The 16th century church of Santa Maria in Vallicella is much better known as the Chiesa Nuova. It belongs to the Congregation of the Oratory, which was founded by St Philip Neri (1515-95). In 1575 Pope Gregory XIII (r. 1572-85) gave Neri the old church of Santa Maria in Vallicella, which he proceeded to rebuild. The new church came to be known simply as the Chiesa Nuova.
The building of the Chiesa Nuova was financed by Cardinal Pier Donato Cesi. His brother Angelo paid for the facade, which was designed by Fausto Rughesi. The inscription reads: ANGELVS · CAESIVS · EPISC · TVDERTINVS · FECIT · ANNO · DOM · MDCV (Angelo Cesi Bishop of Todi made this AD 1605).
The handles of the entrance doors are decorated with flaming hearts, for the Cor Flammigerum is St Philip Neri's emblem. As a young man he would often spend the night in prayer in the catacombs of St Sebastian. In 1544 he was praying there on the eve of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit appeared to him in the form of a flaming globe, which descended and entered his heart. The Cor Flammigerum thus became one of the symbols of the Congregation of the Oratory.
The fresco (1664-65) in the ceiling of the nave is by Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669). It depicts a dream in which St Philip Neri was warned by the Virgin Mary that the roof of his church was about collapse. On waking he found the roof miraculously suspended in mid-air. Pietro da Cortona also painted the fresco of the Triumph of the Trinity in the dome and the Assumption of Mary in the apse. The striking stucco work on the nave walls was added by Tommaso Mattei between 1697 and 1701.
In the sanctuary are three paintings by the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). In the painting of the Madonna and Angels (1608), a small panel can be moved aside, by means of a system of ropes and pulleys, to reveal a much-venerated 13th century icon of Santa Maria in Vallicella.
To the left of the apse stands the Chapel of St Philip Neri. The saint is buried beneath the altar of the sumptuously-decorated chapel. Neri died, at the age of 79, on May 26th 1595. He was canonised by Pope Gregory XV (r. 1621-23) on March 12th 1622. The altarpiece is a copy in mosaic by Vincenzo Castellani of a famous painting by Guido Reni.
The two transept chapels have altars of similar design. In the Chapel of the Coronation (right)the statues (1594) of St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist are by Flaminio Vacca; the altarpiece (1615) is by Cavaliere d'Arpino. In the Chapel of the Presentationthe statues (1592) of St Peter and St Paul are by Giovanni Antonio Paracca; the altarpiece (1603) is by Federico Barocci. The transepts also boast two spectacular Baroque organ cases.
The Chiesa Nuova was once home to a painting of the Deposition (1604) by Caravaggio (1571-1610). However, at the end of the 18th century, the altarpiece was looted on the orders of Napoleon and sent to Paris. When it returned to Rome in 1816 it was not put back where it belonged, but taken to the Vatican Museums. The present altarpiece, second chapel to the right, is a copy of Caravaggio's Deposition by the Austrian painter Michael Köck(1760-1825).