Chapelle St Jacques Nice - Churchs in Nice

A combination of two buildings, the form and interior of this church is contrasted with the others in Nice. There is a lot around the building itself to attract the eye, but only for a moment. You are slowly drawn inside to gaze on some spectacular pieces of art and history, some of which are hundreds of years old and were gathered by the Jesuits. The name Jacques refers to Saint James the Greater whose relics were found at Santiago de Compostela in Spain, while Gesu comes from the first Jesuit church in Rome and will lend itself to the square.


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The Jesuits or Companions of Jesus are hardly unknown to you and I. They are renowned for their work in the field of education, applied principles of reason to Catholic teachings and played a pivotal role in the Counter-Reformation movement. Saint Ignatius Loyola, a former soldier, founded them in 1534. They arrived in Nice sometime at the beginning of the XVIIth Century and settled in the centre of Nice's old town.

By 1612, construction began on this church with the support of a merchant, Ponzio Ceva, that was completed 30 years later. During the European Middle Ages, merchants often helped religious orders build churches and monuments for reasons of piety or posterity. Probably due to the vast collection of artefacts under their care, the Jesuit fathers soon decided that they needed a bigger one. In 1802, this extra space was completed as a parish church dedicated to the apostle Saint James the Greater.

One might be able to distinguish some elements of Roman architecture in this Baroque church, but you would need to be quite an art history connoisseur to do so. The Jesuits were one of the main promoters of Baroque architecture as its characteristics appealed to their religious philosophy. In many ways, their strong presence impacted on the choice of style of many religious buildings as others copied it. Deliberately sedate, the exterior's only decoration is the Venetian window. It helps create a sense of symmetry that is carried through to the main altar. A lot is going on here; just look at the onion dome covered in multi-coloured tiles.

Moving inside, you will realize that the nave has no transept, while the chancel, which is deliberately narrow, has a strong rectangular shape. The shape is repeated in the bays that are above the chapels along the nave's side. Small niches alternate with the chapels all along the nave. The vaulted ceiling is clearly defined by its transverse nature linking to the chapels' pillars. The whole decor is based around stucco creating a breathtaking effect. The interior is richly covered with statues and friezes of angels that alternate in size depending on whether they are on the arcs of the chapels or small openings. The larger ones are on the former, while the smaller ones appear on the latter. These are deliberate choices to accentuate the Jesuits' use of reason.

Once done looking around, go for a walk around the Square de Gesu, enjoy the scenery and peer into the stores.