Cappella della Conferenza Episcopale Italiana is a mid 20th century former confraternity chapel at Circonvallazione Aurelia 50 in the Aurelio suburban district.
The complex here, of which the chapel is part, was built as the headquarters of the female branch of Azione Cattolica -the Unione delle Donne di Azione Cattolica Italiana (UDAIC). The general headquarters were at what is now the Domus Mariae, which is nearby -see Cappella Domus Mariae.
Azione Cattolica 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.
A new headquarters project for the Donne was entered into in 1955, and completed in 1958. The chapel was an important work by the progressive architect Luigi Vagnetti. This impressive 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 at the time.
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.
As a result, the Donne could not justify their expensive new headquarters. In 1974, only 18 years after opening, the complex was sold to the Italian Episcopal Conference as a central Curia for joint activities of the dioceses of Italy. This it remains.
The complex consists of two rather boring although good-quality four-storey blocks, with much red brick infill. The chapel is a stand-alone building, and is a complete contrast. It is attached to one of the blocks via a fairly long access corridor, and is visible from the gateway.
The plan is made up of two nested regular octagons. The main part of the chapel occupies the inner octagon, while the outer one delimits an ambulatory.
The fabric is in reinforced concrete, but the walls are all clad in large finely cut and fitted limestone slabs of a creamy colour.
The ambulatory has two storeys. The lower part of each side, except the one abutting the entrance corridor, is in entirely blank stonework. Above this, a low second storey overhangs slightly, and is supported at each corner by massive but shallow concrete corbels with triangular edges fitting to the corners. The width between each corbel is occupied by a thin horizontal window strip with a curved lintel. The sills of these windows are on the tops of the walls of the first storey.
The ambulatory roof is single-pitched at a shallow angle, and is in green anodised metal sheeting.
The main body of the church, above the ambulatory, is identical in each of its eight almost square sides. At the top of each is a row of seven deep vertically rectangular apertures containing windows. Each side also has a thin vertical window strip in its centre, starting from the top of the ambulatory roof and extending about halfway up.
Each corner has a buttress with a sloping outer face.
The roof is formed of eight pitches with fairly steep angle, also in green metal. They meet at a wire cage finial instead of a lantern; this is cylindrical, and looks exactly like a parrot cage with a low conical top. There is a crowning ball and cross finial, also in wire.