Things to do in Rome – Visit the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels and Martyrs
The Basilica of Santa Maria of the Angels and Martyrs(Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri) is an interesting and unique historic site in Rome. Constructed in the 16th century according to a design by Michelangelo (who sadly did not live long enough to see the completed structure) and remodeled in the 18th century, the impressive building is situated within the ancient Baths of Diocletion – the frigidarium and tepidarium (cold and warm) baths to be precise. Former site of royal weddings, and current site of State ceremonies, the basilica is home to one of Rome’s meridian lines – the Meridiana Sun Dial.
The building’s curved façade of ancient red brick features three niches; two of which house intriguing 20th-century bronze doors created by contemporary Polish-born sculptor Igor Mitoraj. The doors represent the Annunciation (at right) and the Resurrection (at left), and depict protruding figures of Jesus, Mary, angels and martyrs.
The spectacularly colorful interior – with a wide single nave and central transept;
features several side chapels, colorful marble floors and walls, massive pink granite columns (8 of which are reportedly original to the baths), frescoed ceilings, paintings, numerous sculpted statues, and the tombs of artists, cardinals, and military leaders.
Among the chapels, architectural features, and works of art you’ll see, are:
The Vestibule – the rotunda at the entrance to the basilica houses several funerary monuments;two 16th-century side chapels (Chapel of Mary Magdalene and the Chapel of the Crucifix); and ‘Divinity in Light’, an impressive 20th-century stained-glass dome by Italian-American artist Narcissus Quagliata (the colorful glass panels, equipped with a series of astronomical lenses that allow the dome to function as a sun-dial, are attached to the oculus with spherical steel anchors coated in pure gold);
Il Passaggio Voltato – this small passage connecting the Vestibule and the Transept contains the tiny 17th-century chapels dedicated to Saints Bruno and Peter; this last houses a colossal carved bandaged-head of Saint John the Baptist, created by Igor Mitoraj; nearby is a marble statue of Saint Bruno created by French sculptor Jean Antoine Houdon;
The Presbytery – flanked by the chapels of Saint Hyacinth and Saint Salvatore, the presbytery features a frescoed ceiling, wall paintings, a high altar backed by a polygonal apse, a 16th-century painting of Madonna of the Angels framed by reliefs of cherubs, and two 19th-century sculptures: ‘the Angel with the Eagle’ (at left) and the ‘Chair’ (at right);
In the Transept, you’ll see:
Cappella di San Bruno – located in the left transept, this chapel dedicated to Saint Bruno houses an altar, above which is a painting of The Apparition of the Virgin to Saint Bruno attributed to Baroque artist Giovanni Odazzi;
to the left of the altar is the 20th-century pipe organ, which features 5000 tin pipes in a case constructed from cherry, chestnut, and walnut woods; to the right are two sculptures – Meditazione and Preghiera (Meditation and Prayer) –replicas of late-19th-century statues from Campo Verano, a nearbycemetery;
Cappella del beato Niccolò Albergati – dedicated to the Blessed Niccolò Albergati this 18th-century chapel features several paintings by various Baroque artists, a painted cross-vaulted ceiling, two 19th-century statues depicting the angels of peace and justice, and the tombs of Prime Minister of Italy Vittorio Emanuele Orlando and Admiral Thaon de Revel; to the left, just before the chapel entrance, is the tomb of General Armando Diaz and his wife Sarah;
and the basilica’s main attraction,
La Meridiana – a double meridian line embedded in the marble floor and running diagonally across the right transept of the basilica. Initially commissioned by Pope Innocent XII and completed during the papacy of Clement XI (hence the lines alternate name Linea Clementina), this historic sun-dial and celestial calendar was used to determine the date of Easter each year and to verify the accuracy of the Gregorian calendar.
From a pinhole in the heraldic coat of arms of Clement XI on the wall near the Albergati Chapel, sunlight shines down onto the bronze meridian, marking the passage of the sun (and previously, with a pinhole in the wall at the opposite end of the line, of the North Star as well).
The line is bordered by elliptical and numerical markings and painted tiles depicting the signs of the zodiac.
Within the curved brick walls of a courtyard at the back of the Basilica,
you’ll see a mammoth statue of Galileo GalileiDivine Man designed by physicist and Nobel laureate Tsung-Dao Lee.
The church faces Piazza della Repubblica. Also known as Piazza dell’Esedra, this busy traffic circle was constructed on the site of the ancient exedra, and features twin classical arcaded buildings opposite the Basilica, and the Fontana delle Naiadi (Fountain of the Naiad nymphs) at its center.