San Francesco Saverio alla Garbatella is a 20th century Fascist-era parish and titular church with a postal address at Via Daniele Comboni 4 in the centre of the suburb of Garbatella, which is part of the Ostiense quarter. The main entrance is on the Piazza Damiano Sauli. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons are here.

The dedication is to St Francis Xavier.

History Edit

The church is part of the focal area of the planned suburb of Garbatella, the foundation of which took place in a ceremony in 1920. Beforehand the area was entirely rural, but a plan had been in place for several decades to build a ship canal parallel to the Tiber to a set of docks south of the Porta San Paolo. The new neighbourhood was initially intended principally for dockers, but with the abandonment of the canal scheme it became a more general working-class area and was mainly populated by people displaced in redevelopment in the Centro Storico. The road-building schemes of the Fascist government destroyed whole neighbourhoods north-east of the Roman Forum and around the Campodoglio, and the inhabitants ended up here.

When the locality was still under vineyards and sheep, a little church had been built for the farmworkers in 1818. This was Santi Isidoro ed Eurosia, which remained privately owned until the compulsory purchases needed to obtain land for the suburb. The church was then purchased by the Oratorians in 1924, as a Mass centre for the new suburb which was still part of the parish of San Paolo fuori le Mura.

Very oddly, the Diocese then chose to ignore the already existing church when making parochial provision for Garbatella. Two parishes were created, Santa Galla for the northern part and San Francesco Saverio for the main central zone. The latter was established in 1933, and construction of its church began as part of the formal layout of the central core of the suburb.

The architect was Alberto Calza Bini, who was also an early leader of the Fasci di combattimento which was the precursor of the Fascist party (formally founded in late 1921, just after Bini had become involved). So, here is the interesting spectacle of a church being designed and built by a card-carrying Fascist. (A list of his other architectural works in Rome is here.)

The Fascist demolitions in the Centro Storico included several ancient churches. As a quid pro quo (and mostly as a publicity exercise), the government offered to subsidize the cost of new suburban churches -and the two in Garbatella were presented as examples of this. There was, however, no serious religious interest on the part of the Fascists to promote the Roman Catholic Church as an institution.

Formal consecration of the church was delayed until 1939. The parish was in the charge of diocesan clergy from its inception. However, the Oratorians kept open the nearby Santi Isidoro ed Eurosia, and this became the parish church of a new parish in 1952. A new church was then built, San Filippo Neri in Eurosia, leading to the odd situation of two suburban parish and titular churches very close to each other.

On 3rd December 1978, St John Paul II made his first official visit to a Roman parish as Pope to San Francesco because as a student in Rome after World War II he would assist with pastoral work in this part of the city on Sundays.

San Francesco Saverio was made titular in 2001, and the present cardinal deacon is Franc Rodé.


Layout and fabric Edit

This is one of the modern monumental domed Roman churches, built in a derivative neo-Classical style and with an impressive exterior. It has a Latin cross basilical plan, beginning with a central nave with side aisles of seven bays. The first and last bays are deeper than the intervening five. There follows a transept with a dome over the crossing, and a shallow external chapel attached to each end. The sanctuary has a single bay, followed by a high semi-circular external apse.

There is a crypt partly above ground level, which influences the external appearance.

The exterior walls are mostly in blank pink brick, with architectural details in travertine. The side elevations have a wide stone string course at the level of the church floor (you can see the crypt windows below this). The aisle frontages for the first and last nave bays are slightly prouder than the intervening aisle frontage on each side, where the five bays are divided by brick buttresses which run over the aisle roof to support the central nave wall. The latter is windowless, but each aisle bay has a square window in a wide frame near the aisle roofline.

The transept chapel exterior walls are blank, each with a deep roofline entablature, but above each chapel is a large lunette window in the gabled end wall of the transept proper.

The apse is high, again in blank brickwork with shallow blind pilasters, and below the roofline is a series of deep round-headed niches like an arcade, but with no connecting passage behind them.

The roofs are pitched and tiled. There is a single nave roof, and separate roofs for the transept ends, transept chapels, sanctuary and apse. The apse roof has nine sectors. Each aisle roof has six higher pitches corresponding to the first and last nave bays and the intervening four buttresses, and five lower pitches corresponding to the main nave bays.

The nave has two aisles, and the exterior aisle walls have four brick pilasters supporting buttresses which join to the central nave upper walls. There are five square windows in between the pilasters, but no windows above the nave arcades.

Dome Edit

The dome sits on a box plinth, each side of which is pitched and tiled to the drum. The drum itself starts with a low attic plinth topped by a roll molding, and above this are eight large rectangular windows with their sills on the molding. These windows each have a wide frame in relief, which is itself within a panel in slight relief reaching to the top of the drum. The drum is crowned by a thin entablature, which is stepped out over these panels and which has eight small triangular pediments above them. In between the windows are eight semi-cylindrical coves reaching from attic molding to the entablature.

