Rome’s Basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

Situated in a gorgeous square behind the Pantheon which features the famed elephant  sculpted by Bernini to accompany an ancient obelisk found nearby, this church’s plain facade hides the fact that it is Rome’s only Gothic church. Soaring roof spaces are painted in a gorgeous blue, while noble family chapels line the side aisles. And there’s some spectacular art from Renaissance and Medieval masters. While queues were snaking out of the Pantheon, there was space and calm to explore this gorgeous venue.

The basilica owes its name to its position over (sopra) the remains of an ancient temple attributed to the goddess Minerva.  However, it’s more likely that three temples occupied the space – those of Isis, Minerva and Serapis.  The site was later donated to the church.  The basilica as it stands today started life in the late 13th Century, when the Dominican Order took over the site.  The church is famed for being the final resting place of St Catherine of Siena, and Medici popes Leo X and Clement VII. It’s also home to Michelangelo’s Cristo della Minerva (Risen Christ). Saint Victoria seemed to have made a temporary stop here, as opposed to her normal home at Santa Maria Della Vittoria.

Cristo della Minerva and the high altar

The blue vaulted ceilings are thought to date from a 19th Century restoration, and are definitely unusual for Roman churches.

Sadly no photos allowed of the spectacular Carafa Chapel and its Filippino Lippi frescoes, but this is a church steeped with Roman noble history, with a number of side chapels displaying spectacular artworks.


  1. I love everything in the vicinity of Piazza Minerva! The cute elefantino is one of my favourite sketching subjects and the art supply store is just a few streets down. Fra Angelico is buried here too-which was a shock to me. It just seems wrong he is not buried in Firenze, but he was a Dominican and they wanted him. It has been a few years since I went inside-will have to step in again this year. Ciao, Cristina

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