Gesù Buon Pastore a Bravetta is an impressive earlier 20th century Fascist-era former convent church, now belonging to an educational institution. It is at Via di Bravetta 383 in the Gianicolense suburban zone.

Status Edit

The edifice is usually referred to as a church, and it certainly looks like one. However, the Diocese does not seem to regard it as an extant place of worship. So, either it has become a private chapel or it is actually deconsecrated. The latter seems likely.

History Edit

Convent Edit

The convent complex was built by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd (hence Buon pastore -"Good Shepherd"). This was founded in 1835 by St Mary-Euphrasia Pelletier at Angers in France. Her aim was to foster the care and education of poor and deprived young women who were at risk of, or actually constrained by, economic and sexual exploitation.

The new congregation immediately proved its effectiveness in caring for "problem" women, especially delinquent girls and prostitutes. As a result, its impressive international spread began early. The first convent outside France was actually at Rome, where the Sisters took over a pre-existing reformatory for girls at Santa Croce delle Scalette in Trastevere in 1838. They remained in charge here until 1950, but from 1873 were basically employees of the State in running the convent as a prison for young women.

In the mid 20th century, many female active congregations like this one built Generalates (headquarters) at Rome. Some of these are impressive, but the Good Shepherd one was fantastically megalomaniac. This is easily the largest and most impressive 20th century convent in Rome, and could be compared to a Disney version of a mediaeval Italian hilltop town. It allegedly cost 25 million lire at a time when the Italian lire was worth something.

The architect was Armando Brasini, work began in 1929 and was substantially finished in 1933. However, the formal consecration of the church was in 1943. Brasini is better known in Rome for his unfinished church of Sacro Cuore Immacolato di Maria, but the convent here is his masterwork in the city.

It would be interesting to have an answer at to why the sisters thought this was necessary or justifiable. Two factors might have been at work: The congregation had achieved great success in the USA and so had funds at its disposal, and secondly it presumably hoped that it would continue to have a dominating presence in Rome's penal system for women (the latter proved mistaken).

Educational institution Edit

Whatever, the congregation never made full use of its enormous convent with accommodation for 2 000 residents. During the Second World War, it became a military hospital and convalescence centre. In 1969, the sisters gave it up and sold it to become the home of several educational institutions. These were (2014):  Il Liceo Scientifico Marcello Malpighi; il Liceo Classico Eugenio Montal;, l’Istituto Tecnico Commerciale e per Geometri A. Ceccherelli, and the Associazione Il Filo dalla Torre/Onlus Centro Specializzato per l’Autismo e la Disabilità. All but the last were incorporated into a single educational institution in 2014, the Istituto di Istruzione Superiore "Via Silvestri 301".

A minor tragedy was in 1975, when decay was found in the stonework of the pinnacles and they were dismantled instead of being repaired. There has been some pressure to have this put right, together with a wish to have the bronze cross finial on the church dome replaced. This was destroyed in a lightning strike some time in the Nineties.

Unfortunately, the complex has a low profile among the city's buildings and deserves to be better known. One reason is the location, which is not on the way to anywhere else, but another is that Brassini was influential in the Fascist fantasies about remodelling Rome. Fascism is still a touchy subject in modern Italy.

On the other hand, the ambience of the complex made it popular with film-makers and it has an impressive filmography.

The fate of the Generalate of the Good Shepherd sisters is bizarre. From this magnificent structure, they have moved to a miserable flat-roofed prefab in a grotty suburb, The address is Via Raffaele Sardiello 20.

Appearance Edit

Layout Edit

This huge convent has to be seen to be believed. Its impact was even more overwhelming in its early days, when it was still surrounded by green fields (some of the modern erections in the vicinity have been grossly unsympathetic).

Overall the plan is trapezoidal with its smallest side forming the frontage, and the layout is absolutely symmetrical. The focus is a smallish arrowhead-shaped courtyard on the major axis, formed of a near rectangular portion flanked by the frontage block and two side blocks, and a slightly wider triangular area at the far end. The point of the triangle is cut by the semi-circular façade of the church, and two ranges run diagonally from this to the far corners of the rectangle.

Two long, narrow ranges run back from the far outer sides of the side ranges of the rectangular part of the main courtyard, angled at thirty degrees to the major axis. Each of these has three large blocks perpendicular to its outer face, like the teeth of a comb, and these enclose two more courtyards. The near one has a screen wall, but the far one has a narrow range on the fourth side. This courtyard has a fourth block on the church side of the long diagonal range, and this has a quarter-circle portion at its back. Two more ranges connect the transept ends of the church to the diagonal ranges abutting the second of the three large blocks.

