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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

In the shadow of the Pantheon: Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

As you exit the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, you'll be in the
shadow of, and amidst the crowds swarming around the Pantheon
Santa Maria Sopra Minerva ("Saint Mary Above Minerva") is a treasure trove of artworks, as well as an emotional (to me) historic site.  Yet it is only lightly visited, perhaps because it is so overshadowed - literally and figuratively -  by the Pantheon, in its own Piazza della Minerva.

Construction began on this Dominican church in the 13th century, and it is an interesting, or perhaps unfortunate, mix of Gothic and baroque architecture.  "Sopra Minerva" is thought to derive from the Minerva temple over which the church may have been built.

Before one tries to identify all the magnificent art in the church, hie thee to the choir in the adjacent convent, reachable from the church, on the left side.  Here you can see where Galileo was tried - for history buffs, it doesn't get any better than this.  The tomb of Pope Paul IV (1555-59), the Great Inquisitor, appropriately is in this church.  Some church history is available online.  Also see http://romanchurches.wikia.com/wiki/Santa_Maria_sopra_Minerva.
Pope at rest

In the church itself, you can spend hours mesmerized by the art works that in every conceivable form commemorate death, as the Catholics do best.  You can start with Michelangelo's Christ Bearing the Cross, also known as Christ Risen, and then move on to Bernini's memorial to Maria Raggi and his tomb for Giovanni Vigevano.






Tombs to be walked on, or prayed against







Bernini's memorial to Maria Raggi


Bernini's tomb for  Giovanni Vigevano


























You might save the best for last - Fra Lippo Lippi's Carafa Chapel frescoes from the late 15th century.  These are astoundingly beautiful, very accessible (no long lines and you can walk right up to them).  Have Euros available for the pay-light box; definitely worth it. A list of all the frescoes is online at: http://www.wga.hu/html_m/l/lippi/flippino/carafa/ 




The altarpiece painted by Fra Lippo Lippi in the Carafa Chapel;
 here St Thomas Aquinas is presenting Cardina Carafa to the Virgin Mary.
The angel on the left is the angel of the Annunciation,
and this fresco is sometimes described as The Annunciation.

And, of course, outside is the charming Bernini elephant atop a 6th century BC obelisk. The symbolism seems odd, but it has an historical basis.  The inscription, translated from Latin, reads: "Whoever you are, who sees here the figures of the Egyptian wise man carved on the obelisk carried by the elephant, the strongest of wild animals, understand the symbolism to be that a strong mind supports firm wisdom." 











The church is generally open 8 a.m. - 7 p.m., except not from 12:30-4 on Saturday and Sunday - long hours for Rome churches.  Check the times on the church's very basic Web site (in Italian).  You can also finish off your visit with a (expensive) glass of wine on the rooftop of the adjacent Hotel Minerva, with lovely views overlooking this piazza and the Pantheon.

In the piazza the last time I was there, a soccer game was set up.
The goalie (see photo above left) obviously disputed the call - with tears. 






You won't find lines like these, or waiting times at
Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

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