Richard Shaw on Cardinal Cormac's splendid
titular church, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
CARDINAL CORMAC MurphyO'Connor has been assigned the Basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva as his titular church.
On the east bank of the Tiber, not far from the Pantheon, the church is one of the greatest treasures among Rome's rich ecclesiastical heritage. Despite its 17th century façade, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is the city's only truly Gothic church.
The church gets its name from the temple to Minerva on Avhich it stands. This was built by Pompey the Great in about 50 BC. Among the ruins of the pagan shrine, Pope Zacharias (741-52) built the first church here and dedicated it to the Virgin.
The present building owes its basic structure to the Dominicans who have run the church since the 13th century. The first Gothic
edifice was created between 1280 and 1370, but in a city which eschewed that style, even this example is imperfect, with Corinthian columns proclaiming a more classical heritage.
The church contains the relics of St Catherine of Siena. The youngest of 20 children of a Sienese dyer, she went on to become a prominent spiritual leader of great holiness and an advisor to the Papacy. Less than a century after her death in 1380, she was canonised. In 1939 she became patron saint of Italy and in 1970 she was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church and is now also a patron saint of Europe. Her body lies beneath the high altar, though her head is kept in Siena. Of the numerous chapels adjoining the church, one is the room where St Catherine died; it was transported piece-by-piece by Cardinal Antonio Barberini in 1630 to Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.
The church and its chapels are filled with works of art, including frescoes by Filippino Lippi.
Philip Dean, managing director of Pax Travel, which runs pilgrimages to Rome, said that with this gift the new Cardinal had "struck the premier league". "It is one of my favourite Churches in Rome. He is fortunate indeed to be blessed with this wonderful Church," he said.