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Sant'Andrea della Valle is one of the three great 17th century preaching churches (the others being the Gesù and the Chiesa Nuova) built by Counter-Reformation religious orders in the Centro Storico. It is also a titular church, and a minor basilica. The address is Piazza Vidoni 6 in the rione Sant'Eustachio, although the main entrance is on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II.
The dedication is to St Andrew the Apostle.
The first church here was called San Sebastiano in Via Papae, and was dedicated to St Sebastian who is still venerated in the basilica. It was one of the many little parochial churches erected in what was left of the city's built-up area in the 11th century, and was listed in a bull of 1186 issued by Pope Urban III as being dependent on San Lorenzo in Damaso. Later it was made subsidiary to Sant'Eustachio in Campo Marzio. The name Via Papae came from the processional route of the popes between St Peter's and the Lateran, which ran in front of it.
The tradition is that a Roman patrician lady called Lucina, the same one commemorated by San Lorenzo in Lucina, recovered the martyr's body on the site. It had been thrown into a sewer, and caught on a snag by its clothes. The saint appeared to her in a vision, she came and pulled the body out here and then took it to the catacombs at San Sebastiano fuori le Mura.
When the new church was built, permission was granted to demolish the old one only on condition that an altar dedicated to the saint was to be consecrated and his veneration maintained.
Foundation of the Theatine ConventEdit
The Theatines were founded in 1534 by a group of clerics centred on Cardinal Giovanni Pietro Caraffa, later Pope Paul IV, who was bishop of Chieti. Notable among them was St Cajetan, who became the second superior and is regarded as a joint founder. The motivation was to oppose the spread of Lutheran doctrines by training the faithful in the practice of right morality especially by means of preaching, and this addressed a pressing need. The new congregation decided to name itself after the city of Cheti -Theate in Latin- and it received massive benefactions.
Next to the old church of San Sebastiano was the palazzo of the Sienese Piccolomini family, which had been built by Pope Pius II in the mid 15th century when he was still a cardinal (as a result of this connection, when his memorial was thrown out of St Peter's during the basilica's rebuilding it was installed in the church here). In 1582 this building was bequeathed to the Theatines by Costanza Piccolomini d'Aragona, the Countess of Amalfi to be their first convent at Rome. One condition was that they were asked to found a church dedicated to St Andrew, patron of Amalfi. This they did after a fashion, by building a little chapel in one of the courtyards of the palazzo as soon as they got hold of it in 1586 (slowness in the work of lawyers is nothing new in Italy).
However in 1590 Pope Sixtus V had the Via Papae widened, and this resulted in the demolition of the old palazzo with its chapel. The Theatines moved to San Silvestro al Quirinale for a short time, but had obtained permission to rebuild their convent on the original site. The scale of the new complex was, however, to be monumental as it was to be the order's international headquarters. The work began in 1591.
The new convent occupied a much bigger site than the old one. In 1617 permission was given to demolish the old church of San Biagio dell'Anello, which was the predecessor of San Carlo ai Catinari but then stood halfway along the Via del Monte della Farina and was in the way.
Oddly, the church is actually named after Cardinal Andrea della Valle, who died in 1534 and who had a famous palazzo stuffed with antiquities just north of the new convent. (Beware of an erroneous etymology which links valle to a putative little valley here in ancient times -this has appeared in modern publications. There was no such valley, because the area is naturally a flood-plain in the meander of the river.)
Construction of the churchEdit
Work initially started under the financial patronage of Cardinal Alfonso Gesualdo. In 1590 he had invited designs from two of his favoured architects, Giacomo della Porta and Pier Paolo Olivieri (1551-99). The latter was to be more involved in the proposed decoration, as he was also a sculptor in the late Roman Mannerist style. However, the Theatines wished to use the services of Francesco Grimaldi and there was an argument which led to a compromise scheme. The foundations of the church and convent were then laid in 1591, and the main walls went up from 1594 to 1596. By 1599 the fabric of the chapels and the nave vault were completed, but then the death of Cardinal Gesualdo in 1603 caused a financial crisis and work stopped for five years.
