Rome – Santa Maria sopra Minerva

The church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva is just behind the Pantheon.  Its most distinguishing feature from the outside is a statue of an elephant with an obelisk on its back.  More on that later.  However, this church contains the remains of Saint Catherine of Siena.  Recall from our trip to Siena that St. Catherine’s head is on display in Basilica Cateriniana San Domenico while her body remains in Rome.

In Roman times there were three temples in what is now the area surrounding Santa Maria sopra Minerva dedicated to the goddesses Minerva (50 BC), Isis, and Serapis. The ruined temples are likely to have lasted until the reign of Pope Zachary (741-752), who finally Christianized the site. However, the structure he commissioned has disappeared.

In 1255 Pope Alexander IV established a community of converted women on the site. A decade later this community was transferred to the Roman Church of San Pancrazio thereby allowing the Dominicans to establish a convent of friars there. The Friars were on site beginning in 1266. The Dominicans began building the present Gothic church in 1280 completed in the 14th century.

Elephant and Obelisk in Front of Santa Maria sopra Minerva
Elephant and Obelisk in Front of Santa Maria sopra Minerva

Between 1848 and 1855 Girolamo Bianchedi directed an important program of restoration when the blank walls were covered with neo-gothic frescos giving the interior the Neo-Gothic appearance that it has today.  The basilica’s stained glass windows are mostly from the 19th century. 

Entrance to Santa Maria supra Minerva
Entrance to Santa Maria supra Minerva

 

Sign above Door
Sign above Door

The facade contains the papal emblem and a stained glass window which we will see from the inside.

Papal Emblem avove Entrance
Papal Emblem above Entrance

St. Dominic (1170-1221) was preaching in southern France against the Albigensian heresy, but with little success.  One day, complaining of this in pious prayer to our Blessed Lady, she deigned to reply to him, saying, “Wonder not that you have obtained so little fruit by your labors, you have spent them on barren soil, not yet watered with the dew of Divine grace. When God willed to renew the face of the earth, He began by sending down on it the fertilizing rain of the Angelic Salutation. Therefore preach my Psalter composed of 150 Angelic Salutations and 15 Our Fathers, and you will obtain an abundant harvest.”  Thus, Mary provided St. Dominic with the Rosary.  This image on the façade of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva represents this event, (http://www.catholic-pages.com/prayers/rosary_dominic.asp)

St. Dominic Receiving the Rosary from Mary
St. Dominic Receiving the Rosary from Mary

In 1665 an Egyptian obelisk was found, buried in the garden adjacent to the church, built during the reign of the pharaoh Apries (598BC – 570BC). Several other small obelisks were found at different times near the church which were probably brought to Rome during the 1st century.  Pope Alexander VII (1655-1667) commissioned the Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini to design and carry out a sculpture incorporating this obelisk.  The Elephant and Obelisk is the result, placed prominently in the Piazza della Minerva.

Elephant and Obelisk
Elephant and Obelisk

 

Elephant Detail
Elephant Detail

 

Elephant Detail
Elephant Detail

 

Rose and the Elephant
Rose and the Elephant

Inside the church, you are met with yet another beautiful ceiling.  

Ceiling

 

Ceiling Detail
Ceiling Detail

I mentioned stained glass windows above.   Here are a few of them.

Round Stained Glass Window
Round Stained Glass Window

 

Stained Glass Window
Stained Glass Window

 

Stained Glass
Stained Glass

 

Stained Glass
Stained Glass

 

Stained Glass
Stained Glass

 

Crowning of Mary in Stained Glass
Crowning of Mary in Stained Glass

Here is a broader view of the interior. 

Interior
Interior

The main altar is beautiful.

Detail of the Main Alter
Detail of the Main Altar

 

Main Alter and Apse
Main Altar and Apse

Just below the main altar is the tomb of St. Catherine of Siena.  Saint Catherine of Siena is buried here (except her head, which is in the Basilica Cateriniana San Domenico in Siena). 

Tomb of St. Catherine of Siena
Tomb of St. Catherine of Siena

Those pilgrims present from St. Catherine of Siena Church in Portage, MI, gathered in front of the tomb.

Prayers at the Tomb of St. Catherine of Siena
Prayers at the Tomb of St. Catherine of Siena

There are numerous other tombs, statues, and paintings throughout the church.  Here are some examples.

Statue of Mary and Jesus
Statue of Mary and Jesus

The Cristo della Minerva, also known as Christ the Redeemer, Christ Carrying the Cross, or the Risen Christ, is a marble sculpture by the Italian High Renaissance master Michelangelo Buonarroti, finished in 1521.

Cristo della Minerva
Cristo della Minerva

 

 

Chapel of St. Dominic
Chapel of St. Dominic

 

Tombs of Cardinals Pimentel and Bonelli
Tombs of Cardinals Pimentel and Bonelli

 

Light from Stained Glass Window
Light from Stained Glass Window

 

Stairs
Stairs

 

Skull
Skull

The outside of this church is quite unassuming.  It would be very easy to take a quick look at the elephant outside and pass on by without realizing the beauty and history within.

All facts were from WikiPedia.

Mark

2 thoughts on “Rome – Santa Maria sopra Minerva

  1. Who did the sculpture of Mary holding baby Jesus that is located close to the front of your church. My wife and I visited you May 2019. Beautiful church!

    1. Mike – I don’t know the answer to your question about the sculpture. I was a visitor to this beautiful church and a lot of what I posted I learned on line. I didn’t find any info on this particular sculpture. Sorry. Mark

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