Gesù e Maria is a 16th century titular and former convent church located at Via del Corso 45 in the rione Campo Marzio. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia article here.
The full name of the church is Santissimi Nomi di Gesù e Maria a Via Lata and, unusually, the Diocese officially recognizes both long and short versions.
The Via Lata was the ancient Roman name for the Corso, which causes a little confusion. Towards its south end is Santa Maria in Via Lata, originally named in the same way but later giving the name Via Lata to a little street running down its side. Obviously, this street has nothing to do with our church.
Beware also of confusing this church with the Jesuit church of the Gesù, the full name of which is Santissimo Nome di Gesù.
The church was built as part of a convent founded in 1615 by the Discalced Augustinians. This was originally a reform movement within the Augustinian friars, which wished to return to a stricter and more eremitic form of religious life. However, in 1610 they were established as a separate religious order (the title "discalced" means "without shoes" not "barefoot", because they wore sandals) and needed a new headquarters in Rome separate from that of the unreformed friars at Santa Maria del Popolo.
A group of Discalced had already established a separate convent in an isolated location at San Nicola da Tolentino agli Orti Sallustiani, and this was to become the noviciate house.
Foundation of churchEdit
The land the Discalced acquired consisted of a garden owned by Antonio Orsini, one of the powerful Orsini family, which stretched along the south side of what is now the Via di Gesù e Maria. At its east end, on the Via del Babuino, stood a small church dedicated to St Anthony of Egypt. The friars found this inadequate, so began the present complex in 1633. The new church's altar was consecrated while the edifice was still unfinished in 1636, when the old church was demolished. It was replaced by a little oratory, Gesù, Maria e Giuseppe.
It used to be thought that Carlo Maderno was the architect, but the documentary evidence shows that this phase of the work was by Carlo Buzio. After the friars had managed to raise more money, Girolamo Rainaldi finished the work between 1671 and 1674, including the façade. The rich decoration of the interior was carried out between 1678 and 1690, owing to the generosity of a single benefactor, Giorgio Bolognetti who had been bishop of Rieti from 1639 to 1660.
The friars were always short of funds, and one of the ways they raised money was by allowing rich people to erect funerary monuments in the church. Unusually, many of these are in the main nave rather than being tucked away in the side chapels.
In 1849, during the Roman Republic, this church was one of those sacked in an anti-clerical riot. The mob tore out the confessionals of the church, as well as those at San Giacomo in Augusta and Santa Maria del Popolo, took them to Piazza del Popolo and burned them in a big bonfire while chanting obscene slogans against the Catholic priesthood.
The convent was both the Curia or general headquarters of the Order, and also the seminary where it trained its priests. It performed this function until 1873, when in common with almost all other convents in the city it was sequestered. The part nearest the church became a school, while the part fronting onto the Via del Balbuino (including the oratory) was given over for the building of All Saints, the Anglican or English Protestant church.
The Discalced Augustinians (OAD's) have re-established their Curia in the western suburb of Monteverde, at Santa Maria della Consolazione a Piazza Ottavilla. They remain in possession of the church. However, the latter has had problems in justifying its pastoral existence, especially since the local parish church of San Giacomo in Augusta is just across the street. The two outreaches for which it is noted are: The Mass of the Extraordinary Form (formerly known as the "Tridentine Mass") is celebrated here on occasion, and the Slovak expatriate community in Rome also worships here.
Layout and fabricEdit
The church and adjacent monastery were built as one edifice at the same time. The church itself is a small rectangular structure, 27 by 15 metres but the main nave is high for its groundplan and this gives an impression of grandeur despite its size. There are structural side aisles, but these are divided into three self-contained chapels on each side. The presbyterium is inserted into the convent building attached to the far end of the church, and measures about 7 by 7 metres.
The convent, which used to be more extensive with an arcaded cloister but was mostly rebuilt in 1887, has two conjoined transverse rectangular blocks. The first, smaller one is higher than the church while the bigger, further one is flat-roofed and about the same height. The presbyterium is included within the former.
