San Luigi dei Francesi

The Church of St. Louis of the French (Italian: San Luigi dei Francesi, French: Saint Louis des Français, Latin: S. Ludovici Francorum de Urbe) is a Roman Catholic minor basilica and titular church in Rome, not far from Piazza Navona. The church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, to St. Denis the Areopagite and St. Louis IX, king of France. The church was designed by Giacomo della Porta and built by Domenico Fontana between 1518 and 1589, and completed through the personal intervention of Catherine de' Medici, who donated to it some property in the area. It is the national church in Rome of France. The current Cardinal-Priest of the Titulus S. Ludovici Francorum de Urbe is André Vingt-Trois.


When the Saracens burned the Abbey of Farfa in 898, a group of refugees settled in Rome. Monks remained in Rome even after their abbot Ratfredus (934-936) rebuilt the abbey. By the end of the tenth century, the Abbey of Farfa owned in Rome churches, houses, windmills and vineyards. A bull of Holy Roman Emperor Otto III in 998 confirms the property of three churches: Santa Maria, San Benedetto and the oratorio of San Salvatore. When they ceded their property to the Medici family in 1480, the church of Santa Maria became the church of Saint Louis of the French. Cardinal Giulio di Giuliano de' Medici commissioned Jean de Chenevière to build a church for the French community in 1518. Building was halted when Rome was sacked in 1527, the church was finally completed in 1589 by Domenico Fontana. The interior was restored by Antoine Dérizet between 1749 and 1756.

The foundation Pieux Etablissements de la France à Rome et à Lorette is responsible for the five French churches in Rome and apartment buildings in Rome and in Loreto. The foundation is governed by an "administrative deputy" named by the French ambassador to the Holy See.


Giacomo della Porta made the façade as a piece of decorative work entirely independent of the body of the structure, a method much copied later. The French character is evident from the façade itself, which has several statues recalling national history: these include Charlemagne, St. Louis, St. Clothilde and St. Jeanne of Valois. The interior also has frescoes by Charles-Joseph Natoire recounting stories of Saint Louis IX, Saint Denis and Clovis.


Domenichino painted here one of his masterworks, the frescoes portraying the Histories of Saint Cecilia. Other artists who worked in the decoration of San Luigi dei Francesi include Cavalier D'Arpino, Francesco Bassano il Giovanni, Muziano, Giovanni Baglione, Siciolante da Sermoneta, Jacopino del Conte, Tibaldi and Antoine Derizet.

The church's most famous item is, however, the cycle of paintings in the Contarelli Chapel, painted by the Baroque master Caravaggio in 1599-1600 about the life of St. Matthew. This include the three world-renowned canvases of The Calling of St Matthew, The Inspiration of Saint Matthew, The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew.


The church was chosen as the burial place for the higher prelates and members of the French community of Rome: these include the tomb of Pauline de Beaumont, who died of consumption in Rome in 1805, erected by her lover Chateaubriand, the classic liberal economist Frédéric Bastiat and that of Cardinal François-Joachim de Pierre de Bernis, ambassador in Rome for Louis XV and Louis XVI.


This church is where Martin Luther stayed when he came to Rome for his trial, which was held at the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva which is on the other side of the Pantheon.

San Luigi dei Francesi Building

Adjacent to the church is the late-Baroque San Luigi dei Francesi Building. It was built in 1709-1716 as a place to stay for the French religious community and pilgrims without resources". Its porch has a bust of Christ whose face is traditionally identified as Cesare Borgia's. The interior houses a gallery with portraits of the French kings and a notable Music Hall.

Cardinal-Priests of St. Louis of the French since 1967

  • Pierre Veuillot (29 June 1967 – 14 February 1968)
  • François Marty (30 April 1969 – 16 February 1994)
  • Jean-Marie Lustiger (26 November 1994 – 5 August 2007)
  • André Armand Vingt-Trois (24 November 2007 – Present)


  • Claudio Rendina, Enciclopedia di Roma. Netwon Compton, Rome, 1999.