San Josemaria Escrivà is a late 20th century parish church at Largo Josemaria Escrivà 7, in a new development in the quarter of Ardeatino to the east of EUR.
It should be noted that his name is kept in the original Spanish, that is, Jose not Giuseppe. This is the only church in Rome, the name of which begins with a "J".
Expectations as regards accents on letters vary between Spanish and Italian, and as a result there is a lot of confusion over the correct spelling of the church's name. Note that Josemaría Escrivá is correct Spanish, but that the parish prefers the Italianized version Josemaria Escrivà.
Josemaría Escrivá was beatified in 1992. In the same year his successor as prelate (head) of Opus Dei, Bl Álvaro del Portillo, initiated a project to build a church dedicated to him in Rome. The parish was founded immediately, and put into the charge of Opus Dei. The mother parish was San Vigilio.
The church was designed by Santiago Hernández, begun in 1994 and completed in 1996. It is a large, high-quality red brick building in a derivative neo-Romanesque style ("neo-historicist"), of a rather 1930’s idiom. However, the plan is not traditional.
The church has a single nave of seven bays, on a trapezoidal plan. The first two bays on the right share a longitudinal wall as do the second and third on the left, but the junctions between the other bays are stepped inwards so that the nave narrows as one approaches the altar. The sanctuary is a transverse rectangular apse, narrower and lower than the final bay.
The church is flanked by ancillary accommodation on both sides, which is fronted by the wide entrance portico. These blocks incorporate side galleries (matronei) in their second storeys, which open into the nave. Further lavish annexes are at the back of the church, comprising seven wings arranged round two enclosed courtyards. The larger of the latter is laid out as an attractive cloister garden.
The second nave bay is abutted by a tall tower campanile on the left, which rises out of the ancillary block on that side. The fourth to seventh bays are abutted by the ferial chapel on the right hand side, which has its major axis transverse and has a little semi-cylindrical apse.
A pair of small chapels is tucked into the angles between the sacristy and nave.
The fabric consists of a reinforced concrete frame, which is invisible. The visible exterior surfaces are in pinkish-red brick, with architectural details in white travertine limestone.
The main roof is pitched and tiled, but the roofs of the flanking wings are flat. The sanctuary has a single back-sloping pitch, with two triangular hips. Both these roofs have stone parapets. The ferial chapel has a single tiled pitch, with a dormer gable in front of the apse (which has a tiny flat roof).
Each nave bay has a single stone-framed vertical rectangular window in each side wall -except for the left hand side of the second bay, blocked by the campanile. The sanctuary has a very large vertical rectangular window on each side, with stone mullions forming a grid of smaller rectangles -three across by four down.
The campanile is attached to the left hand side of the church, and is a square brick tower with a stone cornice course below the bell-chamber and a pair of rectangular sound-holes framed in stone on each side, of the same style as the windows in the nave side walls. The cornice has a single order of rolled molding.
Above each pair of windows is a decorative device in the form of a comb, having eight narrow vertical slots in the brickwork. Above these is a thin projecting cornice marking the roofline. On the flat roof is a small cupola in the form of a low box-plinth with the comb-device on each side. It bears a ball and cross finial.
There is a relief of an angel by Romano Cosci, inserted rather oddly into the tower's near left hand corner.
The entrance façade has an external flat-roofed portico with three arches, having iron railing gates and with stone trim to the arches and roofline. To either side are long loggias, running beyond the width of the church to front the ancillary wings. These are set slightly back from the porch, and have four square openings each with railings instead of arches. The flat roofs are lower.
On the loggia frontage above the arcade is a long stone strip bearing a simple dedicatory epigraph: D.O.M, in honorem sancti Iosephmariae Escriva dicata.
Above the loggia, the nave frontage is a set of three large vertical rectangular stained glass windows in a stone frames, and to each side a pair of smaller ones. There are three zones to the frontage, with two narrow side zones set slightly back and with horizontal tops. The central main zone is gabled, and has a double row of brick dentillations above the flat white cornice which is a continuation of the ones on top of the church's side walls.
There is a stone bas-relief of the Holy Family below the gabled roofline, which is by Romano Cosci. Eight further bas-reliefs are over the piers separating the portals, and each of these show a cross with arrow points.
Between the church and the street is a finely-paved piazza, separated from the car park by a screen of trees. The entrance is approached by a shallow flight of four steps.
The interior is richly appointed for a modern church.
The sides of the nave each have three storeys. The first storey incorporates various exits to ancillary facilities such as confessionals and the ferial chapel. The second storey has a gallery, and each bay has an arched aperture with a very gentle curve to its archivolt. The piers and archivolts of these arches are revetted in limestone, which is also used to edge the solid gallery balustrades and on the engaged pilasters in the first storey. The wall surfaces are otherwise in a creamy white render.
