Cuore Materno di Maria is an early 20th century hospital and former convent chapel at Via di Santo Stefano Rotondo 6 in the rione Monti. The hospital is just south of the church of Santo Stefano Rotondo al Celio.
The dedication is to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the very unusual aspect of her Maternal Heart.
Foundation of congregation Edit
The hospital was founded by an English active sisterhood, the "Little Company of Mary" (Piccola Compagnia di Maria). This in turn was founded in England by one Mary Potter (1847-1913), a Londoner who established her first convent at Nottingham in 1877. She was inspired by St Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, and his foundation of the Company of Mary (hence the name).
Mother Mary was a mystic and a forceful personality as well as a foundress, and as a result her congregation displayed some unusual features as well as undertaking the same work as many others. Their work outreach has been focused on the field of nursing, with a major devotion to dying people in union with the Immaculate Heart of Our Lady of Sorrows at the foot of the Cross.
The habit was in black, with a red cincture and a blue veil (black with a blue border when out and about). This design led to the nickname of the "Blue Nuns" -there are several congregations which share this. (The habit and veil were abandoned in the later 20th century.)
After an argument with the bishop of Nottingham, Mother Mary decided to establish the Generalate (headquarters) of her congregation at Rome, under the protection of the Holy See. She succeeded in opening a convent there in 1884 (a project that took two years), and obtained the approval of Pope Leo XIII for the name "Convent of the Maternal Heart of Mary".
The congregation began to grow immediately, and an Australian foundation was made in 1885 and an Irish one in 1888. The Rome convent spawned offshoots at Florence in 1885 and Fiesole nearby in 1889, but further outreach was mostly confined to English-speaking countries. An aspect of the spread was the foundation of hospitals with the name "Calvary Hospital" and many of these survive.
The devotion to the "Immaculate Heart of Mary" had not yet been liturgically approved, and the foundress had a struggle with the Roman Curia when she proposed a new Roman Generalate and hospital with a large chapel dedicated to the Maternal Heart of Mary. The project for this was begun in 1902. She got her way through a direct appeal to Pope St Pius X, but her further campaign to have the Church dedicated to the Maternal Heart with a feast-day on the octave of the Immaculate Conception (December 15) was ignored.
The new Generalate was opened in 1906, and a Nursing College added in 1908. The latter was novel for Italy, and very influential.
The foundress died in 1913, and was exhumed to be reburied in the Generalate four years later. The sisters were obviously hoping for an eventual canonisation.
The congregation continued its expansion, with foundations in the USA in 1893, Malta 1894, Argentina 1913 and New Zealand in 1914. The Irish sisters began an outreach in South Africa in 1904, from which they went to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1937. A foundation in Scotland was made in 1919.
The number of sisters exceeded seven hundred just after the Second World War.
The aftermath of the Second Vatican Council (1962-5) for consecrated religious was a brief but intense burst of optimism, displaying an often naïve wish to be "more relevant" to modern societies. This was quickly overtaken by a half-century of steady decline, as the numbers of vocations collapsed. The contraction was especially hard on those congregations which were not large to begin with, such as the "Little Company", and for those where the quality of pro-active management was not very high.
The "Little Company" obviously hoped for a better future in the late 20th century, as it founded several new convents as well as closing old ones. They withdrew from Argentina in 1975, but entered South Korea in 1963 and Tonga in 1984.
Unfortunately many of the new outreaches were abortive including attempts to found convents in Haïti, Albania, Tunisia and Wales. An initiative was launched in the Philippines in 2009 after these were abandoned.
Exit from Rome Edit
The "Calvary Hospital" in Rome became known as the Ospedale Britannico by the locals, and had a good reputation. However, the sisters decided to downsize at Rome in 1997. The Generalate was closed, and replaced with much smaller premises at Via Anglona 3 nearby. The foundress was exhumed, and her remains taken back to England to be interred in the provincial headquarters in Tooting Bec, London.
In 2009, the sisters decided to leave Rome. The Via Anglona convent was shut down, and the hospital premises leased to the Azienda Ospedaliera San Giovanni Addolorata. (See Santa Maria Addolorata al Celio) to become a departmental annex. The status of the chapel is unclear. Whilst the condition of the chapel seems well-kept (as of February 2019) and the sanctuary lamp is lit, there is no indication in the chapel itself as to whether liturgies are still regularly celebrated here.
The combined hospital and Generalate consists of a huge T-shaped building in red brick, with five storeys (a basement, and four stories above ground) and flat roofs (there are also cellar ranges). The large chapel occupies the space where the three wings meet. It is accessible from the reception on the ground floor and there are galleries on the first and second floors (using the European numbering) from which the chapel can be accessed. These are not signposted.
Famously, the chapel is heart-shaped. There is a very short and front wall, and long curving side walls concealed by the adjacent hospital wings. The back wall, behind the sanctuary, has two storeys. The first is low and blank, and is in the form of a semi-circle and has a large round window. (This window is no longer visible from the ground floor). The two storeys are separated by a string course, which also functions and the roof-line cornices for a pair of large semi-circular sub-chapels with quarter-sphere roofs.
The main roof is in a blackish composition, formerly plated in copper sheets which have been peeling off. It amounts to a half-dome, being in the shape of half an upturned boat. On top there is a large lantern with its own little roof, irregularly pentagonal in shape.
