Updated on January 22, 2020
The church of San Luigi dei Francesi (Saint Louis of the French) is not only one of the most beautiful churches in Rome, but also home to three paintings by Caravaggio. The beauty of Rome is that you don’t have to pay a fortune to visit museums, if you don’t want to. There are so many wonderful buildings, monuments, sculptures and paintings you can admire for free, that you can spend your entire travel budget on food, drinks and day trips rather than tickets to museums. The church of San Luigi dei Francesi is a great example of amazing art and architecture works you can see without paying anything. Most Rome walking tours self guided or not list this church as one of the must-see objectives in the Eternal city.
How To Find The San Luigi Dei Francesi Church
Regardless of where you choose to stay in Rome, you’re inevitable going to get to Piazza Navona – this is one of the most beautiful places in Rome, so don’t even think about skipping it. Besides, it is close to many tourist objectives such as Palazzo Altemps with the splendid Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus I’ve written about in one of my previous articles.
After putting up with the crowds in Piazza Navona, you’ll feel relieved to regain your personal space in Piazza di S. Luigi dei Francesi. Less impressive than Piazza Navona or Piazza Del Popolo, this place in Rome doesn’t stand apart in any way. However, overlooking it would be a great mistake, particularly if you are an art lover.
Finding the church is easy. From Piazza Navona, take the Corsia Agonale, just behind Fontana dei Fiumi (the fountain in the middle of the square). Then, turn left on Corso del Rinascimento, walk a little and turn right on Via del Salvatore. You’ll have Palazzo Madama on the right and the church of San Luigi dei Francesi on the left.
By the time I took this photo of San Luigi dei Francesi, the facade was covered by a scaffolding. In fact, I remembered passing by this building the previous day, without having any clue that it was one of the most beautiful churches in Rome. I had to discover it during my self-guided tour of all churches in Rome with Caravaggio paintings.
If you search for this church on the internet, you’ll find some photos of the facade without scaffolding. It looks quite impressive in the photos. However, the real life effect is not the same. The buildings surrounding the Piazza di San Luigi dei Francesi are so big that you can’t notice how beautiful they are if you don’t admire them from a distance. All that you see as you walk past them are huge stone walls and street name tags.
Church Opening Hours – When To Visit
The church opens in the morning and closes by lunch time. It opens again in the afternoon. Here are the opening hours:
Monday – Friday: 9:30 – 12:45; 14:30 – 18:30;
Saturday: 9:30 – 12:15; 14:30 – 18:30;
Sunday: 11:30 – 12:45; 14:30 – 18:30.
It’s a good idea to check out the official website of the church before your visit, to ensure that the schedule is still the same. The website is in French, but you’ll find your way around with ease, even if you don’t speak a word of it.
Although very beautiful, this church isn’t in the main focus of the tourists. Most of the time there are only a few people inside at a time. There’s only one exception: the afternoon opening time.
Avoid getting to San Luigi by 14:30, because there will be a long line of people waiting to see the three paintings of St Mathew by Caravaggio. All these people will flock toward the Contarelli chapel where the three paintings are, so you won’t be able to take proper photos. That’s what happened to me; I had to wait for about 30 minutes for these groups to end their visit and to leave me alone with the beautiful church. The positive thing about getting there by the opening time, though, was that I enjoyed the lit paintings without having to put any of my coins in the machine. There were enough tourists willing to insert a coin as the lights went out.
Why Visit the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi
This is a baroque style church. This means that you can’t take your eyes off those amazing ceilings, walls and pillars. Every inch of this interior is decorated with golden adornments, colorful images of angels and saints, as well as statues and chandeliers. I didn’t count the chapels lining up along the walls, but I think there are about ten of them.
Here are the main reasons why you should put this church on your Rome itinerary:
– Caravaggio’s series of paintings depicting scenes from the life of St. Matthew
– The baroque style adornments
– The monumental organ by Joseph Merklin, a 19th century artwork
This is also where some important French personalities are buried.
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