Sacro Cuore di Gesú a Castro Pretorio is a 19th century parish and titular church, a minor basilica, at Via Marsala 42. This is in the modern rione Castel Pretorio (the historic rione Monti), and very close to the frontage of Termini station. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia page here.
The dedication to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
This is the Italian national shrine to the Sacred Heart.
The church was initally proposed by St John Bosco, and the foundation stone was laid in 1870. However, the annexation of Rome by the Kingdom of Italy delayed matters, and the building was finally finished in 1887 after fierce lobbying by the saint. At the time the Papacy was refusing to deal with the new unified Kingdom of Italy, and St John Bosco rightly pointed out that the Church was in danger of becoming an irrelevance if it did not attend to the teaching and instruction of ordinary working people within the new political order.
The design of the new edifice was by Virginio Vespigniani, and he produced one of the most ornate and richly decorated of Rome's modern churches.
The church is served by the Salesians, whose founder the saint was. They run a boarding-school of arts and industries next to the church on the right side, attached to the building.
The title was established in 1965, with H.E. Maximilien de Fürstenberg as the first titular. The second titular priest (pro hac vice) was H.E. Giovanni Cardinal Saldarini, Archbishop of Turin, who was created Cardinal in 1991 and who died in 2011. The present cardinal deacon is Giuseppe Versaldi, appointed 2012.
LayoutEditThe plan is of a Latin cross, with a very long presbytery or chancel having a skylight in the roof near the crossing which lights the choir of the Salesian community. There is no separate structural apse, neither are there any external domes as the roof is pitched throughout. The material used in the external walls is white travertine quarried at Tivoli, with some brick backgrounding in the façade to give a contrast to the architectuarl elements.
There are three entrance doorways for nave and aisles, of identical design although the nave entrance is bigger. Each is flanked by a pair of grey granite Composite columns in the round, supporting an entablature above which is a tympanum displaying a mosaic and sheltered by a projecting archivolt. The central tympanum has the Sacred Heart being venerated by angels, the left hand one has St Peter and the right hand one, St Paul.
There are eight Corinthian pilasters on the façade in four pairs, two pairs at the corners and the other two flanking the main entrance. Above the aisle entrances are two tablets bearing inscriptions, the left hand one reading Venite ad me, omnes qui laboratis and onerati estis, et ego reficiam vos (Come to me, all you who work and are burdened, and I will refresh you), and the right hand one Quisquis hoc templum beneficia petiturus ingreditur cuncta se impetrasse laetetur (Whoever enters this temple to ask for benefits, may he rejoice over those already granted). The pilasters support a full entablature with a blank frieze, and above this is a solid attic balustrade decorated with blank tondi and tablets. On one corner is a statue of St Francis de Sales by Eugenio Baroni, and on the other is one of St Augustine by Adolfo Pantoresi.
The second storey nave frontage, above the aisle rooflines, has an arcade of three arched windows flanked by four Compsite pilasters supporting an entablature and triangular pediment. The pediment contains a coat of arms of Pope Leo XIII carved by one Gepi, and placed above the right and left corners are a pair of angels carved by Angelo Benzoni.
CampanileEditThe campanile is on the far side of the left hand transept. Two storeys rise over the church roof, each side of both having an arcade containing three arches. At the top there is a little octagonal drum dome, standing on which is a colossal gilt statue of Christ the Redeemer, by Raffaelo Politi and erected in 1931.
There is a nave with side aisles of five bays, then a transept as wide as the nave and aisles and finally a square sanctuary with a cupola. Beyond this, and not part of the public church, is the choir which is also square but slightly larger and which has its own semi-circular apse.
One oddity that visitors often overlook is that the façade is at an angle to the major axis of the church, so that the left hand side wall is longer than the right hand one. If you go through the right hand side entrance you will find yourself in the aisle, but the left hand side entrance passes through a little lobby first which is there to get the counterfaçade wall properly oriented.
For a modern-era church, the interior decoration is amazingly rich.
The three windows over the entrance have stained glass representing Christ, St Peter and St Paul. The nave arcades have four Doric grey granite columns on each side, with imposts supporting the arches. Above each arch is a round-headed window, with framed frescoes between them of the Twelve Prophets by Cesaro Caroselli. The spandrels of the arches have tondi containing heads of saints carved in high relief, and the arch voussoirs are coffered.
The ceiling is also coffered and carved, in red, blue and gold with frescoes in the central panels except for the middle one which has a gilded wooden relief of the Sacred Heart by Andrea Brevilacqua (he also carved all the other figurative woodwork).
There is an internal dome over the sanctuary, with a large open oculus but no lantern. The fresco of the Sacred Heart in this dome is by Virginio Monti, who was also responsible for the other roof frescoes. The main altar is an enormous Baroque aedicule with four Corinthian alabaster columns supporting a triangular pediment, and was originally from the church of San Francesco in Siena. It contains a depiction of the Sacred Heart by Franz von Rohden, one of the so-called Nazarene school which used to have its atelier in the convent at Sant'Isidoro a Capo le Case. The tabernacle is richly decorated with precious stones and polychrome marble.
Behind the altar is a screen wall, inserted in 1969 to separate the private choir chapel of the Salesians from the main body of the church.
Right hand aisleEdit
The aisles have saucer domes with more frescoes in their pendentives and oculi. Each aisle has two side altars, with rich polychrome marble decoration, and another altar is at the far end.
The right aisle near the entrance has a marble statue of Pope Pius IX by Francesco Confalonieri, and a portrait of Pope Leo XIII. Then there is a side altar dedicated to St Mary Domenica Mazzarello with a very good altarpiece by Paolo Giovanni Crida of 1966. She is counted as the foundress of the female branch of the Salesian religious family, the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, and in the picture she is shown pointing to a picture of the Madonna and Child over a Baroque altar.
The next altar is dedicated to St Francis de Sales, with a portrait by Piombi. The altar at the end is dedicated to St Joseph, and was the original high altar (the church was originally going to be dedicated to St Joseph the Worker in recognition of the Salesian charism of evangelizing the working classes). The altarpiece is by Giuseppe Rollini, and shows St Joseph the Patron of the Universal Church.
Left hand aisleEdit
In the left aisle near the entrance there is the baptistry, with a Carrara marble font and a marble bas-relief of the Baptism of Christ. Then there is a side altar dedicated to SS Joachim and Anne, parents of Our Lady, with an altarpiece by Guido Guidi of 1991 showing the holy couple teaching Our Lady to read.
The next altar is dedicated to SS John Bosco and Dominic Savio and incorporates two ancient fluted grey-veined marble columns, privately donated. It also has a charming painting of the two saints by Giuseppe Crida of 1934, who also carved the reliefs below the altar rails.
The spectacular Baroque altar to St Mary Auxiliatrix at the end of the left aisle was originally in the demolished church of Santa Teresa alle Quattro Fontane, and displays a picture of Our Lady by Giuseppe Rolin.
The church is open:
6:00 to 12:00, 16:00 to 19:30.
This parish church has a rich liturgical and devotional life, but the number of Masses was reduced recently.
Mass is celebrated:
Weekdays 6:30, 7:00, 7:30, 8:00, 9:00, 18:00.
Sundays: 7:00, 8:00, 9:00, 10:00, 11:30, 15:30 (in Tagalog), 18:00.
There is Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on Fridays from after the 18:00 Mass to 19:15, when there is Vespers and Benediction. On Thursdays, Adoration for young people is from 20:30 to 22:00.