Cornaro Chapel ~ Ecstasy of St Teresa
Art Every Woman Must See
Cornaro Chapel and The Ecstasy of St Teresa are located in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. This chapel was commissioned in 1647 by Cardinal Federigo Cornaro as a funerary chapel for his illustrious Venetian family and Bernini completed the Cornaro Chapel four years later when he was 53 years old. The Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria is small by Roman standards, and may be missed if you are not looking for Bernini’s masterpiece. The church is located near the Piazza del Repubblica and across the street from the St. Regis hotel. You may remember it as Murder Site No. 3 in the Tom Hanks film of Dan Brown’s novel, Angels and Demons. Just to the left of Santa Maria della Vittoria is Fr. Greg’s Santa Susanna, the American church in Rome. So make sure you stop by and say ‘Ciao’ when you are in the neighborhood!
Bernini was inspired by the words of St. Teresa
Bernini used the following words of St. Teresa to inspire what she called her mystical marriage to Christ.
In his hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times so that it penetrated my entrails. When he pulled it out I felt that he took them with it, and left me utterly consumed by the great love of God. The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one can not possibly wish it to cease…
~St. Teresa of Avila
Who is St. Teresa of Avila?
Teresa of Avila was a sixteenth century Carmelite nun and a Spanish mystic. Her hours spent in meditation frequently resulted in her entering ‘mystical flights’ in which she would feel as if her soul were lifted out of her body (religious ecstasy). Teresa was questioned for her beliefs and visions. Many thought that she had fabricated what she claimed she had experienced.
In her book Interior Castle, which she reluctantly, yet obediently wrote, Teresa describes the seven stages of union with God. Teresa’s second book The Way of Perfection, written again at the command of her superiors, is meant to instruct her Carmelite nuns in the practice of prayer.
Although the church was male dominated, Teresa went on, along with another mystic, St. John of the Cross, to establish a total of seventeen convents in Discalced (barefoot) Carmelite Order. Not without controversy, she did it with humility and obedience.
The Cornaro Chapel
Bernini was “the first to attempt to combine architecture, painting, and sculpture in such a way that together they make a beautiful whole.” He transforms this shallow chapel into a theatrical depiction of heaven, including onlookers and dramatic lighting. There are three such chapels in Rome where Bernini has unified these fine arts disciplines. The other two are: Cappella Raimondi in S. Pietro in Montorio (1642-1646) and Cappella Paluzzi Albertoni in S. Francesco a Ripa (1671-1675).
Bernini has grouped four of the Cornaros on either side of St. Teresa, in what I call the opera box. They appear to be discussing the apparition. In the center of the chapel is a beautiful angel withdrawing his golden arrow from St. Teresa’s heart. The light cast from the window upon the sculpture appears to come from heaven as if from the Holy Spirit. Drenched with the light of God, Teresa is elevated on a cloud to rest with her lover for all eternity.
It is quite magnificent!
Santa Maria della Vittoria – Visitor Information
Via XX Settembre 17, Largo Santa Susanna, Repubblica, Rome, 00187 | Map It
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 8:30-noon and 3:30-6, Sun. 3:30-6:00
Have you seen this incredible Bernini sculpture?
How did it make you feel?