The church of Rome’s French community since 1589, this opulent baroque chiesa is home to a celebrated trio of Caravaggio paintings: the Vocazione di San Matteo (The Calling of Saint Matthew), the Martirio di San Matteo (The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew) and San Matteo e l’angelo (Saint Matthew and the Angel), known collectively as the St Matthew cycle. Find them in the Cappella Contarelli to the left of the main altar.
These three canvases are among the earliest of Caravaggio's religious works, painted between 1600 and 1602, but they are inescapably his, featuring a down-to-earth realism and the stunning use of chiaroscuro (the bold contrast of light and dark).
While Pope Sixtus IV gave Rome’s French community permission to build a church as early as 1478, works to erect the structure between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona began only in 1518. The structure – named after St Louis, as a tribute to the French King – would take over 70 years to be completed, although the frescoes that adorn its interior would appear much later.
Tips and other practicalities
Behind the travertine facade designed by Giacomo della Porta, ten chapels contain works by renowned artists, including none other than Caravaggio. Before you leave the church, take a moment to enjoy Domenichino’s faded 17th-century frescoes of St Cecilia in the second chapel on the right. St Cecilia is also depicted in the altarpiece by Guido Reni, a copy of a work by Raphael.
Mass is held on Saturdays at 12:30pm, on Sundays at 10:30am and on weekdays at 7pm.