On a glorious Friday morning (no rain!) near the end of March I set out for my Italian class. I took my usual route through Piazza Farnese, Campo de’ Fiori, and Piazza Navona, and as I passed the beautiful, tiny church of Sant’Antonio dei Portoghesi in tiny Campo Marzo, I noticed that the door was open. I’ve never seen that door open, so I couldn’t resist going in. The national church of the Portuguese people, this church is dedicated to St. Anthony of Lisbon. I circled the interior of this little jewel box for 10 minutes or so. I especially liked the neoclassic monument to Alexandre de Sousa Holstein, which was sculpted by Antonio Canova in 1806. I made it to class on time, but this find inspired me to go exploring!
The day before this surprising turn of events, I had finished the blog post on the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore and was chomping at the bit to see Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Therese, so after class I headed toward Quirinale. I walked up Via del Tritone to Piazza Barberini and turned right. I trudged up the hill and ended up at the Quattro Fontane. You may recall that I’d never heard of these four fountains until last month, and there they were again! Life is like that.
I turned left on Via XX Settembre and walked for a couple of blocks. I spotted St. Teresa’s church, Santa Maria della Vittoria, and as I headed that way, I noticed a huge fountain across the street from the church. I’d never heard of this fountain, Fontana del Mosè, which is the terminus of the Acqua Felice aqueduct, the first new aqueduct of early modern Rome. The fountain, designed by Domenica Fontana (fittingly, since fontana means “fountain”!), was completed in 1586.
Wiki makes this harsh observation about the fountain: “Even in the 17th century this fountain was considered as being in very bad style,” Siegfried Giedion reported, “and it is scarcely conceivable that such mediocrity was possible only two decades after the death of Michelangelo.” Okay, so the fountain isn’t great, but I love those lions!
Santa Maria della Vittoria
Several tourist groups and I arrived at the church at the same time. I made a beeline for the Ecstasy, dropped 50 centissimi into the lightbox (that always makes me feel so powerful!), and stepped back to stare.
The somewhat small statue is placed high on the wall in the church, and it isn’t easy to see. That surprised me. St. Teresa’s ecstasy itself did not surprise me, because I’ve read articles about and seen photos of it. Some believe the ecstasy is spiritual; others believe it is sensual. You can decide for yourself. No matter what, Bernini’s statue is fascinating and feels a bit violent.
I stood right in front of the statue until “my” light went out, much to the dismay of the tour leaders who wanted to crowd me out of there. I then sighed happily and looked around the rest of the beautiful church—my second jewel box of the day.
As I left the church, I could see the enormous Piazza della Republicca in front of me. I walked to the piazza and turned west to walk home via Via Nazionale. A couple of blocks down the hill from the piazza I saw a familiar-looking building and bell tower and realized that I had stumbled onto the Episcopal church of St. Paul’s within the Walls, which had long been on my list of things to see. Built in 1873 after the unification of Italy, St. Paul’s was the first non-Roman Catholic church in Rome. Before the unification, Rome was governed by the Vatican, which banned non-Catholic churches, but Italian law permitted freedom of religion, and Rome had to comply.
With its alternating brick and travertine exterior, St. Paul’s resembles the green-and-white striped churches of Tuscany. In the interior the incredible mosaics by Edward Burne-Jones in the apse and the choir and George Breck on the rear wall make this jewel box worth a visit if you’re in the neighborhood.