At the beginning of the 16th Century, the Protestant Reformation began. Led in large part by Martin Luther, the participants in this movement sought to fundamentally alter the Catholic Church’s doctrine and message. These Protestants took issue with what they saw as the unnecessary and ungodly excesses of the Church; many parishioners sought to buy their way into heaven, while the Church built enormous and ornate cathedrals. However, one of the most poignant aspects of Catholicism critiqued by the Protestants was its idolization—both literal and figurative—of the saints and apostles. The Protestants did not believe in the divine power of the saints, and they were especially opposed to the use of images and idols of these individuals; they viewed such representations as incongruous with Christian teachings, which forbid idolatry. Combined with a particular emphasis on faith—not acts, nor wealth—to achieve salvation, the Protestants soon split entirely from the Catholic Church. This new branch of Christianity grew rapidly throughout northern Europe.1
Keenly aware of the fracturing within the Catholic Church, Pope Paul III called the Council of Trent in 1545 to address reforms and changes within the Church, thus beginning the Counter-Reformation. While the Church worked to tackle many of the corruption issues raised by the Reformation, perhaps most intriguing are the changes within the culture of the Church. Unlike the Protestants, who focused on faith and God’s grace as a way of creating a relationship with God, the Catholic Church shifted its focus toward a personal, bodily, and emotional relationship with God.2 This ideological and theological shift is seen in the art of the time, known today as Baroque. Baroque artists, such as Gian Lorenzo Bernini, created vivid and masterful pieces that emphasized sensory and emotional experiences for the viewer; this art made people feel more in touch with the Church and with God.3 The intricate and sensuous details of these pieces—which have irrevocably shaped art, religion, and world history—can still be experienced today.