However, the Theatines found another patron in Cardinal Alessandro Peretti di Montalto, nephew of Pope Sixtus V. He provided a then enormous endowment of over 150 thousand gold scudi, which meant that in 1608 work could restart to a more grandiose plan which was mainly the work of Carlo Maderno. This included the spectacular dome, which was not part of the original scheme and which was built in 1620 to 1622. The vaults and roofs were finally all finished in 1625, and the interior decoration of the church was finally completed by 1650 when it was consecrated.
There was then another pause in construction, because the Theatines had managed to spend all of Cardinal Peretti's endowment before providing a façade. However, one was finally started in 1655 and finished in 1665 by Carlo Rainaldi, to Maderno's original design with some artistic improvements. It was paid for by Cardinal Francesco Peretti di Montalto, nephew of Cardinal Alessandro, and Pope Alexander VII Chigi also showed an interest which is why he is advertised in the dedicatory inscription.
The church and convent functioned undisturbed until 1873, when the Theatines were dispossessed by the Italian government in common with all other religious orders in Rome. However, they were allowed to continue administering the church and were permitted the use of a few rooms. In the 20th century the convent became the order's general headquarters again, which it remains.
The internal decoration of the church remains much as it was in the 17th century, apart from the frescoed nave ceiling vault which was executed in the late 19th century and some of the chapels. Restorations of the church took place in 1869, 1887, 1905 and 1912. The decorative scheme focuses on the life and death of St Andrew, but also very strongly on Our Lady. There is also a Neapolitan hint to the appurtenances.
The first act of Tosca, the opera by Puccini premiered in 1900, is set in this church. The Capella Attavanti which is the setting of the first act is, however, a poetic invention. This has not stopped people such as tour-guides renaming the Cappella Barberini, first on the left, as the Cappella della Tosca.
Apart from this church, the Theatines have one other in Rome which is the modern one of San Gaetano.
The façade was cleaned and restored in 2012.
The church was made titular by Pope John XXIII in 1960, with Luigi Traglia as the first cardinal priest. He was succeeded by Joseph Höffner, who died in 1987. The next cardinal was Giovanni Canestri, appointed in 1988 but who died in 2015. The title was granted to Dieudonné Nzapalainga in 2016.
This is a seriously large church, and could easily do duty as a cathedral in a small Italian city.
The plan is based on a Latin cross. Structurally there is a nave of four bays with aisles, but blocking walls were inserted into the aisles to create three self-contained chapels on each side and two octagonal lobbies for side entrances. Then comes the transept, the ends of which protrude slightly beyond the side walls of the nave. The dome is over the crossing. There is a sanctuary of one bay with a large semi-circular apse, and on each side of the sanctuary is an octagonal chapel. Two passages leading to the convent are behind these chapels, and there are two more exits at the far corners of the ends of the transept.
Fabric and side elevationsEdit
The body of the edifice is in pink brick, and the finer architectural details are in white travertine limestone. The roofs are pitched and tiled, and are hipped over the ends of the transept.
The brickwork is obvious if you look at the side walls, which are identically treated. Three large lunette windows which light the side chapels are separated by shallow, broad brick pilasters which are vertically stepped, while the side entrance has a square window above. The doorcase of the entrance is surmounted by a triangular pediment into which a tondo displaying a cross is inserted; the Latin cross is the emblem of the Theatines.
The dome is 16.10 metres in diameter and 80 metres high, and is the third highest in Rome after St Peter's and Santi Pietro e Paolo. The details are worth examining with binoculars. It is designed on an octagonal scheme, with a high brick drum having eight large rectangular windows with molded frames topped by little triangular pediments over swags with lions' heads. These windows are separated by coupled pairs of Ionic semi-columns with swagged capitals, supporting a cog-wheel entablature on which the actual dome rests.
