Santa Francesca Romana a Ponte Rotto consists of a secular institute with a private chapel, the Istituto dei Santi Spirituali Esercizi per Uomini, and is situated at Via dei Vascellari 61 in Trastevere.
The building is a mediaeval palazzo, originally belonging to the Ponzini family. In 1799 it was acquired as a pastoral centre by Don Gioacchino Michelini, priest in charge of the (now demolished) church of San Salvatore in Trastevere. The institute that he set up has run this ever since, and has also in the past been involved with the churches of Sant’Eligio dei Sellai (from 1821 until the end of the century) and Santa Maria Assunta al Gianicolo.
The area used to be a seriously deprived slum, inhabited by poor people living mainly on casual labour, but has been gentrified since the 1970's. The complex is now a pilgrimage hostel taking paying guests, as well as a conference centre.
The chapel is not open to casual visitors. It has been recently refurbished as part of the marketing of the conference centre, and has been provided with an icon of Our Lady, Refuge of Sinners (Refugium Peccatorum). It is referred to nowadays as Cappella di Santa Maria Refugium Peccatorum.
The chapel has no external identity as such. However, if you go south along the street you will arrive in a little piazza. The two-storey frontage of the palazzo on this piazza has a pediment with its left hand corner chopped off by the neighbouring building. Below the pediment is a partially blocked lunette window with an arc of fenestration, and this is actually behind the chapel's main altar.
The chapel is in the second storey and consists of two rooms, a transverse rectangular narthex and a square main worshipping area which is not very large (overall the capacity is 150). These are separated by a clear glass screen wall.
The narthex, which contains pews as well, has an altar dedicated to the Annunciation to Our Lady on the left. To the right is a portrait-icon of St Frances of Rome. Also here is a charming Baroque stucco putto supporting a little table.
The main chapel has a ceiling in varnished laminated pinewood, which curves over short barrel-vaults to the sides and the back. The back arch encloses an arc-shaped window (already noted in the exterior), and below this is the venerated icon of Our Lady, Refuge of Sinners in a gilded Baroque glory.
The chapel decor is in pale pink, with architectural elements in white. There is a high dado with cornice, and on this are simple Doric pilasters. Also on the dado cornice are a set of eight five-branched gilded Baroque candlesticks, which actually look stupid because lighting them would leave smoke-marks on the walls.
The altar is in red marble, and stands on a platform in the same stone. Behind, the platform incorporates seating for the liturgical ministers which flanks a pillar bearing the tabernacle. The latter is polychrome marble work with a chased and gilded door, and is much older than the rest of the sanctuary furniture which was installed in the recent refurbishment.