Gesù Misericordioso del Policlinico Umberto I is a late 19th century hospital chapel in the Policlinico Umberto I.
It is usually called the Cappella Maggiore, to distinguish it from Santa Agostina Pietrantoni della Cappellania Medicina Sapienza.
The hospital has a postal address of Viale del Policlinico 155 in the Nomentano quarter, but this huge complex is the size of a small Italian town and the chapel is not easy to find. There is an internal system of named streets, which are not part of the postal system.
Take the Viale dell'Università entrance, and go up the tree-lined Viale Giunchi. The chapel is in the domed block at the end, to the left of the chimney. The hospital visitors' leaflet has this: Tra il III ed il IV Padiglione – al di sopra dell’aula dedicata a Marta Russo (I piano).
The chapel was an integral part of a huge project to provide the burgeoning city of Rome with a central general hospital containing all mainstream medical departments -hence policlinico. This was promoted during a golden age of Italian medicine, by the physicians and politicians Francesco Durante and Guido Baccelli. The architects were Giulio Podesti and Filippo Lacetti.
The project was begun in 1888, and the hospital fully opened in 1908. It was named after King Umberto I.
This is a teaching and research hospital as well, affiliated with the medical faculty of the neighbouring Sapienza University.
The chapel interior was re-ordered in 2007, by the Centro Aletti led by the famous mosaicist Fr Marko Ivan Rupnik SJ.
Layout and fabric Edit
The chapel occupies only part of a block which is mainly two-storey on a longitudinal rectangular plan. However, there is a dome on top of a third storey which occupies the far part of the rectangle, just slightly more than a square. Then, the near transverse part of this third storey has a fourth storey range sitting on it, in front of the dome. Apart from the dome, the roofs are flat but there is a cuboidal kiosk on each far corner, having an arcade of three narrow little arches in each face.
The fabric is in brick, rendered mostly in a pale yellow but the top two storeys are predominantly in orange with pale yellow details.
A sanctuary apse protrudes from the back, and has a flat roof. Most of it is abutted by an adjacent building.
The side walls each have a large round-headed window, flanked by a pair of small round ones.
The dome has a very low windowless drum protruding from the third storey, and is itself hemispherical, in lead with a slight flare at the bottom. It has a broad but low lantern with its own overhanging conical lead cap.
The ground floor of this building is occupied by a lecture theatre, and continues as a flat-roofed extension in front. The chapel is on the first floor, and is accessed via an elevated entrance loggia with three open portals looking over the roof of the front annexe. Above this is a row of three huge round-headed windows separated by two pairs of gigantic Tuscan Doric semi-columns, with single columns at each end. These support a very large triangular pediment, with a blank tympanum and three vase finials.
The single entrance has a molded marble door-case, over which is an epigraph tablet topped by a triangular pediment supported by a pair of curlicued strap corbels. The tablet bears the text Invoca me in die tribulationis, eruam te and honorificabis me ("Call on me in the day of distress, I will free you and you will honour me"). Psalm 49:15 (Vulgate).
Layout and fabric Edit
The interior is in the form of a Greek cross, with an extra entrance bay. The far corners of this floor of the edifice is occupied by two sacristies, and the near corners by ancillary accommodation.
Much of the interior is in white, except for fresco work (mostly above the entablature) and the new mosaics. The floor is in creamy white marble tiling, with an expansive geometric pattern along the major axis in red marble.
The central nave is on a square plan, and has the dome above. To left and right, the side cross arms are formed by two short side aisles each separated from the central space by a pair of massive longitudinal rectangular Tuscan Doric piers. Each of these has a shallow pilaster in the same style on its inner face. The piers support a square entablature which runs round the interior, which in turn supports four lunettes delineating the pendentives of the dome.
The frieze of the entablature is in dark blue, and bears a text from Proverbs 8:34-35: Beatus homo qui audit me et qui vigilat ad fores meas cotidie et observat ad postes ostii mei. Qui me invenerit, inveniet vitam at hauriet salutem a Domino ("Blessed the man who hears me and waits at my doors continually and keeps watch at the piers of my entrances. Who finds me will find life, and will obtain safety from the Lord"). On the cornice of the entablature, a pin balustrade protects very narrow walkways in front of the lunettes.
