Cappella della Villa Annunziata is a 20th century convent chapel at Via di Villa Maggiorani 9 in the Primavalle quarter.
Foundation of congregation Edit
The convent belongs to a Spanish congregation, the Religiosas Dominicas de la Anunciata or "Dominican Religious of the Annunciation".
This was founded by St Francisco Coll Guitart, a Dominican in Catalonia. When all religious congregations in Spain were suppressed and dispossessed by the Desamortización of Mendizábal in 1832, he was left to become a roving home-missionary priest in Catalonia. In 1856 he founded his new congregation of teaching sisters at Vic in 1856, affiliating them with the Dominican tertiaries so as to avoid problems over enclosure and the requirement of physical virginity for nuns. This foundation was in response to his growing awareness that educating girls was necessary for the future well-being of the Church in a modern society -in traditional feudal societies, it had been regarded as a low priority.
In Rome Edit
The congregation did well over the next hundred years, being accepted in anti-clerical Spain because of the value of their work. Their missionary outreach took them to all continents except Australia, with a strong presence in Latin America.
In the mid 20th century, Pope Pius XII re-iterated a papal request that all congregations of religious involved in international activity should preferably establish their Generalates (headquarters) in Rome. This led to the building of many large convents in the city's inner suburbs as a large number of congregations complied with the request. The Dominican tertiaries, however, were happy to keep their Generalate at Madrid in Spain.
However, they did establish a Roman convent or Casa di Procura, with an impressive and expensive chapel. This seems simply to have been in order to comply with the papal request.
The architect was Mario Leonardi. By the look of the layout there was some hope of a public ministry (the main entrance is on the street), but this has always been a private chapel (it is often referred to as a church).
Later years Edit
The decision to keep the Generalate in Spain was wise, since all these mid 20th century Roman convents suffered in the later 20th century from lack of vocations. Rome is over-provided with convents -the Diocese counted 752 different congregations in 2018! The fate of most of them has been either to become schools, or hotels (Case per ferie or "Holiday Houses").
The one here is now a good example of the latter, called the Villa Annunziata.
Layout and fabric Edit
This is a high-quality building; although hidden away down a dead-end street, it has a civic presence.
The plan is based on an octagon stretched along its major axis, and squeezed along its minor axis. The cardinal sides of the octagon are longer than the diagonal sides. The four vertix angles at the ends of the lateral cardinal sides are very shallow.
The chapel stands over a crypt.
The fabric has a light grey reinforced concrete frame, which is left on view. The four side vertix angles each have a massive doubletted pier (concealing drainpipes by the look of them), while the four main corners each have an L-shaped one. Unusually, these piers are continued slightly above the roofline to end in dark grey tile impost caps which project slightly.
The roofline is formed of similarly massive concrete beams with an L cross-section, so as to provide overhanging eaves. These beams form shallow gables over the cardinal sides, and four roof support beams run from the apices of the gables to meet at a central roof lantern.
The infill walls are windowless, and are in very high-quality bright red brickwork. which are laid so as to decorate the walls with regular horizontal grooves. Between the tops of the walls and the eaves are deep window strips, filled with stained glass.
The roof is pitched, with twelve sectors -three in each quadrant delineated by the main roof beams. The subsidiary rooflines of each set of three pitches, which are shallow, also run back to the lantern. The material looks like patinated copper, pale green.
The lantern is on the plan of a rhombus or diamond, the diagonals being on the church's axes and the longer diagonal along the major axis. It is in the form of a white concrete box with chamfered corners, each side having three rows of six smallish vertical rectangular apertures forming a grille. The lantern has its own low pyramidal roof in copper, with four beams supporting a concrete obelisk finial with a metal cross on top.
Because of the crypt, the single entrance is approached via a pair of transverse staircases ending in a little patio fronted by metal railings. The entrance portal is open, the door being recessed, and the aperture is flanked by a pair of longitudinal slab piers.
The portal is flanked by a vertical row of nine square limestone panels on each side, the topmost one angled to fit under the gable. A row of three more are above the portal, and fourteen more fill the façade below the gable so as to give two rows of nine panels below the gable. Each panel has a recessed edge.
The large, almost square area on the façade framed by these panels above the portal is occupied by a large depiction of Our Lady the Custodian.
The simply decorated interior is in a pale pink brick, and the wall piers are in white. The window and roof eave beams are in dark grey, the roof support piers are in a pale yellow and the roof panels are in white.
The altarpiece on the far wall is a depiction of the Annunciation. To the left is St Dominic, and to the right is the Assumption.