Sant'Agnese in Agone is a basilica church in Rome. Construction started in 1652 under the planning of Carlo Rainaldi on the site where Saint Agnes was martyred in the Circus of Domitian, now the Piazza Navona in Rome.
The first designs, by Girolamo Rainaldi in 1652, were for a Baroque church. They were commissioned by Pope Innocent X, whose funerary monument is housed within the church. The Pope's family, the Pamphilj, had a large palace adjacent and the church was to be a sort of personal chapel annexed to the their residence. For example, the tambour of the dome was provided of an opening from which the Pope could assist to the celebrations from his apartment in the palace. In the years 1653-1657 the works of the facade were completed by the important Baroque architect Francesco Borromini, who changed the distance between the two side towers and introduced a concave volume in the centre. Sant'Agnese in Agone is considered among Borromini's most restrained creations.
The construction was completed by Carlo Rainaldi, son of Girolamo.
The church has a Greek cross plan. The interior of the dome has paintings portraying the Martyrdom of St. Agnese (1670-1689) by Ciro Ferri and Sebastiano Corbellini. Under the church there are substantial remains of an ancient Roman house.
The premier artwork in this church is sculptural, crowned by the marble relief in the main altar, placed in a setting installed by Carlo Rainaldi and Ciro Ferri, that depicts the Miracle of Sant’Agnese, initially commissioned from Alessandro Algardi, and completed by Ercole Ferrata and Domenico Guidi in 1688, under constraints that their product must remain in conformity with the original Algardi design. The Sacred family altarpiece (third to the right) is also by Domenico Guidi.
The altar dedicated to Sant’Alessio, depicting his death, was completed by Giovanni Francesco Rossi. The stucco decoration of angels by Ferrata with the symbols of the Saint: pilgrim’s staff and flower crown. The altar depicting the Martyrdom of Sant’Emerenziana is one of Ercole Ferrata’s masterpieces. He also completed Sant’Agnese and the flame, Leonardo Retti completed the superior portions. The altar depicting the ‘’Death of Santa Cecilia’’ is one of Antonio Raggi’s masterpieces. Stucco angel decorations (with musical instruments) by Ercole Ferrata with fresco designs by Ciro Ferri. The altarpiece of the Martyrdom of Sant’Eustachio, commissioned from Melchiorre Caffà , but generally completed after Caffa’s early death by Ferrata and Giovanni Francesco Rossi. The statue of Saint Stephen Martyr is by Pietro Paolo Campi
Il Baciccia (Gaulli) painted cardinal virtues on spandrels. Ferri's work includes the paintings in the dome: Glory of Paradise (1659).
Origin of name and legends
Despite the curious assonance, the name of this church is unrelated to the agony of the martyr: in agone was the ancient name of piazza Navona ("piazza in agone"), and meant instead (from Greek) "in the site of the competitions", because piazza Navona was an ancient stadium on the Greek model (with one flat end) for footraces. From "in agone", the popular use and pronunciation changed the name into "Navona", but other roads around kept the original name (like the Corsia Agonale, a short road that connects with the Palazzo Madama.
Bernini's famous Fountain of the Four Rivers lies in front of the church. It is often said that Bernini sculpted the figure of the "Rio de la Plata" cowering as if he thought the facade designed by his rival Borromini could crumble atop him. This story, like many urban legends, persists because it has a ring of authenticity; Borromini and Bernini clearly became rivals, and more, for architectural commissions. Most prominently, during the Pamphilj papacy, an official commission was established to study defects that had arisen in the foundations of the belltowers (built under Bernini's guidance) in the facade of Saint Peter's Basilica. In testimony before the commission, Borromini was one of many harsh critics that assailed the project's engineering . Ultimately, in a severe blow to Bernini's prestige as an architect, the facade bell-towers were torn down, and never rebuilt. The story about this fountain, though, remains highly improbable, since Bernini's fountain predates Borromini's facade by some years.
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- "Sant'Agnese in Agone", by Nyborg.