San Francesco d'Assisi a Monte Mario amounts to two parish churches on the Via Trionfale in the Della Vittoria suburb (not to be confused with the Della Vittoria quarter). The postal address is Piazzetta di Monte Gaudio 8. The older one is 17th century Baroque and formerly monastic, and the newer one is 21st century.
The dedication is to St Francis.
The original chapel here was built in 1660 by Bartolomeo Neri, a protonotary apostolic and a canon of Santi Celso e Giuliano. He had an estate here, and the chapel was built on part of his vineyard. The dedication was to St Francis, because the tradition was that this was the viewpoint from which he saw the city on his first visit (the locality was open and treeless then).
Obviously the original work failed, or Neri had second thoughts and wanted something better. So, a (still small and simple) church was built between 1669 and 1676, with a campanile added two years later. However, it remained a completely private chapel for almost thirty years.
In 1703, the church was made parochial by Pope Clement XI who sponsored some development of the area. As a result, the hamlet became known as Borgo Clementino and the church was nicknamed Sant'Onofrio al Borgo Clementino -by which name it is sometimes referred to in the sources. The mother parish was San Lazzaro, which had been enormous in area but very thinly populated.
There was an extension of the complex by Aristide Leonori, taking two years from 1914. His seems to be the low flat-roofed single storey block to the left of the church.
The Hieronymites had been failing as a religious order through the 19th century, and finally had to be suppressed in 1933. The parish, by then heavily suburbanized and subdivided, was passed to the Piarist congregation which is still in charge. They oversaw a re-ordering of the interior which has attracted hostile comment (notevoli ed impietose modifiche).
The small old church had been grossly inadequate for the needs of the parish for decades, by the time a new church was built next door in 2004. The architects were Alessandro Ressa and Anna Claudia Cenciarini.
The old church was retained in use as a ferial chapel and baptistery.
Exterior of old churchEdit
Layout and fabric Edit
The plan is based on a short rectangular single nave and a very slightly narrower sanctuary. Both of these are under the same pitched and tiled roof.
The former monastery occupies an irregularly built set of wings behind the church, one transverse and attached to the back of the sanctuary and two running back from the ends of this and enclosing a little courtyard (not really a cloister). The right hand one of these two wings has a flat roof and looks like Leonori's work.
The side walls of the church are blank, and rendered in dull pink with one rectangular window high up on each side.
A tower campanile is attached to the left hand back wall of the church, is in travertine with one large arched sound-hole on each side and a low ogee (onion-shaped) cap. Its lower storey is hugged by both the far wall of the sanctuary and the monastery abutting it.
The façade is tall for its width, rendered in the same reddish pink with architectural details in white. It is approached by a double flight of stairs, paved in an attractive fish-scale pattern. These demonstrate that the church stands on a crypt.
The corners are occupied by two gigantic Composite pilasters, the capitals not quite reaching a double horizontal string course which itself is slightly below the gable (which, hence, does not form a proper pediment).
The door-case, with the doorposts decorated by carvings, is surmounted by an arched floating canopy over a relief of a cross within a wreath, the canopy being raised slightly above the lintel. Above this is a large trapezoidal device in white, joining onto the wide frame of a large rectangular window. There is a round window in the gable.
Interior of old church Edit
The interior has been left rather stark by the Piarist re-ordering, and is mostly in white. The nave of three bays has a plain barrel vault in pale pink, and the side walls have gigantic Corinthian pilasters supporting an entablature which is posted out over the capitals. The cornice is strongly projecting and has several orders of molding, including dentillation. Above it is a second cornice with tassels.
There used to be two side chapels, basically arched niches fitted in between the side wall pilasters. The archivolts spring from Tuscan Doric pilasters, and the spandrels of these feature high-relief stucco angels. More heavenly beings are in stucco on the intradoses,
The Piarists dismantled the chapel altars, and removed the altarpieces to the sacristy behind the sanctuary. One shows The Immaculate Conception and is by Pietro Gagliardi (1865), and the other shows The Souls in Purgatory and is by Luigi Herzog (1885).
The little font, basically a bird-bath in marble, is to the right of the sanctuary.
The plan to the right shows the layout before the Piarist re-ordering.
