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Ignatian Rome: Chiesa del Gesu

(Holy Name of Jesus Church)
(Holy Name of Jesus Church)
Location: Piazza del Gesu

The Gesu is the Mother church of the Jesuits and served as an architectural and pastoral pattern for Jesuit churches that were set up throughout Europe and in the new missions Jesuits established in other countries.
Ignatius dreamed of a large downtown church that could accommodate sacraments, preaching, lectures, music and drama; but work did not even begin until after his death. He tried three times to build a new church and even enlisted an aging Michelangelo to draw up plans. In 1554, Michelangelo accepted the commission "solely out of devotion, without any interest" or compensation. Construction had to be halted because of opposition from the neighbors, including the Astalli family. Ignatius preferred to have peace and to hope for more propitious circumstances.
In 1568 work began on a plan designed by Nanni di Baccio Bigio who envisioned a large single nave that provided a large hall for preaching and a shallow sanctuary that made the sacraments more visible to churchgoers. Francis Borgia, the third superior general, used diplomacy, political pressure and money to buy out the Astalli, Altieri and Muti families who had blocked the project. He also secured Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, grandson of Paul III, as the major benefactor of the new church.
Farnese made construction possible but he also forced the Jesuits to accept a barrel vault for the ceiling, instead of the flat roof that Jesuits wanted because it provided better acoustics. The church was also designed as a theatrical space. Brother Andrea Pozzo designed huge scrims that blocked off the sanctuary and served as backdrops for complex pageants. Choir stalls line the upper story of both side walls of the church and enabled small groups of singers to perform "stereophonic" works composed specifically for liturgies in the Gesu.
The chapel of Ignatius contains the remains of Ignatius. The church also features the large ceiling mural by Giovanni Batista Gaulli, "Adoration of the Name of Jesus" (1676-1679).