History of the Church and Useful Information

History and useful information about the church of Santa Maria della Scala (“Mary of the Staircase”) in Rome (Trastevere), the main church of the Discalced Carmelite Order in Rome.

All visitors are welcome, but please remember that Santa Maria della Scala is a place of worship. We kindly ask you to behave respectfully.

This sacred building was constructed for people to meet with God. Instead of entering just to take some photos with your smartphone, consider the opportunity to sit on the benches and silently observe what has been built. Ask yourself: why was all this created? Use this time to reflect on what you believe about the origin of life and creation.
Even if you don’t believe. Especially if you don’t believe.

 

origin of the church

The Roman church of Santa Maria della Scala is an example of a place of worship born from popular devotion: from the cult of the miracles of the Madonna, a baroque church was born.

At the end of the 16th century, where the church now stands, there was a shrine with a fresco of the Madonna and Child. In front of this Madonna, many miracles were said to have occurred. Among the many stories, it is particularly remembered that a mute girl regained her ability to speak, another sick or crippled child was healed following the prayers of his mother, and a lame beggar began to walk normally.

The growing popular devotion led to the construction of a church dedicated to the miraculous image, which gives the church its current name. Pope Clement VIII and Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio financed the work, with the initial project entrusted to Francesco da Volterra and completed by Ottavio Mascherino. The fresco was moved from the original shrine to the main altar of the new church, inaugurated in 1597 and entrusted to the Discalced Carmelite Fathers.

 

altars, chapels, and relics

Over time, modifications and expansions were made to the original church, and the fresco of the miraculous Madonna was moved to the chapel to the left of the main altar, where it can still be admired today.

Consecrated in 1725, the new main altar is dedicated to the Savior. The ciborium, created by Rainaldi (1648-1650), is adorned with columns of Sicilian alabaster and gilt bronze decorations. On either side of the altar, statues of St. Joseph and St. Teresa of Jesus, works by Simone Giorgini, complete the imposing structure.

The Chapel of the Relic is distinguished by its Ionic-style altar and ancient green columns. It houses the precious relic of the right foot of St. Teresa of Jesus, brought here in 1909 and kept in an artistic gilt bronze reliquary.

The Chapel of St. Teresa of Jesus is dedicated to the reformer of the Carmelite order. It was designed by Giovanni Pannini and inaugurated in 1745. Decorated with precious marbles and works of art, it houses a central painting by Francesco Mancini and various sculptures by artists such as Maini and Valle.

 

“The Death of the Virgin” by Caravaggio

In 1601, the lawyer Laerzio Cherubini commissioned Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio to paint an altar piece for the chapel of Santa Maria della Scala. Caravaggio completed “The Death of the Virgin” in 1605, but the painting was rejected.

The reason for the rejection lay in the revolutionary and realistic style of the painting. Caravaggio depicted the Virgin Mary in a too human and realistic manner, portraying her swollen and with bare legs, which provoked the indignation of the Carmelites who considered it lacking in decorum and spirituality. Additionally, rumors spread that Caravaggio had used a drowned courtesan as a model, further scandalizing the viewers.

The Death of the Virgin by Caravaggio

The Death of the Virgin, Caravaggio – public domain

Despite the ecclesiastical rejection, the painting was appreciated by other contemporary artists. Pieter Paul Rubens recognized its value and negotiated its purchase for the Duke of Mantua, Vincenzo Gonzaga. After being publicly exhibited in Rome in 1607, the painting was transferred to the Gonzaga court in Mantua. Due to the financial difficulties of the Gonzagas, the ducal collection was sold, and the painting passed into the hands of King Charles I of England.
After the death of Charles I, the French banker Everard Jabach acquired the painting, which was subsequently sold to Louis XIV of France. Finally, “The Death of the Virgin” found its permanent home at the Louvre Museum in Paris, where it is still displayed today.

A detailed article on the history of this painting will be published soon.

 

opening hours and mass times

The church of Santa Maria della Scala is open every day during the following hours:

10:00 – 13:00 , 16:00 – 19:00

On Sunday, Holy Mass is celebrated at

11:30

Additionally, during certain times of the year, a Saturday Mass is held at 18:30

 

location and address

The church of Santa Maria della Scala is located in the square of the same name in Trastevere:

address: Piazza della Scala 23, 00153 Rome (map)

Map showing the location of Santa Maria della Scala Church in Trastevere, Rome

To reach it from the center of Rome, it is best to walk: it takes about 10 minutes from Campo dei Fiori and 25 minutes from Piazza Venezia (click on the map image and set your starting point). Using public transportation would take longer, and you would still need to walk part of the way.

 

the Ancient Pharmacy of Trastevere

The church of Santa Maria della Scala in Rome is also known for the Ancient Pharmacy of Trastevere, located on the first floor of the attached Discalced Carmelite convent since the late 1500s.

See the detailed article on the Ancient Pharmacy of Trastevere.

 

 

 

This site is independently managed and in no way represents the church of Santa Maria della Scala, its parish, or the Diocese of Rome. For official information, please contact the Diocese of Rome or the Order of Discalced Carmelites.
You can also contact the church directly at +39 06 5806233.