A new study of the Boncompagni Ludovisi family crypt in the church of Sant’Ignazio in Rome

By Emilie Puja (Rutgers ’25)

The Ludovisi Chapel in the church of Sant’ Ignazio, with subterranean crypt in foreground, as it stood in November 2018. Photo: Anthony Majanlahti.

The subterranean Boncompagni Ludovisi family crypt located in Rome’s church of Sant’Ignazio—beneath the floor of the Ludovisi chapel, now closed—houses a significant number of coffins, sarcophagi, and inscriptions. There is a sequence of burials from Pope Gregory XV Ludovisi (d. 1623) to Prince Giuseppe Maria Boncompagni Ludovisi (d. 1849), then a long gap until Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi (born 1941, Prince of Piombino from 1988). Prince Nicolò, who died 8 March 2018, was interred at Sant’ Ignazio on 14 November 2018.

It seems no one has attempted to identify who is buried in this Boncompagni Ludovisi crypt other than a family archivist, Giuseppe Felici, in an unpublished manuscript from 1957. Yet Felici’s roster is demonstrably incomplete. Uncertainties are understandable, since it appears that the crypt has been opened for burials just twice in the last 175 years. To judge from significant omissions in Felici’s list, it seems likely that the archivist never had seen the interior of the family crypt.

My research attempts to organize a new record of the Boncompagni Ludovisi burials in Sant’ Ignazio while considering two main questions: What can we conclude about the family based on who was buried there and when? And what inscriptions are there? I have transcribed and translated the inscriptions as photographed in 2018 by Anthony Majanlahti (in difficult, low-light and time-stressed conditions) as well as funeral records from the family’s unpublished archive, comparing their data to compile a new directory of people buried in the Sant’ Ignazio crypt. 

The funerary monument of Pope Gregory XV and Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi in the Ludovisi Chapel in Sant’Ignazio church as it stood in October 2022. The family chapel is now off-access and used for storage (hence the large architectural model in foreground). Photo: T. Corey Brennan

The Ludovisi chapel of Sant’Ignazio holds the massive funerary monument of Pope Gregory XV (1554-1621-1623) and his nephew Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi (1595-1621-1632), the work of French sculptor Pierre Legros (1666-1719) with contributions by Pierre-Etienne Monnot (1657-1733). This conspicuous monument, built in the years 1709-1719, grandly indicates the burial here of Pope and Cardinal-nephew, but other burials of the family are more covert. “Conditorium Boncompagni Ludovisi” (Boncompagni Ludovisi Tomb) is inscribed on the floor in front of this late Baroque monument.

Removing the large floor tile with this inscription reveals a dark, cramped staircase leading to the Sant’Ignazio crypt of the Boncompagni Ludovisi. Though online resources mainly note only the burial of Pope Gregory XV, a glimpse at images of the interior of the crypt show that inscriptions line the walls and coffins cover the floor. In other words, it is a complicated space with a large number of family burials.

Image of the entrance to the Boncompagni Ludovisi family crypt, beneath the floor in Sant’Ignazio. It appears that the family tomb has been opened just twice for burials since 1849, most recently in 2018.

My process of identifying other members of the family buried in the Sant’Ignazio crypt began with looking at the list from Felici’s manuscript. This information was further verified and in some cases corrected or supplemented with images and documents from the family’s private archive housed in the Casino dell’Aurora.

First, I compared the list against a selection of recent (2018) images taken by Anthony Majanlahti in the crypt to determine who was buried there and how they were commemorated. Names and dates of birth and death were checked, recorded, and referenced with known information about the family’s members. To further confirm these findings, I searched the unpublished Boncompagni Ludovisi archive for documentation of burials. All findings were organized in a directory of names, each of which links to a document including information about each person’s identity, spouse/children, images of inscription(s), and any documents from the archive related to the funeral service/procession or burial.

Top: list of individuals buried in Sant’Ignazio, according to Felici’s unpublished 1957 manuscript. Center: image of funerary inscription of Ippolita Ludovisi (1663-1733) in Sant’ Ignazio, taken in 2018 by Anthony Majanlahti. Below: Document describing Ippolita Ludovisi’s funeral procession to Sant’ Ignazio, from the Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi.

The end result was the compilation of a new directory list of Boncompagni Ludovisi burials in Sant’ Ignazio, complete (in the original document) with links to information, images of inscriptions, transcriptions, and translations. Certain names are bracketed to indicate that they are not buried in the crypt but are important to the family tree. PP = Prince / Princess of Piombino. DS = Duke of Sora.

Most epigraphical texts in the crypt—all of which are in Latin—simply include name, a partner or a parent, and death, while more extravagant inscriptions are found above ground in the walls of the actual Ludovisi chapel. In the crypt, some epigraphy is inscribed onto plaques mounted in the walls, and some burials are commemorated by inscriptions on their sarcophagi.

Though Pope Gregory XV Ludovisi died in 1623, his body was moved into the crypt only after the completion of the Ludovisi chapel in Sant’ Ignazio in 1717. The remains of the Pope’s nephew, Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi (d. 1632), and the Pope’s brother (and father of Ludovico and Niccolò Ludovisi), Orazio Ludovisi (d. 1640) probably were deposited there at the same time. These men each passed before Sant’Ignazio opened for worship in 1650; indeed, Felici does not list Orazio as an individual buried in the crypt. Orazio’s wife Lavinia Albergati (d. 1621) identified in her inscription as “duchess of Fiano, wife of the brother of Gregory XV” also found a place in the crypt.

