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77. St. Mary of Angels and Martyrs by Michelangelo

Updated: Mar 22, 2020

By - Giulio D'Ercole

What I did not say in my previous blogpost about St. Mary of Angels and Martyrs basilica is that it was actually designed by one of the greatest geniuses not only of Italy, but of human kind: Michelangelo Buonarroti.

The church was built inside the ruined frigidarium of the Roman Baths of Diocletian in the Piazza della Repubblica.

Constructed in the 16th century, the church has a design coming from a new and very original concept developed by Michelangelo: he achieved a sequence of shaped architectural spaces, developed from a Greek cross, with a dominant long transept, that cuts across the main only nave, having cubical chapels at each end. What is also truly amazing in this church is its overall simple design, starting from the way it looks from the outside: it almost misses a true, recognizable facade.

The simplicity is repeated once inside, when one feels that the whole beauty of the basilica seems to be left at the end of a very long and quite empty nave, which is basically adorned only by two gorgeous statues of Angels holding the stoups. The vestibule with canted corners and identical side chapels—one chapel has the tomb of Salvator Rosa, the other of Carlo Maratta—leads to a second vestibule, repeated on the far side of the transept, dominated by the over lifesize Saint Bruno of Cologne by Jean Antoine Houdon (1766).

Like for the sculpture of Moses, the other Michelangelo's masterpiece, to whom the artist asked "why are you not talking?", of the Saint Bruno, Pope Clement XIV said that he would speak, were it not for the vow of silence of the order he founded.

And as if all this was not enough to give abundant art and history to St. Mary of Angels and Martyrs, over the following centuries other architects and artists added their own creativity and works to the church.

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