The first bay contains an entrance lobby, the roof of which supports a transverse gallery connecting the two side galleries. This lobby connects to the main nave via an arcade of arches in the same style as those of the side galleries.
Above the side gallery arches and below the nave side windows is a frieze bounded by two strips of limestone and which connects across the counterfaçade. This bears text from the Latin Eucharistic hymn Adoro te devote.
The floor is in grey granite, with a strip up the major axis in red with a chain of diapered squares in white.
The flat ceiling is supported by transverse metal beams in light grey which spring from the tops of the inner corners in the nave side walls. It is coffered, and decorated with gilded rosettes.
The left hand side of the fifth bay has the first storey of the side wall and the gallery space above entirely taken up by the organ. This is an entirely mechanical instrument, and is reckoned to be one of the best traditional organs in Rome.
Ferial chapel Edit
The ferial chapel is off the far right hand side of the nave, and is dedicated to SS Peter and Paul. The altar is in grey-veined Carrara marble, with two bronze panels at front and back. One shows the symbols of the apostles, the keys and sword, and the other has the symbols of Christ the Good Shepherd.
The little apse is set into the back wall, and is flanked by round-headed depictions of SS Peter and Paul which are by Salvador Pérez. He also drew the cartoon for the mosaic in the apse conch. This depicts The Coronation of Our Lady, with the central scene being flanked by portraits of saints. To the right are the five so-called "Intercessors for Opus Dei", chosen by St Josemaria, as well as Saint Joseph: SS Joseph, Pius X, Thomas More, Catherine of Siena, Nicholas of Bari and John Mary Vianney. To the left St Josemaria is shown, with SS Agnes, Felicity, Cecilia, Stephen and Lawrence.
Side chapels Edit
The two side chapels flanking the sanctuary are cubical spaces each with two sides open, and a supporting square pier at the near inner corner.
The baptistery is to the left of the sanctuary. It has a painting of The Baptism of Christ by Armando Pareja, and a font in travertine with a hemispherical bowl. The latter is a copy of the font in Barbastro in which St Josemaria was baptised.
To the right of the sanctuary is the church's chapel of Our Lady, which contains a painted plaster statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. This looks old, but was actually made for St Josemaria in 1975.
The sanctuary walls are revetted in travertine limestone, and the ceiling is in the same style as that of the nave.
The altar in Carrara marble is decorated with the symbols of the four Evangelists. Relics of St Josemaria are enshrined in it, behind a metal grille.
The spectacular altarpiece on the sanctuary's far wall is also by Armando Pareja, and consists of eight separate paintings in a very realistic neo-Baroque style. The figurative allegory of the Trinity in the topmost one is a rare modern example of an old Western iconographic tradition. Also rather unfashionable in the same painting are the glorious swarms of putti accompanying St Josemaria on the left, and the Holy Family on the right. In the painting of the Crucifixion immediately above the altar, the artist has successfully attempted to portray the contemporary dress of those present with historical fidelity. The smaller side panels depict (top to bottom, left to right): The Annunciation, The Visitation, The Adoration of the Magi, The Flight to Egypt, The Boy Jesus in the Temple and The Workshop of St Joseph.
The framing of these paintings is in old tropical hardwood from Mexico, donated by a devotee of St Josemaria. It is decorated with geometric patterns in gilding; the outer frame has a red background, while the vertical dividing panels are in green.
In the painting of the Crucifixion is a framed circular aperture containing the tabernacle, which is a gilded urn borne by angels and which has a relief of The Annunciation.
The altarpiece is flanked by two epigraphs in metal lettering, fixed individually to the wall. The left hand one reads: Et ego, si exaltatus fuero a terra, omnes traham a meipsum (Jn 12:32), and the right hand one: Ut omnes sint, sicut tu Pater in me, et ego in te (Jn 17:21).
Anybody interested in modern churches, and who is a little tired of simplistic Modernist interpretations of the neo-Romanesque style, should visit this superb building.
The 716 bus from Teatro Marcellino runs to there, as does the 772 from the Laurentina metro terminus.
Mass is celebrated (parish website, May 2018):
Weekdays 7:30 (8:00 Saturdays), 9:00 (not July and August), 18:30 (19:00 on Saturdays in July and August);
Sundays and Solemnities 8:30, 10:30, 12:00 (not July and August), 18:30 (19:00 in July and August).
On public holidays and solemnities not of obligation, Mass is at 8:30, 10:30 and 18:30.