the Baptist by Seiter.
The stucco work on the nave walls was added to by Tommaso Mattei between 1697 and 1701.
Crossing and domeEdit
The church has a pair of spectacular Baroque organ cases in the transept, and the one on the left hand side is unusual because some of the pipes have decorative spirals.
The saucer dome has no drum, but is placed directly on its cornice with four little elliptical windows sitting on the latter at the diagonal points. The entire surface is taken up by the fresco by Da Cortona again, the Triumph of the Trinity showing the Father and the Son in the main dome and the Holy Spirit in the oculus.
The pendentives show the four major Old Testament prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezechiel and Daniel. A pair of stucco angels sits on the crown of each of the four arches creating the pendentives. These were executed by Ferrata and Fancelli.
De Cortona painted the Assumption of Mary in the apse (as well as the Angels with the Instruments of the Passion of Our Lord in the ceiling of the sacristy, which is not part of the church). Fancelli and Ferrata again executed the stucco work.
The altar itself was completed in 1608, and has four Corinthian columns in pink marble with gilded capitals which support a split segmental pediment. A little gabled aedicule is insterted into this pediment, which displays a painted wooden crucifix by Guglielmo Berthelot of 1615. The pair of stucco angels adoring it are by Francesco Maratti of 1697.
The 13th century miraculous icon of Our Lady of Vallicella is enshrined above the high altar behind a Madonna with Angels by Peter Paul Rubens, painted on slate in order to reduce light reflection. The construction is quite unique, since this painting can be moved aside by means of a system of strings and pulleys to reveal the icon. The latter is quite a naïve work based on the Byzantine iconographic model of Our Lady of the Sign.
Rubens also painted the pictures on either side of the sanctuary, completing the three between 1606 and 1608. The mail-clad figures in the left-hand one are SS Papias and Maurus, by tradition soldier martyrs whose relics lie beneath the high altar and who are here depicted with St Gregory. The right hand one shows SS Domitilla, Nereus and Achilleus. These are now the only pictures by Rubens in a Roman church.
Meditation cycle of chapelsEdit
The chapels are described in anti-clockwise order, beginning to the right of the entrance.
However if you start at the left hand end of the transept, the dedication and decoration of each chapel that you visit will refer to an event in Our Lady's salvific life in the order that they occurred. Thus, you will start with her Presentation at the Temple as a young girl, and end with her Coronation as Queen of Heaven (the two chapels flanking the sanctuary are not part of this cycle).
Compared to other great Roman churches, you will probably notice the lack of funerary monuments in the nave and these chapels. This was deliberate policy on the part of the Oratorians.
Chapel of the CrucifixionEdit
Chapel of Our Lady of SorrowsEdit
The second chapel on the right is dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows, usually referred to in Italian as Our Lady of Pity (Pietà), and has frescoes by Angelo Caroselli. It used to have a very famous altarpiece, the Taking Down from the Cross, or Deposition, by Caravaggio of 1604. However this was looted in the French occupation, and when returned was not put back where it belonged but taken to the Vatican Museums. The present altarpiece is a copy by Michele Koeck. Here's the original: 
Chapel of the AscensionEdit
The third chapel on the right is dedicated to the Ascension, and has frescoes by Benedetto Piccioli of 1624 showing three Egyptian Desert Fathers: SS Copres, Alexander and Patermuthius. The altarpiece is by Girolamo Muziano.
Chapel of the Holy Spirit at PentecostEdit
Chapel of the AssumptionEdit
Chapel of the Coronation of Our LadyEdit
The two transept chapels have altars of similar design, with gorgeus polychrome marble work on the walls and the aedicules having Corinthian columns in a dark green brecciated marble (looking like verde antico, but not).
The right hand one is dedicated to the Coronation of Our Lady as Queen of Heaven, and have a pair of statues of SS John the Baptist and John the Evangelist by Flaminio Vacca of 1594. The altarpiece is by the Cavaliere d'Arpino of 1615, and the stucco allegory of Charity and Religion is again by Fancelli and Ferrata. The wooden pulpit or ambo is by Borromini, and does not belong here since it was designed for the convent.
Chapel of St Charles BorromeoEdit
The original design was by Camillo Arcucci, but Carlo Rainaldi helped to finish it. There are three rooms, the first being the Spada family cenotaph with funerary inscriptions in black marble placed in 1733. The little nave has a vaulted ceiling, and six arched niches intended for statues. The nave vault is spectacular, having ribs with stucco clouds and putti, but can be accused of being a cluttered design.
The four gilded reliefs in tondi in this vault are by Giovan Francesco di Rossi, and depict scenes from the life of St Charles. Three concern his friendship with St Philip, and one shows the failed assassination attempt on him (the miscreant used cheap gunpowder in his pistol, which pooped).
The niche to the right of the sanctuary contains the monument of Caesar Baronius, 1607 with his portrait in oils above an ancient grey marble bath-tub.
The sanctuary has an altarpiece by Carlo Maratta 1680, the Madonna Enthroned with SS Charles Borromeo and Ignatius. Its vault fresco of the Holy Spirit is recorded as dating from 1729, but the artist is unknown.
Chapel of St Philip NeriEdit
Off the transept, to the left of the apse, the Chapel of St Philip is especially sumptious since the saint is enshrined here. The decoration in the Baroque style, employing mother-of-pearl, coral, onyx, lapis lazuli, agate, gold, polychrome marbles and bronze, was completed in 1604.
The dome is by Pietro da Cortona, with intricate gilded stucco decoration. The frescoes on the walls, depicting scenes from the saint's life, are by Cristoforo Roncalli nicknamed Il Pomerancio. The fresco in the subsidiary vault is also by him, and depicts The Apotheosis of St Philip'.
Chapel of the Presentation of Our LadyEdit
The left hand transept chapel is dedicated to the Presentation of Our Lady, and has two statues of SS Peter and Paul by Giovanni Antonio Paracca of 1592. The altarpiece is by Federico Barocci of 1603, and the fresco on the vault, showing Hannah, Elcana and the young Samuel, is by Alessandro Salucci.
Chapel of the AnnunciationEdit
Chapel of the VisitationEdit
The damaged vault frescoes are by Carlo Saraceni.
Chapel of the NativityEdit
Chapel of the EpiphanyEdit
The second chapel on the left is dedicated to the Epiphany, and the altarpiece showing the Adoration of the Magi is by Cesare Nebbia of 1578. The stucco and marble decoration are again by Longo, of 1605.
The vault frescoes are possibly by Baccio Ciarpi, and are badly preserved because the rain had got in.
Chapel of the Purification of Our LadyEdit
The first chapel on the left is dedicated to the Purification of Our Lady, and the paintings are by the Cavaliere d'Arpino . The altarpiece is of 1627, and the damaged vault frescoes of 1620 depict SS Ambrose, Monica and Augustine. They were restored in the 19th century. The stucco work is by Stefano Longo.
The sacristy, which as mentioned before has a ceiling painted by da Cortona, was designed by Paolo Marucelli in 1629, and is considered one of the finest sacristies in Rome. Here there is a statue of St Peter with an angel by Alessandro Algardi.
It is usually open to the public, and access is through a short passage at the near corner of the left hand transept and then across a corridor.
St Philip's roomsEdit
"St Philip Neri's rooms" (Camere di San Filippo) are a suite of rooms on two floors, tucked in between the refectory of the convent and the left side of the church's transept. He did not actually live and die here, but in another wing of the convent. However, the original suite was damaged by a fire started by a stray rocket from a fireworks display at Castel Sant' Angelo. As a result of this, original furniture, fittings and flooring was salvaged and a reconstruction made here.
This was done after the saint had been canonized, and in his honour the suite was embellished with polychrome marble, stucco and fresco work. He would not have approved.
The frescoes in the so-called "Red Room" (Camera Rossa) on the ground floor were begun by Niccolò Tornioli, but he died in 1652 and they were completed by Ciro Ferri in 1655. Here is a bust in silver of the saint by Algardi, as well as original furniture and several relics of the saint.
The ground floor chapel (Cappella Interna), located behind the saint's chapel in the church, has an altarpiece by Guercino.
The original private chapel (dismantled and re-erected) of the saint is upstairs, via a spiral staircase built by Borromini into the wall of the left end of the transept. The original poverty of the fittings, as well as the rough floor, walls and wooden altar, have been kept.
This chapel has an antechamber, now also fitted out as a chapel. It is much more sumptuous, with the original painting of the saint by Guido Reni as the altarpiece.
One of the items here is a Nottingham alabaster of the head of St John the Baptist on a plate and the Lamb of God, It was given to St Philip from among the loot of a captured Turkish ship.
Oratorio di San Filippo NeriEdit
The Oratorio di San Filippo Neri, the convent, is attached to the church and encloses it on the left and far sides. Its main façade is to the left of the church's one.
A convent was first built for St Philip Neri in 1572 by Pope Gregory XIII and Cardinal Cesi, and was designed by Martino Longhi the Elder. It should not be called a monastery, as the Oratorians were a religious society whose members continued their careers in the secular world and did not take formal religious vows.
It was massively restored and extended from 1637 by Borromini, and the work was only finished just under thirty years later. The last addition was the court behind the church, by Camillo Arcucci.
There are three cloisters or garden courts, a smaller one straight ahead from the entrance, a very large one (the Cortile degli Aranci or Court of the Orange Trees) on the other side of the sacristy and an irregularly shaped one behind the church apse. Next to the last, behind the top left hand corner of the church's apse, is the interesting refectory or dining hall which has an unusual elliptical plan. Arguably Bernini's façade is more interesting than that of the church, and its ideosyncratic design is typical of the architect.
It was in this convent that St Philip organized the first sacred performances of music for soloists and choir, which is the reason for the musical term oratorio. However, these did not take place in the present private chapel of the convent which is just inside the entrance, on the left. This was part of Bernini's work, and has now been formally deconsecrated. The Oratorians would use it especially in winter, when the main church was too cold; one adversity that Romans do not shrug their shoulders about is cold weather. You might notice "winter choir" chapels attached to other Roman churches. Since the deconsecration this room is called the Sala dell'Organo.
The convent houses the Vallicelliana Library , which was established by St Phlilip in 1581 and is the oldest public library in Rome. Here are the Institute for Roman Studies including the Capitoline Historical Archives, the Roman Newspaper Archives with copies of almost all newspapers published in Rome since the 18th century, as well as the archives of the Oratorians.
The church used to open quite late, but now opens:
Daily 7:00 to 12:30, 17:00 to 19:00.
Early in the morning is the best time to make a serious visit in summer.
There are guided tours at 10:30, 11:30, 16:30 and 17:30 (as at 2011).
The number 64 bus from Termini station to St Peter's stops outside it, and there will be a Chiesa Nuova station on the new Linea C metro line (eventually).
Mass is celebrated:
Weekdays 7:30 and 18:30.
Sundays 10:30, 11:30 and 18:30.
Confession is available on Wednesdays and Thursdays, 9:00 to 12:00. This involves the possibility of personal spiritual dialogue, for which the Oratorians have a good reputation.
Nolli map (church 656, oratory 657)