The dome itself is elliptical, in lead, and has eight large stone ribs running up to the lantern. At the bottom of each rib is a stylized triple mountain with a star above, which was one of the emblems on the coat-of-arms of Cardinal Peretti. Each sector has a small window, with a slightly curved top intruding into a pediment supported by strap corbels. These pediments alternate as triangular and segmental, and the windows used to light the void in between the interior and exterior domes (they are now all blocked up). Above each window is a horizontally elliptical tondo, and these tondi again have alternate decoration. Half have scallop shell ribbing above, but the others have a lion's head holding two branches from which pears dangle (binoculars are needed to see these). These are a pun on the name Peretti.
The lantern is thought to have been designed by Borromini. There are eight narrow round-headed windows separated by pairs of conjoined Ionic pilasters with very exaggerated volutes and having a human face where the capitals join. These support a cog-wheel entablature with eight flaming torch finials, and a small cupola with a very large drum-shaped finial with a bronze star.
The church has one of the ugliest and most miserable campanili in Rome, and looks as if the Theatines were very short of money when they built it. It is perched on the buttress over the wall between the second and third chapel on the right side of the nave, and is a plain set of four brick arches of different sizes according to the size of bell.
Rainaldi's 17th century Baroque two-storey façade is an add-on, and does not relate well to the edifice behind. In fact, the entire pediment protrudes beyond the ridge of the nave roof -bella figura rather than good architectural design. It is entirely in travertine. One problem to be overcome in designing such a large, flat façade like this is not to make it look like a cliff, and here this is overcome by introducing vertically stepped zones which cross the two horizontal storeys. From the left hand corner, they step up, down, up, up, down, down, up and down to the right hand corner. This design feature is especially obvious if you look at the crowning pediment.
The first storey has a pair of Corinthian pilasters at its outer corners, and then eight Corinthian columns at its inner corners; the stepping of the vertical zones is such that these columns are in four pairs. Pilasters and columns are on high plinths. They support an entablature the cornice of which has modillions, and the frieze of which bears a dedicatory inscription: Alexander Sept[imus] P[ontifex] M[aximus] S[ancto] Andreae Apostolo an[no] salutis MDCLXV. In between the pairs of columns are four statues in rectangular niches crowned by pediments, the inner ones triangular and the outer ones, segmental. The statues are: SS Cajetan and Sebastian by Domenico Guidi (far left and near right), and SS Andrew the Apostle and Andrew Avellino by Ercole Ferrata ( near left and far right). Above are putti with symbols of martyrdom; the inner pair are in circular tondi, while the outer are enclosed in palm fronds.
The single large and very tall entrance, approached by a short flight of steps, has a raised segmental pediment containing a putto's head with swags. Sitting on the pediment are two statues, Hope and Strength by Antonio Fancelli, gesturing to the coat-of-arms of Cardinal Francesco Peretti.
The second storey is in the same style as the first, except that the eight columns are Composite not Corinthian. It is crowned by a triangular pediment with modillions, and into this pediment is inserted a smaller segmental pediment broken at the top. In the break is the coat-of-arms of Pope Alexander VII Chigi, supported by a pair of angels. In the centre of this storey is a large rectangular window with a balustraded balcony and a raised triangular pediment, and in between the pairs of columns are two empty niches with segmental pediments and the Chigi star in the lower edge of their frames
On the outer top corners of the first storey is a pair of finials in the form of six stylized mountains topped by a star, the crest of the Chigi family. To the left of the second storey is one angel with his left wing raised as if to prop up the second storey. Rainaldi wanted a pair of angels to replace the gigantic volutes flanking the second storey in Maderno's design, but there is only one angel here. The story is that Pope Alexander commissioned Ercole Ferrara to carve the two statues of angels, but did not like the first one finished and said so. The sculptor took offence and refused to carve the second one.
However, there is a clue to the possible real reason in the 18th century engraving of the church façade by Giuseppe Vasi. This shows the second angel in place, together with statues occupying the now empty niches in the second storey. So, an alternative theory is that the Theatines again ran out of money before they could properly finish all the statuary on the façade, and made do with three of them in stucco including the right hand angel. These would have disintegrated by the 19th century, leaving the façade in its present state.
