If I hadn’t been told about this amazing church by a work colleague before leaving for Italy, I’m sure we would have missed it. The façade is somewhat disguised amidst the opulence of the Piazza della Repubblica.
The Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri (St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs) was built in part of the remains of the Baths of Diocletian, the largest public baths in ancient Rome.
It absolutely boggles me that this massive structure was completed in the year 306. It took them seven years but where is that talent and temerity in this technological age? I digress! The siege of Rome brought an end to the baths in 537 when the water supply from the aqueducts was cut off. A priest, wandering through the ruins in 1541, had a vision of angels which Pope Pius IV interpreted as a message from God. He thus ordered the building of the church on the site, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the angels and the Christians who died during the construction of the baths. The old wooden doors were replaced in 2006 with a very impressive bronze pair by Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj. The right hand one depicts the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, while a risen Christ emerges from the left hand door.
In 1563, Michelangelo was commissioned to design the church but, unfortunately, he died the following year and the work was completed by his student, Jacopo Lo Duca. Stepping through the doors, the sheer magnitude and beauty of the interior was breathtaking.
There was so much to take in, around as well as above.
The dome originally had an opening in the top to allow rain to fall into the bath waters below but is now filled with a fabulous work of stained glass by Italian artist Narcissus Quagliata.
The church is built in the shape of a cross, a magnificent altar at the end of each section.
One of these is the Chapel of St. Bruno,
the left hand wall filled with a spectacular cherry, walnut and chestnut organ built by Bartélémy Formentelli. Inaugurated in the year 2000, the organ has 5,400 hand-made pipes and is often used for concerts.
I can imagine listening to the incredible sounds while slowly dissolving into the ceiling.
There was so much to absorb, from stunning stained glass windows
to statues, frescoes, ceilings and the 3D design of the marble floor.
Following directions to the sacristy, we passed through a room with exhibits displaying the history of the baths before entering a tranquil courtyard. We were greeted by an imposing bronze statue of Galileo Galilei, a gift from China designed by Professor Tsung Dao Lee, winner of the 1957 Nobel prize in Physics.
On completion of the church, it was given to the Carthusian monks who built a monastery next door. It is thought that this courtyard may have been the garden and the back of their cells.
We were very happy to avoid the crowds and queues at the more well-known sites in Rome, very few tourists seem to be aware of Santa Maria degli Angeli.