Each side aisle has a polychrome wall frieze depicting ancient grotesque motifs in a deep band below the ceiling entablature. The latter has a gilded frieze with more such motifs. The flat ceiling itself is in white, gold, red and blue and is coffered in large tondi with rosettes. The tondi are in red, and the spaces between them in blue.
The sacristies and ancillary accommodation have a total of four ornate Baroque doorways, which face each other.
As well as the sanctuary mosaics, the Centro Aletti provided two mosaics for the near transverse walls of the side aisles. St Teresa of Calcutta is to the left, and St Pius of Pietrelcina is to the right.
Each aisle side wall has a very large round-headed window which intrudes into the wall fresco, together with two small round windows within the latter. The Centro provided stained glass for these.
The two large windows contain Biblical texts in Italian, done in a Captcha style which takes some working out. The one on the right is from the Book of Job: "I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God." (Job 19:25-29.) The one on the left is from the Gospel of St John: "The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth". (Jn 1:14.)
The four round windows contain texts from the four Gospels.
For other windows like this, see Cappella del Pontificio Collegio Irlandese.
The lunettes have frescoes depicting the healing of the multitudes during apparitions of Our Lady, but not the one above the sanctuary (see below).
The pendentives of the dome each contains a white stucco depiction of a Doctor of the Church, below which is a stucco angel bearing a label with his name.
The ring cornice of the dome supports eight smaller lunettes, each containing a polychrome sculpture of an angel backed by scalloping and bounded by white molded archivolts. In between the lunettes are shields displaying the heraldry of the Italian royal House of Savoy. Eight ribs rise from these to the wide oculus of the lantern, and the ribs and oculus are decorated with stucco grotesquery. The eight panels in between the ribs are in gold bordered in dark grey, and each depicts a pedimented aedicule surrounded by more ancient grotesque design features. The aedicules each contain a Christian symbol on a dark blue background.
The sanctuary apse is much narrower than the central nave. It is provided with a pair of flanking pilasters, above which the entablature ends. Above the ends of the entablature in turn is a semi-circular archivolt in white, cutting into the dome lunette.
The lunette has a depiction of the two founders of the hospital, Baccelli (left) and Durante, in its left hand corner.
The apse wall is divided by a string course about two thirds up the height of the flanking pilasters. Above this, it is entirely taken up by a huge fresco of Christ in Majesty.
A serious contrast is now provided by the bottom part of the apse wall, which has a mosaic by Rupnik in his distinctive style. This shows a Deesis, with Our Lady and Pope St John Paul II present at the Crucifixion.
The string course continues across the nave back wall on the other side of the pilasters. This divides the two wall zones into two sectors each. The smaller upper sectors are each occupied by an epigraph tablet frescoed in dark blue, with an ornate Grotesque frame in pale grey. The left hand one reads Fili, in tua infirmitate ne despicias teipsum ("Son, in your weakness do not despise yourself") Sirach 38:9; the right hand one reads Esto salus nostra in tempore tribulationis ("Be our salvation in the time of troubles") Isaiah 33:2.
Below these tablets are two more Rupnik mosaics. The left hand one depicts St Agostina Pietrantoni, a religious sister who was working as a nurse in the old city hospital of Santo Spirito in Sassia when she was murdered by an anti-clerical patient. The right hand one is in abstract style, and backs the tabernacle set into it. The tabernacle door is also in gilded mosaic, with the Italian text in red Io sono la vita ("I am the Life").
The altar and the lectern are in white marble, and are designed by Rupnik. The former is a low cuboid with chamfered corners, bearing a cross in gold mosaic on its front. The chamfers sweep inwards as they approach the floor.
The lectern has a carving representing flames on its fall. They stand on a circular marble platform set into the curve of the apse. Following the curve is a continuous marble bench for the liturgical ministers.
Access and liturgy Edit
The chapel is open 24 hours a day.
Mass is celebrated:
Sundays and Solemnities 9:00 or 9:15 (unclear as to why, so turn up for the first time given).
Visitors' leaflet (pdf)