Cappella delle Suore Angeliche di San Paolo is a 20th century Fascist-era convent chapel at Via Casilina 1606 in the Torre Gaia zone.
The congregation of the "Angelic Sisters of St Paul" has it remote origins at Milan in the early 16th century. In that city, small groups of single women were living communally while being involved in active works of charity (resembling the Beguines of northern Europe).
Some of these groups became informally affiliated with the "Society of St Paul" or Barnabites, a clerical congregation founded by St Antony Mary Zaccaria in 1533. One such, centred on a noblewoman named Ludovica Torelli, was patronised by the saint and this became the nucleus of the new congregation which amounted to the female branch of the Barnabites. St Antony Mary oversaw the foundation of the first convent in 1535. The intention was to live the religious life in common but, unlike contemporary nuns, to have no enclosure so as to be able to go out into the city to perform charitable works.
The lack of enclosure was controversial at the time, and enclosure was definitively enforced by papal decree in 1572. Several of the original members abandoned their vocations as a result, but the congregation spread through northern Italy. Until 1810, the life of the sisters was entirely contemplative. In that year, the congregation was suppressed and its convents closed down under Napoleonic law.
A new congregation, claiming moral continuity but wishing to subscribe to an active rule of life, was only founded in 1879 by a Barnabite priest at Lodi. However, the sisters had to accept the monastic rule in place before 1810 and only obtained papal dispensation from enclosure in 1919.
The congregation spread worldwide in the early 19th century, and as a result founded a Generalate or headquarters at Rome in 1940. This was in response to papal policy, which requested all active sisterhoods with international commitments to transfer their headquarters to Rome. A large school was opened here in 1947, called the Istituto San Paolo.
When it was built, the huge convent was in the countryside. Since then, a rather low-class suburb has grown up here -and there has been some criticism that the school is too expensive for most of the local children.
The Diocese lists seven sisters here in 2018, and a total of 243 in 39 convents worldwide.
The massive convent and school complex used to stand in extensive gardens, but much of these have been sacrificed for car parking and sports facilities.
The chapel amounts to a large church, facing the street and paralleled by a three-storey convent block on each side. Two-storey ranges connect these three edifices at front and back, creating enclosed courtyards either side of the chapel.
The edifice is over a crypt, and is in brick with its side walls rendered in a pale orange-pink to match the main convent blocks. The long single nave has ten bays, with the first three bays abutted by the two-storey ranges and one-storey annexes in front of them. The last bay is abutted by the sacristy block. The six remaining bays each have a large round-headed window in each side wall, and externally these are separated by blind pilasters dividing the bays. The roof is pitched and tiled.
The sanctuary is embedded in the sacristy block, and is a three-sided apse with a roof in three triangular pitches. These meet at a pepper-pot lantern.
In contrast to the side walls, the gabled façade is in white limestone. Because of the ground-level crypt, the single entrance is accessed by two sweeping staircases forming a semi-circle and meeting at a tiny entrance patio. Above the door is a huge rectangular window containing stained glass. This is flanked by a pair of large windows on each side, one above the other and the upper one having a sloping head paralleling the roofline.