May 24th 1542 - Our Lady of the Way
When Ignatius, Faber, and Laínez came in 1537 to Rome, Ignatius had discovered in the centre of the city, in the vicinity of the Capitol, a small church of Our Lady with the holy image 'Madonna della Strada'. Time and again he instructed the Fathers to say Mass there. He longingly hoped for an opportunity to acquire that church. It was not so beautiful, but ideally situated as starting point for pastoral activities in the city.
This opportunity resulted from Father Codacio who had got that premises in hereditary tenancy on August 19th 1540, and had attained on November 18th the benefice of the parish St Maria della Strada. With the family Camillo Astalli who owned that complex Codacio worked for the transfer of the church with the holy image to the young Order. On May 15th 1542 Ignatius was inaugurated solemnly in the possessions of the sanctuary, whereas the parish pastoral was shifted to St Marco. It was the first church in the possession of Jesuits.
At the beginning of February 1541 the First Fathers had moved from the Piazza Frangipani into an old, narrow house. It stood opposite the small church and was rented for thirty Scuds annually. By demolition and new building the Professed House and the Church Il Gesù arose from those beginnings. Only under Francisco de Borja, the third General of the Order, was laid the foundation-stone for the building of Il Gesù on June 20th 1568. Architect was Jacopo Vignola, the successor of Michelangelo. The building dragged on for sixteen years until 1584.
Vignola had meanwhile died (1573). Giacomo della Porta was the last and most important building master. Il Gesù is considered as masterpiece of the Baroque in the perfect merging into each other of architecture, plastics and painting.
In this church is in front on the left side the Grave Altar of St Ignatius of Loyola. On its right is venerated the holy image 'Madonna della Strada'. In the Professed House of the Jesuits just beside Il Gesù the three rooms once inhabited by Ignatius are still shown in their original form. Only the walls are covered with silk wallpapers.
To the building of Il Gesù contributed many donors. The chief patron was Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (who died at the beginning of March 1589). Farnese was Vice-Chancellor and led the state affairs since 1538. For full fifty-five years he belonged to the College of Cardinals. He took part in seven conclaves, often in the role of the 'pope maker'. He was the 'Grand Cardinal', who was unmatched in experience and insight, generosity and charitableness for the poor. Uncommonly rich, he was devoted to the arts, the sciences, and the humanists. To the recent Society of Jesus Farnese was a generous promoter and an influential advisor. The Order owes him its main church Il Gesù, and the Roman Professed House.