The nave has four bays. The pillars between the chapels have gigantic tripletted ribbed Corinthian pilasters in white with gilded capitals, and these support a deep entablature which runs round the entire interior. The frieze of this has an inscription in black lettering on gold taken from the legend of St Andrew's martyrdom, and the projecting cornice has both dentillations and modillions.
In the spandrels of the arches of the side chapels are stucco angels by Michele Tripisciano, an important Italian sculptor of the end of the 19th century. The counterfaçade wall above the entrance has the church organ in a gallery below the entablature, and either side of the large window are two depictions of the Holy Family and the Annunciation by Cesare Caroselli (1847-1927).
Above the entablature is a high semi-circular barrel vault, with three wide coffered transverse ribs and two longitudinal ones which separate the surface into painted panels. Four windows with slightly curved tops are inserted in between the springing of the transverse ribs, and these light the nave.
The decorative scheme of the vault extols the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady. The four central panels depict, from the entrance: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise and The Vision of Our Lady to Sister Orsola Benincasa by Virginio Monti, and The Proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception and The Visitation by Salvatore Nobili (1865-1919). The panels by the windows depict The Apostles and Evangelists by Silvio Galimberti; there are sixteen of them.
Even modern guidebooks describe these 19th century paintings of the vault in contemptuous terms, but they are technically very accomplished. The picture of Adam and Eve is unusual in showing Our Lady Immaculate remaining in Paradise. Orsola Benincasa is here because she founded the Theatine Sisters of the Immaculate Conception; she is not a saint or beata (yet).
In the last bay of the nave are the renaissance tombs of Popes Pius II (died 1464) and Pius III (died 1503), both members of the Piccolomini family whose palace the church supplanted. They are located over the side exits.
Both tombs were originally in the old St Peter's, and were brought here in 1614. The four-storey monument of Pius II is attributed to Paolo Taccone (also known as Paolo Romano) as well as an unknown artist influenced by the style of Andrea Bregno. It was made c. 1470. The two reliefs show the pope receiving the head of St Andrew the Apostle at Sant'Andrea a Ponte Milvio outside Rome, and the pope being introduced to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The former event the pope himself considered to be the most important in his papacy.
The memorial of Pius III is in a similar style, with four storeys stacked above an epitaph, and was obviously modelled on the tomb of Pius II. It was sculpted by Sebastiano Ferrucci in 1503.
The interior of the drum of the dome has pairs of Corinthian pilasters separating the windows, which have alternate triangular and segemental pediments (this design element is a feature of the church). Either side of the windows dangle chains of roses in stucco. Notice the Chigi star cropping up again; there is a pair of them over each triangular pediment.
The fresco in the dome, the Assumption of Our Lady Into the Glories of Paradise, is by Giovanni Lanfranco and was painted 1622 to 1625. This is one of the domes in Rome which form an empyrean, that is, it tries to persuade you that you are looking into heaven when you gaze into it. Here, Christ is in the lantern.
The paintings of the Evangelists on the pendentives are by Domenichino, unfortunately not quite as good as those in the presbyterium and apse vault.
The high altar, which was designed by Carlo Fontana, has no aedicule or canopy in order to give a clear view of the paintings on the walls of the presbyterium. These, and those in the conch or half-dome of the apse high above, are of very good quality.
The three large ones on the apse wall around the altar are by Mattia Preti, nicknamed Il Calabrese, and are dramatic representations of St Andrew's martyrdom on an X- shaped cross. The left hand one shows the saint being raised on his cross, the central one his death on the cross, and the right hand one his burial. They count as among the artist's best works.
In the conch above, and on the short vault of the presbyterium bay, there is a fresco cycle by Domenichino which complements the above works. The bay vault has John the Baptist Proclaiming Jesus as the Lamb of God. The centre of the conch has The Call of Peter and Andrew. To the left is The Flagellation of St Andrew, and to the right is St Andrew Being Shown his Cross. The little U-shaped picture at the top of the conch is the Apoptheosis of St Andrew. Flanking the windows are the Cardinal Virtues.
