The 'Sugar Church'
Santa Maria Maddalena was once known locally as the Chiesa di Zucchero, the 'Sugar Church', as its ornate facade reminded people of the fancy icing on a wedding cake!
The design of the facade has been ascribed (at least in part) to Giuseppe Sardi (1680-c.1768). The two figures in the lower storey are St Camillus de Lellis and St Philip Neri, while in the upper storey are St Mary Magdalene and St Margaret of Antioch. The large inscription above the entrance proclaims: O CRVX AVE SPES VNICA PIIS ADAVGE GRATIAM (O hail the Cross, our only hope. Grant increase of grace to the pious).
La Maddalena, as the church is better known, was built for the Camillians, a religious order that was founded by Camillus de Lellis (1550-1614) in 1582. It remains their mother church. The Order was set up to minister to the sick and its full title is the Clerici Regulari Ministeri Infirmaribus. A large red cross is its emblem.
Santa Maria Maddalena is home to what is thought to be the most ornate organ (1736) in Rome, the work of the Austrian organ-builder Hans Conrad Wehrle (1701-77). The organ, which dominates much of the counter-facade, is an extravagant confection of gilded wood and white stucco.
St Camillus de Lellis was canonised by Pope Benedict XIV (r. 1740-58) on June 29th 1746. His feast day is July 14th.
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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 walking tours of Rome.
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