Filippo Neri (1515-95) was a wealthy Florentine who abandoned the cut and thrust of the business world to live and work among the poor in Rome. He experienced an 'ecstasy' of divine love at the Catacombs of San Sebastiano in 1544, after which he founded the Oratorian order. In 1575 work began on the order's headquarters, the Chiesa Nuova, on the site of Santa Maria in Vallicella (donated by Gregory XIII).
Neri wanted a large, simple building; the plain walls were covered with exuberant frescoes and multicoloured marbles only after his death. Pietro da Cortona painted Neri's Vision of the Virgin (1665) in the vault, the Trinity in Glory (1647) in the cupola and the Assumption of the Virgin (1650) in the apse. The Virgin and Child, over the altar, and saints Gregory and Domitilla, to the left and right, are by Rubens (1607-08).
Neri was canonised in 1622, and his body lies in an ornately decorated chapel to the left of the main altar. His rooms are open to all on 26 May (his feast day) - though you can also get in on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday between 10am and noon by booking a 30-minute guided tour (06 6880 4695). Singing was an important part of Oratorian worship, and oratory as a musical form developed out of the order's services. Next to the church, Borromini designed the brick Oratorio dei Filippini (1637-52).