There are two frescoes over the exits to the octagonal chapels on either side of the apse. The right hand one shows Pope Pius II Receiving the Head of St Andrew from Cardinal Bessarion and is by Alessandro Taruffi, while the left hand one is by Carlo Cignani and shows St Andrew Before the Governor.
The 17th century stucco work in the apse is by Allessandro Algardi. This was among his earliest undertakings, and is extremely rich in detail and gilding. The scantily clad figures in white are meant to be angels, but they don't have wings.
The side chapels are identical architectural spaces, being rectangular with a little dome. But the furnishings are very different from one to another. The nave side chapels were available to noble families for use as memorial chapels. The idea was that each family would embellish and care for their chapel, in return for the privilege of commemoration in the church. The advantage of this was that different chapels would have different decorative schemes, and competition could lead to very sumptuous artworks. The disadvantage was that a family short of money, or simply losing interest, could leave chapels falling into bad repair. More than one here has had to be renovated completely.
There are little arched passageways from chapel to chapel. These were intended to allow access for private Masses when the main body of the church was in use for liturgical functions.
The description is from the right hand side of the entrance, proceeding anticlockwise.
The first chapel on the right side of the nave, the Cappella Lancelotti, is in a rich Baroque style and was designed by Carlo Fontana in 1670. It originally belonged to the Ginetti family, and so is sometimes called the Cappella Ginetti. It is dedicated to St Joseph.
The altarpiece, a sculptural relief in white marble, depicts The Angel Urges the Holy Family to Flee to Egypt (1675) and is in an aedicule with four Composite columns of verde antico marble which contrast with the red marble of the balustrade. The sculpture is the work of Antonio Raggi. He also sculpted the spectacular angel on the pediment in the style of Bernini, his teacher, as well as the allegorical figure of Religion up on the left hand wall and the memorial to Cardinal Marzio Ginetti (died 1671) to the right. The two figures of Justice and Wrongdoing sitting on top of the latter are by Francesco Rondone, who also did the figures on the ends of the altar pediment as well as the two busts to either side of the altar. The one on the right is of Giovanni Francesco Ginetti (died 1691), and on the left is Giovanni Paolo Ginetti.
It is worth glancing into the dome, which is as richly decorated as the rest of the chapel.
The next chapel on the same side, the Cappella Strozzi, has a more austere Baroque style with less colourful stonework. It is interesting to see the contrast. The dedication is to Our Lady of Sorrows.
The design is attributed to Giacomo della Porta, c. 1616, and involves four fluted Composite columns supporting an entablature with a small triangular pediment only over the inner pair. The crest of the Strozzi family, Florentine bankers, consists of three crescent moons and these can be seen on the pediments of the attractive little coffered dome. Within this dome, the concentric rings of coffered squares in grey on gold, with rosettes, seem to shrink into infinity around the oculus.
The floor is very pretty, also in a curved coffered design with five-petalled flowers in white with yellow centres framed in black and dark grey.
This aedicule displays a bronze reproduction of Michelangelo's Pietà in its centre, flanked by bronze figures of Leah and Rachel copied from Michelangelo's monument to Pope Julius II at San Pietro in Vincoli. These bronzes were cast by Gregorio de Rossi in 1616. He may also have been responsible for the little bronze reliefs on which the two flanking statues stand, and which depict the Deposition and the Resurrection.
The side walls have the memorials of four Strozzi brothers, Roberto, Leone, Pietro and Lorenzo, in black marble.
This chapel used to be dedicated to St Charles Borromeo, and the altarpiece of the saint used to be by Bartolomeo Cavarozzi. However, the chapel was completely re-ordered in 1887 by Aristide Leonori, and re-dedicated to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. The altarpiece is in white marble, with gilded details. Oddly, the pair of ribbed Corinthian columns have the lower third of their heights gilded as well as their capitals.
The pictures are by Silverio Capparoni, including the altarpiece which has Our Lady in an elliptical tondo surrounded by a glory. The picture actually on the altar is of Our Lady of Pompeii, a Neapolitan devotion; Leonori designed the campanile for the shrine there.
