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Rome Reports

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Church of St. Ignatius in Rome: the jewel of baroque architecture has a "false" dome

The St. Ignatius of Loyola Church in Campo Marzio, Rome, is one of the architectural jewels of Roman Baroque. This church was built in 1626 and originally served as the Chapel of the Roman College.

It is currently one of the most visited churches in the Eternal City. Upon entering it, it is impossible not to raise your head and be dazzled by how the heavens seem to open up.

Society of Jesus
“On the ceiling, we can admire the marvelous Apotheosis of St. Ignatius. In the center, we find that the Trinity is represented, and the figure that stands out is the figure of Jesus carrying the Cross. The Society of Jesus is Christ-centered, the spiritual exercises are Christ-centered, and St. Ignatius's experience when he arrived in Rome is marked by this Christ carrying the Cross. From the side of Christ comes a radiance, a ray that goes to the heart of St. Ignatius.”

Jesuit Andrea Pozzo shaped that ray of light to spread over the continents known at the time. It represents the figures that promoted the evangelization carried out by the Society of Jesus.

Society of Jesus
“We can see how the first ray goes toward Europe, and there we find the Jesuit saints who were canonized at that time: St. Francis Borgia, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, and Stanislaus Kostka, who was a Blessed at the time. They are the ones who take souls to Heaven. The same thing happens in Asia, where St. Francis Xavier evangelized. The same thing happens in Africa and in the Americas.”

Another impressive work that one finds when entering this church is its dome, which does not exist in reality. It is only painted, and its optical illusion allows one to envision the ambitious original project: the construction of the second largest dome in Rome, after St. Peter's Basilica.

Society of Jesus
“Two major issues came up. The first one was economical. Covering a space this big would be very expensive, and there was a rush to consecrate the church as soon as possible. The second issue was that a dome this big would block the sunlight, both to the Dominican college and to the Roman College.”

The central nave displays the majestic “Glorification of Saint Ignatius.” On its altarpiece, one can find the three episodes of the life of the Jesuits: The “Vision of the Storta”; the farewell of St. Francis Xavier, who leaves for the Indies; and the entrance of St. Francis Borgia to the Society of Jesus.

It's a church that in every corner reflects the Jesuits' motto: “For the greater glory of God.” Here lie the remains of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, St. John Berchmans, and St. Robert Bellarmine, among other priests who followed the spirit driven by the saint from Spain.

Daniel Díaz Vizzi

Translation: Christian Campos