Every afternoon, at 17.30 sharp, visitors to the Gesu, the mother church of the Jesuits, are treated to a 300 year old spectacle, the Macchina Barocca, which has its origins in Baroque Rome.
The spectacle takes place in the Chapel of St Ignatius Loyola (left transept) and begins with the strains of choral music, which herald the start of a carefully choreographed light-show, the climax of which is the lowering of the painting to reveal a statue of the Spanish saint and founder of the Society of Jesus. What is now on display is a silver-painted stucco statue; the original solid-silver statue, the work of Pierre Legros (1666-1719), was melted down by the French army in 1798, during the occupation of Rome by Napoleon’s forces.
The painting is believed to be the work of Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709), a Jesuit lay-brother, who designed the whole chapel between 1695 and 1700. In the upper section of the painting Christ presents St Ignatius with a standard bearing the monogram of the name of Jesus.
The spectacle does not actually end with the unveiling of the statue. The light show continues, illuminating the ceiling of the nave, where St Ignatius is received into heaven, and then the dome, where the saint is united with God.
Ignatius Loyola, who died in Rome on July 31st, 1556, is interred in the bronze urn at the base of the altar, the work of Alessandro Algardi. Loyola was canonised on March 12th, 1622, and his feast day is July 31st.
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