Chapel of St Andrew AvellinoEdit
This is in the right hand end of the transept. Andrew Avellino is the second most important Theatine saint after Cajetan, hence his place of honour. The altarpiece showing the Death of St Andrew Avellino is by Lanfranco, but the altar itself was restored in 1858. It has a pair of fluted Corinthian columns in red marble with gilded capitals, and is neo-Classical rather than Baroque in its design. However, it is still richly endowed with polychrome stonework.
Chapel of the CrucifixEdit
This is the right hand one of the two octagonal domed chapels flanking the presbyterium. They have an identical design, with domes divided into four sectors by ribs in the form of a cross. Here, there is a picture of Our Lady of Sorrows on the altar in front of the crucifix (it is not thought that the bronze Pietà, already met with, can function as an object of devotion).
On the right hand side is the shrine of St Giuseppe Maria Tomasi, a Theatine cardinal and a famous scholar and liturgist of his time. His relics are enclosed in a wax figure dressed in cardinal's robes and lying in a glass box. A contemporary portrait of him hangs above. The shrine is low-key to the point of meanness, and this is because he was only canonized in 1986. He is a prime candidate for having a new suburban church dedicated to him, where he can be enshrined with fitting dignity.
Chapel of Our Lady of PurityEdit
This is the corresponding octagonal chapel on the left hand side of the sanctuary. The venerated icon of the Madonna della Purità is above the altar, in a circular tondo surrounded by a gilded glory. It is a copy of 1647 by the Neapolitan painter Alessandro Francesi, from an original that was painted in 1641 by the Spanish artist Luis de Morales nicknamed Il Divino. The latter work is now located in the Neapolitan church of San Paolo Maggiore.
To the left is a Bambino, a statue of the Christ Child inspired by the famous one (now stolen and lost) at Santa Maria in Aracoeli. It is in a little glass box, into which the faithful drop prayer requests on bits of paper. On the wall behind it is the tomb of Cardinal Giovanni Francesco Stoppani (died 1774).
Chapel of St CajetanEdit
This is in the left hand end of the presbyterium, and the richness of the decoration reflects the importance of the saint to the Theatines.
The altarpiece, depicting the Madonna and Child with St Cajetan, was painted in 1770 by Mattia de Mare, but the altar dates from 1912 and is by Cesare Bazzani. It is a wonderful exercise in florid neo-Baroque, with a pair of Ionic columns in polished pink marble supporting a split segmental pediment on which a pair of allegorical figures are sitting. Into the divide is inserted a tablet showing the Sacred Heart in glory, supported from beneath by a pair of angels and from the sides by a pair of putti sheltering under a little triangular pediment. Panels of alabaster surrounded by gilded stucco work are on the walls flanking the altar.
This is the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, which hardly excuses the miserable collection of pot plants on the altar.
The monument of Count Gaspare Thiene here is by Domenico Guidi, and is a good example of the choice of various polychrome marbles to give a sombre effect in a major Baroque funerary memorial. The composition is framed by a large arch with a dished architrave, and consists of a bust of the deceased in white marble in front of black and over a sarcophagus in red. The epitaph below is on yellow, placed over the passageway into the next chapel and flanked by a pair of weepers in white. The other colours are dull orange, dark grey, a lighter grey and a yellow and grey striped marble framing the black tympanum with the stripes all radial. The overall effect is faintly bilious, which was the intention apparently.
Chapel of St SebastianEdit
The third chapel on the left is the one dedicated to Saint Sebastian, and was re-ordered by Filippo Martinucci in 1869. However, the altarpiece of the saint was painted by Giovanni de' Vecchi in 1614. The side walls show St Rocco and St Martha, and these are by Guido Guidi.
There is a picture of the Sacred Heart on the altar. In the dome is a fresco cycle depicting Allegories of Martyrdom executed during the 19th century restoration; unfortunately, water penetration has damaged this.
