Every afternoon, at 17.30 sharp, visitors to the Chiesa del Gesu, the mother church of the Jesuits, are treated to a 300-year-old spectacle, the Macchina Barocca, which has its origins in Baroque Rome.
The spectacle takes place in the Chapel of St Ignatius Loyola (left transept) and begins with the strains of choral music, heralding the start of a carefully choreographed light-show, the climax of which is the lowering of the painting above the altar to reveal a statue of the Spanish saint and founder of the Society of Jesus. What is now on display is a silver-painted stucco statue; the original solid-silver statue, the work of Pierre Legros the Younger (1666-1719), was melted down by the French army in 1798, during the occupation of Rome by Napoleon’s forces.
The painting is believed to be the work of Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709), a Jesuit lay-brother, who designed the whole chapel between 1695 and 1700. In the upper section of the painting Christ presents St Ignatius with a standard bearing the monogram of the name of Jesus.
The spectacle does not actually end with the unveiling of the statue. The light show continues, illuminating the ceiling of the nave, where St Ignatius is received into heaven, and then the dome, where the saint is united with God.
Ignatius Loyola, who died in Rome on July 31st, 1556, is interred in the bronze urn, the work of Alessandro Algardi (1598-1654), at the base of the altar.
Loyola was canonised on March 12th, 1622, and his feast day is July 31st.
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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