Sacro Cuore di Gesù delle Tre Madonne is an earlier 20th century former monastery church at Via dei Tre Orologi 3 in the Pinciano quarter.


History Edit

The community of Discalced Carmelite nuns was founded in 1668 at Trévoux near Lyons in France. The convent was suppressed in 1792 after the French Revolution, but was re-founded in 1874.

Tragically, the community was ejected again in 1901 after the anti-clerical government of Émile Combes acted to suppress all monasteries. The nuns went into exile to Rome, where it is reported that they arrived penniless.

Interestingly, by 1921 they had acquired sufficient funds to buy the Villa dei Tre Orologi just north of the Villa Borghese. This was a new edifice, part of the incipient suburbanisation of the Pinciano, but the nuns had it demolished and replaced by a purpose-built monastery designed by Tullio Passarelli.

The odd name of Tre Madonne ("three Madonnas") derives from a nearby old rural hostelry called the Osteria delle Tre Madonne. A terracotta bas-relief which seems to have been an inn-sign for the establishment was donated to the nuns, who kept it in their garden. The original reason for the name seems to be unknown.

The monastery is on a cul-de-sac, and so had a very quiet existence until it was closed down in 2018. The community had had no vocations for years, and had dwindled to two nuns.

The closure was done without publicity, and the future of the buildings seems to be very uncertain. Formal deconsecration of the church must be a real possibility.

Exterior Edit

Layout of monastery Edit

The monastery is on a traditional plan, having a central cloister garth surrounded on four sides by ranges. The church is perpendicular to the front range, and interrupts it. Unusually, a tower campanile stands behind the sanctuary and has its far wall as part of the cloister frontage. The side ranges of the cloister are the main residential blocks, each of three storeys. The back range is of one storey, and contains a semi-circular house chapel forming a back apse on the same axis as the church.

Fabric of church Edit

The complex is in a Baroque revival style, what the Italians called barocchetto. There is nothing sumptuous about the decoration, however. The fabric is in pink brick, some of it left exposed as architectural elements although the walling is mostly rendered in a greyish yellow colour.

The church is rectangular, of two structural bays overall and standing over a ground-level crypt. The four side walls of the bays each have a gigantic brick blind arch reaching up to the roofline, and enclosing a recessed zone of the wall. Within the archivolt is a row of three round-headed windows, the middle one being taller.

The front range of the convent abuts the church either side of the second bay. The first bay has a shallow external chapel within the arch on each side, and this has a blank external wall topped by a single-pitched tiled roof.

The main roof is gabled, pitched and tiled.

Campanile Edit

The tower campanile is attached to the back of the church. Brick piers occupy the two free corners, and these end in brick block imposts from which spring brick arches below the bell-chamber. Only the latter is higher than the ridge of the church's roof.

The arch spandrels are in brick, melded with the archivolts, but the walling within the arches and piers is rendered. Each of the three free walls has a round-headed recess, which are windows in the sides. However the one facing the cloister contains a white marble statue of the Sacred Heart.

A cross-shaped recess in the brickwork is over each arch.

Each side of the bell-chamber has an arcade of three arched sound-holes, separated by white marble columns with block capitals. There is a tiled pyramidal cap, with overhanging eaves.

Façade Edit

Because the church is over a ground-level crypt, it is approached by a pair of transverse staircases leading to a patio. The revetting wall is in pink brick, and contains the arched entrance to the crypt. The walling is continued as a solid balustrade for the staircases, and this is pieced with cross-shaped apertures formed by missing out bricks in the laying. Unusually, the ends of the stone stair treads protrude through the walling.

The façade is dominated by a huge brick arch, framing a recessed zone containing the single entrance. This is flanked by two smaller such arches, of a similar design. The edges of the recesses are singly stepped. The smaller arches have no imposts, but the main arch springs from dentillated imposts which are continued over the smaller arches as a pair of string courses.

The smaller arches each contains a pair of brick-framed narrow round-headed windows, one above the other and of different sizes.

The entrance is topped by a massive stone beam lintel, supported on a pair of transverse corbels and extended to the full width of the main arched recess. This creates a tympanum, which contains a white stone bas-relief of a bust of Christ venerated by angels. This tympanum is sheltered by a brick arch with a gabled top, supported by a pair of white stone columns with cushion capitals. The gable is dentillated.

The pair of dentillated string courses above the smaller arches are joined by a simple brick string course under the main arch. On this is a window consisting of an arcade of three arches, the middle one being larger and separated by small white stone columns with block capitals. The string course under this fenestration is dentillated.

The walling within the arches is rendered.

Above the string course, the walling is mostly rendered but the corners have brick pilasters ending in stone block capitals below the side rooflines. A thin secondary archivolt occupies the full width of the façade, with the main arch recess nesting within it. In the gable above this is a niche with a statue of Our Lady. A pair of the thin brick-framed round-headed windows flanks this.

Interior of church Edit

The church's interior is all in white limestone, with the floor in large black and white diaper square tiles. The side chapel altars are in shallow arched niches, the arches springing from engaged derivative Corinthian columns. They are dedicated to St Teresa of Lisieux (left) and St St Joseph (?) (right), and have stone statue altarpieces.

The high altar is in front of a white stone reredos containing a statue of the Sacred Heart, flanked by St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avila. These are in round-headed recesses, framed by arches on engaged columns and piers with capitals richly carved with scrollwork and putti.

To the left of the main altar is a richly carved arched recess containing a smallish polychrome statue of the Madonna and Child. Did the nuns bring this with them from France? To the right is the nuns' choir chapel.

House chapel Edit

The nuns' house chapel is on the other side of the cloister from the church. It has an architectural identity, protruding from the cloister range as a semi-circular apse. A high brick plinth hints at a crypt. The rendered wall is divided into five zones by brick piers, and each section contains a small brick-framed round-headed window. The piers support a tiled cornice, and above this is a high balustrade for the flat roof -rendered below, and bare brick above.

Tre madonne Edit

The terracotta bas-relief of the "Three Madonnas" in the convent garden is apparently demolition salvage for a nearby building thought to have been the old Osteria delle Tre Madonne. It shows a seated central female figure apparently venerated by two others -these seem to be saints, rather than duplicates of the Madonna as is the tradition.

External links Edit

Official diocesan web-page

Info.roma web-page

"Roma2pass" web-page

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