Beato Zefferino Gimènez Malla is a 21st century "ethnic chapel" located in the grounds of the Santuario della Madonna del Divino Amore in the zone of Castel di Leva. A photo on Wikimedia Commons is here.

The exact location is just south-east of the main sanctuary church (the Nuovo Santuario), in a small wooded area known as the Boschetto.

The dedication is to Bl Zephyrinus Jiménez Malla. He was a Spanish Gypsy, martyred in the Spanish Civil War for having defended a priest from abuse by anti-clericals.

Status Edit

This is the Santuario degli Zingari, the first Christian place of worship in Italy intended for Gypsies -who are known in Italian as Zingari.

Both names are nowadays considered as having a pejorative background, and the terms "Romany" in English and Rom in Italian are being used as polite alternatives. However, the nomenclature is fraught and different Gypsy groups have different opinions on the subject. This is reflected in the name of the diocesan group responsible for founding the sanctuary, the Missioni Cattolica Rom e Sinti. The Sinti do not want to be referred to as Rom.

Despite having no roof (usually a fundamental requirement for the consecration of a church), the Diocese lists this as a public chapel dependent on the parish of the Santuario del Divino Amore.

It is not actually listed as a "national church", but amounts to one nevertheless (it depends on your definition of "nationality" -the gypsies have never had a nation-state).

A nickname (which has got into the shrine's publications) is Chiesa a Cielo Aperto ("Church open to heaven").

History Edit

The idea for the chapel was floated by Bruno Niccolini, a former diocesan priest of Bolzano who founded the Opera Nomadi in his diocese in 1963 in order to evangelize and help Gypsies in Italy. This was to be his life's work until he died in 2012. He was called to Rome by Bl Pope Paul VI in order to concentrate on this work in 1964.

The collapse of Communism in eastern Europe released the Gypsies there from an enforced sedentary state, and many took up their traditional migrant lifestyle again and went to western Europe. In Italy, the reaction was often viciously hostile (graffiti such as zingari alla camera di gas -"Gypsies to the gas chamber"- appeared).

Fr Niccolini had the idea in 2003 of founding a specifically Gypsy place of worship at Rome, doubling as a memorial shrine for those Gypsies killed in the Romani Genocide by the Nazis in the Second World War. The death toll of this is impossible to estimate accurately because of the socially marginal status of the victims, leading to a lack of identity documentation. However, half a million or more is regarded as a good estimate.

The artistic direction of the project was entrusted to Bruno Morelli, a Gypsy from the Abruzzi. The architects were Angela Pizzuti and Daniele Spano, and the engineering was by Erminio Marinelli.

The chapel was formally consecrated on 26 September 2004, the Santuario della Madonna del Divino Amore being chosen because there was already a tradition of Gypsies going on pilgrimage to it.

Appearance Edit

Flanking the grassy path on the way to the chapel are two standing stones. The one on the right bears a pottery table bearing a dedicatory epigraph Zefferino Gimenez Malla (1861-1936), Gitano Martire. The one on the left, a bit further up the slight slope, is a memorial to the Gypsies killed by the Nazis. A polychrome pottery plaque depicts a group of victims, and this is covered by a steel grating recalling their imprisonment in the camps. Round the left hand side is a epigraph on tiles describing the genocide, including the text In memoria dei 500 000 zingari, donne, uomini, bambini, vittime del genocidio nazista.

There is no roof of any sort in the actual church (hence it is called “a church open to heaven”), and the structure deliberately recalls a prehistoric stone circle. The plan is of a spoked cartwheel, which is the symbol of Gypsies internationally.

Twelve low, roughly hewn and vaguely cubical tufo blocks outline the circle. A further two, larger and better shaped rectangular stone monoliths flank the entrance and form a portal. These bear pottery plaques with Papal declarations on Gypsies. The one on the right by Bl Pope Paul VI reads Voi nella Chiesa non siete ai margini, voi siete nel cuore del Chiesa ("You are in the Church not at the margins, but at the heart of the Church"). The one on the left, by Pope St John Paul II, reads Non più discriminazioni, oppressioni, disprezzo dei poveri e degli umili ("No more discrimination, oppression and contempt for the poor and humble").

Within the portal, the grassed area is divided by eight radial paths in crazy paving, the ones on the major and transverse axes being wider than those on the diagonals. These form the spokes of the wheel. The liturgical axis of the chapel is transverse, since the congregation's seating is to the right and the seating of the liturgical ministers to the left. The former comprises a double-decker stone bench in the style of an ancient Greek theatre, and this curves round most of the right hand side of the circle.

In the centre, forming the wheel's hub, is a circular platform bearing a roughly-hewn stone altar in the form of a circular tub. This bears a circular mensa with a hole in the middle. On the altar facing the entrance is a terracotta plaque bearing a relief of The Lamb of God, by Primo Hudorovich who is a Kalderash Gypsy.

The two near diagonal paths simply stop in the grass near the ring of boulders. The right hand cardinal path runs to the curved bank of benches. The left hand one runs to the stone chair of the principal celebrant, flanked by a pair of stone box-benches.

The far right hand diagonal path runs to, and just beyond, a large simple wooden standing cross. The left hand one runs to the ambo or lectern. The front of this bears terracotta plaques showing The Symbols of the Evangelists by Marcello Cacciaroni who is a Sinti.

The far cardinal path, beyond the altar, runs to a bronze figurative sculpture of the patron Bl Zephyrinus saying the Rosary in the Tree of Life. He was reciting the Rosary when he was shot. This impressive work is by Bruno Morelli.

External links Edit

"Unavox" web-page

"Fondazione Migrantes" web-page (has PDF article to download)

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