The Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels and Martyrs at the Diocletian Baths, the last great architectural project from the genius of Michelangelo. It is a monument to history, to faith, to art and to science. The basilica is dedicated to the Christian martyrs, known and unknown.
Pius IV entrusted Michelangelo Buonarroti, an artist of great prestige who at the time was working at Saint Peter’s, to transform the Thermal Baths into a church. The great master had much input especially in the transept area. He created a Greek cross design leaving unchanged several right-angle frames, the vestibule (former nymphaeum passage towards the calidarium) and the chancel (frigidarium). As a result, there were three entrances: two on the sides of the transept and one towards the exedra. The works began immediately and were continued after Michelangelo’s death (1564) by the nephew of Antonio Lo Duca, Jacopo, assistant and pupil of the geat Florentine master. The works ended in mid-18 th Century when the entrances to the left were closed by the Chapel of Saint Bruno (side of Via Cernaia) designed by Carlo Maratta and on the right by the Chapel dedicated to Niccolò Albergati, created by the architect Clemente Orlandi. The latter began to lay out and arrange the first large paintings from the Vatican Basilica.
In 1749, major alterations were carried out by Luigi Vanvitelli in preparation for the Holy Year of 1750. After the unification of Italy in 1870, the Carthusians were evicted from the buildings, which for some time was used as a military barracks. It was eventually handed over to the Fransiscan Order of Minims.
In 1896, the wedding of the Prince of Naples (who became King Victor Emmanuel III) raised the status of Santa Maria degli Angeli. It has since been the scene of religious ceremonies promoted by the Italian State. The church was given the status of minor basilica by Pope Benedict XV in 1920. Also in the 20th century, the 16th century façade was demolished to expose the original walls of the Roman baths. Today, Santa Maria degli Angeli is served by diocesan clergy and functions as a parish church.
The Basilica is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, to the angels, and to the Christian slaves who died building the baths. Like most churches in Rome, Santa Maria degli Angeli is filled with art and monumental tombs and also has some holy relics. The exterior has a unique appearance for a church, since its outer walls consist in part of the brick of the Baths of Diocletian. If you walk over to Via Parigi, you can look down into the remains of the monastery, which include the cells used by Carthusian hermits when Santa Maria degli Angeli was part of their chapterhouse.
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