Cappella del Pontificio Collegio Americano del Nord is a mid 20th century college chapel at Via del Gianicolo 13 in the north end of Trastevere.
A seminary for candidates for the priesthood in the United States of America was founded at Rome in 1859 by Pope Pius IX. Back then, away from the Eastern Seaboard the Roman Catholic Church was still developing its infrastructure and the new dioceses lacked facilities for training priests. The title of "Pontifical North American College" (as it became in 1884) was chosen so as to include Canada, but in practice the administrative and financial responsibility fell to the bishops of the United States.
The pope granted the empty nunnery of Santa Maria dell'Umiltà to the College as a headquarters, and it then remained there for almost a century. However, the cramped city site was unsuitable for expansion so in 1925 the hierarchy of the United States purchased the southern part of the grounds of the Villa Gabrielli on the Janiculum. The cost was raised by public subscription, and as a result of financial worries during the Great Depression there was no development until after the Second World War. Instead, the College renovated a casino (garden summer house) as a residence for visiting American priests and named it the Casa San Giovanni.
All seminaries for expatriate students in Rome were shut down for the duration of the Second World War. The College was re-opened in 1947, by which time the Roman Catholic Church in developed countries was experiencing a boom in vocations. As a result the old college premises were now inadequate, so a new set of college buildings was built and formally opened in 1953. These are enormous, and demonstrate the unbounded optimism (as well as wealth) of the Church in the USA at the time.
The chapel's interior was finished in 1955.
The former convent was kept by the College, and was restored as a hall of residence for United States priests studying in Rome. It has performed this function ever since, as the Casa Santa Maria.
The old casino, renamed the Casa O'Toole, was renovated in 2010 as the "Institute for Continuing Theological Education". This provides residential refresher courses for American priests. Presumably the Casa was named after St Lawrence O'Toole.
Layout and fabric of college Edit
Although the writer may raise hackles here, in his opinion the College complex could be described as an example of Stalinist architecture with vaguely neo-Renaissance design elements in the idiom (although not displaying the talent) of, say, Ivan Zholtovsky. At least what you have here is only the "awe", rather than the "shock and awe" if the college had been built ten years later in a Brutalist style.
But, of course, since Galeazzi was the pope's architect there can be no suggestion of architectural influence from the Soviet Union.
The complex amounts to one cyclopean building. Two wings with eight floors (including basement and attic storeys) form an L around the east and south sides of a large cortile or cloister. Two further wings run off the latter to the south, the one to the west being the longest. The west side of the cortile has a lower range, and the north side is occupied by the chapel aligned west to east. This has a much smaller cloister acting as an entrance atrium, and having a square plan.
The structures have reinforced concrete frames, but the walls are in pink brick with travertine limestone details. The fenestration consists of rows of square windows with stone frames, a Renaissance conceit. The main cloister has covered walkways incorporated into the frontages, which are not arcaded but trabeated. Above the walkways on all four sides, including that occupied by the chapel, are piano nobile galleries which are much taller (the piano nobile contains the larger chambers of a palazzo in Italy) and are also trabeated.
Layout and fabric of chapel Edit
The chapel is also enormous. It is on the plan of a basilica, with a central nave having nine bays and very narrow structural side aisles. Then comes a square transept, flanked by continuations of the side aisles, and finally a very shallow rectangular apse. The side aisles continue as an ambulatory around the back, where there are sacristies. The chapel stands on a ground-level crypt.
The right hand structural side aisle is actually not part of the chapel, but is occupied by the northern piano nobile gallery of the main cloister.
The nave walls are in blank pink brick, with the further seven bays each having a pair of windows in each side wall. The paired windows are tall narrow rectangles, separated by a thick vertical stone mullion bar. The nave roof has the central section along the major axis flat, and this is flanked by two strips which are pitched and tiled.
The transept is an enormous cube, windowless and with wide travertine stone blind pilasters at the available corners. There is a dome, not easy to see from ground level, which has a very low octagonal drum on a one-step plinth. Each side of the drum is completely occupied by a horizontal rectangular recessed lantern window, with low concrete piers at the corners supporting an octagonal ring-beam which in turn supports eight low triangular tiled pitches without a central lantern or finial.
The chapel's atrium is a small square cloister, with trabeated covered walkways having flat roofs, except for the one containing the chapel's entrance which has a tiled pitch.
The façade above the entrance walkway roof is completely dominated by a monumentally huge bas-relief in travertine limestone, depicting the Assumption of Our Lady. This work is by Francesco Nagni, with the assistance of Antonio Biggi. It has a false triangular top, not a gable because the roof behind is flat, and stands proud of two strips of blank wall on either side.
