Located in Piazza del Popolo between Via del Corso and Via di Ripetta, north of the ancient Campo Marzio, the church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli is one of the "twin" churches, together with Santa Maria in Montesanto.
Its construction comes from a legend that tells of a miracle that occurred on the banks of the Tiber. On 20 June 1325, a desperate mother invoked a painting of the Virgin Mary to save her little one, who had fallen into the waters of the river. Once the child was rescued, a chapel dedicated to the Virgin was built in memory of the prodigious event. Inside it, the miraculous image was placed. It has since been known as the Madonna of Miracles.
In 1590, the painting moved to the Church of San Giacomo in Augusta, where it can be admired today, because of the continuous overflows of the river endangering the chapel. In the old chapel, however, a copy was placed. The continuous floods, including the devastating one of 1530, which completely submerged the chapel, convinced Pope Alexander VII to build, in 1661, a new church in Piazza del Popolo to preserve the copy of the image of the Madonna.
The works, entrusted by Cardinal Girolamo Gastaldi (1616-1685) to the architect Carlo Rainaldi (1611-1691), started in 1675, 14 years after the Pope's order and 13 years after the foundation of the so-called twin church of Santa Maria di Montesanto, and were completed by Carlo Fontana (1638-1714) in 1679. In 1681, the church was consecrated and inaugurated.
Externally, the church has a rectangular travertine portico crowned by a pediment on which the name of Cardinal Gastaldi is engraved. The columns of the pronaos were initially intended for the bell towers of San Pietro designed by Bernini, which, however, were never built. On the parapet, there are ten statues representing saints and saints, made between 1676 and 1677.
The dome, covered in slate, is octagonal and was designed and built by Carlo Fontana. The bell tower rises specularly to that of the church of Santa Maria in Montesanto.
Internally, the church has a circular plan with four chapels. In the center of the floor, a circular plaque bears the cardinal's coat of arms of Girolamo Gastaldi.
Under the altar of the first chapel on the left, the Chapel of Sant'Antonio, are preserved the sacred remains of Santa Candida martyr, found in the catacombs of Priscilla located on the Via Salaria in front of Villa Ada, and the funeral monument dedicated to Antonio d'Este, a disciple and friend of Antonio Canova. The second on the left is the Chapel of the Rosario, whose altarpiece depicts the "Madonna del Rosario" a XIX-century work, the original of which is preserved in the Basilica of Santa Balbina. On the right, we find the Chapel of San Giuseppe and the Chapel of the Assunzione.
At the center of the main altar, the work of Antonio Raggi, four angels frame the image of the Madonna dei Miracoli, a copy made in the XVI century, the original of which is located in the Church of San Giacomo in Augusta in Via del Corso.
To the left of the presbytery, there is the sepulchral monument of Cardinal Girolamo Gastaldi and to the right, that of Cavalier Benedetto Gastaldi, crowned by four statues depicting Faith, Hope, Prudence, and Temperance.
Like its twin church, Santa Maria dei Miracoli is located on the remains of two pyramidal tombs, similar to that of Caio Cestio, dating back to the time of Augustus. They probably formed a monumental entrance to the Campo Marzio.
Did you know?
At first glance, observed from the center of Piazza del Popolo, the church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and that of Santa Maria in Montesanto look the same, they are known as the "twin" churches, but if you look closely, they are not.
Pope Alexander VII wanted to create a focal point to attract the attention of those passing by on the square and decided to have two symmetrical churches built. The architect Rainaldi, builder of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, however, had less space available for the church and found a brilliant way to solve the problem. He equipped the building with an octagonal dome - that of Santa Maria in Montesanto is dodecagonal - and with a circular plan - the other is elliptical.
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