Happiness lies in thinking or doing that which one considers beautiful.
~Hazrat Inayat Khan
I studied it in art history. San Carlo, with it's notable, undulating, travertine, facade, that seems to scream out to the world, "So, you think you've seen the counter-reformation? You aint seen nothin' yet!"
Francesco Borromini, the tormented genius, designed this masterpiece for no charge, as a thank you to the Holy Order of the Trinity, who'd given him his first commission (If I understood the story correctly.) It was commissioned by Cardinal Francesco Barberini in 1634. There was very little space for the church so he had to be extra creative with the floor plan.
Anyway, on my first full day, in Rome, I wasn't even sure where I wanted to go. My list was long, so after having my cappuccino and brioche, I just decided to head South, past Piazza Barberini, where I'd been the night before. In the rain, I walked past the huge Palazzo Barberini on my left (The Barberini were obviously big in this neighborhood!) knowing I must be getting close to San Carlo.
I came to a corner and there it was ... undulating facade and all.
The "alle Quattro Fontane" part of the name, comes from the four fountains on each corner of intersection that San Carlo cozies up to.
The first time I walked past these fountains, it was my first ever day in Rome, back in October of 2008. I had no idea about San Carlo or what I was even looking at. I just thought, wow! Rome is so awesome! (You can take the girl out of California ... )
Turns out the fountains are four river gods and goddesses. I actually looked that up for you. The females are Juno and Diana and the male with the tree is Arno River. The other male, without a tree, is the Tiber.
Arno is closest to the church which is right behind and above him.
Good old Tiber, relaxing on his corner.
Just a little cool detail on the outside of the church ...
Finally, I made it across the intersection, past an obstacle course of umbrellas, up a few, steep steps and opened the thick wooden door to the church.
Pulling off my hat and gloves, my eyes made their way up the white columns and detailed plaster surfaces ...
And then, there it was, the beautiful coffered ceiling, catching the lovely natural morning light. It was smaller than I had imagined but much, much more beautiful.
Every soul has an inclination to admire beautify,
to seek for beauty, to love beauty, and to develop beauty.
Even God loves beauty.
~Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan
There were a few people inside but everyone was so quiet. There was a reverence that went beyond it being a church, that's hard to explain. People get loud in a lot of the churches and in the Sistine chapel where you are in the presence of Michelangelo's masterpieces, the museum guards are having to constantly shout "Silenzio!" so I'm not sure what it was. Perhaps, it was the small, intimate, nature of the space and the beauty of the light.
I just kept thinking, I'm so lucky to be here!
Borromini was big into cherubs and fabulous little details, which I love. I also love his use of gold, which was done very sparingly against all the white in San Carlo.
I found my way to the cloister. I was the only one there. It was silent except for the sound of the rain and my loud leather boots, when I walked across the wet stone floor. OH! And except for Siri who, out of nowhere, asked "How can I help you?" which echoed and bounced off the octagonal architecture. I quickly pulled my iPhone out of my right coat pocket to shut her up.
That wouldn't be the only time, in a church, that Siri busted in on the meditative silence. I finally figured out where to deactivate her in my settings for the duration on the trip!
Hand painted tiles on the "well." Such a peaceful space.
Back inside, I headed toward the crypt. Not sure why, but it was my first day and I didn't want to miss anything.
There was a little room on the way to the crypt with relics of St. Elizabeth Canori Mora (1774-1825), who is buried in the Barberini chapel, in San Carlo. Loved her little leather diaries ...
Not so in love with this, however. Some sort of rope for flagellating herself, I guess. Big tool for the Saints of the time, and a little disturbing, frankly.
I wasn't quite sure at this point about going down into the crypt but I decided to follow a cute, Northern European couple down the stairs. It was stark, nearly empty and more than a little strange.
These things don't usually creep me out, but for some reason, this one did. All I can say is the energy was weird. There are apparently a couple of graves down there but I couldn't figure out whose they were, and though there is a photo of the crypt on the official website, it gives no information. It just say's "Crypt."
The man, (of the cute couple) broke the tension by climbing into one of the little nooks and standing like a sainted statue. The lady took a photo and when we laughed but somehow the sound seemed swallowed up by the walls, and all of the sudden I found myself scurrying up the stairs like a mouse, behind the cute Northern European couple. We never spoke and I have no idea where they were from.
After the creepy crypt, I tried to let go of the weird energy, and sat, enjoying another look at the beautiful church. I tried to breath in the beauty and take in the genius of the space. I read my little leaflet about the church I'd gotten with my 1 Euro donation and took a few more photographs.
What a glorious little space!
San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane
To watch an interesting short video, with commentary, about the design and architecture, click on this Link and play the video at the top of the page.
If you want to read a Bio of the Saint Elizabeth Canori Mora click here
San Carlino/San Carlo
Via del Quirinale, 23, 00187 Rome, Italy
close to Metro stop Barberini
weekdays 10-1 and 3-6
And it is the art of finding that beauty, of developing, improving,
and spreading that beauty through life, allowing it to manifest before the inner and outer view,
which one calls the art of the mystic.
~Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan