This grand Renaissance church, better known as the Chiesa Nuova, was founded in 1573 by St Philip Neri, just a century before the commencement of the building of St Paul's Cathedral. It measures 220 feet long and 50 feet broad, is 98 feet high, and one of the most highly-decorated churches in the city, the architect being one Martino Lunghi.
The arrangement of the plan is somewhat different from that usually adopted by the clergy at this period, for instead of the three large chapels which it was customary to form on each side of the nave, there are five comparatively small ones, which suffer from want of light; and the chapels having windows on each side of the altar give an appearance of insecurity, which effect is not perceived when the lighting is obtained from the ceiling or other lofty positions. The cupola of Sta Maria in Vallicella differs in form from that usually adopted in other churches, and is conspicuous by the absence of a drum; but there is one point that should be noticed in the dome piers of nearly every Roman church surmounted by a cupola. The usual method adopted was so to plan the piers that they should possess the maximum of strength, and to do this pilasters were made very shallow, and the four corners of the square filled up with masonry, giving an occasional splay.
Many architects look upon this arrangement as a misfortune, aesthetically speaking, for if the pilaster project only 12 or 9 inches, and the pendentives spring from plumb over the splayed angle, it allows for the visible arch supporting the cupola only the 1 2 inches or the 9 inches, which conveys a sense of weakness and looks exceedingly mean. In the case of Sta Maria in Vallicella the architect discovered this when he arrived at the cornice, and instead of making the pendentives to spring from the octagonal corner, he commenced by starting from the inner angle, and so secured an arch of about 2 feet 6 inches deep, and which was his only way out of the difficulty.
This church is very rich in marble veneering, and also in frescoes.
The whole of the floor of nave, aisles and chapels is of polished marble, inlaid with floral patterns; indeed the interior of Sta Maria in Vallicella is one of the most sumptuously fitted and decorated of its age and class in Rome. The nave being separated from the aisles by lofty columns, and the aisles being of the same height as the nave, this Renaissance church has quite the air of a building of Pointed proportions—a German "hall" church for instance—there being no clerestory.
On the Festival of St Philip Neri, 26th May, and after the Ave Maria every Sunday from All Saints' Day to Palm Sunday, selections of sacred music, to which men only are admitted, are given in the adjoining oratorium. From this circumstance the sacred musical drama performed either with or without action derived its name—Oratorio. It was an improvement upon the Laudi Spirituali, or sacred songs and dialogues, which used to be sung in the churches of the Congregation of the Oratory—a religious community founded at Rome in 1574 by St Philip Neri, who was extremely musical and advocated a form of divine service more cheerful and popular than that in which the Plain Chant was exclusively used. The word itself, however, as a general appellation of sacred musical drama, does not occur before the year 1630.
It was in 1548 that Philip Neri, a native of Florence, founded at Rome the Confraternity of the Holy Trinity, which originally consisted of but fifteen poor persons who assembled in the church of San Salvatore in Campo every first Sunday in the month to practise the exercises of piety prescribed by the sainted founder. The Pope (Paul III., 1534-50) permitted them to assemble in the church of San Girolamo della Carita, from the oratorio or chapel in which church they derived their name. They soon multiplied, and in 1574 the Florentines at Rome, with the permission of Gregory XIIL, built a very spacious oratory, in which Neri continued his religious assemblies. The Pope likewise gave him the parochial church of Vallicella, and in the same year approved the constitutions he had drawn up for the government of his congregation, of which St Philip himself was the first general.
This new institute soon made great progress, and divers other establishments were formed on the same model; particularly at Naples, Milan, and Palermo.
The founder having resigned the office of general, he was succeeded therein by Baronius, who was afterwards promoted to the dignity of a cardinal. Philip Neri died the 26th of May 1595, and was canonized in 1622 by Gregory XV. After his death this congregation made a further progress in Italy, and has produced several cardinals and eminent writers, as Baronius, Odoric Rainaldi, and others.
THE CATHEDRALS AND CHURCHES OF ROME AND SOUTHERN ITALY By T. Francis Bumpus.
LONDON - T. WERNER LAURIE - CLIFFORD'S INN