SANTA MARIA SOPRA MINERVA, A DOMINICAN TREASURE
Just a few feet away from the Pantheon is the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva (St. Mary over Minerva), built over, some say, a temple to Minerva (others say the goddess Isis). Located on the Via del Beato Angelico at Piazza Minerva, it is the only Gothic-style church in Rome. It is renowned for Fra Filippo Lippi’s masterpiece, “St. Thomas presenting Cardinal Carafa to the Blessed Virgin,” located over the altar in the main chapel of the transept.
The remains of St. Catherine of Siena, who was influential in bringing the papacy back to Rome after its years of exile in Avignon (1309-77), rest below the main altar (except for her head which is in the church of San Domenico in Siena). St. Catherine was a member of the Third Order of St. Dominic.
I took only a few photos of the church last night – there is SO much to see that I’ll have to go back someday for more. This description will whet your appetite, I believe.
To the left of this altar is a work by Michelangelo, “Christ carrying His Cross.” In a chapel on the left, beneath a perpetually burning light, are the remains of Fra Giovanni da Fiesole, better known as Fra Angelico. Often called the greatest sacred painter of Christianity, Fra Angelico died in 1455. In front of the church, and almost equally as famous, is the marble elephant sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1667, at the base of a small obelisk.
The church and adjoining convent served at various times throughout its history as the headquarters of the Dominicans, the Order of Preachers (OP). Today the headquarters are in their original location at the Roman convent of Santa Sabina. The Dominicans began building this church in 1280, modelling it on their church in Florence, Santa Maria Novella.
The sixth chapel on the left aisle is the Chapel of St Pius V. Pius V, who reigned from 1566 to 1572, was the first ever Dominican to be elected to the papacy. He started the tradition of popes wearing white because, when elected, he refused to wear new clothes, instead retaining the traditional white habit of the Dominicans. The color white made it easier for people to identity the pope in a sea of prelates, and white thus became the permanent color of papal cassocks.
Below the altar are the relics of a relatively obscure martyr, Santa Vittoria. Her clothed wax effigy is that of a child, and is in a glass-fronted box.