Visitors to the church square are greeted by the figure of an elephant designed by Bernini in 1667 and used as a base for a small Egyptian obelisk from the 6th century BC. The inscription on the pedestal says that it requires great strength to bear wisdom.
Basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva was begun around 1280 in the Gothic style on the ruins of the Temple of Minerva but was not completed until 1453. Thus Santa Maria sopra Minerva is the only major Gothic church in Rome.
Located in the city centre, under the care of the Dominican preaching order, the church attracted the Roman people. Inside the basilica, there is a nave divided from the two aisles by arcades of columns, and side chapels decorated with paintings. The large number of tombs bear witness to the importance of this church in the religious life of the city.
The best-known burial chapel is that of the Caraffa family in the transept, on the end wall on the right. It is also known as the Chapel of the Annunciation of St Thomas, and contains the tomb of Cardinal Oliviero Caraffa. It is famous for frescoes by Filippino Lippi from the period around 1489. Lippi simultaneously depitted the fame of the Mother of God and Virgin Mary and that of St Thomas Aquinas, who was a Dominican.
The remains of St Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) rest in the high altar. In a multitude of letters, she urged the popes to return to Rome from their exile in Avignon. To the left of the high altar is a marble statue of the resurrected Christ by Michelangelo (1521). The tomb of the exceptionally gifted church painter Fra Angelico, a member of the Dominican order, is in the side choir on the left.