Two more enclosed courtyards are created by two ranges on each side of the frontage block in front of the main courtyard. The inner one of each pair is aligned at sixty degrees to the major axis, and forms part of the monumental façade. It joins the outer one which runs back at a right angle to create the enclosed courtyard, and also runs forward to give a partly enclosed area in front of the façade.

Fabric of convent Edit

The design of the convent is pretty near indescribable, but overall it is an eclectic take on the Baroque style. The material is red brick, with architectural details in travertine limestone. Some of the roofs are flat, and some are pitched and tiled. The main blocks are four-storey, with additional cellar accommodation.

The stumps of many of the lost tall obelisk finials or spirelets can be discerned.

Convent façade Edit

The convent façade is megalomaniac. The diagonal flanking ranges are four storey, as can be seen from the windows, but the return ranges each have a huge pavilion on top resembling an ancient temple with a pitched and tiled roof. Each of these used to have six very tall obelisk finals, now sadly lost. Below, the ends of these return ranges each have a pair of monumental limestone Ionic pilasters.

The main façade is divided into three horizontal ranges, the first two occupying the four storeys and the third being another, central pavilion which is flat-roofed and had four obelisk finials.

The first range contains three large arched portals, separated by rusticated, vaguely Tuscan Doric semi-columns in grey stone. The higher second range contains three much larger arched apertures fronting a gallery. They are flanked by four Ionic semi-columns in fine white limestone. The far wall of the gallery has three large round-headed mosaics, featuring Christ the Good Shepherd and two angels. The third, top range has four blind limestone pilasters with an entablature crowned by a very high attic, and the two inner pilasters are separated by a large round-headed aperture. This aperture backs a corbeled balcony, and it is easy to imagine Mussolini ranting from it as he used to do in the Piazza Venezia.

Church fabric Edit

The church has an unusual plan. The nave and sanctuary are deep apses of identical size, while the crossing transept ends are trapezoidal. There is a large and impressive central dome, which the architect claimed as being inspired by Borromini. Perhaps.

The side walls of the church are entirely obscured by three-storey subsidiary accommodation, except for the entrance portico and an enclosed corridor running round the back of the sanctuary apse. The main roof is flat, and the nearer ranges of the ancillary structures are flat at a slightly lower level. However, the further ranges are single-pitched and tiled.

Dome Edit

The superb dome is unique in Rome. It is egg-shaped, in lead, and is rather overwhelmed by four pairs of huge volutes which begin on top of eight squat piers abutting the very low drum. The tails of the volutes run up the dome, and end as eight further piers clasping the red-brick cylindrical first storey of the very high tower campanile. The latter is over-scale, and dwarfs the dome -note how its top is substantially cut off to accommodate it.

The has three further storeys, including a squat quatrefoil pinnacle. The second storey has a thinner cylinder with four large round-headed openings flanked by eight pilasters, while the third storey is vase-shaped and supported by squat volutes.

Church frontage, and main courtyard Edit

As mentioned, the church façade is taken up by the semi-circular portal, containing three arched openings in stone. These are separated by two pairs of derivative Corinthian columns, supporting very tall posts themselves supporting attic plinths which bear a pair of bronze angels. The portal archivolts spring from imposts supported by free-standing columns in the same style.

There is a large marble epigraph tablet over the central portal.

The courtyard in front of the church has arcades down both sides, the arches separated by lengths of trabeation each supported by a pair of Tuscan Doric columns. The paving of the actual courtyard is in fine red brick, with a large X in white.

The diagonal ranges running from the near end of the church to the side ranges of the courtyard each bears a brick turret with a low conical tiled cap. There are five tall round-headed openings in each turret, and these have protruding box frames forming three sides of a square, and rising above the turret roof to their own tiled covering.

There is a mosaic of Our Lady on the frontage range facing the church.

Interior Edit

The writer has not managed to get in here, and online information is lacking. One good surmise is that the interior must be dark.

External links Edit

Italian Wikipedia page

Info.roma web-page

"Complesso" website

"Made-in-Rome" web-page

IIS website

"in bici per roma" blog page

"Valle dei Casali" blog page

Photo of façade

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