Cappella delle Suore di San Giuseppe di Chambéry is an earlier 20th century Fascist-era convent and school church at Via del Casaletto 260 in the Gianicolense suburban district.
The dedication of the institution is to St Joseph.
There are a surprising number of congregations of "Sisters of St Joseph", and several of them claim to be descended from an original foundation at Le Puy in France in 1650. The first sisters ran an orphanage, at a time when the idea of female consecrated religious living and working outside an enclosure was still controversial. The founder Jean-Pierre Medaille, a Jesuit, wished to emulate the Order of the Visitation before it accepted enclosure.
The experiment was a success, and several other convents were founded in France before the French Revolution. The congregation was then suppressed and its members scattered, some of them being martyred.
Unfortunately, the Roman Catholic Church lacked the administrative structures to re-create the congregation as a unit after the Revolution. As a result, several independent re-foundations took place at diocesan level and these gave rise to, in effect, competing congregations. One of these arose at Le Puy in 1812, but fixed its headquarters at Chambéry and so is known as the "Sisters of St Joseph of Chambéry" (Suore di San Giuseppe di Chambéry). Another one which also established a profile at Rome was the "Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny -see San Giuseppe di Cluny.
The Chambéry sisters established themselves in the United States in 1885.
Anti-clerical laws enacted in France led to the forcible closure of many of the congregation's convents in 1902. Partly in response, a project was entered into to build a huge new Generalate (headquarters) at Rome, together with a school. The former was opened in 1921, on a site which back then was completely rural and which is still bordered by open fields on one side. The complex was finished in 1935.
Both Generalate and school are still there, and the latter (the Istituto Scuola San Giuseppe) seems to be flourishing. However, the congregation has suffered a decline. There were about 2 500 sisters in 1950, and this is down to 1 922 in 2018 with six in Rome.
Layout of convent Edit
This is a very large and impressive convent, in a style described as razionalista which is Italian architectural language for "eclectic". It is basically neo-Romanesque with neo-Renaissance hints and some modernist motifs (see the windows of the chapel's apse).
The main block is L-shaped, flat-roofed and of five storeys. The wing facing the street has a ground-floor arcade, and this is continued as a separate two-storey arcaded walkway parallel to the wing perpendicular to the street and away from it. The walkway turns to meet the latter wing, creating an enclosed main courtyard. The chapel is a very large edifice fronting this walkway, across the courtyard from the street wing and perpendicular to it.
Where the walkway turns a corner to the far left of the courtyard, there is a tall tower campanile.
A separate four-storey block abuts the back of the chapel, and there are other lower blocks as part of the complex.
Layout and fabric of chapel Edit
The chapel amounts to a full-sized basilical church edifice, which stands over a ground-level crypt. A distinct frontage bay is followed by a short two-bay central nave with narrow side aisles, then a deep transept of the same width as the nave and aisles. Finally there is an external apse, of the same width as the central nave, and semi-circular.
The chapel edifice is abutted by lower ancillary structures at sides and back, except for the furthest curve of the apse. The central nave does not have external walls, because the side aisles are of the same height as the central nave. These walls reach up as parapets to enclose four separate roof areas, and are in a pinkish render. The walls of the frontage bay are, however, in red brick.
The nave side walls each have two sets of three identical vertical rectangular white-framed windows. The transept ends each have a row of seven such windows. The apse sides each have five wider and shorter windows, and the back has a set of three very tall windows with their sills at the same level as the sills of the side windows.
Parapets enclose the four separate roof zones, with those enclosing the transept being slightly higher. The frontage bay has a flat roof. The nave has a central longitudinal semi-cylinder flanked by flat areas covering the aisles. The transept has a transverse semi-cylinder, and the apse a short longitudinal one. The roofing material is a blackish composition.
The frontage bay of the chapel has three storeys. The first, fronting the crypt, has an arcade of two sets of three blank white arcade arches on blind red brick piers, and is separated from the second storey by a simple string course which marks the floor level of the chapel. The second storey consists of a covered corridor over these arches, with two sets of six vertical rectangular windows separated by brick piers and topped by a white bargeboard crowned by a projecting concrete cornice. The corridor terminates at the campanile on the left hand side.
Both arcade and corridor frontage are interrupted by the façade of the central nave, and the entrance of the crypt below it. A pair of huge red brick pilasters flank this zone, and these run up to the full three-storey height of the frontage. The bricks are laid with every second course recessed, to give a ribbed effect. The string course mentioned above passes across these pilasters.
The first storey, in between the main pilasters, has two rectangular portals separated by a pier in the same style but half the width. Above this and the portals is a projecting cornice, on which stands a statue of St Joseph. Above it is an epigraph, also in white, in relief lettering: Santo Ioseph ann. Domini MCMXXXV (To St Joseph, AD 1925). The statue, raised uppercase lettering and surrounding panel are all in white -a Fascist architectural motif.
The second storey sees the two main pilasters continue, and the central pier also continue as a pilaster. In between the three are two corridor windows, framed by brick piers in the same style as the pilasters. THese windows are topped by white bargeboards and cornices, like those of the corridor to either side.
The third storey frontage of the chapel is all in brick. The two main pilasters and the smaller central pilaster rise up to form two huge blind arches, which open into a gallery loggia with solid white balconies. There are no imposts, but the narrow slightly recessed archivolts are in orange. The frontage of this gallery project slightly forwards from the side aisle walls to either side, in the same brickwork lower down but rendered in orange above.
There is a strongly projecting roofline cornice, with a white ribbon frieze below bearing a dedicatory epigraph.
The tower campanile consists of four huge bright white L-shaped corner piers, with recessed brick walling in between them. The storeys are not distinguished. There is a projecting crowning cornice, above which is ithe bell-chamber. This is in white, with a large undecorated round-headed sound-hole in each face. The chamber also has a cornice, and on top is a low white square box with its own cornice.
The short nave is separated from its aisles by two pairs of blind piers clad in what looks like yellow Siena marble (which might be real). These support transverse arch-beams which support the nave barrel vault. The back arch doubles up as the transept triumphal arch.
The walling is in a pale pastel pink shade.
The sanctuary has a single-stepped circular platform, which fits into the apse and is in a dark greenish marble. The latter is divided into two storeys by a deep entablature at the level of the springers of the apse triumphal arch. This looks as if it is in grey granite. These are supported by a pair of corner pilasters in the same yellow as the nave piers, but are not distinguished from the rest of the entablature which runs along the far walls of the transept. The frieze reads: Jacob autem genuit Joseph virum Mariae, de qua natus est Jesus ("Jacob generated Joseph the husband of Mary, from whom Jesus was born").
Below the frieze in the apse is an icon of St Joseph with the Child Jesus, with the title Custos domus sui ("Keeper of his house"). This is backed by a panel in the same stone as the entablature, which used to back the altar before it was dismantled and replaced by a smaller one further forward. Its steps remain, as does the tabernacle.
The apse also has vertical rectangular gallery apertures below the entablature.