Cappella Domus Mariae is a mid 20th century confraternity chapel at Via Aurelia 481 in the Aurelio suburban district.

The dedication is to the Blessed Virgin Mary, apparently under her aspect of the Immaculate Conception.

Name Edit

The dedication of the complex was to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Its original name in Latin is "House of Mary".

The commercial name of Palazzo Carpegna has also been used recently, which invites confusion (hopefully not deliberate) with the famous Palazzo Carpegna near the Trevi Fountain. This name was apparently chosen because the Villa Carpegna is adjacent, and the Domus stands in its former grounds.

History Edit

Catholic Action Edit

The enormous edifice, of which the chapel is part, was built as the headquarters of Azione Cattolica which is the Italian manifestation of the wider late 19th and 20th century European phenomenon of "Catholic Action". In general, the latter comprised a collection of different lay political or quasi-political movements, active in countries with a Roman Catholic religious identification but with anti-clerical government traditions. The broad aim was to present a Catholic presence in secular social activities and institutions. With time, the tendency was for "Catholic Action" groups either to morph into constituents of political parties or to fade away -the latter especially in the later 20th century.

In Italy, Azione Cattolica (AC) had a special significance both in the Kingdom of Italy before the Fascist government, and also during the reign of the latter. This was because, from 1870 to 1929 the Papacy discouraged or actively prohibited the formal involvement of Roman Catholics in government because of its wish to further its claim to be the legitimate secular government of Rome (see "Roman Question"). AC was a means of providing Catholics with social involvement while reserving judgment on the validity of social institutions.

Because of this special set of circumstances, AC in Italy developed a strong and well-regulated structure and was able to interact with secular authorities on its own account.

The situation under the Fascists was more straightforward, in that any political activity by religious bodies was prohibited. However, the Fascists mostly tolerated AC (after initial conflicts) because of the practical usefulness to society of its activities, and also perhaps because it absorbed Catholic enthusiasms that might otherwise have focused in a directly anti-Fascist manner.

Domus Mariae Edit

After the Second World War, this enhanced status of AC in Italy led the Holy See to sponsor the building of a huge new headquarters -the Domus Mariae. This included a chapel amounting to a full-sized church, very expensively fitted out.

The foundation stone was laid in 1951, and the project was completed in 1954 when Pope Pius XII inaugurated the complex. The architect was Anselmo Poma, according to "Info.roma".

Decline Edit

This huge, expensive building is a memorial to a era of confident expansion in the Roman Catholic Church, despite evidence of a declining influence in wider Italian society. Unfortunately, the Second Vatican Council marked the start of a precipitous decline in membership of AC in Italy -from 3.5 million in 1964 (the year before the closure of the Council), to 600 000 ten years later. There were several reasons for this. AC had a monolithic hierarchical structure, finding expression in polymorphic practical applications in society. Many of the sporting and cultural activities found managerial independence, and many alternative lay Catholic organisations were founded in the period and after. However, the main cause for the shrinkage in membership was the loss of commitment among members.

The Domus Mariae became too large and expensive to run. In response, a large part of it was converted into a hotel called the Domus Mariae Palazzo Carpegna. Recently, this was renamed "The Church Palace" (its name in Italian).

Part of the complex is still used as offices by AC, but the headquarters are at Via della Conciliazione 1.

The chapel now finds its main use as a venue for weddings.

Also see Cappella della Conferenza Episcopale Italiana.

Exterior Edit

Layout and fabric of Domus Edit

The Domus is up a long driveway, and is invisible from the Via Aurelia.

This huge edifice is in a neo-Classical style, and could have been built half a century earlier than it actually was. The overall plan is a transverse rectangle. The building comprises three five-storey units, namely a front-central entrance block and two L-shaped main wings which occupy the far corners of the rectangle. The entrance block is connected to the front ends of the main wings by a pair of three-storey ranges. The overall façade of the Domus comprises the entrance block, these two connecting ranges and the front ends of the main wings. The first storey of this ensemble is actually below the level of the surface of the car park in front.

The fabric is in yellow brick, with architectural details in white. The roofs are mostly pitched and tiled, although those of the two-storey front ranges are flat.

The decorative scheme features Tuscan Doric pilasters, raised on an entablature which separates the second (ground level at front) and third storeys. These pilasters only embellish the façade and the near ends of the side wings -the rest of the edifice is mostly in bare brickwork.

Chapel layout and fabric Edit

The chapel is a full-sized basilical church edifice, running back from behind the entrance block to between the far ends of the two L-shaped main wings. It is flanked by two fully enclosed courtyards, containing a theatre or cinema and lecture hall.

Many large convents have this layout, so that you can enter the main entrance and carry straight on to end up in the chapel. However, here you exit the entrance block and find yourself in the open air within a small courtyard with the chapel façade in front of you. This is very unusual.

There is a central nave with side aisles followed by a sanctuary transept of the same width. The pink brick outer walls of the aisles are very tall, and are one with the transept ends. The height is because the chapel stands over a ground-level crypt, and also has galleries over the side aisles. The latter are lit by a row of smallish round-headed windows in square white frames, and the galleries by a matching row of round-headed windows in vertical rectangular frames above.

There is a low wall between the flat roofs of the narrow side aisles, and the pitched and tiled main roof.

The sanctuary is a narrow apse, a major segment of a vertical cylinder (the curve is slightly more than a semi-circle). Again, the exterior is very tall because there is a ground-level crypt storey. The apse is in pink brick again, decorated with blind pilasters, and has a semi-dome conch in green copper.

Façade Edit

The paving of the entrance courtyard is actually at the second storey level of the complex, in line with the roof of the ground-level crypt. Because of this courtyard, the chapel has a façade.

The courtyard now functions also as an al-fresco restaurant dining area.

The chapel façade has two storeys. The first has four Tuscan Doric pilasters with simplified capitals, supporting a dividing entablature. Each of the three zones thus created contains a round-headed portal, the central one being larger.

The entire storey is revetted in white, with geometric patterns in dark grey inlay. The walling between the pilasters has thin horizontal stripes, and the pilasters are edged with vertical stripes. The frieze of the entablature has a row of squares and rectangles.

The second storey has a large round-headed central recessed panel, containing a rose window fitted into the curve. The latter springs from two lengths of cornice running to the outer cornice of the façade, and all the storey below this is also in white. The rest of the recess has thin horizontal dark grey stripes, but the walling below the cornices is divided by stripes of the same thickness delineating nine squares each side.

The façade above the cornices and round-headed recess is in naked brickwork. The gable has what looks like slightly projecting eaves in white, but these are actually false since the central nave roof behind is slightly lower.

Interior Edit

Nave Edit

The chapel has the layout of a high-status church.

The first bay contains an entrance lobby, over which is the organ gallery. Round-headed portals lead through into the nave proper. This has six bays. The aisles are divided from the central nave by arcades, having simply molded archivolts springing from imposts supported by Ionic columns. The columns look as if they are in green brecciated verde antico marble, but the writer wonders if this is real for structural reasons.

Above each arcade is blank walling then a side gallery, with its frontage included in the walling. The gallery void is divided by square piers, one above each arcade column, which have silly little derivative Ionic capitals and which are revetted in the green marble. The revetting is ribbed.

The floor is in pale brown marble tiling, with stripes in two widths creating a pattern of rectangles.

The side aisles have green marble wall pilasters, supporting blind arcades echoing the nave arcades, and the doorways here have door-cases in the same stone.

The roof is in longitudinal concrete slabs, supported by transverse concrete V-beams with their lower edges curving down to the springers. A beam is over each pair of arcade columns and gallery pilasters.

Overall, the décor is in a pale pastel orange with architectural details in white.

Sanctuary Edit

The sanctuary occupies the transept. It is entered through a high triumphal arch, the semi-circular archivolt springing from two short lengths of entablature supported by a pair of very tall free-standing green marble (?) Ionic columns.

The sanctuary is raised by three steps, and these approach steps are in green marble. They are flanked by platforms in the same stone, bearing the ambos or lecterns. The triumphal arch columns have their bases on these platforms. Otherwise, the sanctuary paving is in the same style as that of the nave.

The altar is now in the transept, although it presumably was in the apse when the chapel was first built. The apse now contains seating for the ministers.

The apse has its own triumphal arch, having a molded archivolt in white supported by a pair of green marble engaged Ionic piers. However, another arch in pale orange is fitted within this and this has no architectural details except for an incut along its inner edge. It bears the legend Tota pulchra es Maria, et macula originalis non est in te ("You are completely beautiful, Mary, and no original stain is in you").

The apse seems to be revetted in alabaster, in vertical panels edged with yellow marble. The conch contains a mosaic (?) depiction of The Glory of the Cross, and below this is a band depicting scenes from the birth of Christ: The Annunciation, The Nativity and Epiphany.

The altarpiece is a huge statue of The Immaculate Conception, on a high pedestal and dominating the sanctuary.

External links Edit

"Azione Cattolica Italiana" website

"The Church Palace" hotel website

Info.roma web-page

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