Sunday, November 1, 2015

Santa Maria della Vittoria

Today's photos:


1. The façade of Santa Maria della Vittorio.

2. The sanctuary and main altar.

3. A copy of the original "miraculous" painting.

4. The Virgin hands the scapular to St. Simon Stock: 3rd chapel on the right.

5. The dream of St. Joseph: 4th chapel on the right.

6. The Ecstasy of St. Theresa: fourth chapel on the left.

7. Close-up of the angel and St. Theresa.

8. Members of the Cornaro family view the scene.


The little church of Santa Maria della Vittoria (photo 1) stands in an unfortunate location at a very heavily trafficked intersection in Rome. However, it is well worth the effort to brave the rush of cars and motorcycles and put this church on your "must see" list. It is a real jewel of the Baroque with its mixture of architecture, painting and sculpture in a myriad of colors and shapes (photo 2).


The church was built between 1608 and 1620 by Carlo Maderno, the architect who designed the façade of St. Peter's Basilica. This church was originally dedicated to St. Paul, but the name was changed in 1622, just two years after its completion, due to a "miraculous" military victory.


On November 8, 1620 there was a battle between Catholic and Protestant armies on White Mountain near Prague. As the Protestant army was advancing on the Catholic troops for what everyone believed would be the final blow and victory of the Protestants, something unexpected happened.


The Carmelite chaplain of the Catholic army, carrying a painting of the Virgin and Child on his shoulders, stationed himself in front of the advancing Protestant army. Witnesses recounted later that they saw dazzling rays of light come forth from the painting, blinding the Protestant soldiers and causing them to flee in disarray, resulting in an unexpected victory for the Catholics forces. The enormous fresco in the upper part of the apse of the church depicts the Battle of the White Mountain.


A curiosity


This was not an ordinary painting of the Madonna and Bambino. It had been found by the Carmelite priest amid the rubble of a war-torn building. There are four people represented in the painting, in addition to the Christ-child. As a result of the damage, the eyes of the four characters have been perforated, leaving them with empty eye sockets. Only the eyes of the Child are intact!


On May 8, 1622, the miraculous image was carried in solemn procession and placed in the church which from that time has been called Santa Maria della Vittoria (St. Mary of the Victory). Unfortunately in 1833 the original painting was destroyed in a fire and a copy was made in its place (photo 3).


The interior of the church is quite small and is not in the typical basilica style of one main aisle separated by columns from two smaller aisles. There are four side altars on each side of the single aisle, each one of which contains beautiful paintings or sculpture groups. Here is a list of the main pieces in seven of these side chapels; the eighth one deserves special and more detailed attention.


On your right side beginning from the entrance of the church:


First chapel:

The Carmelite nun, St. Theresa of Lisieux, "The Little Flower".


Second chapel:

The Virgin offers the Christ-child to St. Francis of Assisi.


Third chapel:

A marble group of Mary giving the scapular to the Carmelite saint,

Simon Stock (photo 4).


Fourth chapel:

A sculpture group of the Dream of St. Joseph (photo 5).


Now the left side chapels beginning from the entrance:


First chapel:

The martyrdom of St. Andrew the Apostle.


Second chapel:

The Carmelite saint, John of the Cross.


Third chapel:

The Most Holy Trinity.


The last chapel on the left side depicts the Ecstasy of the Carmelite nun, St. Theresa of Avila. It is generally agreed that this is Gian Lorenzo Bernini's greatest work (photo 6).


A curiosity


Bernini was such a perfectionist that he was not satisfied with any of his creations. Speaking of his famous Fountain of the Four Rivers he exclaimed: "How ashamed I am to have done so poorly!" And how did he judge this theatrical work of the Ecstasy of St. Theresa? "This is the least bad work that I have done."


The centerpiece of the scene depicts an angel who has just pierced the heart of St. Theresa with a golden, flaming arrow. The angel has a mysterious smile on his face. As the saint lies in a state of ecstasy, the left hand of the angel is gently pulling aside her robe as he prepares to plunge the arrow again into her heart (photo 7). Bernini depicts this exact moment in his creation. In her autobiography, St. Theresa describes her experience as follows:


I saw beside me, on my left, an angel in bodily form. . . . He was not tall, but short, and very beautiful. . . . In his hands I saw a long golden spear and at the end of the iron tip I seemed to see a point of fire. With this he seemed to pierce my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he drew it out, I thought he was drawing them out with it and he left me completely afire with a great love for God. The pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans, and so excessive was the sweetness caused by this intense pain that one can never wish to lose it.


Golden sunlight is shown raining down on the scene. The work was commissioned from Bernini by Cardinal Federico Cornaro, the former patriarch of Venice, so on either side members of the Cornaro family are shown as if they were seated in  theater boxes and witnessing the incredible scene unfolding before their eyes (photo 8). 


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