San Vincenzo de’ Paoli all’Aventino is a 19th century convent church at Via di Santa Maria in Cosmedin 5. It is in the rione Ripa, and despite its name is by the river and not on the Aventine as such. Picture of the church at Wikimedia Commons here.
The dedication is to St Vincent de Paul .
The church serves the Generalate (headquarters) of the Sisters of Charity of St Jeanne Antide Thouret (Suore di Carità di Santa Giovanna Antida Thouret). This active religious sisterhood was founded by the saint at Besançon in France in 1799, and was inspired by the charism of St Vincent de Paul (hence the dedication). It should not be confused with the Daughters of Charity, founded by St Vincent.
The foundress sent her niece, Sr Rosalie Thouret (who had also joined the congregation) to Rome in 1844 to found an orphanage in premises attached to the hospital of Santo Spirito.
The sisters began to work as ward nurses in the hospital in 1850, and the congregation set up its noviciate in Rome in 1851. This arrangement was not ultimately satisfactory. The Roman Province of the congregation was established in 1859, and three years later the convent was transferred to a house on the site of the present Generalate. However, it took thirty years before a proper convent was put in hand.
This was begun in 1893, and completed two years later by the partnership of Andrea and Carlo Maria Busiri Vici, father and son.
Nowadays, the complex is a historical monument of the large financial and human resources that a late 19th century active religious sisterhood could command.
Layout and fabricEdit
The design of the church and original convent block to the left is by Andrea Busiri Vici. However, this is only part of the complex which has several other stand-alone buildings in very extensive gardens. The latter stretch up the lower slope of the Aventine, and at the top of the slope is a separate set of convent premises with its own chapel. This seems to have been the noviciate. See Cappella del Clivo di Rocca Savella.
The church's exterior is in a rather timid neo-Romanesque style -it has been described as Gothic, which it certainly is not. The fabric is in a yellowish-pink brick, with only a few architectural details in limestone. The plan comprises a central nave with side aisles, and a half-octagon apse. The aisles have galleries, which makes them very tall, and the apse has a passage or ambulatory running round its exterior (this is not apparent from inside).
The campanile is a basic metal frame inserted between the top left hand corner of the nave and the convent block adjacent.
With its attached convent, the church stands on an impressive balustraded terrace above the Lungotevere Aventino.
The façade is in the same pinkish-yellow brick as the rest of the church, with some architectural details in whitish limestone.
The single entrance is surmounted by a mosaic of the Lamb of God flanked by a pair of doves in the tympanum, which is enclosed by a shallow arched porch with a gable. The central nave façade has a round-arched window either side of the entrance, and a stone string-course above it (broken by the porch gable) which continues across the aisle frontages. Above this is a set of three arched windows separated by a pair of recessed lozenges in the brickwork, then a tablet bearing a dedicatory inscription:
D.O.M. aedem a MDCCCXCIII ab episcopatu Leone XIII P.M. quinquagesimo, ad honorem Sancti Vincentii a Paolo primam in urbe, sodalitas sororum a charitate fecit.
Above this in turn is a round window with stone tracery made up of eight small circles surrounding a larger one defaced by a Greek cross.
The edges of the nave façade have a pair of gigantic pilasters rendered in white, ending in attenuated imposts just below the horizontal rooflines of the side aisle frontages. From these imposts springs a relief arch in the brickwork, which curves above the round window. The pilasters are continued above their imposts to bear a crowning broken pediment missing its cornice, so that the brickwork of the wall continues into it. Inside this pediment is a triple arched window.
The aisle frontages have two arched windows each, one above the other with the string course separating them. Their outer corners have a pair of pilasters of the same style as the nave ones.
Layout and fabricEdit
The church has a simple rectanguar plan, with a nave of seven bays having side aisles. The first bay of the nave is an entrance vestibule. The sanctuary is a single bay as wide as the central nave, and has an attached semi-circular apse. There are no external side chapels.
In contrast to the boring exterior, the church's interior is of high quality.
Each nave arcade has five Composite columns of highly polished light grey granite, supporting imposts from which the seven archivolts spring. The entrance vestibule has three arches with two more columns, and at the corners where the nave and vestibule arcades meet are two L-shaped piers. The spandrels in between the archivolts have single painted rosettes, in varying patterns. In between the archivolt springers are putto's heads, just above the column capitals.
Above the entrance vestibule is the organ gallery, which has three arches in the same style as those below although the columns are shorter and thinner. There is a balustrade formed from an arcade of little open arches. A third storey is fitted into the arch of the nave vault, containing more organ pipes and having a balustrade in the same style.
The side aisles are cross-vaulted. Each bay has a round-headed window with stained glass in a geometric pattern.
These side aisles have galleries, in the same style as the organ gallery including balustrades which makes a grand total of twenty-four granite columns. The sisters used to assemble here for liturgies.
The central nave ceiling is cross-vaulted with ribs, and is painted light blue with silver stars.
The sanctuary, including apse, is five-sided and is vaulted in the same style as the nave. The two diagonal side walls each have a large round-headed window with geometric stained glass, and a small lunette window over. The back wall also has a lunette window, but the here the large window is replaced by a mosaic of SS Vincent and Jeanne, with their motto Charitas. The flanking side walls have doorways leading to the convent and the gallery stairs, and above these are two rectangular apertures framed in marble, with balustrades containing four little columns in red marble. The doorways and these apertures have semi-circular tympani in the same grey-veined marble; three are blank, but the one over the left hand door now contains a mosaic of St Agostina Livia Pietrantoni. She was a Sister of Charity working in the Santo Spirito hospital in Rome, who was stabbed to death by an anti-clerical patient in 1894, the year after the convent here opened.
There is a very good Paschal candlestick, a copy of a mediaeval Cosmatesque one.
There are two matching side chapels, at the ends of the aisles. The right hand one is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, and the left hand one to the Sacred Heart. The altarpieces are by Eugenio Cisterna, 1903.
The altars are almost identical, in white marble with vaguely Cosmateque inlay. The work is by Ruffinoni, also responsible for the decorative stonework elsewhere.
Just in front of the altars have been placed interesting modern relic-monstrances of the foundress. The Sacred Heart altar has a white marble bas-relief of her with a child, with the relics above in framing panels executed in gilded mosaic. The Immaculate Conception has three such bas-reliefs, one showing her visiting a prison, one with a man in a wheelchair and one with children.