Over the entrance door of the chapel is a bas-relief showing several scenes of The Martyrdom of St Cecilia by Pericle Fazzzini.
The first two nave bays are occupied by the entrance lobby, over which is the organ gallery. Then comes a high vaulted nave of seven bays, before the sanctuary occupying the transept.
The fabric of the nave side walls is in high-quality pink brickwork. The bays are separated by exposed concrete piers, rising up to the vault cornice. Halfway up each side wall these are joined by a massive horizontal beam running the length of the nave. Below the vault cornice in each side wall of each bay is a pair of tall rectangular windows with steeply sloping lintels, and separated by a solid vertical stone (?) mullion. The total number of windows is twenty-eight, and these are filled with stained glass.
The lower storeys of the bay side walls are occupied by the openings into the side aisles. These are rectangular, trabeated not arcaded, and occupy about three-fifths of the height to the horizontal beam. The side aisles are very narrow -the left hand one is open, but the right hand one actually functions as a piano nobile gallery overlooking the main college cloister, and what you have here is a set of shallow recesses between the piers.
The floor is tiled in green marble, with rows of widely separated squares in white. The side piers where they separate the aisle openings are clad in a red marble, strongly flecked in grey. Each pier ends in a pair of triangular concrete corbels which support a deep brick trabeation over the aisle opening -there are no concrete support beams visible here.
The concrete cross-vault has no transverse beams. Instead, a single longitudinal beam runs the full length of the nave along its major axis and each side is divided into triangular sectors by diagonal cross-beams. The sectors with an angle meeting the central beam are recessed compared to those in between them which meet the beam with a face.
The organ gallery is flanked by two huge vertical limestone bas-reliefs, depicting the Tree of Jesse. These monumental slabs join the nave side walls via narrows blocking walls, not with piers.
The aisle side wall to the left, and the backs of the recesses to the right, are covered with brightly coloured murals depicting Old Testament scenes. These begin with Creation and The Fall in the bottom right hand corner.
The brick trabeations over the aisles project slightly. On the top edges thus created sit a set of Stations of the Cross. This comprises fourteen sculptured groups in the round, and is is by Giovanni Prini -a very late work of his.
An altar dedicated to the Sacred Heart is in the left hand aisle, and this has an icon within a glory of modern design.
Galeazzi Chantry Edit
The chapel contains the tomb and chantry of Count Enrico Pietro Galeazzi, the architect of the College. An impressive monochrome mosaic inlaid floor-slab is in front of a little sub-chapel, which has an altarpiece depiction of Pentecost within a gilded panel bearing vine-scrolls. A matching representation of The Resurrection is to the left in the chantry.
The sanctuary occupies the transept, below the dome. A cuboidal space is defined by four massive brick blind piers, which meld at the top with four huge beams also in brick, each of which has its lower edge incut in what looks like a shallow hyperbolic arc. (As with the aisle trabeations, one suspects reinforced concrete to be at the core of these.)
The tops of these beams are flat. In front, this leaves a gap between the beam and the nave vault which is occupied by a metal sculpture featuring two flying angels.
The transept's floor level, in green marble, is raised from the nave by three steps. There was a remodelling of the altar arrangements after 1970, whereby the former altar was dismantled. The reredos was kept, but the altar itself was dismantled and its frontal used to cover the scar in the back wall thus created. This frontal is a figurative bas-relief sculpture in limestone. The reredos is gilded, and consists of a row of seven identical round-headed niches containing six candlesticks and a central crucifix. Below the latter is the tabernacle.
Above the reredos is a huge mosaic depicting The Assumption of Our Lady. This occupies the far wall of a shallow rectangular apse, narrower than the transept. Four personages at the bottom are associated with the foundation of the College.
The side walls of the apse and the back walls of the transept flanking the apse are clad in limestone, the latter surfaces featuring two vertical sets of scenic bas-reliefs depicting The Sacraments.
The back wall lunette above the far brick beam has a mural of two angels venerating the Cross.
The side walls of the transept are taken up by two murals featuring Mysteries of the Rosary.
Chapel of Pope St John Paul II Edit
The Seminary Tower of the College contains a house chapel for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, which was fitted out in 2015 and dedicated to Pope St John Paul II.
Chapel of St John Mary Vianney Edit
The small house chapel in the Casa O'Toole was also refitted in 2015. It is dedicated to St John Mary Vianney.
The back wall is taken up by a mural copy of the apse mosaic at San Clemente. Against it is a marble tabernacle featuring a pair of columns each wrapped in a helical gilded band, and supporting an entablature and triangular pediment, The motif of the pair of columns is duplicated for the little altar in front. The tabernacle design is taken from one at Santa Sabina.