Lesser-Known Roman Churches, Part IX

To see the other posts in the series, click here.

Today we look at an enormous church that is located roughly between the Vatican and the Spanish Steps: the Basilica dei Santi Ambrogio e Carlo al Corso (Basilica of Saints Ambrose and Charles on the Corso [Street]). It is also between two famous squares: Piazza del Popolo and Piazza Venezia.

Although there had been a church on this site from at least the 10th century, the present one, dedicated to St. Ambrose and St. Charles Borromeo, the two great saint-bishops of Milan, was built starting in 1612, shortly after the canonization of St. Charles Borromeo. It was finished in 1684.

Here is what it looks like from the street, Via del Corso:

There is an international college (residence for students – in this case, seminarians and priests) attached to it. The church is enormous. Hard to sense how big it is seeing it from the relatively narrow street in front.

Via del Corso is a very busy pedestrian zone and there is always a lot happening. The afternoon that I recently took these photographs, there was a man who looked (and sang) remarkably like Ray Charles, performing on the steps of the church.

Here is what you see when you first walk in:

It’s actually even bigger than this, but I cropped the photo a bit to eliminate some of the lamp glare.

The people of the Italian region of Lombardy, to whom this church was originally entrusted, were known for their stone work. So while this church, like so many in Rome, does have a bit of faux marble in it, there is also a huge amount of the real thing encrusting the pilasters and walls.

On the side aisles there are a number of chapels. Here is one of the ones that you see as you go along the right-hand side, dedicated to Our Lady, Help of Christians:

Note the small cases of ex votos on either side. Also note that the Blessed Mother and Our Lord are crowned – in both images. It’s a bit unusual to see two images of Our Lady on the same altar, but I suppose there are worse problems.

Continuing along the right-hand side of the church, we come to the right transept (the church being in the shape of a cross, and the transepts being the horizontal “wings” of the cross). It is a massive altar dedicated to Our Lady, with all kinds of symbolic images around it; I think perhaps the most glorious altar of Our Lady in Rome:

The text at the top, above the main painting, says, “THOU ALONE HAST DESTROYED ALL HERESIES” – a liturgical antiphon reflecting traditional Marian doctrine ever since the Council of Ephesus.

Continuing along towards the back, here is an up-close view of the huge high altar. The candlesticks on top (just the bases, not including the large candles) are probably about five feet tall:

It’d be nice if this altar were also used, but that’s another story…

Behind the high altar, in the ambulatory area in the very back, there is a special place for prayer: an altar with a reliquary (above it) containing the heart of St. Charles Borromeo.

The altar is approximately the correct height for a midget.

There’s a lot more that I could have photographed; here are just a couple more images.

An angled shot capturing the wall and part of the ceiling around the Blessed Sacrament chapel (left transept):

Not a bad Blessed Sacrament altar, either!

Finally, in the rear, above the central doorway, this inscription in Latin, from Psalm 26:8 – “O Lord, I love the beauty of your dwelling”:

There are a lot of nice Latin biblical inscriptions throughout the church.

This church is open all day, and is well worth a stop when you’re in the area!


Basilica dei Santi Ambrogio e Carlo al Corso (often simply called, “San Carlo al Corso”)
Via del Corso, 437
00186 Rome, Italy

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