On Sunday, April 10, 2005, Cardinal William H. Keeler celebrated a Memorial Mass for Pope John Paul II in his titular Church in Rome, the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels and Martyrs. Pope John Paul II named Cardinal Keeler as titular of the basilica when he elevated the Cardinal to the College of Cardinals in November, 1994.
It has long been a tradition in the Church that cardinals are given title to one of the churches in Rome. It represents a close tie to the city and to the Bishop of Rome, the Holy Father. It also maintains refers back to the ancient tradition that the clergy of Rome would elect their bishop. One of the responsibilities of the Pope is to serve as Bishop of Rome.
Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri (St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs) is significant for its history, art, architecture and use. The church was designed by Michelangelo in 1560. There are two churches in Rome are associated with Michelangelo: St. Peter’s Basilica and Santa Maria degli Angeli.
The church is on the site of the hot baths of the notorious persecutor of Christians, the emperor Diocletian. The baths were constructed by Christian slave labor. Pope Pius IV, who is buried near the church’s altar, had the church built as a way of showing the Church’s triumph over paganism and imperialism.
Michelangelo’s design, which includes a huge cross—shaped interior, incorporates the ruins of the baths which date back to third-century Rome. Large windows around the ceiling illuminate the cavernous church. Michelangelo also kept the eight huge, red granite Egyptian monoliths to serve as pillars for the church. Corinthian-styled capitals are found throughout.
Baroque qualities were added to the church in the 18th century. However, the church’s interior, rich looking with various shades of red and white marble, also includes original paintings that once were part of St. Peter’s Basilica before mosaics were completed there.
The church is connected to St. Bruno and the Carthusians. The hermetic Carthusians lived a life of silence and solitude. The statue, erected in 1766, is considered a major work of art. St. Charles Borromeo, who presided at the Council of Trent, is also associated with the church.
Santa Maria degli Angeli is also associated with Italian government religious events. The Italians use the church for national religious services. Memorial services for Italians who died in war, for example, are held here. The last king of Italy was married here. After the wedding, the queen gave her wedding dress to the priests to be made into Mass vestments. They are on display in the church. The last national service was a memorial Mass for Italian soldiers who died in Iraq.
The church has had 31 titular cardinals. The most recent was Cardinal Paul Emile Leger of Montreal. This was his titular church from 1963 until his death in 1991.