Guide to visiting the church of St. Ignatius

Guide to discovering and understanding the church of St. Ignatius in Rome:

Some of these paragraphs link to related in-depth articles.
Remember that this is a CHURCH, a place of worship where everyone is welcome without distinction, but where you must always maintain dignified behavior, put your smartphone in flying mode, and respect the silence.


life of St. Ignatius

To make sense of your visit to the church of St. Ignatius in Rome, you need to know the history of Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order. His story is definitely captivating and not at all boring: young Ignatius was dedicated to a life of arms, interested in worldly matters and attracted to women, with very ambitious goals, until a severe leg injury left him crippled for life, making him lose all his ambitions for power and glory. In this grave moment of crisis, he found a new spiritual direction that led him to sainthood and the foundation of the Society of Jesus.

It is a story worth reading.

Ignatius of Loyola, detail of Rubens' portraitRubens – St. Ignatius of Loyola – public domain artwork

I refer to my in-depth article on the life of St. Ignatius, where I also provide the link to download the free PDF of his autobiography “A Pilgrim’s Journey”.


brief history of this church

The church of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Campo Marzio, Rome, was initially established as the church of the adjacent Roman College, the cultural and spiritual training center of the Jesuits in Rome (see also the following paragraph) founded in 1551 by St. Ignatius himself, now the headquarters of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage. The current church was built starting in 1626 by order of Pope Gregory XV, and financed by Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi (nephew of the aforementioned pope), a famous art collector (especially Renaissance paintings). For more on “cardinal nephews,” see the paragraph about Pope Paul III in the article dedicated to the life of St. Ignatius. In his memory, this church is also known as the Ludovisi Temple.
The church was meant to commemorate St. Ignatius, who had been canonized only a few years earlier in 1622, and to promote the work of the Jesuits worldwide. Both celebrations are united in the fresco of the central ceiling, rich in interesting symbols.
The final architectural result is impressive: a church 81 meters long and 43 meters wide, with a Latin cross layout, with six chapels distributed on both sides.

The work dragged on through various vicissitudes, but these are dull and uninteresting stories.

More interesting are the men who built the church: the project was entrusted to the (Jesuit) architect Orazio Grassi, who, in addition to being an architect, was also a mathematician and astronomer, but the true protagonist of the church is Brother Andrea Pozzo, author of the false dome, the frescoed ceiling, the frescoes on the walls of the presbytery, and other artworks in the side chapels.


the false dome

Entering the church of St. Ignatius, the visitor’s eye is initially drawn to the works of the presbytery (the liturgical space around the main altar) and the apse (the semicircular terminal part that ends the presbytery), also works by Pozzo. Then the eye is drawn to the frescoed ceilings, and then inevitably focuses on the “dark area” in the middle, which is perceived as a dome, dark because it is not illuminated. Proceeding towards the center of the church, this dome becomes more visible:

the false dome by Andrea Pozzo in the church of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Rome

Continuing to move inside the church, you reach a point, marked by a golden disc on the floor, from which the view of the dome is perfect.
However, looking more closely, and especially continuing to move inside the church, it becomes clear that the dome is fake: it is just painted on a canvas. If you look closely at the photo above, you can also see the diagonal lines of the new frame that supports it: the frame is the one built and raised by the Rome Fire Brigade during the 1962 restoration.

The expedient of the false dome was not done just to “save” on building a real dome: it also reflects the Jesuit thought that being able to distinguish between illusion and reality is necessary in life, not only to survive but especially to come to know and love God (being able to distinguish and reject the illusions of the evil one).


the frescoed ceiling

Tourists form two lines, one outside to enter and the other inside for the mirror, to take a selfie on the mirror that reflects the frescoed ceiling. Indeed, the frescoed ceiling with the triumph of St. Ignatius is the true masterpiece of the church.

the frescoed ceiling by Andrea Pozzo in the church of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Romephotocredit: LivioAndronico – CC 4.0 license

To appreciate it better, it is important to understand its allegorical meaning: I refer to the in-depth article on the frescoed ceiling by Andrea Pozzo, where all the hidden symbols in the fresco are explained.


the presbytery

The presbytery is the part of the church reserved for the officiating clergy (the presbyters, a term now commonly abbreviated to priests) and is at the end of the central nave, closed by the apse. As in almost all churches, the eye of the visitor is immediately drawn to the presbytery, because here is the main altar, and therefore this is where attention must be directed: the altar is the place where the Eucharist is celebrated, the central sacrament of the Catholic faith, and this theological centrality is reflected in the physical arrangement of the space.

central altar presbytery and apse of the church of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Rome

The apse frescoes were also done by Andrea Pozzo and represent the fundamental moments of St. Ignatius’ vocation: in particular, the central fresco behind the altar represents the vision at La Storta.

And the phrase in Latin framed above the central fresco also refers to St. Ignatius’ vision:

Ego Vobis Romae Propitius Ero

The phrase “Ego Vobis Romae Propitius Ero”, meaning “I will be propitious to you in your journey to Rome,” is what God says when he appears to Ignatius of Loyola at La Storta (a place a few kilometers from Rome) to reassure him about his decision to go to Rome to submit to the will of the Pope. See also the life of St. Ignatius.


the illustrious Jesuits buried here

Several Jesuits are buried in the church of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Rome, particularly the three most important ones: St. Aloysius Gonzaga, St. Robert Bellarmine, St. John Berchmans.
To the right of the transept is a splendid marble altar designed by Andrea Pozzo and dedicated to St. Aloysius Gonzaga: the marble relief on the altarpiece (created by Pierre Legros) depicts the ascent to heaven of St. Aloysius. Observing the scene closely, you can see that the protagonist has the face of a young man: Aloysius Gonzaga died very young at only 23 years old, killed by the plague in Rome in June 1591.

Altar dedicated to St. Aloysius Gonzaga in the church of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Rome

The firstborn of Ferrante Gonzaga, Marquis of Castiglione delle Stiviere (in the province of Mantua, Lombardy), Aloysius was destined to inherit his father’s title, so he was avviated to military life, which he abandoned at a very young age to dedicate himself to religious life following his true vocation. In 1585, at the age of 17, he entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus in Rome, where he studied theology and philosophy and had St. Robert Bellarmine (also buried in this church, mentioned later) as his teacher and spiritual director. When the plague hit Rome hard in 1590-91, young Aloysius devoted himself to caring for the sick, and was himself infected when one day he carried a poor plague victim on his shoulders to the hospital: already sick and weakened, Aloysius died shortly after. He was beatified 14 years after his death, canonized in 1726, proclaimed the patron of Catholic youth by Pope Pius XI in 1926, and named the patron of AIDS patients by Pope John Paul II.
As seen in the photo, the marble altarpiece is framed by a double pair of spiral columns, a type of column present in several Roman churches: think, for example, of the baldachin of St. Peter’s. These spiral columns, also known as “Solomonic columns” because they refer to the columns that adorned the entrance to the Temple of Jerusalem built by King Solomon in the 10th century BC, symbolize the connection between the Old and New Testaments; but their ascending spiral shape also symbolizes the ascent to the divine, where the upward movement towards the sky indicates prayer creating a connection between the earthly world and the divine celestial world.

On the altar’s tympanum are two marble female statues: they are the allegorical figures of Purity (on the right) and Penitence (on the left). Below is a precious funeral urn containing the saint’s relics, and on the sides of the urn, there are two statues of small angels: the one on the left has a crown at its feet, alluding to the noble title that Aloysius Gonzaga renounced to serve Christ by joining the Society of Jesus; the angel on the right holds a crown of flowers and pushes away a globe of lapis lazuli with its foot, symbolizing the worldly glories that Aloysius renounced to follow Christ in evangelical poverty.

In the chapel of St. Joachim, St. Robert Bellarmine is buried: a cardinal mainly remembered today for his involvement in the trials of Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei, but also one of the most important Catholic theologians of the 16th century, a key figure in the Counter-Reformation (the Catholic Church’s response to the Protestant Reformation), and especially the patron of students and catechists. The Jesuits remember him for his dedication to the poor, his charity, his simplicity of life, and especially for his Catechism, which has taught the fundamental truths of the faith to many generations of children.

The third important Jesuit saint buried in the church of St. Ignatius in Rome is St. John Berchmans: a less known name compared to Bellarmine or Gonzaga, John Berchmans (1599-1621) was a Belgian Jesuit who lived a brief but intense life of faith and spirituality inspired by St. Aloysius Gonzaga. Having entered the Society of Jesus, he completed his studies in Rome, where he died young. Beatified in 1865 and canonized in 1888, he is remembered for his joyful devotion and spiritual realism.

The most recent of the “illustrious Jesuits” buried in this church is Felice Maria Cappello (1879-1962), an Italian Jesuit and canon lawyer, known as “the confessor of Rome” for his tireless dedication to the confessional in the church of St. Ignatius. A professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University, he authored numerous articles and works on canon law. Having become a Jesuit in 1913, he dedicated his life to mercy and spiritual counsel. Beatified in 2014, he is recognized as a Servant of God.


the IHS monogram

In various parts of the church, you can see the monogram IHS, a symbol that struck St. Ignatius so much that the Jesuit emblem is this monogram crowned by a flaming sun. In particular, the monogram is topped by a cross on the H and has three nails below, as in this emblem:

The IHS monogram is a very ancient way of representing the name of Jesus: in ancient Greek New Testament manuscripts, the name Jesus was often abbreviated with IHS, which are the first three letters (in Greek) of “Iesous”. So, we should not confuse it with modern Latin letters: “IHS” are the Greek letters “iota – eta – sigma”, so the central “H” is the Greek “eta”. Interestingly, if instead, we consider IHS as three Latin letters, they form an acrostic (i.e., the initials of a phrase) with a profoundly Christian meaning: “Iesus Hominum Salvator”, which means “Jesus, Savior of Men”. This concept ties back to the meaning of Jesus’ Hebrew name, which we write in Latin letters as “Yeshua”, a transcription of the Hebrew ישוע (Yeshu’a), meaning literally “salvation” (or more precisely “he who is salvation”).
This monogram-acrostic was widely used in the Middle Ages, for example by St. Bernardino of Siena, a Franciscan friar who used to preach holding a wooden tablet with these three letters carved on it. The coincidence of the monogram of Christ’s name (also called “Christogram”) and the reference to Jesus as the savior of men struck St. Ignatius deeply, who often used it at the beginning of his letters and eventually made it the central part of the symbol of the Society of Jesus.

The cross atop the H symbolizes the crucifixion of Jesus, hence his salvific sacrifice for humanity, and the central position of the cross on the letter H emphasizes the importance of Jesus’ death (and resurrection) as the central element of the Christian faith.
The three nails consequently recall the nails used to affix Jesus to the cross: they represent the suffering that Jesus endured for humanity, and thus serve as a reminder for the faithful to meditate on Jesus’ sacrifice and to live according to his teachings. The three nails also symbolize the three aspects of Christ’s nature: divine, human, and messianic.

With all its symbolic importance, the IHS monogram with cross and nails is thus placed in prominent locations in Jesuit churches, such as near the altars, to highlight the importance of this symbol for the Order and its centrality in their faith. It is a symbol that represents them as a religious order and unites them in their mission to spread the Gospel.


useful information

For practical information useful for visiting the church of St. Ignatius, I have published an entire in-depth article, to which I refer (at this link), but here I briefly summarize the most important points:

  • there is no need to pay anything to enter: free admission
    beware of scammers who sometimes ask for money outside in the name of the church
    voluntary donations are appreciated: just a coin in the appropriate boxes
  • the church is open every day from 9:00 AM to 11:30 PM, continuously
  • do not visit the church during masses (6:30 PM every day, and 11:30 AM on Sundays)
  • once or twice a month, the Jesuits organize free guided tours
    but it is difficult for a tourist to be there at those rare moments
    otherwise, you have to pay an authorized guide or use the free audio guides

See also the other useful information for visiting the church of St. Ignatius.


the entry lines

Often when you arrive at the church of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Rome, you find a line of tourists at the entrance. A line that can be more or less long, and sometimes is really very long. In these cases, my advice is to try to come back later: the number of people in line at any given moment is essentially random, and maybe even just half an hour later there are many fewer. Meanwhile, you can visit the many monuments and places of interest nearby.
Once inside, almost all tourists form a second line: the one to take photos at the “magic mirror” that scenically reflects the image of the frescoed ceiling with the triumph of St. Ignatius (see the following paragraphs).

See also my in-depth article on the entry lines at St. Ignatius.


free audioguides

One possible way to visit and better appreciate the church of St. Ignatius of Loyola is to visit it while listening to free audioguides, which at the moment have not been produced by anyone. While preparing to publish this site, it occurred to me that I could publish some myself, but it is a significant effort that will take a long time. Considering in particular that if I do it, I would like to distribute them in about ten languages to serve the numerous foreign tourists who visit the church every day: guides and explanations are especially useful for foreigners, especially those of different cultures and non-Catholic Christian faith.
Before doing so, I need to evaluate if they will be of interest and how many people will be interested: if you are interested, write me an email at

And explain to me why you are interested and what you would like to discover about this church.
If I publish them, they will be absolutely free audioguides: I firmly believe that knowledge should be distributed for free to everyone whenever possible. Even in small things like simple audioguides. If they are appreciated, I would be very happy if some tourists donated something to support projects for the poor. As an orphan, I plan to start some small projects to support orphans in the near future: if someone occasionally donates something to these projects, even just one euro or fifty cents, it would make me very happy. Obviously, with no obligation: free offering, only if you want. And only to help those in need: I don’t want to earn anything from it.

Let me know what you think.


who manages this site?

At the bottom of all pages of this site, it is clearly stated that this site is managed independently and is not affiliated in any way with the Jesuit Order, the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the related parish, or the Diocese of Rome. For official information, please consult the official sources of the Diocese of Rome or the Jesuit Order.
This domain was many years ago managed by the Jesuits as the official site of the church of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Rome, but then it was abandoned. In 2023, I took it over and in 2024 I put it back online, publishing a free guide for tourists, translating the pages into multiple languages, all at my own expense and not for profit.
I have done the same with other sites dedicated to other important Italian cathedrals.

I don’t do it to evangelize the world: I am not at all a bigoted Catholic fundamentalist, quite the opposite. I am Ghibelline, so I am opposed to the temporal power of the Church: put simply, I think that priests should only deal with spirituality and the very difficult task of saving souls, without getting involved in the complications of temporal power, such as controlling territories, money, and politics (like profiting from saints and the Jubilee, minting coins, issuing stamps, calling their bank “Institute for Works of Religion” and then managing stratospheric assets immorally, etc.).
Note: Being Roman, by Church I always mean the “Roman Catholic Church,” not to be confused with the community of believers.
This is not at all intended to be a criticism of the Jesuit Order, whose notable work in the world I esteem and respect. But the Jesuits have taken a vow of total obedience to the Pope, so they do not have the freedom of speech that I, as a common citizen, can have.

I also do all this to try to draw attention to an important topic deliberately neglected today: the difficult relationship of modern man with the transcendent.
A relationship almost entirely lost because deliberately not cultivated, but nonetheless necessary to give meaning to one’s life. And I think it’s useful for there to be independent secular voices, but not foreign to the Christian culture, that take a stand on this issue.
One can very well not believe as Ignatius believed, one can even not believe everything written in the Bible and the Gospels, but this does not automatically mean no longer believing in God, no longer believing in anything. Simplifying “God” as a concept that goes beyond human comprehension, and therefore almost impossible to fully express, but which one must eventually confront, whatever our culture and belief.

What can a man who no longer believes in anything become?

This leads us to one last important reflection.


a final important reflection

I close this guide to visiting the church of St. Ignatius with an important reflection: an invitation to do something different. Almost everyone who enters this church are tourists who have found on social media or in guidebooks the advice to come here to take a selfie on the “magic mirror” that reflects the splendid frescoed ceiling. Fine. Beauty and art always do good to the human soul. But before you go and queue for the mirror photos, I invite you to sit on one of the benches, rest a moment (Rome tires those who visit it), and take the opportunity to ask yourself: what does all this mean? This baroque splendor, this huge church full of artworks. Why? Why did they spend so much energy (and money) to build it? Look around. And think. There is no right answer to give. Just look around. And reflect.
The church is the place built by man to meet God. Even if you don’t believe in God, indeed especially if you don’t believe in God, sit on one of the benches and looking at this church, ask yourself: how was the universe born? How did life begin? Is it just a chemical-physical process, or is there something more? Does some indefinable and unknowable creative force really exist, which we simply call “God,” or is it all nonsense and there is nothing? And anyway: what comes after death?

There is no right answer to give.
No one knows the right answer.
But it is essential to seek these answers.

And churches are the right place to ask these questions.
Especially for those who don’t believe. I tell you from experience.

This church may be too baroque, too crowded with tourists, too noisy, but even the magnificence of the baroque can help spark a reflection.

Don’t let superficial tourism distract you from the important things in life. Those who suggest you take the selfie at the magic mirror presenting this church as a pleasant place of outdated beliefs, to be used today only as a backdrop for photos to share on social media, do not speak in an objective and disinterested manner: they want you NOT to think about the important things in life. If you don’t think, you will be weaker and more manipulable, and when you are sad, they will suggest you buy something on Amazon to feel better.

I am not saying to follow in the footsteps of St. Ignatius or blindly believe what the Jesuits say, but it is fundamental for each of us to reflect on these themes. Everyone will find their own answer in their heart: the important thing is to think about it, at least occasionally.

So you can try sitting on the benches, taking a deep breath, and reflecting on what you think.

Afterward, you can also go take the selfie at the mirror.
It will be a nice photo, a nice memory.
But with a few moments of reflection before, maybe the photo will be more meaningful.

Again: I do not want to convert anyone: I am Ghibelline.
But I strongly believe in certain ideals.
And I am sure of one thing: in the end, we all must die.
Sooner or later, we must ask ourselves certain questions. Better sooner than later.
Everyone must believe in something meaningful.

Thank you for reading this far.


Other articles on the church of St. Ignatius in Rome:




This site is managed independently and is not affiliated in any way with the Jesuit Order, the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the related parish, or the Diocese of Rome.
For official information, please consult the official sources of the Diocese of Rome or the Jesuit Order.