The construction of the Carmelite church of Santa Maria della Vittoria was started in 1608 under the direction of Carlo Maderno. After 1624 he was joined byGiovanni Battista Soria, who designed the façade. The church was completed in 1626.
Initially, the friars financed the building work themselves, but when the foundations were being dug a beautiful statue of a sleeping hermaphrodite was discovered. Cardinal Scipione Borghese, an extremely wealthy and very keen collector of antiquities, made a deal with the friars, whereby he obtained the statue in exchange for paying for the construction of the church. The Borghese Hermaphroditus duly became part of the Galleria Borghese.
Santa Maria della Vittoria was first dedicated to St Paul, but in 1620, at the battle of the White Mountain, the Imperial Austrian forces destroyed a Czech Protestant army, saving Bohemia for the Catholic Church. The Carmelite chaplain of the imperial army had carried an icon of the Nativity around his neck. This image was brought to Rome, where it was first taken to Santa Maria Maggiore. From there it was carried in procession to San Paolo, which was still unfinished. It was then decided to rededicate the new church to the Virgin Mary, in gratitude for the victory, hence the name Santa Maria della Vittoria. The icon was destroyed in a fire in 1833 and replaced by a copy.
The interior is rightly regarded as one of the most perfect examples of Baroque decoration in Rome. Every square inch is covered with coloured marbles, stucco work, sculpture and paintings.
The painting in the vault of the nave depicts the Triumph of the Virgin Mary Over Heresy (1676) and is by Giovanni Domenico Cerrini (1609-81).
Santa Maria della Vittoria is most famous for the beautiful sculpture of St Teresa in Ecstasy(1647-52) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), which can be found in the Cappella Cornaro.
The design of the Chapel of St Joseph, which lies directly opposite, is clearly based on that of the Cornaro Chapel. The sculpture of St Joseph and the Angel is by Domenico Guidi (1625-1701).
The very ornate organ and cantoria are the work of Mattia de' Rossi (1637-95), a pupil of Bernini.