In order to avoid crowds during my recent trip in Rome, I chose to explore the city itself and focus on secondary sites instead of the major attractions.
That’s how I discovered the Chiesa del Gesu — my new favorite church in Rome — which is slightly off the beaten path and uncrowded, but still in the center of Rome and filled with world class art and history. Here are four reasons why I love this church:
1. Its ceiling
When I walked into the church, my eyes immediately shot upwards into an airy nave where an intricately frescoed ceiling high above made me feel like I was staring into the heavens. I immediately recognized it from my art history books — The Triumph of the Name of Jesus by Giovanni Battisti Gaulli — one of the best examples of Baroque art in existence.
Baroque art is all about creating a sense of theatricality that invites the viewer into its space to participate in the drama. It’s hard to tell what is real and what is not — parts of the architectural features like the coffered ceiling and gold-gild frame are 3D illusions and actually painted on, while the figures and clouds extend out from the framed mural and have shadows that make them visually pop. It is totally engrossing.
2. Its history
La Chiesa del Gesu is the headquarters of the Jesuits, a society within the Catholic Church formed in the 16th century that participated in the Counter-reformation. The church itself was consecrated in 1568-1584 and is one of the earliest examples of Baroque architecture. It reminds me of Catholic churches I’ve visited in Brazil from a similar time period, albeit on a much grander scale.
3. Its non-crowds
Although La Chiesa del Gesu is in the heart of Rome — only about a five minute walk from the Pantheon — we virtually had the entire church to ourselves. It is a calmingly transcendent space filled with light and beauty and only a handful of tourists and worshipers. It’s a stark contrast to the throngs swarming major tourist churches like the Pantheon, the Sistine Chapel, or St. Peter’s.
4. Its museum
One of the best parts of the Chiesa del Gesu, is its free museum located in hidden rooms high up in the inner workings of the building. The museum includes balconies that look down over the central nave of the church and offer incredibly intimate views that are rarely accessible in other churches.
To access the museum, simply walk down the central nave until you get to the alter. Look to your right and you’ll notice an open door with a smallish sign reading “museo” and an arrow. You’ll pass through a room with a desk and postcards, then walk down a short hallway until you reach a stone spiral staircase.
After going up the equivalent of about four or five flights of stairs, you’ll enter a medium-sized, well-lit room covered in 18th century murals with several displays. There are a couple more rooms filled with art and holy objects, and handy docents who offered us an impromptu mini tour.
Here’s a map showing how to walk from the Pantheon to Chiesa del Gesu:
– Laura Rowley