The hemispherical dome has a relief band at the bottom, which seamlessly joins onto eight wide undecorated ribs meeting at a lantern. The latter has eight slit windows separated by sloping buttresses supporting a cog-wheel entablature and a little hemispherical cupola with a ball and cross finial. The dome in between the ribs looks as if it is rendered in bitumen.

Ancillary buildings and campanili Edit

The church has a very impressive set of ancillary accommodation behind it, arranged symmetrically around a courtyard behind the apse. There are two L-shaped blocks, with the short ends of the L joining onto the sides of the sanctuary and the long ones flanking the courtyard in three storeys. The courtyard frontages of these two long wings have enormous arcades occupying the top two storeys.

The angles of the L's are occupied by units with a square plan, higher than the long wings and each with an octagonal tiled cupola dome in eight sectors on a very low drum. The roofs of the ancillary blocks are otherwise flat.

The twin tower campanili are attached to the long wings either side of the courtyard further from the church, and have their bell-chambers rising above the rooflines of these wings. Each has a large round-headed sound-hole on each face, and an odd conical dunce's cap on top.

Façade Edit

The gabled entrance façade has two storeys, and has the architectural details in travertine with a background of red brick. It is approached by a flight of steps stretching for its entire width. The design divides into three vertical zones corresponding to the frontages of the central nave and side aisles.

The central nave frontage of the first storey is recessed, with two vertical steps to its borders. This recess contains two limestone columns without bases or capitals, but with circular imposts which support an entablature running across the entire façade to divide the storeys. This entablature copies the vertical steps to the central zone below, and in between the steps in the entablature is a short dedicatory inscription on the façade: Deo in honorem Sti Francesci Xavierii.

The large central entrance has a large limestone doorcase, which is continued upwards to frame a large rectangular panel containing a geometric relief featuring a central cross within a circle and four smaller circles.

The side aisle frontages in the first storey each have a pair of imposted pilasters supporting the entablature and flanking a side entrance which is the same height as the main entrance but much narrower.

Above the entablature, in the second storey, the entrance recess is continued by a recessed tympanum in white which contains a trapezoidal window. The rest of the storey, including below the sloping aisle rooflines, is in plain brick except for the crowning entablature and pediment. This contains the coat of arms of Pope Pius XI carved in relief.


Nave Edit

The cool interior is mostly rendered in white, and lacks colour.

The nave is in three distinct parts. The first and last bays have simple barrel vaults over the central nave, which spring from an entablature supported on each side by a pair of pilasters with imposts but no capitals. These enclose a large open door-case portal with a rectangular panel above it bearing a geometric relief of circles and squares. The same arrangement is repeated around the corner, facing along the aisle. The near pair of kiosks are lobbies for the side entrances, and the far pair ditto for the ancillary wings.

The entablature runs around the entire interior, and has a deep molded cornice.

The main entrance has a door-case with a segmental pediment. The entablature just mentioned floats across the counterfaçade above it, and above this in turn is a large trapezoidal window. Flanking the entrance is a pair of wall niches in the form of a segment of a cylinder; the left hand one has a statue of St Joseph, and the right hand one a realistic Pietà in rather startling polychrome. The face of Our Lady is good.

The five main side aisles are occupied on each side by a colonnade of four free-standing limestone Ionic columns of a good Classical design. These support continuations of the interior entablature, except slightly set back from the first and last bays. This means that the barrel vault for these bays has a slightly greater radius. It is coffered in squares, each coffer having a recessed frame.

The wooden confessionals are exceptional, having marquetry medallions depicting Christian symbols.

Transept Edit

The ends of the transept have side chapels. The one dedicated to Our Lady has an altarpiece of Pope Pius XII with Roman citizens, having a vision of the Madonna and Child with angels. The bombed-out basilica of San Lorenzo fuori le Mura is shown on the left, with bombing casualties.

The one dedicated to the Risen Christ has an altarpiece in mediaeval style, showing him accompanied by angels. A depiction of the church is at the bottom.

Sanctuary Edit

The re-ordered sanctuary has a free-standing tabernacle behind and to the right of the altar, which consists of a gilded cross-disc over metal fretwork intended to recall the Crown of Thorns. It is in front of a white coved screen. Behind the screen is an altar and a small chapel.

The otherwise blank white internal apse, which has a conch, is provided with a fresco of St Francis Xavier in the act of preaching. The style is very realistic, and his audience is a mixture of various Asiatic peoples. The setting is bucolic, with accurately depicted wild flowers and trees and mountains in the background. There is no frame.

Access Edit

The church is open:

Daily 7:30 to 13:30, 16:00 to 19:30.

Liturgy Edit

Mass is celebrated:

Weekdays 8:00 (not summer or any Saturday), 19:00 (18:00 Saturdays);

Sundays and Solemnities 8:00, 10:00, 11:30, 19:00.

External linksEdit

Official diocesan web-page

Italian Wikipedia page

Parish website

Info.roma web-page

"Artefascista" web-page

Roman Despatches - blog with gallery

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