In 1632 Francesco Borromini (1599-1667), the genius of Baroque architecture, was appointed to the post of architect to LaSapienza, Rome's university, one of only two public posts he ever held, and commissioned to build a church. Sant’ Ivo alla Sapienza, which closes the fourth side of the courtyard of the Palazzo della Sapienza, was begun during the reign of Pope Urban VIII (r. 1623-44), a member of the Barberini family, whose coat of arms is made up of three bees.
This original, if eccentric, architect came up with an extremely ingenious design, which is based on two equilateral triangles, interpenetrating to form a six-pointed star on the periphery and a regular hexagon in the interior. While we know that the plan was originally intended to symbolise the heraldic bees (head, body and four wings) of the Barberini family, Borromini must also have had in mind the six-pointed star of David, a symbol of wisdom and therefore appropriate for the church of Rome's university.
The decoration of the interior of Sant' Ivo began in 1659 during the reign of Pope Alexander VII (r. 1655-67), a member of the Chigi family, whose coat of arms consists of three mounds surmounted by an eight-pointed star. His coat of arms is to be seen all over the exquisitely beautiful dome, where the Chigi star alternates with the star of David.
An inscription in the sanctuary proclaims: INITIUM SAPIENTAE TIMOR DOMINI (The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom), a quotation from Psalm 111. The altarpiece is by Pietro da Cortona.
Sant' Ivo alla Sapienza, which is thought to be the only church in Rome not to have any religious statues, is dedicated to St Ivo of Kermatin, a 13th century Breton, who is the patron saint of lawyers.