The church walls are in brick, rendered and painted orange, and the tiled roof has one pitch. There is no campanile, but a small bellcote (invisible from the street) is on the edge of the parapet of the flat-roofed block.
The façade was designed by Rainaldi, and is a simple composition in travertine which corresponds to the height of the nave. There is only one doorway, and one storey. Four gigantic Composite pilasters support a deep entablature with a dedicatory inscription Iesu et Mariae on its frieze, and above a strongly projecting cornice is a slightly oversized triangular pediment with a blank tympanum. The central section of the façade all the way up to the pediment cornice is slightly recessed, and the inner pair of pilasters is doubletted at the corner. The outer pair is also doubletted, around the outer corners on the sides.
The pilasters stand on a very high plinth, which reaches as hight as more than halfway up the entrance, and which has a projecting cornice. The single entrance doorway has a raised segmental pediment with, again, a blank tympanum. Above this is a large rectangular window in a plain, slightly projecting frame.
The aisle frontages to each side are treated differently, so that the façade composition is not unified. Each has an enormous vertical rectangular panel with a wide stone frame, and above this is a very wide entablature with a pair of horizontal elliptical windows in the frieze. Above this is a horizontal balustrade.
As mentioned, the church is small but the height of the nave gives a feeling of grandeur. The Baroque decoration is very rich, with much polychrome marble revetting on the architectural elements.
Each side has three chapels, in shallow high-arched niches and with the altars having similar designs. Notice that they alternate between segmental and triangular pediments. In between each pair of chapels is a pair of Doric pilasters supporting a continuous entablature passing over the chapel arches, and this is decorated with gilded stucco scrollwork on both frieze and projecting cornice. In between the pilasters are funerary memorials, and above these are stucco statues of saints.
The ceiling is barrel-vaulted. There are three rectangular windows on each side, over the chapels, which are inserted into triangular lunettes in the vault. These are decorated with stucco statues of Old Testament personages. The paintings in the vault are by Giacinto Brandi, and depict The Apotheosis of Our Lady with the Four Evangelists.
The background stucco work in the church was executed by Girolamo Gramignoli and Monsù Michele, who did some of the statues. Also involved with the stucco statuary were Francesco Cavallini and Lorenzo Ottoni.
The confessionals in this are considered masterpieces of cabinetmaking, although the woodwork is late 19th century and replaced that destroyed in the 1849 riot. They are set in an aedicule with a complicated allegorical scheme in stucco displayed between the halves of a broken segmental pediment.
The presbyterium amounts to a rectangular apse, narrower and lower than the nave.
The church is dominated by the enormous semi-circular triumphal arch. Two pairs of massive ribbed Doric pilasters in black marble support an archivolt of several bands of gilded molding, richly executed. The outer two pilasters are much narrow than the inner, as if they are blending into the side walls. On top of the archivolt is a coat-of-arms supported by two angels. In the vault behind the arch is a representation of the Triumph of the Just by Brandi, surrounded by incredibly lush gilded stucco ornament.
The high altar is bowed (that is, convex). Four Corinthian columns in red marble support an entablature in white marble with a red marble frieze. This in turn supports two little red marble Doric pillars holding up a segmental pediment without a cornice. In between the pillars are two angels holding a black globe with golden rays, and on the globe in gold are the initials IMAS for the names Iesus and Maria. Two more angels flank this composition, and two putti sit on the pediment. The angels holding the globe are by Pietro Paolo Naldini, for whom angels were a speciality, and the others are by Francesco Cavellini.
The altarpiece painting of the Coronation of Our Lady is also by Brandi. To either side of the altar are statues of SS John the Baptist and John the Evangelist, and these are by Giuseppe Mazzuoli from Siena.
By the entrance, there are two 17th century tombs of members of the Corno family, demonstating the superb sense of humour that could be shown in Baroque funerary art. These two were executed by disciples of Bernini, and demonstrate the master's love both of skeletons doing odd things, and billowing cloth carved in stone.
