They say there are a thousand churches in Rome. You know some of the big names, such as the Pantheon, Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls, and Santa Maria del Popolo. Obviously most churches, however, are of the smaller, every day variety. You walk by them frequently but never venture in. Earlier this year, I was passing by the little church near the Trevi Fountain for the umpteenth time, and suddenly decided to go in, out of simple curiosity. And I’m glad I did.
Santa Maria in Trivio (which roughly translates into Our Lady at the Three Roads) looks like it’s just a facade attached onto a building; indeed, there are windows peeking out over the top of church.
But for some reason, the church pulled me in that day. It was well worth the time. According to legend, the church is one of the oldest in Rome, founded by the Byzantine general Belisarius when he marched on Rome in 537 C.E. to depose Pope Silverius, allegedly on the orders of the Empress Theodora. Belisarius, an Orthodox Christian, built an oratory on the spot where Santa Maria in Trivio now stands in repentance for his actions against the Church. The church we see today, however, dates from the Vatican’s 1575 Jubilee year, designed by the architect Jacopo del Duca, who worked with Michelangelo on St. Peter’s. I went in to find the church completely empty, and it stayed that way the entire time I was there.
It’s the simplest of plans, a single nave with small chapels on each side. The chapels are, for the most part, quite humble. I was taken with one of the altars, painted to resemble (somewhat) marble, pictured at the top of this post. It was beautiful and charming. Another chapel is dedicated to a saint who is buried here: Saint Gaspare del Bufalo, a Roman who lived from 1786 to 1837. The founder of the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, who still serve this little church, he was canonized in 1954.
It was the ceiling, however, that’s the highlight of this church. Painted by the Italian painter and architect Antonio Gherardi, the ceiling is more flamboyant and intricate then the rest of the church’s decoration. It’s truly lovely, depicting biblical scenes of the life of Jesus. Lit by the front windows, the ceiling seems to glow overhead. I sat there for some time, alone and peaceful, enjoying this little gem.
So, the next time you are walking by that little church, whose name you don’t know and doesn’t even rate a mention in the guide books… stop, and go in. You probably won’t regret it.