Thursday, April 8, 2010

santa maria sopra minerva

Elly, Bernini's Roman chick

The Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva is a nominal minor basilica and one of the most important churches of the Roman Catholic Dominican order in Rome. The church–located in Piazza della Minerva virtually beside the Pantheon–is considered the only Gothic church in the city. It houses the tombs of St. Catherine of Siena and the Dominican painter Beato Angelico; and the marble Cristo della Minerva, also known as Christ the Redeemer or Christ Carrying the Cross. This stunning sculpture by Michelangelo is located to the left of the main altar. 

Funny that the father of modern astronomy Galileo Galilei, after being tried for heresy in the adjoining Dominican monastery, was forced to abjure his scientific beliefs in this church in 1633–considering it was built directly over (sopra) the foundations of a temple dedicated to the sultry Egyptian goddess of fertility Isis, and later erroneously assimilated to Minerva, the Roman name for pagan Athena.

In front of the church stands one of Rome's most curious monuments, the Pulcino della Minerva. It portrays an elephant and it is the base supporting an ancient Egyptian obelisk. The sturdy appearance of the elephant earned it the popular nickname of "Porcino" (pig-like) for a while. The name eventually changed to Pulcino, Italian for a little "chick."

Gian Lorenzo Bernini was not only the person responsible for designing this interesting sculpture. Along with Pope Alexander VII's complicity, he was the mastermind behind one of history's most irreverent artistic pranks. His plans and drawings of the pachyderm–later completed in 1667 by his pupil Ercole Ferrara–placed the elephant in such a way that its rear end faced towards the obtuse Dominicans in the adjacent convent, while the trunk and the tail–wagged naughtily to the left–accentuated the mischievous prankster's offensive intentions. 

That cheeky Bernini...


  1. It's lovely Eleonora! I enjoyed reading about the history. He does seem to have a bit of mischief in his eyes too!

  2. muy buena imagen Eleonora, asi conocemos un poco más Roma...un abrazo y muy buena noche.

  3. On my long walks along Roma's streets it was the strongest feel of the history all around me. These houses and sculptures and everything - they saw so much. Never I got this strongest feeling in any other ancient place.

  4. A lovely photo, Eleonora. And very interesting history... I didn't know that Santa Caterina was buried in Rome.
    Ciao da Verona
    PS vieni al Vinitaly??

  5. An interesting piece of history. I have visited the church but had no idea Galileo was tried in the adjacent convent.

  6. That's a wonderful elephant - a bit surprising to see him in front of the church!

  7. A shame that the Christ was censored...

  8. I love that elephant and the ceiling in that church. I stayed in the Minerva Hotel just to the right of the church and my window overlooked the elephant! It was amazing. Thanks for the background info and history!

  9. What a fabulously interesting post, Eleonora!
    «Louis» loved it!

  10. "Here's to you, girls" said Bernini -:)

  11. I loved seeing Bernini's elephant, but I did not know the Galileo story. Thank you for that. I love it. In addition to the Michaelangelo, and Fra Angelico's tomb, I think there also is a chapel with a Filippino Lippi fresco....Aha! yes.

  12. Very interesting post. Cool photo, too.


  13. Ciao friends, I'm happy you enjoyed this little bit of art trivia.

    Catarina~ Gracias, mi amiga.
    Irina~ History brings with it a powerful baggage of emotions.
    Valeria~ Purtroppo quest'anno no :( poo.
    Loree~ Very few people know that. I am a big fan of Galileo.
    Leif~ That's Rome for ya!
    Spacedlaw~ Can you believe that?
    CViolet~ I hear that hotel is splendid. A room with an elephant view? Lucky gal.
    «Louis»~ Merci bien!
    ChuckP~ Exactly! Ciao, ladies... prrr.
    Jeff~ I didn't know that! I love blogging: I learn something new every day.
    Paz~ Thank you!


Thank you for visiting Roma Every Day. Your feedback is always hugely appreciated, though it is no longer possible for me to reply individually to your comments in the post thread.

For any questions, please feel free to send me an email.