The one to Giulio del Corno is by Ercole Ferrata, and shows Old Father Time ripping a banner bearing the name of the deceased. The other monument, to Camillo del Corno by Domenico Guidi, shows a skeleton seemingly dancing violently while wrapped in a shroud and looking at an hour-glass. The symbolism refers to the General Resurrection of all the dead. The impression of movement is accentuated by the jawbone dropping off the skull, giving the skeleton an air of astonishment..
There are also four late 17th century funerary monuments for members of the Bolognetti family in the church, located between the chapels. On the left hand side are, in turn, those to Ercole and Luigi Bolognetti together, and to Giorgio Bolognetti (by Francesco Cavallini) who was the benefactor who paid for all the rich decoration. The former were two brothers of the latter. On the right hand side are, in turn, those to Pietro and Francesco Bolognetti by Francesco Cavallini of 1681, and of Mario Bolognetti by Francesco Aprile.
The side chapels are taken in anti-clockwise order, starting from the right hand side by the entrance.
Chapel of the CrucifixEdit
The first chapel on the right is dedicated to the Crucifix, with statuary by Francesco Aprile again. The monument to the Fichelli brothers is of 1849, and that to Count Cini is by Rinaldo Rinaldi of 1830.
Here there is an anonymous 17th century depiction of Noli Me Tangere.
Tomb of the Venerable Aloysius Mary ChmelEdit
Through this chapel is a little room containing the sarcophagus tomb of the Venerable Aloysius Mary Chmel, a Slovak friar and student of theology at the convent who died in the odour of sanctity of thyroid cancer in 1939, aged twenty. The triptych painting over the tomb, featuring The Resurrection between portraits of the deceased, is by Moreno Bondi who is a very interesting contemporary artist. A photo is here.
Chapel of St Nicholas of TolentinoEdit
The second chapel on the right is dedicated to St Nicholas of Tolentino, with an altarpiece by Basilio Francese (the traditional ascription) or Giovanni Carbone. It shows the saint having a vision of Our Lady. The side walls have two scenes from his life.
Chapel of St AnneEdit
The third chapel on the right was dedicated to St Anthony of Egypt, in memory of the former mediaeval church, but is now apparently dedicated to St Anne the mother of Our Lady. It has an altarpiece of the saint with Our Lady as a little girl by Girolamo Pesci (1684-1759). The kneeling figure in the foreground is apparently meant to be St Anthony -is this so?
The side walls have two anonymous 19th century works, one showing The Presentation of Our Lady and the other, The Birth of Our Lady.
Chapel of Our Lady of Divine HelpEdit
The third chapel on the left is dedicated to Our Lady of Divine Help (Madre del Divino Aiuto). The icon, which is an object of popular devotion, is set into an oil painting by an artist calle De Alessandris which is the altarpiece. It shows SS Thomas of Villanova and Clare of Montefalco venerating it.
The side lunettes show The Adoration of the Shepherds by Pietro Labruzzi 1793 to the right, and an anonymous Escape to Egypt on the left.
Chapel of St JosephEdit
The second chapel on the left is dedicated to St Joseph, and the altarpiece shows the Holy Family. This and the other decoration is by Brandi.
Chapel of St Thomas of VillanovaEdit
The first chapel on the left is dedicated to St Thomas of Villanova, with a Spanish altarpiece by "Garofoli" and wall and vault frescoes by Felice Ottini. The side walls show St Mary Magdalen in the Desert and St Francis in Ecstasy. The lunettes have reliefs of scenes from the saint's life in two tondi.
The sacristy has an altarpiece depicting the Immaculate Conception and three other paintings by Giovanni Lanfranco. The rest of the fresco work here is by Palermitano, who was a friar here and whose real name was Father Matthew of Palermo.
The former friars' choir, which was behind the apse, had a depiction of Our Lady with St Augustine by Lelli.
The church is listed as open from 9:00 to 12:30, and 15:30 to 17:30 daily.
On Sunday it will shut after those attending the Mass in Slovak have left.
Mass is celebrated:
Weekdays 18:00 only.
Sundays 10:30 (Latin), 11:30, 18:00, 19:15 (Slovak).
The presepio or crib exhibited here at Christmas is one of the most popular in Rome.