Cappella delle Suore Agostiniane del Divino Amore is a later 20th century convent chapel at Via Lorenzo Rocci 64 in the Gianicolense suburban district.
The proper historic name of the congregation is Institutum Divini Amoris which is rendered in Italian as Istituto Divino Amore or "Institute of Divine Love" (no genitive del, though). The sisters in Italy use the initials IDA.
There are two problems with this. Firstly, the word Istituto usually means "school for children" in modern Italian, so the sisters began referring to themselves as Suore del Divino Amore and this is the name used by the Diocese.
Secondly, serious confusion arose between them and the Figlie della Madonna del Divino Amore based at the Santuario della Madonna del Divino Amore. The IDA sisters have nothing to do with either, and so now refer to themselves as the Suore Agostiniane del Divino Amore.
The remote origins of the congregation lie in the foundation at Montefiascone of the Conservatorio di Santa Chiara by the city's bishop, in 1630. This was a house of refuge for women who were involved in the sex industry and wished to escape from it. Similar institutions were often founded in Italian cities in that century (including at Rome, for example see San Giacomo alla Lungara), a stark contrast to the basically Protestant social reaction of criminalising the industry and then ignoring the abuse suffered by women in it.
The Conservatorio was converted into a convent, the Istituto Divino Amore, by Cardinal Marcantonio Barbarigo in 1705. This meant that the inmates made religious promises as tertiaries. They supported themselves by teaching and caring for small children. However, in 1721 a further change was made in that the convent was given papal enclosure and the Augustinian rule and so became contemplative. However, the sisters did not affiliate to the Order of St Augustine and so remained sui-generis.
Together with most other enclosed nunneries in Napoleonic Europe, the convent in Montefiascone was suppressed and the sisters told to return to their families. This was in 1810. Some of them re-assembled in 1816, but anti-clerical legislation meant that they had to justify their existence by gainful employment. This meant teaching girls again, and the work was so successful that other convents opened in towns nearby during the 19th century. The first of these was at Rome, in 1828.
Conservatorio Pio Edit
Pope Pius VI founded a rescue centre for abandoned girls and young women, of which the local slums had a ready supply, in 1775. It was well known that most of these were going to end up in the sex trade, and the hope was to keep them safe and to teach them useful craft skills. Such initiatives had been going on at Rome for over a century, but co-ordinating them was not a priority. The Conservatorio was at what is now Via Garibaldi 38-46. This had been built as a tobacco factory -tobacco was a Papal government monopoly, and an important source of its revenue.
Sister Rosalia of the Five Wounds pioneered the new foundation, which definitively took over the Conservatorio in 1851 when the remaining resident girls were transferred elsewhere. The separate legal status of the Conservatorio was abolished in 1873, but the sisters apparently only finished setting up their convent and social centre in 1878.
In 1906 the sisters finally affiliated to the Augustinian friars. This was part of an intention to abandon the monastic part of their charism, and to become a fully active sisterhood without enclosure. This was achieved in 1917, and the congregation was approved by the Holy See in 1918.
There has been a limited international outreach, with two convents in Peru (Cuzco and Cochabamba), and one in the Philippines (Cebu City). The sisters of the latter use the initials ASDA for "Augustinian Sisters of Divine Love". A convent in Greece seems to have been shut down.
By the look of it, the Roman Generalate (headquarters) was built in the Sixties. It is now also a holiday hotel (Casa per ferie) called Casa Mater Mundi. The original Roman convent on the Via Garibaldi was kept up until 1996, when it was shut down. The congregation also run a primary school in Rome -see Cappella della Scuola Divino Amore.
The convent is a dog-ugly L-shaped flat-roofed three-storey modernist block on a simple rectangular plan.
However, the separate chapel is a charming little edifice, on a square plan and attached to the main mass by a single corner. Hence the major axis is on a diagonal, and parallels the convent frontage. The sanctuary is in the right hand corner, facing the convent.
The chapel is on the street side of the convent, but the convent and chapel and separated from the street by a garden area with mature trees and so are difficult to view (come here to Mass, and have a good look -see below).
A feature of the complex is the use of rough-cut white limestone ashlar blocks, in courses of different heights. You can see this in the revetting walls at the street entrance. The walls of the chapel are also in this style, inside and out.
The square plan of the chapel is chamfered at three corners, but not at the far sanctuary corner. The left hand corner is the connection to the convent. The right hand corner has a large stained glass window featuring Our Lady. Stained glass also occupies deep window strips below the roof eaves. The front corner chamfer has an outside entrance, off the end of the entrance driveway in front of the convent. The door of this has two vertical stained glass strips. Above it is another large stained glass window.
The sanctuary corner has stained glass fenestration occupying the upper part of the corner.
The roof has very deep eaves, and tall barge-boards in white. It is in green anodised metal, and has a tall pyramid within a flat zone. The pyramid is interrupted by window strips near the top, which create a vertical step, and is topped by a large cross finial.
The same rough-cut limestone blocks to be seen in the exterior walls also feature in the interior. The fenestrations have brightly coloured mostly abstract stained glass, giving welcome colour. The large window in the right hand corner is semi-abstract, featuring Our Lady.
The sanctuary is in the far corner, and behind the altar is a darkly varnished wooden cabinet shrine fitted into the corner with a flat triangular canopy . This shrine contains the tabernacle, which has a gilded door in the form of a chamfered square -echoing the plan of the chapel. This is surrounded by a crown-of-thorns motif, also gilded.
A pair of icons in a derivative Byzantine style are hung on the far diagonal walls. The one on the left depicts The Trinity after Rublev, and to the left is the Madonna and Child.
A large painted crucifix in traditional style hangs over the altar.
Edifyingly, the sisters advertise the times of Masses on their website: