Architecture Around the World

Sant'Agnese in Agone
(Church of St. Agatha at the Circus Agonalis)

Piazza Novona, Rome, Italy

Completed: 1672

2002 Photographs

2013 Photographs

TEXT Beneath Illustrations
(Interior photographs not allowed)

2002 Photographs

The idea of the twin towers framing a central dome may be indebted to Bernini's bell towers on the facade of Saint Peter's Basilica. The Pamphili family architect Girolamo Rainaldi's design of a concave facade and a central dome framed by twin towers was influential on subsequent church design in Northern Europe.



Four Corinthian pilasters........... Triangular and segmental pediments in window surrounds

Corinthian columns

"Because of the narrow width of the piazza, Borromini and the other architects designed the church differently than most other baroque-style churches. The broad horizontals and the cupola rising immediately behind the fašade allows viewers standing at any point in the piazza a clear view of the church. It is also important to notice the undulating surface of the fašade, a key element of Baroque architecture. This theme is echoed in the columns, which pop out of the plane of the wall, texturing the fašade. The curvature of the fašade, in addition to the broad openness, appear like arms opened towards the viewer, interacting with them and inviting them to come inside." - Mark Shi, Monuments as Symbols: The Piazza Navona and Berini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers (online April 2013)

Palladian window: Fanlight ... Engaged columns

Fleurs-de-lis ... Shells ... Pamphilj family (Pope Innocent X) heraldic dove holding olive branch was early Christian peace symbol ... Five guttae

2013 Photographs

Center: Lantern atop cupola atop drum

Lantern topped by cross bottony ... Obelisk from the Fountain of the Four Rivers


Palladian window: Fanlight ... Engaged columns

Pamphilj family (Pope Innocent X) heraldic dove holding olive branch was early Christian peace symbol

Piazza Navona

Emperor Domitian in AD 86 built a race track and stadium on the Piazza Novona (this was known as Circus Agonalis, a name which by the Middle Ages had been modified to "in agone" and the dialect " 'n 'agone" before arriving at the present Navona.

Saint Agatha

Saint Agatha was a 13-year-old girl killed in 304 AD for her refusal to renounce her Christian beliefs and marry a pagan. She was thrown into one of the brothels close to the stadium. She was then paraded naked in the circus only for her nakedness to be covered by the miraculous growth of hair. A simple chapel ("oratory") was built on the site of her death. Below the church there are Roman ruins, including the ruins of the brothel where St. Agatha was martyred.

The Church

"The name of this church - Sant'Agnese in Agone - is unrelated to the ‘agony’ of the martyr: in agone was the ancient name of Piazza Navona (piazza in agone), and meant instead, from the Greek, ‘in the site of the competitions’, because Piazza Navona was built on the form of an ancient Roman stadium on the Greek model, with one flat end, and was used for footraces. From ‘in agone’, the popular use and pronunciation changed the name into ‘Navona’, but other roads in the area kept the original name." - Wikipedia (online April 2013)