The second chapel on the left is also known as the Cappella Rucellai, after the family that patronized it before the Ruspoli, and also as the Cappella dei Beati after its dedication to two beatified Theatines and one now canonized. These are Giovanni Marinoni, Paolo Burali D'Arezzo and Giuseppe Maria Tomasi whom we have already met. It was designed in 1610 by Matteo Castelli, a relative of Borromini.
The altarpiece, attributed to the Sicilian painter Francesco Manno (1754–1831), depicts the three holy Theatines. It is flanked by a two pairs of Corinthian columns, the inner in pink marble and the outer in black. The polychrome marble revetting on the altar wall is intricate.
On the right wall is a painting of The Archangel Gabriel in the Presence of the Eternal Father, and on the left The Archangel Raphael with Tobias the Elder. These used to be thought to be by Cristoforo Roncalli (nicknamed Il Pomarancio), but they are now considered to be anonymous works by the 17th century Roman school of painters. The fresco in the dome, The Choir of Angels, is by him however. The sculpted angels are by Ambrogio Buonvicino.
On the left wall is a memorial in black marble to Orazio Rucellai (1604–1673) and that to Giovanni della Casa, author of Il Galateo. The right wall has a memorial to Annibale Rucellai (died in 1601), bishop of Carcassonne in France.
The first chapel on the left is the Cappella Barberini, and was commissioned by Cardinal Maffeo Barberini (who became later Pope Urban VIII). Matteo Castelli di Melide supervised the work in 1616. It is dedicated to Our Lady.
The altarpiece depicting the Assumption, between four ribbed Corinthian columns in antique rose marble, is by Domenico Cresti (Il Passignano) and was executed in 1600. He also executed the other paintings here: the Presentation and the Assumption on the right hand side wall, the Visitation and the Holy Family on the left hand one, the four prophets David, Solomon, Moses and Isaiah on the pendentives of the dome, and an allegory of Virtue with angels in the dome itself.
On the left, in the near niche is a statue of St Mary Magdalen by Cristoforo Stati, and in the far niche is St John the Baptist by Pietro Bernini (1616). In the near niche on the right is Saint Martha by Francesco Mochi (1629), which is significantly larger than the other three sculptures. Saint Martha seems to want to leave her niche. The far niche here contains St John the Evangelist by Ambrogio Bonvicini.
The passage into the neighbouring chapel on the right hand side is provided with a segmenally pedimented prothyrium having two Composite columns in verde antico marble and enclosing a funerary epitaph in bronze.
St Sebastian in the SewerEdit
Interestingly, there is a prothyrium and doorway of an identical design on the other side of the chapel. If you look into the Cappella Lancelotti opposite, you will see no such doorway. This is the only assymetric element in the design of the entire church; on the left hand side of the entrance, the façade wall is solid but on the right hand side there is a little alcove. This is the site of the original high altar of the church of San Sebastiano, which was demolished to build the present church. Il Passignano painted a depiction of Lucina Finding the Body of St Sebastian in the Sewer in here in 1616.
The sacristy has a painting by Gherardo delle Notte showing Christ in the Presence of Caiaphas.
Sunday Masses are celebrated at 8:00, 11:00, 12:00 and 19:00, also at 19:00 on Saturday evening.
The tradition started here in 1836 of erecting a large crib in the sanctuary on the feast of the Epiphany, and to leave it there for the following seven days. Each day Mass would be celebrated in one of seven rites of the Catholic church: Latin, Greek Byzantine, Maronite, Chaldean, Slav Byzantine, Syrian and Armenian with sermons given in the appropriate languages. This custom was begun by St Vincent Pallotti.
Apart from the obvious one of St Andrew on 30 November, important feast-days here are the Exaltation of the Cross on 14 September (because the Theatine order is dedicated to the Cross), St Andrew Avellino on 10 November, St Sebastian on 20 January and St Cajetan on 7 August.
On St Cajetan's feast, which is a solemnity here, the Theatines used to process to the little chapel of San Gaetano alla Villa Medici and celebrate Mass there, but this stopped years ago.