Santa Maria sopra Minerva ☆☆

The distinctively Gothic nave, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome, Italy (Photo by Saint Joseph)
The distinctively Gothic nave

Sculptures by Michelangelo and Bernini, the bodies of Fra' Angelico and St. Catherine, and the tombs of two Medici popes—so why isn't this church right behind the Pantheon more famous?

Rome's only Gothic church was built in 1280 over the site of a Temple to Minerva (hence the name, "St. Mary over Minerva").

The piazza out front sports a whimsical statute by Bernini of a baby elephant (1667) carrying a miniature 5.47m (18-foot) 6C BC Egyptian obelisk on its back. (This was a theme Bernini had been dying to try for several decades, but never got the chance until Pope Alexander VII commissioned him to create a base for this obleisk, discovered near the site.)

The church interior was heavily restored in the 19th century—though keeping (mostly) to the original, spare Gothic style—and contains some masterpieces by Tuscan Renaissance artists and the bodies of important Tuscan Renaissance personalities.

The last chapel on the right retains a sumptuous cycle of frescoes by Filippino Lippi (1488–93). On the lower half of the chapel's right wall is a scene of St. Thomas Condemning the Heretics. The two boys in the group on the right are portraits of Giovanni de' Medici and Giulio de' Medici. These two would grow up to become Popes Leo X and Clement VII, respectively, and are buried in the apse in tombs by Antonio Sangallo the Younger.

Under the altar lies the body of the pious medieval activist and Dominican nun St. Catherine of Siena (1347–1380), a skilled theologian and diplomat whose letters and visits were instrumental in returning the papacy from Avignon to Rome.

To the left of the altar steps is Michelangelo's muscular Risen Christ (1514–21), leaning nonchalantly on a diminutive Cross (such a strong, virile, and quite naked Christ wasn't to everyone's taste, and the church later added a sweep of bronze drapery to cover the Lord's loins).

In a corridor to the left of the choir, behind a small fence, is the tomb slab of the early Renaissance master and devout monk Fra' Angelico, who died in the attached convent in 1455.

Pope Nicholas V, who had commissioned a Vatican chapel from the painter 10 years earlier and was touched by the little monk's piety, modesty, and skill, wrote the epitaph himself.

Photo gallery
  • The distinctively Gothic nave, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Italy (Photo by Saint Joseph)
  • The facade, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Italy (Photo by sonofgroucho)
  • Bernini
  • Bernini
  • Bernini
  • The nave with its classic Gothic vaulting, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Italy (Photo by Sean Munson)
  • The Carafa Chapel, frescoed in 1488–93 by High Renaissance master Filippino Lippi, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Italy (Photo by Peter1936F)
  • The Carafa Chapel, frescoed in 1488–93 by High Renaissance master Filippino Lippi, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Italy (Photo by Wknight94)
  • , Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Italy (Photo © Reid Bramblett)
  • The tomb of St. Catherine of Siena, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Italy (Photo by Damian Entwistle)
  • Tomb of Renaissance artist Fra
  • Renaissance Tomb of Pope Leo X by Antonio Sangallo the Younger, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Italy (Photo by bdeblecourt)
  • Renaissance Tomb of Pope Clement VII by Antonio Sangallo the Younger, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Italy (Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta)
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How long does Santa Maria sopra Minerva take?

You can see the church in about 20–30 minutes

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah

* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).