Cappella di Villa Mirafiori is a deconsecrated ex-convent chapel with a postal address at Via Carlo Fea 2, in the Nomentano quarter. Historically the address was Via Nomentana 118.
The Villa Mirafiori was built for Rosa Vercellana, second wife of King Victor Emanuele II of Italy. She had been his mistress for twenty-two years when they married in secret in 1869, the year before the conquest of Rome by Italy. This was a religious ceremony -the secrecy was because the marriage was morganatic.
The villa was begun for her in 1874, and completed in 1878. Before it was finished, the couple contracted a public civic marriage in the new chapel in 1877. Unfortunately, the king only lived two months after.
Back then, the name of the congregation was "Ladies of the Sacred Heart" (Dames du Sacre Coeur). It had been founded at Paris in France by St Sophie Madeleine Barat in 1800. Her vision was a religious congregation of women similar in outreach to that of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), with a devotion to the Sacred Heart and an external focus on the education of girls.
The congregation responded poorly to developments in the Roman Catholic Church in the latter half of the twentieth century. Although all active religious congregations for women suffered decline in numbers in this period, there were features about the downturn of this particular one that were particularly unfortunate. One manifestation was the decision to reverse the transfer of the Generalate and return to Villa Lante.
The sisters were very fortunate in finding a purchaser for the entire complex in 1980 -although it seems that the transfer was only finalised two years later. The new owner was the philosophy department of La Sapienza University.
The buildings were remodelled, and the chapel deconsecrated and stripped of its fittings. The void left available was used to create a new library, on several levels. It is not easy to recognise now that this used to be a chapel. The architects were Carlo Chiarini and Valter Bordini.
The villa is a sprawling new-Renaissance pile, on an irregular plan. A central four-storey flat-roofed block has two wings creating a cross plan, with one wing having a tower. These two wings, which are three-storey, join onto two further blocks.
The chapel occupied the upper two storeys of the wing without the tower. There is little evidence of it from the ground, but the space has its own architectural identity. The rectangular void is covered by a pitched and tiled roof, with a separate, slightly lower roof over a U-shaped apse with triangular pitches.
The right hand wall of the chapel is occupied by an ancillary range, but the left hand one is exposed.
The interior space is divided into five bays, separated by Tuscan Doric piers from which spring a barrel vault. Pointed lunettes cut into the vault in between the piers, and these apparently once contained round windows with stained glass in the left hand wall. One such window survives.
The sanctuary platform, with three steps, is still there as is the conch of the apse. However, the latter is concealed from the former by a floating ceiling.