Whenever I am near the Pantheon, I usually find myself wandering past San Crispino, am occasionally able to resist some of the best gelato in Rome, and am always then struck by the church of Santa Maria Maddalena.
There are a lot of reasons to love Rome architectural. You have incredible ancient structures, historic medieval streets, imposing Renaissance palazzi, and Rococo facades.
I adore Rococo – it is ornate, swirly, over-the-top, and fanciful. That is Santa Maria Maddalena to a T, which is why I always stop to admire it.
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But the best thing about this church is that it is beautiful inside and out.
Step through the weathered blue doors and you enter a quiet sanctuary dedicated to Saint Camillus of Lellis – founder of the Ministers of the Sick.
Saint Camillus believed in caring for both the soul and body of his parishioners. The members of his religious order wore red crosses on their cassocks.
Today, the stained glass windows of the church are decorated with this same symbol and throw deep red crosses against the dark walls when the sun streams in.
You can find Saint Camillus’ relics to the right, near the altar in the front of the church.
The church is not notable for any single great work, painting or altarpiece, but it is covered in frescoes and dripping with details.
In fact, most historians can’t agree on who designed the striking facade because many architects labored away on the church during the 70 years it took to finish. We don’t even know to whom to attribute all of the art inside. But that lack of a historical record does not stop you from enjoying the overall effect of the lovely Roman church.
Stand in the center and you will be beneath a celestial dome with swirling cherubs dancing around the light.
The ceilings were painted by Sebastiano Conca.
Despite its central location, it Santa Maria Maddalena is rarely crowded. Whereas thousands of people gather in front of the Pantheon about 200 feet away, few manage to pass through here.
The result is a beautiful oasis and a place to step away and reflect, if only for a few moments.
Santa Maria Maddalena
Piazza della Maddalena, 53
Rome (Centro Storico)