Experience ‘ecstasy’ in the church of Our Lady of Victory.
Santa Maria della Vittoria is known for being the church that hosts Bernini’s famous Ecstasy of Saint Teresa sculpture, but it’s also worth a visit to admire its brilliant Baroque architecture and beautiful interior.
- View ecstasy immortalized in Bernini’s sculptural masterpiece.
- Be delightfully overwhelmed by the excess ornamentation of the church’s Baroque interior.
- Visit the nearby Fountain of Moses, an imposing and controversial structure.
What to See and Do
The Santa Maria della Vittoria church presents a beautiful example of High Baroque art and architecture. Here’s what you shouldn’t miss.
The face of the church was designed by Giovanni Battista Soria and was inspired by Carlo Maderno’s nearby church of Santa Susanna. It was built out of travertine (white limestone) over two stories and has an unusually tall door that can be accessed by a short flight of steps.
The deceptively simple exterior of the church belies the extravagant grandeur within.
Upon entry, you’ll be faced with an excess of gilding, different colored marbles, and ornamentation, as is true to the Baroque style. The interior consists of a single broad nave with a barrel vault and chapels on either side. Giant Corinthian pilasters with gilded capitals support the entablature.
Some notable works of art that shouldn’t be missed are The Dream of Joseph, a statue by Domenico Guidi, and Cardinal Berlinghiero Gessi’s funeral monument. There are also beautiful paintings by Baroque artists Guercino and Domenichino.
The Cornaro Chapel
The Cornaro Chapel is undoubtedly the highlight of the church because it hosts an exquisite and very famous statue by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, a master of Baroque sculpture.
The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa portrays a scene narrated by Saint Teresa of Avila herself in her memoirs, where she describes having a vision of a seraph piercing her heart with the golden arrow of divine love, causing her immense joy but intense pain.
Bernini sculpted the scene out of a single block of Carrara marble. He depicts her as if rising from her bed with an expression of ecstasy on her face. The seraph stands over her with an ambiguous smile. It parts her rumpled robe with one hand and holds the shaft with the other as if to pierce her.
The work was (and sometimes still is) considered shockingly sexually explicit, and only a master such as Bernini could have dared to sculpt it and get away with it.
The Fountain of Moses
The nearby Fontana dell’Acqua Felice, otherwise known as the Fountain of Moses, is an imposing architectural structure located next to the church and certainly worth a look at if you’re in the area.
It marks the end of the Acqua Felice aqueduct, which was completed during the 1580s. It features a giant statue of the prophet Moses at its center that has been highly criticized ever since its construction. People deemed it too big, unproportionate, and with a strange appearance.
Santa Maria della Vittoria is located in the city center at a 12-minute walk from Termini station, Rome’s major railway station that is also the terminus for many bus lines. It’s easily accessible by public transport.
- Address: Via Venti Settembre, 17.
- Metro: Line A – Repubblica
- Bus: Lines 60, 61, 62, 84, 492, and 910 all stop nearby. Alternatively, you can take a bus to Termini and walk from there if none of these lines are convenient for you.
Did You Know That: (4 Interesting Facts)
- Santa Maria della Vittoria was made famous on an international scale when it appeared in Dan Brown’s bestselling novel Angels & Demons. It’s also featured in the movie of the same name starring Tom Hanks.
- The present church was built on the site of an ancient chapel dedicated to St. Paul that had a hermitage attached to it. The hermit would help travelers passing by who were lost or caught in bad weather.
- The Sleeping Hermaphroditus, found during the construction of the church, is now on display in the Louvre Museum in Paris. Bernini sculpted the marble mattress it’s lying on in 1620.
- The current cardinal protector of this church is Seán Patrick O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston.
- In 1607, the Discalced (a fancy term meaning barefoot) Carmelite Friars purchased the land for the church and started construction on it one year later under early Baroque architect Carlo Maderno. They dedicated it to St. Paul.
- During the excavation work, the friars unearthed an ancient Roman sculpture, now titled the Borghese Hermaphroditus. Cardinal Scipione Borghese took an interest in the statue and took it in exchange for financing the rest of the construction.
- In 1620, the church was rededicated to the Virgin Mary by Pope Innocent X after the Catholic victory against the protestants at the Battle of White Mountain in Prague.
- In 1624, the Cardinal’s architect, Giovanni Battista Soria, also began working on the project even though it was almost complete. He designed the façade.
- Two years later, in 1626, the church was finally completed.
- During the 18th century, the interior was sumptuously decorated thanks to the patronage of many of Rome’s richest noble families. No space was left unadorned.
- In 1801, Pope Pius VII established Santa Maria della Vittoria as a titular church (churches assigned to cardinals). It remains so to this day.
- Unfortunately, in 1833, the church suffered from extensive fire damage and had to be restored.
- Today, the church is a popular tourist destination and is considered a treasure of Baroque art and architecture.
Address: The Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Via Venti Settembre 17, 00187 Roma, Italy · view larger map