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.
The church 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.
Santa Maria della Vittoria is also 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. Cardinal Federico Cornaro was a Venetian, who wanted to establish a funerary chapel for his family. The cardinal paid Bernini the colossal sum of 12,000 scudi and the sculptor created what he deemed to be his finest work. On the side-walls of the chapel are two 'opera-boxes', in which sit members of the Cornaro family (not all are by Bernini; some are of by his studio). The one on the right features Cardinal Federico watching the saint having her ecstasy, while his three companions are busily conversing with each other.
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 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).