So who were the first family members buried in the crypt of the Ludovisi chapel? It is difficult to say, since one (perhaps two) young sons of Niccolò Ludovisi by his second wife Polissena Appiano (d. 1642) are commemorated in the crypt. Whether this was the original burial spot, or reflects a later transfer, is difficult to say.

Dominique Barrière, engraving (1665) of “Cenotaph and Apparatus” erected at S Ignazio to commemorate the deaths of Niccolò Ludovisi and Costanza Pamphili in late 1664-early 1665, with (below) detail of portrait shields of the couple. Credit: British Museum.

What is certain is that Niccolò Ludovisi (died 25 December 1664 in Calgliari) and his (third) wife Costanza Pamphili (died in pregnancy 3 April 1665) had elaborate funerary ceremonies first in Piombino (at the church of S Agostino) and then in Rome at S Ignazio in 1665. Perhaps that occasion saw the inauguration of the Ludovisi family crypt.

At any rate, this couple are followed by the sister of Niccolò, Ippolita Ludovisi (1600-1672, who as a widow married Flavio Orsini in 1642), then one Lavinia Ludovisi (1659-1682), daughter of Niccolò Ludovisi and Costanza Pamphili, herself the wife of Giangirolamo (III) Acquaviva d’Aragona (1663-1709), Duke of Atri. So burials in the crypt perhaps started in the mid-1660s, and certainly by the early 1670s.

Portrait ca. 1758 of Giacinta Orsini Boncompagni Ludovisi (1741-1759), by Pompeo Batoni (1708-1787). Private collection; credit Wikimedia Commons.

An interesting case is Giacinta Orsini (1741-1759), married in 1757 at age 15 to Antonio (II) Boncompagni Ludovisi (1735-1805, from 1777 Prince of Piombino), who died giving birth aged not quite 18. Her burial in Sant’Ignazio was not recorded by Giuseppe Felici, yet her funerary inscription is (barely) visible in images of the family crypt.

A document found in the archive describes the preparation of her body (no embalming), her funeral procession, and her burial at Sant’Ignazio. Her body was transported from the villa to the church in a mourning carriage. The corpse was exposed in the middle of the church, surrounded by embroidered velvet, weapons, and torches. After the masses, the body was examined. Then the box holding her was closed and placed inside another lead box with the inscription, and this inside another wooden box, sealed and buried in the Ludovisi crypt.

Above: supplement to death certificate (1759) of Giacinta Orsini, describing her funeral (Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi prot. 592 no. 32). Below: partial image of Giacinta Orsini’s funerary inscription in Sant’Ignazio, taken in 2018 (credit: Anthony Majanlahti).

Another interesting case of a burial in the Sant’ Ignazio crypt is Eleonora Zapata (1593-1679), who in 1607 married Gregorio Boncompagni (1590-1628), Duke of Sora, the grandson of Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni. Also buried there are three daughters and one granddaughter of Zapata who each entered the convent of Santa Marta al Collegio Romano, just steps from Sant’Ignazio: Maria Boncompagni (born 1620 and dying in 1648, the same year as an elder married sister), and, outliving their mother, Caterina (1619-1699) and Cecilia Boncompagni (1624-1706); the granddaughter is Giovanna Boncompagni (1649-1688). Since the Boncompagni and Ludovisi families were united by marriage only in 1681, it comes as a surprise to find Boncompagni family members deceased before that date in a Ludovisi tomb.

As it happens, Eleonora Zapata was originally buried in the crypt of Santa Marta. After the church was sacked by Napoleonic troops and subsequently deconsecrated, in 1907-1908 Rodolfo Boncompagni Ludovisi (1834-1911, Prince of Piombino from 1883) moved the bodies of Zapata and those three daughters to the Sant’Ignazio crypt. A large inscription with lengthy text was added to the crypt to commemorate this transfer. It is the only time the crypt is known to have been opened between 1849 and 2018.

Partial image of Eleonora Zapata’s funerary inscription in Sant’Ignazio, taken in 2018 (credit: Anthony Majanlahti).

Felici notes that there may be other, unidentifiable individuals in the Sant’ Ignazio crypt. With further study, we can draw more conclusions about the funerary traditions and habits of an Italian noble family like the Boncompagni Ludovisi. For example, the list of burials in the crypt skips multiple generations, even before a grand family mausoleum was built in Rome’s Verano Cemetery in 1881. Where are those important people buried?

Additionally, there are more documents in the archive relating to funerals, burials, transfers, and funerary inscriptions yet to be transcribed and translated. Some inscriptions are not visible in the images we have of the crypt. In summer 2023, I hope in Rome to continue my study of the Boncompagni Ludovisi crypt at the church of Sant’Ignazio. 

Emilie Puja is a rising junior in the Honors College at Rutgers University, double majoring in Classics and Information Technology and Informatics with a minor in Archaeology. Emilie completed this research project as an Aresty Research Assistant for the Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi during the 2022-2023 school year.  She writes, “I would like to acknowledge Professor T. Corey Brennan for his guidance and encouragement throughout my research. I also thank HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi for providing access to the private Boncompagni Ludovisi archive. Special thanks to Anthony Majanlahti (board member, Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi), who took several images of the interior of the crypt in difficult conditions on 14 November 2018. Finally, I thank the Aresty Research Center for facilitating this opportunity.”

View of two chapels in the church of Sant’Ignazio, each now off-access. In the first is buried S Aloysius Gonzaga and Cardinal Robert Bellarmine; the second is the Ludovisi Chapel. Photo (October 2022): T. Corey Brennan

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