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Ignatian Rome: Piazza del Gesu

(Holy Name of Jesus Square)
Ignatius and the first companions lived in three different places in Rome before they found the location that satisfied their needs and matched their vision of the new kind of religious order they were beginning. The older monastic orders tended to select locations near the city walls, at a safe remove from the bustle of the city. Ignatius wanted to be at the heart of things in the very center of the city. His emphasis was not on preserving the calm life of a religious cloister, but in reaching out to people and inviting them to talk about God and think about what they might do in the city to respond to God's call.

The city of Rome was gradually being rebuilt after centuries of medieval decay and, more immediately, after the destruction of much of the city in 1527 by unpaid veterans of Charles V's Imperial Army. By 1530, the population of Rome had dropped lower than 30,000.

Pope Paul III (1534-1549) was instrumental in fortifying the city and helping new areas develop. Roman life centered around the papal court which at that time was frequently in residence in the Palazzo Venezia (San Marco), just a block away from the Piazza Altieri, which was later renamed the Piazza del Gesú.
The Piazza Altieri was on the papal processional route from the Vatican to the Lateran. Via del Gesu was widened during Paul III's reign to link the Piazza Altieri and S. Maria Sopra Minerva so that carnival processions could pass from the Campidoglio to the Pantheon.
Ignatius used to teach catechism in front of the palazzo of the Maddaleni Capodiferro family on the corner formed by the Corso Vittorio Emanuele and the Via del Gesu (northwest corner of the piazza). He came to appreciate the location near the commercial heart of the developing city and just around the corner from the papal residence. The city government was one block away, the large Jewish community two blocks.
"The piazza where Ignatius established his headquarters was a traffic breakwater in the flow of streets. It was a place where papal and civic processions slowed, where people gathered to gossip, shop and pass the time of day. And perhaps to drop into church--especially if they were offered intelligent preaching and good confessors."
[Thomas Lucas, S.J., Saint, Site and Sacred Strategy, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1990, p. 31]

It was the perfect spot for the "ministries of the Word" that Ignatius and the companions set themselves to perform. A small church called Our Lady of the Wayside provided a starting point for the companions.
In 1544 Ignatius moved into the house he had built "in the shadow of the Campidoglio on the Via Papale, at the intersection of Piazza Altieri and Via Aracoeli, one block from the papal residence at Palazzo S. Marco. From the windows of his simple apartment overlooking the largest open space on the parade route between the Vatican and the Lateran, Ignatius, champion of the papacy, could salute his neighbor the pope passing below in solemn procession."
[from Lucas, S.J., Landmarking: City, Church and Jesuit Urban Strategy, (Chicago: Loyola Press, 1997).]


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