Of course, an advice to visit some churches while in Rome is hardly a contender for the title of The Most Original Tip 2017. However, there’re some must-visit places in Rome among them, that hardly appear on the regular to-do lists. Here is a handful:
Santa Maria sopra Minerva
If there was one reason why I liked Santa Maria sopra Minerva, it was because, unlike other Baroque churches, it didn’t try to smother me with extravagance. No, it isn’t devoid of frescoes and marble columns. There are all the trappings of those post-Reformation years, when the Catholic Church desperately tried to keep its hold on power; it worked to convince the people of their vision of heavenly glory by using some quite earthy spectacles. However, this display of beauty and power isn’t as heavy as it could be. It’s dimmed and softened by the panorama of the night sky, covering the ceiling. The dark-blue of this vision, covered with golden stars, makes the vast church seem almost intimate. The light of the day is seeping through the small windows of stained glass.
St. Luigi Della Francesi
Remember this part about a Baroque church trying to smother you with magnificence? Well, San Luigi della Francesi, alias St. Louis of France, certainly makes a good effort. It’s an exuberant, creamy explosion of gold and white. Its extravagance could have been almost daunting, if not for one compelling dark corner. For it is an unlikely place, where I could see three masterpieces of Caravaggio. His figures, so full-blooded, natural and glistening with life, looked almost out of place in this gold-and-marble haven.
Basilica of San Clemente
The ceiling of San Clemente is laden with gold, and its frescoes bloom with the cheerful, rosy flesh of Baroque angels. However, despite these later embellishments and somewhat clumsy additions, the church breathes with age. You can notice it first while looking at the darkened mosaic at the nave – even before you notice the door to the lower archaeological levels.
If Rome is, according to the locals, an archaeological lasagna, then the Basilica of San Clemente is quintessentially Roman. Once you descend the stairs into the darkness of the dug-out centuries, you will probably feel yourself in a crumbling layered cake. There are dim frescoes and austere saints of the 4th century church, which served as a foundation for the present Basilica. There are dark halls of the earlier Roman Mithreum – a sanctuary, where the gentlemen of the aged empire once threw banquets in honor of Mithras. This cult of this bull-god, a resurrected warrior of light, has provided inspiration for many people throughout the ages, from Roman soldiers serving in Northern England to the fascist philosophers of the postwar world. It originated in Persia, though.
At the bottom, following an elaborate system of signs, you will find a stunningly well-preserved succession of halls, once belonging in a house of a 1st century Roman nobleman. The rooms are quiet now, save for the sound of the warm underground spring, that once must have provided the owner with a rare luxury of one’s own baths. The floor, though, is slightly disfigured, but we have to blame the Great Fire of Rome here.
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