Cappella dell'Istituto Pio XII delle Religiose dell'Assunzione is a deconsecrated mid 20th century convent and school chapel at Viale Romania 32 in the Parioli quarter.
The Villa de Heritz as a country estate was put together by one John Campbell Smith, count of Heritz (also rendered as Heriz). He bought several pre-existing country villas, and consolidated them into one estate in 1878.
Suburban development began in 1919, and part of the Villa grounds was taken for the parish church of San Roberto Bellarmino. A remaining portion contained a summer-house or casino, and this was rebuilt in a neo-Baroque style by the architect Giovanni Battista Milani, who kept the façade.
The sisters began a school in a house facing the Porta Pinciana, the Istituto dell'Assunzione. They bought the ex-villa property on the Viale Romania in 1940, and developed it as a large convent and school complex. The casino was kept, but a church-sized chapel and cloister were added. The congregation also opened another school and convent at Divino Amore delle Religiose dell'Assunzione.
The school became one of the most prestigious private girls' schools in Rome, being renamed after Pope Pius XII after completion in 1950.
As with most other teaching sisterhoods, and especially the case with French ones, the congregation was hit hard by a drop in vocations in the later 20th century. So, in 1988 part of the complex was leased to the Rome International School which was a private school with classes in English. The rest was administered as a high-class holiday hotel called the Villa Maria Eugenia. The Divino Amore convent was kept as the Generalate, which it remains, and the school was moved to the suburb of Quadraro. It has since closed down.
In 2000, the entire complex was bought by the Libera Università degli Studi Sociali or LUISS. After renovations, it reopened in 2007 as a private university campus named Guido Carli.
The chapel was deconsecrated, and turned into a meeting hall or aula.
Layout and fabric Edit
Despite this date, this high-status complex is in a recognisably Fascist style, being derivative neo-Classical which sets out to impress. The fabric is in very sharp contrast with the genuinely Fascist Sacrario della Milizia across the street.
This is only a chapel, but amounts to a huge basilical church. It is part of an equally huge ex-convent complex, with multi-storey ranges enclosing an arcaded cloister. The garth of the latter is sunken, to allow for light into cellar ranges.
The chapel faces the street, and has the cloister down its right hand side. The original casino is behind its sanctuary. There is a nave of nine bays, including a distinct entrance bay, a narrower sanctuary of a single bay leading into a semi-circular apse of the same width. The two side aisles are high, to accommodate galleries, and these side galleries are connected by a counterfaçade gallery. This explains the unusual makeup of the façade (see below).
The nave fabric is in red brick, with architectural details in white. The exposed parts of the high aisle walls are divided into three horizontal zones by a pair of plain string courses. The top zone has five square white-framed windows on each side, one for each odd-numbered nave bay. The second and third such windows on the left side, but only the second window on the right, each have a round-headed white-framed window below it which interrupts the lower string course and has a simple flush cornice fragment above it.
The aisles have flat roofs, with pin balustrade parapets.
The tall central nave walls each has its bays divided by flush blind pilasters, supporting a simple flush cornice. The main roof is pitched and tiled. At the base of each bay of the central bay wall (except for the entrance bay) is a lunette window with its sill on the aisle roof.
The apse is rendered all in white, with a short gable pitch for the sanctuary bay roof and five triangular pitches for the apse itself. The roof is slightly lower than the nave roof.
The monumental façade has two storeys, one fronting the nave with aisles and the other fronting the central nave.
The former is basically a red brick cliff, divided by the two string courses already noticed in the side aisle walls. The uppermost zone has a pair of large horizontally rectangular recesses in the brickwork, one fitted into each end and not decorated in any way.
There are three entrances. The central one has a stone doorcase flanked by a pair of Tuscan Doric semi-columns, supporting an entablature and a triangular pediment. The entablature cornice is at the level of the upper string course. There is a horizontally rectangular epigraph tablet between the doorcase lintel and the entablature.
There are two side entrances, very unusually treated. Each consists of a cuboidal void cut out of the corner of the façade below the lower string-course. The corner is supported by a Doric column, and the entrance is in the far wall of the recess.