The triumphal arch leading into the sanctuary is fitted into the curve of the vault. Its supporting piers are very odd. From the floor each starts as tripletted, but has a corbelled addition on its inner face a little more than halfway up which makes it quadrupletted with capitals to match. The interior entablature with its double cornice is posted over these capitals, looking very juddery. The semi-circular archivolt springs from this, having several orders of decorative molding and an outer plain one painted the same pink as the nave vault.
The archivolt bears a stucco relief coat-of-arms supported by a pair of angels, and putti inhabit the intrados of the arch. The stucco work here and elsewhere is (according to "Roma Natura") by Marcantonio Barigiona -although there is confusion over the name in the sources.
The main altar stands only a little way inside the structural sanctuary, so it seems that there was a monastic choir behind it (this is invisible from the nave). To either side, fitted very tightly into the space available, are two cantorie or balconies for musicians, which have bowed fronts and have their near ends supported by the corbelled portions of the triumphal arch piers. These balconies are also enlivened by stucco decorations.
The white marble high altar is by Giuseppe Ciacci from Palermo in Sicily. Four ribbed Corinthian columns, arranged in inwardly diagonal pairs, stand on box plinths flanking the gradini which have gilded relief panels. The capitals are also gilded. They support a segmental pediment broken at the top, into which is inserted a rectangular panel. A pair of angels recline on the pediment. Above the panel is the cross-and-wreath device (of the Hieronymites?) already seen on the façade, and this has its own triangular pediment with a broken cornice.
The altarpiece features St Francis having a vision of Our Lady, and he seems to be on the panel above too.
Exterior of new church Edit
The new church is a low building on a square plan, to the left of the old church and aligned with it. The main worshipping area is surrounded by a narrow ancillary zone on all four sides, and has a little semi-circular sanctuary apse which cuts into the back ancillary zone.
The roof is flat. Over the church proper it is slightly raised to allow for window slits, and bears the logo of an enormous cross patty in grey with a large circular skylight in its centre (obviously the architects were thinking of aerial images online). The ancillary roof areas are also flat, and have low parapets except over the façade and just around each near corner where it is higher.
The sanctuary apse is topped by another circular skylight
The low façade looks rather like a bunker, with a sloped frontage in large stone tufa blocks and three widely spaced wooden doors. However it is worth a glance for the deep frieze above its overhanging roofline. This has relief carvings showing scenes from the early life and vocation of St Francis, including his first glimpse of Rome at the right hand end. The frieze amounts to the frontage of a roof balcony, which is accessed via a staircase to the left of the façade. A thin window strip runs along the top of the façade under this balcony.
Interior of new church Edit
Overall, the interior is rather uninteresting. The walls are in white, and are topped by window strips. The dominant design feature is the roof, which has a deep concrete ring around its large central skylight. This has curving concrete beams running off to the side walls in a star pattern, intersected by four quarter-circle beams compassing the corners..
The sanctuary apse is in tufa blocks. The skylight here is shielded from the nave by a floating semi-cylindrical metal X-railing with eight rectangular panels in an arc. This echoes the circular platform of the sanctuary, which is rather cramped. Behind the altar is a large crucifix.
According to the Diocese, the church (churches?) opening times are:
Winter 6:00 to 12:30, 16:30 to 19:00;
Summer (daylight saving time) 7:00 to 12:30, 17:00 to 20:00.
According to the Diocese, Mass is celebrated:
Weekdays (old church): 7:00, 8:30, 18:00 (July and August 8:00 and 19:00);
Sundays and Solemnities (new church) 9:30, 11:00, 12:30 (not July, August), 19:00 (19:30 July, August).
There is Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament on First Fridays from 17:00 to 19:00.
External Mass Centre Edit
The parish maintains one separate public Mass centre at present (2019, according to Diocesan website).
This is the chapel of an institution known as the Casa Tommaso G. Walsh at Via Sangemini 53 which was built for the Pontficio Istituto Maestre Pie Filippini. The sisterhood it was named after used to run the large, three-winged four-storey complex as a school, but shut this in 2009 and it became a guest house and retirement home for the sisters. The complex has been under renovation. See Cappella della Casa Tommaso G. Walsh.
Mass is at 8:00 on Sundays and Solemnities.