Cappella dell'Istituto dei Ciechi Sant'Alessio is a mid 20th century college chapel at Viale Carlo Tommaso Odescalchi 38 in the Ardeatino quarter.
The college as a whole is dedicated to St Alexis.
The Istituto was founded as a private initiative in 1868, but was supported by Pope Pius IX in his last two years as ruler of Rome. The aim was to give poor blind children an education enabling them to make useful contributions to society instead of ending up as beggars, which was the norm at the time.
The initiative immediately proved to be of international importance, as novel teaching methods including the use of Braille were employed. When Rome was conquered by Italy in 1870, the institution was hence left undisturbed in the administration of the Somaschini even when it was made a secular charity in 1890 as required by Italian law (many church charities were shut down because of this requirement, because the papacy had a policy of non-cooperation with the Italian government over the latter's annexation of Rome).
However the old convent buildings on the Aventine were unsuitable for expansion, so a large and impressive complex was begun in the mid Thirties on the Ardeatino site (then open country). The architect was Gaetano Rapisardi, better known for the church of San Giovanni Bosco.
In 1987, the school was united with the Ospizio Margherita di Savoia per i Poveri Ciechi to create the present establishment which is officially known as the Centro Regionale S. Alessio - Margherita di Savoia per i Ciechi.
Layout and fabric Edit
The main complex has two large parallel four-storey wings, connected by a third three-storey wing to form a H layout which stands somewhat away from the street and perpendicular to it. A fourth, three-storey wing joins the near end of the left hand main wing and runs parallel to the street to the left. The fabric has reinforced concrete frames with pink brick infill, and the roofs are flat with low parapets.
There is an entrance range connecting the two main wings in front of the third wing, creating a transverse rectangular enclosed area. The very large chapel, structurally distinct, occupies the centre of this space and abuts the entrance range at its front and the third wing at the back.
The edifice has four bays consisting of an initial entrance bay, two nave bays and a sanctuary bay. These form a longitudinal rectangle, and are under a single flat roof. The two central bays are together transeptal, with very short side arms giving the chapel a cross plan.
The ends of the side arms are rendered in white, and each has a large round-headed window.
The most important structural feature of the chapel is that it has a dome. This has a cylindrical main drum in pink brick, with eight small white-framed vertical rectangular windows separated by blind pilasters. The actual dome is a segment of a sphere in ribbed metal with a tall lantern, and is much smaller in diameter than the main drum. Hence an area of flat roof separates the parapet of the latter from the subsidiary dome drum, which is very low and consists of sixteen horizontal rectangular apertures separated by blind white pilasters supporting a plain cornice on which the dome sits.
The lantern is a tall cog-wheen in white, with a little tiled conical cap crowned by a ball and cross finial.
A monumental façade was provided. A shallowly sloping staircase, bounded by balustrades with little pier balusters, leads to a vast round-headed portal containing the actual entrance. All of this is in pink brick, of high quality. The doorcase is in white, and over it is a large white tondo backing a statue of Our Lady. The main frontage is flanked by a pair of blind pilasters at the corners, supporting an entablature formed of a projecting stone architrave, a double frieze and a projecting roofline cornice. The frieze has brickwork below a white stripe on which the name of the institution is proclaimed.