Chapel Interior (February 2019) Edit
The chapel is accessible through a set of wooden doors on one's left opposite the reception desk of the hospital. Whilst the heart-shaped design of the chapel is evident, its current appearance differs somewhat from the description given above. The round window and lantern - whilst visible from outside the chapel, are no longer visible inside.
The sanctuary has a free-standing marble altar with an image of the Heart of Mary on the front.
On either side stand the sub-chapels with a Sacred Heart statue (on the left) and an Immaculate Heart of Mary statue (on the right.) The 'sanctuary furniture' (presidential chair, deacon's chair, ambo and lectern) is made of metal and has a contemporary design. The metal tabernacle set into the wall behind the altar is decorated with the image of the Heart of Mary. It is flanked by two metal angels. The tabernacle and angels seem to be mid/late 20th century in design. Above the tabernacle is a polychrome Calvary scene. Beneath the Calvary are the words of Our Lady spoken at Cana: Quodcumque dixerit vobis, facite (Do whatever He tells you.) [John 2:5]
Apart from the sanctuary and sub-chapels, the chapel is decorated simply. On the left wall hangs a painting of St Philip Neri, based on the famous image by Guido Reni. On the right hangs a painting of the Death of St Joseph, with a polychrome Pietá scene underneath. There is nothing to indicate that these works are of any special artistic merit. On either side of the chapel, near the back wall, are two cupboards marked Sacrae Reliquiae. These, presumably, held a (relatively large) collection of relics at some stage in the chapel's history, but are now empty. The glass behind which the relics would have been stored is intact. The stations of the cross are also hung in the chapel.
There are a number of interesting plaques (pictured below in the gallery) in the chapel. On the right-hand wall are two plaques commemorating priests who died in Rome - Fr Harry Anthony Whitehead OP who died in 1910 and Fr Donatus L Crowe, former pastor of Visitation Church, Kewanee Illinois who died in 1912. To the left of the entrance is a plaque commemorating the consecration of the chapel's altar (dedicated to the Maternal Heart of Mary) by Pietro Cardinal Respighi on the 11th of October 1908. On the right of the entrance is a plaque commemorating the consecration of a new altar (the one currently in situ?) on the 21st of November 1964 by the then-bishop Fiorenzo Angelini under the same title. The wording on both plaques suggest that they were originally positioned in the sanctuary, thereby implying the existence of an original altar, its replacement in 1964, and a probable subsequent re-ordering when these plaques were moved from their original location to their current position near the door. On the left wall of the church are two more plaques relating to the history of the hospital and chapel. One records the consecration of the chapel and main altar on the 11th of October 1908, the priestly jubilee of Pope St Pius X. (He was ordained to the priesthood on 18th September 1858.) The other records the blessing of the foundation stone of the 'Ospedale Britannico' by Pope Leo XIII in 1903.
On either side of the main altar are steps leading into the crypt of the chapel. With the exception of statues of Ss. Peter and Paul on the staircases, the crypt is largely undecorated. The presence of cupboards are suggestive of its use as a sacristy. The crypt is T-shaped - with the cross-bar of the T under the sanctuary of the chapel, and a tunnel (gently sloping downwards) running underneath the nave of the chapel, terminating in a set of wooden double doors. Empty niches along the sides of the tunnel are suggestive of it either being decorated with pictures at one stage, or of plans for its decoration. It is not evident from the current condition of the crypt whether or where Venerable Mary Potter may have been interred here.
The current ceiling of the chapel is quite plain. A comparison between the interior of the chapel and the galleries that look into it from the 1st and 2nd floors of the hospital, and the exterior of the chapel which shows it to be higher than the four above-ground stories of the hospital lead to the conclusion that this is not the original ceiling of the chapel.
The side walls of the chapel are easy to identify from within the hospital due to their curvature. This means that on the 1st and 2nd floors of the hospital (according to the European numbering), it is possible to identify (unmarked) doors that lead to the galleries. At least one of these doors on the first floor is unlocked. On the top floor of the hospital (the 3rd floor), it is possible to identify a number of windows that open into the space above the current ceiling of the chapel and permit a view of the original ceiling, the lantern, the large oval window and what is, presumably, some of the original decorative scheme of the chapel.
Features visible above the current chapel ceiling Edit
Above the main altar is visible an image of the Blessed Sacrament exposed in a monstrance, along with the words Videbo sanguinem ac transibo vos nec erit in vobis plaga disperdens (I will see the blood and pass over you, and the plague will not be upon you to destroy you.) Exodus 12:13. On either side of the main altar are the original quarter-sphere roofs of the sub-chapels. Above the image of the Blessed Sacrament is the large round window with both plain and coloured (orange/yellow) glass with a cross-design.
The lantern in the half-dome of the chapel has the text of the first two lines of the Magnificat written around it: Magnificat anima mea Dominum Et exsultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo. (My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.) Luke 1:46-47. There are clear signs of damage and decay around the lantern.
The half-domed ceiling is also decorated with blank roundels, and beneath them, a row of windows which correspond to the top floor of the hospital. Below the window and above the current false ceiling is another inscription - not fully visible - but possibly consisting of the so-called 'Seven Last Words' - the last sayings of Christ on the Cross as recorded in the Gospels.
Additional Images Edit
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