If you’re in Rome and you have a few spare minutes while you’re sightseeing near the Pantheon, walk one block west and see one of my favorite churches in Rome: Chiesa San Luigi dei Francesi, the French National Church in Rome. (After that, you can walk one or two more blocks and have “the best coffee in the world, if not the universe,” although the last time I went there, I didn’t have the best cappuccino in Rome, so beware.)
Back to the church. If you’re not careful, you might walk right by the Chiesa San Luigi dei Francesci, because although the inside is elaborate, the outside is plain, plain, plain and because you’ll have to dodge gobs of tourists making their way between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona, which is just a couple of blocks west of the church. Our daughter Kate and I visited the church on our Baroque walk last fall or I might still be ignorant of this gem.
The interior of the church is ablaze with gold paint, frescoes, and fleur-de-lis. One of my favorite pulpits—very simple but beautiful—hovers above the benches.
But the big draw is a trio of paintings by Caravaggio about the life of St. Matthew: The Calling of St. Matthew (my favorite), The Inspiration of St. Matthew, and The Martyrdom of St. Matthew. Although I’ve always liked Caravaggio, I’ve grown really fond of him since I’ve been in Italy. One of my favorite paintings is Boy with a Basket of Fruit in the Borghese Gallery, and in Sicily, we saw The Burial of Saint Lucy, which our guide described with such passion. Seeing the St. Matthew trio in Chiesa San Luigi dei Francesi is such a treat—I find myself returning to see them again and again.
When I last visited the church a couple of weeks ago, I was thrilled to hear the sound of the organ bouncing off the walls and the ceiling. It was organ practice, and I sat and listened to the organist for about 30 minutes. What an amazing free concert in one of the most beautiful places in Rome—lucky me!