Mirabilia Urbis: Rome Walking Tours

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"The Jesuit style"

Decades ago, "the Jesuit style" was a synonym for "baroque." While art historians now agree that the two terms are not interchangeable, many Jesuit sights in Rome are still exquisite examples of Baroque at its best.

We start our visit with a brief encapsulation of the life of St. Ignatius, seen in the oil painting here. One of 13 children, he was born Inigo Lopez de Loyola in 1491. From petty Basque nobility, Inigo grew up much like many a nobleman: as a card shark, a military hero, and a ladies man. After a cannonball shattered his shin, he traded in his youthful escapades for a new life. Longing to outdo the saints and martyrs of days gone by, he changed his name and dedicated his energies entirely to Jesus, organizing a corps of young men that would dedicate themselves to defending both Catholicism and the Pope. Founding the Compagnia di Gesù (later becoming the Jesuit Order), he became its first General Superior.
Next we visit St. Ignatius' rooms at the Casa Professa--still the headquarters of the Compagnia di Gesù. Although deformed by his youthful encounter with the cannonball and maimed by primitive bone-setting techniques, St. Ignatius traveled the entire globe mentally: his apartment in the Casa Professa was the center of a worldwide evangelization operation in which he maintained correspondence with hundreds of Jesuit missionaries in locations all over the world. Ignatius' apartment became a shrine shortly after his death in 1556. Andrea Pozzo, a Jesuit brother, painted frescoes of lively events and humorous scenes from Saint Ignatius' life the apartment's vestibule. An artist, mathematician and professor at the nearby Jesuit college, Pozzo experimented with receding lines, creating a marvelous optical illusion of depth and majesty in order to inspire visitors at St. Ignatius' shrine.
The Gesù church, which Ignatius wanted but never saw built, is right next door to the Casa Professa. It offers us its colorful history and stunning Baroque decorations. Ignatius' own magnificent altar can be seen in the picture above.
Walking down the Via di Sant'Ignazio, we explore the effects that Jesuit enterprises had on Rome's social and architectural fabric. Passing by the Collegio Romano, which is now a state-run, Italian high school, we touch on the Jesuit tradition of teaching and education. Our visit then takes us to the church Sant'Ignazio. Dedicated to Ignatius shortly after his sanctification, the church is a mammoth celebration of the Jesuit order's founder and his closest associates. Since the church was being designed and embellished in the late 1600s, it cannot fail to awaken our Baroque sensibilities. Andrea Pozzo again captures our attention with his ambitious frescoes on the nave's ceiling: these allow us a glimpse into heaven. Pozzo also deserves kudos for his surprising solution to a pesky problem that the Jesuits had been having with Sant'Ignazio's dome... You have to see it to believe it!

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