Santa Maria della Visitazione all’Aurelio is a 20th century monastery church at Via di Torre Rossa 21, south-west of Vatican City and at the north-west corner of the Villa Doria Pamphilj in the Aurelio quarter. A picture of the church on Wikimedia Commons is here.
The church is structurally part of a monastic complex, built as a new project in 1933.
The motivation for founding a new Benedictine abbey in the city at such a late date was solely to provide a location for work on the revision of the Vulgate edition of the Bible. This late 4th century Latin version of the original Hebrew and Greek scriptures had remained the only official version of the Bible in the Roman Catholic Church until the early 20th century. By then, the need for a critical edition and revision of the text had become obvious.
In 1907, Pope Pius X entrusted the Order of St Benedict with this task. At first the work was based at the order's Roman college at Sant'Anselmo all'Aventino but this proved unsatisfactory and the undertaking was later moved to premises owned by the Holy See next to San Callisto. The major problem was that the monks entrusted with the task were being called away to other duties by their superiors while at Sant'Anselmo, in contradiction to the wishes of the pope.
So, Pope Pius XI determined to found a separate monastery under his own authority. This was the Pontificia Abbazia di San Girolamo in Urbe, completed in 1933. The patron was St Jerome, responsible for the original Vulgate text.
Most of the community was drawn from the abbey of Clervaux in Luxembourg, and the first abbot appointed was Henri Quentin. He was also in charge of the revision project, and supervised the publication of the critical edition in fascicles. However, he died two years after the abbey was founded.
The Vulgate project had two aims. One was to provide a critical edition of the Vulgate text. The other, more urgent but dependent on progress on the former, was to provide a revised text of the Scriptures for used in the liturgy of the Church.
The latter part of the project came to a crashing stop after the Second Vatican Council. The council itself only required the Book of Psalms to be freshly translated into the Latin, but in 1965 Pope St Paul VI extended the requirement of a fresh translation to the entire Bible. This was achieved quickly, using the critical work by the monks at San Girolamo, and the result was promulgated by Pope St John Paul II as the standard text for liturgical use in 1979. This is the so-called New Vulgate.
The abbey was left only with the non-urgent task of providing a critical edition of the original Vulgate text of St Jerome. Although academically important, and with future implications for revising the text of the New Vulgate, it was decided to terminate the project when the Old Testament was completely published.
The abbey was suppressed in 1984 by Pope St John Paul II, although its final volume of the critical edition of the Vulgate Old Testament was only published in 1995.
The entire abbey complex was transferred to the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music, and is now that institution's main headquarters. It is still often known as the Abbazia di San Girolamo.
The writer suspects that there is no regular liturgical activity in the church now, but has been able to find no details.
The plan of the church is based on a Latin cross, with a long sanctuary including a choir. This and the nave are under a single pitched and tiled roof.
The exterior walls are in pink brick, with architectural details in stucco. The overall style is neo-Romanesque with simplified Classical details.
The façade faces the street entrance in a formal way, with a short driveway through iron gates.
The first storey has two projecting flat-roofed kiosks flanking the entrance, each with a blank round-headed niche recessed within a deep frame on its outer face. These are placed on high plinths. The entrance, approached by steps between the kiosks, has a pair of pillars without capitals on box-like plinths, supporting a fragment of entablature instead of a pediment. The top and bottom lines of the frieze of this are continued as a double string course below the rooflines of the kiosks. The first storey is topped by a projecting cornice.
The second storey, above this cornice, has a tall round-headed window set within a rectangular frame with a projecting cornice. The rest of the frontage here is blank brickwork, with the central section containing the window slightly projecting. There is a triangular pediment containing a stucco coat-of-arms.
There is a campanile, a square tower attached to the left of the presbyterium. It has large rectangular sound-holes with diagonally recessed frames, and cornices above and below the bell-chamber. Above the bell-chamber is a further short storey topped by a further cornice and having a recess on each face shaped like a segment of a cylinder. The pyramidal cap is very low.