Mystical ecstasy in Rome: Santa Maria della Vittoria

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An absolute baroque masterpiece by Gianlorenzo Bernini, hidden in small church close to Termini station in Rome.

 

Santa Maria della Vittoria (Our Lady of Victory) hosts one or the most amazing Baroque masterpieces: the ecstasy of St Teresa, by Gianlorenzo Bernini. However, this tiny church is not included in the “standard tourist itinerary” and this makes it a rewarding “off the beaten path” destination.

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Santa Maria della Vittoria construction started in 1608, under the direction of Carlo Maderno, but the church was only finished in 1626.

Its interior is sumptuously decorated, with lots of gilded stucco and polychrome marble so that hardly any of the interior wall surfaces are left naked.

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But the true reason to visit Santa Maria della Vittoria is the baroque Cappella Cornaro designed and executed by by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and hosting one of the Exstasy of St Teresa. The ecstasy of St Teresa of Avila, executed with the rest of the chapel in 1646. It is considered one of the best Baroque sculptures in Rome, and is one of Bernini’s most accomplished and well-known works.

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Bernini made magisterial use of the shallow transept available to him: instead of trying for an enclosed chapel he presented the composition as a theatre, featuring the ecstasy of St Teresa.

The famous sculpture is cleverly lit by a window hidden by the pediment (looks like a light scene!) and on the flanking walls are two opera-boxes containing sculptured representations of members of the Cornaro family.

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The saint, the Spanish founder of the Discalced Carmelite nuns and, is depicted as seated on clouds as on a bed. She is caught during an ecstasy that she described in her mystical autobiography, when she experienced an angel piercing her heart with a dart of divine love, causing her both immense joy and pain.

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Saint Teresa contorted posture and the fairly ambiguous angel smile give the scene a flavor of passion and voluptuousness, very surprising in a catholic statue!

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Santa Maria della Vittoria is located at Via XX Settembre 17 just north-west of the Repubblica metro station.

As a result of the fame of the Bernini sculpture of St Teresa, the church is now a popular tourist destination and is on tour circuits. A serious visit is best done early; the church is open 07:00 to 12:00 and 16:00 to 19:00. You may combine it with a visit to the astonishing nearby church of Santa Maria degli Angeli.


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10 thoughts on “Mystical ecstasy in Rome: Santa Maria della Vittoria

  1. It is also the only church I know of with a painting depicting a battle scence above the alter and soldiers instead of angels holding up the organ- in celebration of the end of the 30 year war.

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  2. Good. Golly. What gorgeous shots! I am now sorely missing Rome. Weeping, I am. Theadora (Back in December I stopped by the Santa Maria della Vittoria. I stayed for hours. Bernini is my hero!)

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  3. Apparently it caused quite a hullabaloo when it was unveiled as some felt that St Teresa was in sexual ecstasy rather than having a religious experience!! Sadly when I visited the church last year it was full of rowdy school kids on an educational trip so viewing the statue wasn’t exactly a spiritual experience for me but it does display Bernini’s skill beautifully. Hopefully I’ll get to see it in peace so I can really take it in! Great post on its history, thanks!

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