The flat side aisle roofs are joined by the counterfaçade gallery roof, which has a pin balustrade parapet. Again very unusually, the central nave façade is an open loggia entered by a pair of completely unadorned arches in the side walls of the first bay of the central nave. This loggia has two massive brick piers at the corners, and two Doric columns dividing the void in between. These interrupt the balustrade, and support a crowning pediment with the coat-of-arms in relief of Pius XII in the tympanum. Within the loggia are three large round-headed windows in the central nave frontage.
The heraldry includes a device of three stylized mountains, and this device is reproduced by four finials on the corners of the aisle and façade parapet.
The interior is equally monumental. To its credit, LUISS made minimal interventions to the fabric when it converted the deconsecrated chapel into a meeting hall.
Overall, the surfaces are in white except where coloured marbles are used.
The side aisles are separated from the central nave by yellow marble Ionic colonnades supporting a pair of horizontal entablatures. These entablatures are connected by one running under the counterfaçade gallery. They have dentillated cornices, and the grey-veined marble friezes bear a gilded inscription from the liturgy of the Assumption of Our Lady which runs around the church. It begins at the top right:
Venite adoremus regem regum alleluia, cuius ad aethereum virgo mater assumpta est coelum, alleluia. Gaudent angeli, laudantes benedicunt Dominum alleluia, quia cum Christo regnat in aeturnum mater Dei regina Maria alleluia.
("Come let us adore the king of kings, whose virgin mother is taken up into the highest heaven, alleluia. Let the angels rejoice, singing praises they bless God alleluia, for with Christ Mary the queen and mother of God reigns alleluia").
The entablature is interrupted by an entrance prothyrum on the major axis between the entrance lobby under the counterfaçade gallery and the nave proper. This has a pair of columns matching those of the colonnades, supporting an entablature and triangular pediment. The entablature is aligned with the main one of the interior, and the above inscription runs across it leaving the word angeli flanked by a pair of angel's wings.
The flat roof of each side aisle is divided into square compartments by transverse support beams running across from the capital of each colonnade column to a matching wall pilaster.
The floor is in polychrome marble, comprising coloured rectangular areas (large ones in grey, along the major axis smaller ones in greyish-yellow and red) bordered by strips in grey-veined white.
The galleries have square piers over the colonnade columns, and these support a second cornice -not a full entablature. The piers are blind, but each has a vertical rectangular panel in the yellow marble and is flanked by a pair of Corinthian columns in the round, in red marble.
The nave is vaulted, and the vault is all in white. The bays are divided by transverse semi-circular ribs embellished with clypeus-bosses. The compartments are coffered in hexagons, squares, pentagons and triangles and has large rosettes in the regular hexagons.
Side chapels Edit
There were two side chapels, at the ends of the aisles. The one to the left was dedicated to Our Lady, and to the right to St Joseph. Structurally they are cubby-holes with identical prothyra, each consisting of a pair of grey marble Tuscan Doric columns supporting an entablature fragment and a triangular pediment. The left hand one says Ave Maria, the right hand one Ite ad Ioseph ("Go to Joseph").
The sanctuary is aspidal, and has a massive triumphal arch which takes up the shallow sanctuary bay in front of the apse. The archivolt is supported by two pairs of massive square Corinthian piers in a creamy white marble with brownish-grey veining, the pairs being longitudinal with gaps between. The intrados of the arch has rectangular coffering, and springs from posts supported by the piers.
The nave colonnade entablature stops dead at the piers, but the gallery cornice is continued as the cornices of the posts and as the cornice of an apse entablature. The latter is in the same style as the nave entablature, and has the text Magnificat anima mea Dominum ("My soul glorifies the Lord").
The apse wall is entirely revetted in grey marble, but the conch is blank in white and looks as if a mosaic or fresco was intended.
The free-standing altar had a baldacchino, which has been left in place. This impressive erection has four columns in red marble with swagged Ionic capitals, supporting a quadriporticus having four semi-circular arches springing from the capitals and a flat top. The archivolts have simple molding, and there is an entablature with the text Sanctus sanctus sanctus. On top is an octagonal dome on a low drum with prominent corner pilasters, the dome itself having fish-scale tiles separated by eight ribs. A Baroque ball finial is on top, and four flaming torch finials occupy the corners of the quadriporticus.