This is the Mother church of the Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits, the prestigious religious order recognized in 1540 by the Farnese Pope, Paul III. Great hopes were placed on this order for the Counter Reformation in all of Europe. The façade of the church, consecrated in 1584, is the work of Giacomo della Porta.
It signals an important architectonic revolution: although he used the columns, pilasters and arches from classical architecture, he reworked them and the result was something entirely new. There is no monotony or repetition in the 2 orders of the façade, linked in an innovative way in 2 lateral scrolls.
Vignola's work commissioned for the interior marked a basic turning point in the way space inside a church was conceived, while foreseeing the arrangements that would later be sanctioned by the Council of Trent. The Renaissance arrangement was no longer acceptable, so a return was made to the medieval concept of a church: where the nave is lengthened in order to exalt the importance of the altar; where there is an absence of columns and pilasters so that a large open space is created, freeing it from obstacles and allowing the congregation to see the altar.
The faithful were thus encouraged to participate in the sacraments- a situation fundamental to the Jesuits.
The rigor and the minimalism of the church were altered during the 17th century with decorations and pictures. The vault was covered in frescoes by Baciccia, as Giovan Battista Gaulli was later called. He created a masterpiece of perspective illusion - the scene overflows out of the cornice, going into the areas of stucco work.
Light is the unifying element and it allows reality to meet simulation in an alternating effect that presents astonishing visual effects. The Chapel of St. Ignatius, in the left hand transept, is the work of Andrea Pozzo and possesses the richest baroque altar in Rome. Although the Saint's statue originally was solid silver, it had to be melted down to pay taxes imposed by Napoleon, so today it is in silver-plated plaster.