As if Rome did not already boast enough world class churches filled with the tombs of the Church’s honored dead, the Eternal City is home also to the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola at Campus Martin. Ironically, St. Ignatius is not buried here, but at the Mother Church of the Jesuits, also in Rome. However, Robert Bellarmine, one of his most important successors and one of the key figures of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, is entombed here. Originally the rectory church of the Romano Collegio, the first religious college to be established by the Jesuits, it is now the repository of some of the order’s most beloved relics, as well as stunning artwork depicting the history of the order.
Robert Bellarmine was born into a prominent Roman family, and was nephew to Pope Marcellus II. Because of his relations, a career in the Church was almost a foregone conclusion. Most of the first five decades of his life was consumed in studying and teaching throughout Europe. Interestingly, according to some traditions, Bellarmine was a popular theologian amongst Catholics and Protestants alike.
From 1589 onward, Robert Bellarmine became an increasingly important Church figure, both religiously and politically. During this period he was sent as an ambassador to the Catholic League in France, where he witnessed the Siege of Paris during the Wars of Religion there. He went on to become both a cardinal and an archbishop, and he was appointed by the Papacy to oversee the implementation of the Council of Trent which confirmed Church teachings in the face of the Protestant threat.
Despite all of his achievements and works, however, there was an unfortunate dark side to Robert Bellarmine’s career. In the early 17th century, the brilliant doctor served as an inquisitor, and presided over numerous cases, including the one that condemned Giordano Bruno to be burned at the stake. Most famously, he personally investigated the famous scienctist Galileo Galilei over the matter of the Copernican controversy.
In his later years, Robert Bellarmine remained in Rome, serving in a number of quieter, less prominent capacities. He produced many of his most important writings during this period, works which would later earn him an honored place among the doctors of the Church. He was laid to rest in the chapel of Roman College where he taught for a time as one of its earliest professors. This would later become known as the Church of St. Ignatius in honor of the man who founded the Jesuit order.
The Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola was raised in the 17th century in tribute to the founder of the Jesuit order, who ironically is not entombed here. It is in many ways the younger twin of the nearby Mother Church of the Jesuits, where Ignatius is buried. Separated in construction by seven decades or so, the former chapel of Roman College borrowed heavily from its baroque predecessor. The façade is just as imposing, if even more magnificent, with much more ornate masonrywork and decoration.
The interior is an unmistakable, if lesser, reflection of the interior of the Mother Church. The walls and ceilings boast countless works of stunning oil frescoes, including many that depict events in the lives of early Jesuits such as Ignatius and Francis Xavier. A number of important Jesuit figures are buried in the various chapels here. Most important is the St. Aloysius Gonzaga Chapel, where Robert Bellarmine is buried near Gonzaga, one of his favorite disciples. Also buried in the church is St. John Berchmans.
The Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola is located in the Colonna District in north-central Rome close to other major sites. It is open daily from 8:30am-7:15pm (closed for lunch 12:15pm-3:00pm). There is no charge for admission. Web: www.rome.info (official tourism website of Rome)
There is no need to go into detail regarding Rome’s other churches here. However, for those who want a little more Robert Bellarmine can check out the nearby Pontifical Gregorian University, formerly known as the Roman College, where Bellarmine served as one of the first and most prominent professors. For those interested in the Jesuits, Rome is also home to the Mother Church of the Jesuits.