I am finally writing from the very Heart of our Church, Rome the Eternal City. I could write a post about my experiences (and I will, don’t worry), but today is business. In other words, let us examine what has become my favorite church here in Rome (or was before I went to Mass in one.
Mass really changes churches…). This is the Basilica of Sant’Eustachio which stands at the northern end of the Via Monterone (on which my studio here is located). Every other turn in Rome turns up Basilica, or at least a Church, but I will always think of this one, and Sant’Andrea della Valle, as my Friendly Neighborhood Basilicas.
First of all, the three churches that I have already looked at were in some way Gothic. One of them was a Basilica. Gothic tended to be a northern phenomenon which sometimes crept into the Southern Mediterranean countries. For the Peninsula of Italy in particular, the Gothic, when it occurred, took on a different attitude that was heavily influenced by the Early Roman and Italian Romanesque styles. However, the Italians really came into their own when the Renaissance happened. The Renaissance being a return to the ideas of Classicism to promote “High Intellectual Inquiry” (if you catch the reference you get a prize), it was natural that Rome and Italy should be where it flourished the best without corruption. The architecture scene in Rome truly exploded into life when the Baroque project was initiated. Baroque was an artistic movement (derived from the Italian word for “uneven pearl) that is notable for its extreme emotional expression of the subject matter and extravagant colors, materials and designs. I would say “it’s the Renaissance on LSD” but I will avoid the cliché.
Anyway, Sant’Eustachio is a Baroque Church.
Without going into too many technical architectural terms and controversies, I will start with the exterior. Many Baroque and Renaissance churches only used exterior stone on the front facade of the church (this was done because the sides and back of the church weren’t really important to see and plus, the churches were crowded by other buildings on either side so even if you wanted to see the sides, the view was terrible). However, Sant’Eustachio has stone cladding on all sides. Even though this is the case, the front facade is really the most important and there is nothing to note (at least to you, gentle reader) about the sides.
The front facade consists of about three parts. I will call then “The Temple”, “The Palazzo” and “The Church.”
“The Temple” mainly consists of an entrance which looks like a tetrastyle temple (sorry, that’s with four columns in the front) although it could be argued that it is distyle in antis (two columns flanked by two walls…) or hexastyle (six columns) as the whole facade (not just the entrance) has 6 pilasters and two columns. The columns are a beautiful Ionic (my favorite order) and are true stone (it thrills my heart to touch them). Between the columns is a metal fence which protects the outdoor vestibule from unwanted guests when the church is closed. Above the columns, as is typical in a temple, is a pediment of simple appropriate design.
“The Palazzo is the most unassuming of the sections. It is merely a level of small square windows above the portico. It is of course separated from “The Temple” by a string-course (look it up) and is surmounted by a stone balustrade. This in fact looks like the attic story of many Roman Palazzi.
“The Church” is the third level. It has some similarities to “The Temple” in that it is somewhat tetrastyle only it has pilasters not columns. The pilasters are Corinthian and support a pediment. This pediment has a small round window in the tympanum (figure it out…). on either side of the main body of “The Church” are two curved stone pieces which are an effort by the Baroque architect to solve the problem of expressing the roof of the side aisles on the facade (this is one of the controversies I was talking about).
Let us now enter the Church.
As in many Baroque churches, the eyes is immediately drawn forward to the tabernacle and high altar with its six tall candles. This of course contrasts with the Gothic proper which often had a rood screen to separate the sanctuary from the nave.
Also, the Blessed Sacrament would often be reposed somewhere besides the altar. One thing I want to focus on in this church is the Baroque love of dynamism and motion. Everything about the architecture “moves” you (both emotionally and physically). Already I mentioned that the altar draws one’s eyes. Well, general agreement among scientists is that one moves toward something that catches one’s gaze.
On the walls are tall pilasters which, with the wall, support the ceiling and roof. In the transept/sanctuary area, the pilasters are overlapped. One of the architectural conceits to indicate motion is the use of layers. Flat walls are motionless. Walls with layers move back and forth. In Sant’Eustachio, this is true of the pilasters as well as the rest of the wall with its ornate carvings and niches.
In many Baroque churches, around the top of the wall (the part referred to as the “entablature”) are written Latin words that refer to the Saint and/or some Spiritual Theme and often quote scripture. Sant’Eustachio also has this feature which literally causes you to move if you read it. It is all about motion.
In the domed and otherwise curved ceiling are arches in abundance. These however are not just normal arches. They are almost hyperbolic. Once again, this “stretching” of the normal circular form suggests movement.
Hanging from the ceiling is a baldacchino that curves like there’s not tomorrow (this is also true of the Organ Balcony).
And for the rest, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, although as my history professor said last year “the camera always lies.”