The church of Santa Maria della Pace started off life as a small chapel, which was home to a fresco of the Madonna. One day the image was struck by an irate gambler, or a drunken soldier (the details vary), and blood began to spurt from the Virgin's breast. In honour of this miracle, the church was renamed Santa Maria della Virtu.
A few years later, Pope Sixtus IV (r. 1471-84) prayed in front of the fresco and pledged that if a war between Florence and Rome could be avoided he would build a new church. When the war was duly averted he fulfilled his promise and gave the church its present name. The architect is unknown, but it is often attributed to Baccio Pontelli. The miraculous fresco adorns the high altar and still bears signs of the damage.
In 1656 the Baroque facade, with its semi-circular porch, was added by Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669), at the behest of Pope Alexander VII (r. 1655-67).
The inscription is taken from Psalm 72: 'SUSCIPIANT MONTES PACEM POPULO ET COLLES IUSTITIAM' ('The mountains shall bring peace to the people and the hills justice'). The quotation is a reference to the 'montini' on the coat of arms of the Chigi family, to which the pope belonged.
Blogging about Rome:
its art, history and culture.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private and
small-group walking tours
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