Living in Rome
The other morning I got up at 6am to visit a church…. that’s the kind of thing one does in Rome! Not any church though, one designed by Francesco Borromini: Santa Maria dei sette dolori. The name says it all: pain, suffering and redemption. This tiny church on the way up to Gianicolo in Trastevere is only open once a day during morning mass, but the trip is worth it, like any early morning escapade around Rome (dawn is by far the best time to enjoy the beauty of the city).
This church is little known outside a circle of experts, architects and art scholars. It is part of a former convent of the Oblate sisters which was turned into a boutique hotel about two years ago. The three Oblate sisters still remaining from the days of the convent, continue to live there in a separate wing, and have to walk across the hotel to go to mass every morning. The whole complex was commissioned to Borromini in the 1640s by the founder of the order, Camilla Virgilia Savelli, wife of Duke Pietro Farnese from the famous Roman family of the same name. However, the project ran out of funds and was never completed. It is however much admired amongst art experts for the way Borromini was able to give shape to simple bricks, creating a relief effect on the facade. The inside of the church is not as impressive as its facade. It is quite small and intimate, built in parallel to the facade with the altar to the left and the entrance to the right. Its design is typically Baroque but it lacks some kind of harmony in the decoration. Borromini only designed the plan of the interior and was not involved in the finishing work. It is however the whole complex, and not only the church, that makes an impression and stays with the visitor.