Santa Maria Addolorata all’Esquilino is an early 20th century convent church at Via di San Quintino 4, near the Manzoni metro station in the rione Esquilino. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons are here.
The convent belongs to a congregation of sisters known as the Daughters of Our Lady of Mount Calvary.
This congregation is actually part of the older SIsters of Our Lady of the Refuge on Mount Calvary. This was founded in in Genoa by St Virginia Centurione Bracelli, a rich young widow (a pretty bionda, too) who collected a group of orphan girls during an epidemic and established a refuge for these and other "street girls" at a closed-down Franciscan friary called Monte Calvario (hence the name). She organised her disciples into a new congregation of sisters, nicknamed the Brignoline, and these became a treasured feature of Genoese religious and charitable life.
The derivation of the Daughters from the Sisters was odd. The Sisters did not run their own affairs independently, but were under the authority of "protectors" (protettori). In 1833, Pope Leo XII invited the congregation to found a convent in Rome, and it opened one near Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri. However, the Genoese protettori objected to sisters being taken away from the home city and wanted those in Rome to come back. The next pope, Gregory XVI, was not having this and so created a new congregation at Rome, free from Genoese authority.
The convent was actually an old Premonstratensian monastery, that had been shut down by the French at the end of the 18th century. It had a church, San Norberto. Unfortunately, the complex was sequestered by the Italian government in 1873 and the sisters had to move out. They took two pictures of holy Premonstratensians with them, and these can be found in their church.
The complex here was built in 1928, and is now a school called Nostra Signora al Monte Calvario. The Generalate or headquarters of the congregation is nearby, at Via Emanuele Filiberto 104.
There was a restoration of the interior in 2001.
The church (which the Diocese considers it to be, not a chapel) has no external identity but is incorporated into a larger convent block.
The entrance has an ornate neo-Baroque doorcase. Two deep, square Doric pilasters stand on rectangular box plinths on the lowest of three entrance stairs. Each pilaster supports, in turn, a square impost, a post made up of three conjoined curlicues like a troop of rearing caterpillars, a Doric cornice fragment and a Doric post. These final posts support a horizontal cornice, below which is a very short dedicatory inscription Virgini perdolenti. On top of the cornice is a little ovoid tondo bearing the emblem of the Congregation -the tree crosses of Calvary- and embellished with curlicues.
Layout and fabric
The richly decorated neo-Baroque interior deserves to be better known, and is certainly worth visiting.
There is a short nave of three bays, with arcade arches on each side of the two further bays leading into large niches. The far walls of those on the right hand side have stained glss windows, but the walls in the left hand niches are blank. Then comes a sanctuary of one bay, separated from the nave by a triumphal arch. There is a little chapel tucked into the far side of the second nave niche on the left.
The entrance bay is sheltered by a large floating gallery with fretwork screens. There are other galleries above the arcades on each sides, and these were intended for the sisters within their enclosure. The entrance bay is also separated from the main body of the church by an iron railing enclosure screen.
The arcade arches are separated by blind pilasters running from floor to the flat painted wooden ceiling. The latter is coffered in squares painted white with blue, red and gold detailing, and has a larger central coffer containing the heraldry of the Congregation. This is echoed in marble inlay in the floor.
The galleries have matching ceilings, but the side niches have ceilings in blue with stars. The entrance bay ceiling has a panel with a central monogram of Our Lady within a rayed circle, surrounded by light and dark blue rays. This panel is in turn surrounded by a square border of coffers containing quatrefoils -a hint of Gothic.
Above the arches, and on the frontal of the entrance gallery, are fresco tondi depicting important moments in the life of Our Lady. The one over the entrance depicts the Via Dolorosa, and the other four show the Flight to Egypt, the Presentation, the Crucifixion and the Deposition. These tondi are flanked with painted imitations of stucco vine-scrollwork in grotesque style. The arch spandrels have six-winged putto's heads, and there are angels on the pilasters interspersed with further scrollwork on a blue background. The arch intradoses are painted to resemble polychrome marble decoration.
The windows in the right hand niches have yellow stained glass, with central roundels showing symbols derived from the Litany of Loreto in honour of Our Lady. The lunettes at the top have glass showing angels with the Instruments of the Passion.
Tomb of Maria Teresa Zonfrilli
To the left in the entrance bay is the altar-tomb of Sister Maria Teresa Zonfrilli, one of the sisters here who died in 1934 after a long and painful illness heroically endured. Her cause for beatification is in progress.
Above the tomb is a crucifix, flanked by polychrome statues of St Teresa of Lisieux and St Virginia Centurione Bracelli the foundress. The statue of the latter is poor and makes her look like a doll, but she was actually quite beautiful.
On the wall to the left of the above tomb is hanging a picture of one Beato Ermanno. He is Blessed Hermann Joseph of Steinfeld, a German Premonstratensian (Norbertine) canon who obtained his nickname "Joseph" through a mystical marriage with Our Lady.
Opposite is a matching picture of SS Adriano e Iacobus, who are SS Adrian van Hilvarenbeek and James Lacops, two Premonstratensians who were among the martyrs of Gorkum.
These two pictures are relics of the demolished church of San Norberto, which belonged to the first convent of the sisters in the city. It had belonged to the Premonstratensians previously.
Chapel of St Joseph
The little chapel of St Joseph in the far left hand corner of the nave has a tondo icon of him with the Holy Child, within a gilded glory. Above the tiny triumphal arch, which springs from corbels, is a text reading Ite ad Joseph. This actually applies to the patriarch Joseph, and is a quotation from the Book of Genesis, 41:55 (When all Egypt began to feel the famine, the people cried to Pharaoh for food. Then Pharaoh told all the Egyptians, "Go to Joseph and do what he tells you.")
The sanctuary is rectangular, without side niches and has a white pin balustrade. The wide triumphal arch is in the same style as the arcade arches. The side walls have a gallery each, above a blank expanse stencilled with a geometric pattern based on linked circles.
The far wall has a pair of ribbed Corinthian pilasters in the corners, on plinths and with gilded capitals. These rise as far as the ceiling, which is in the same style as that of the nave. They flank a blind arch in shallow relief, itself enclosing a large fresco of angels adoring an icon of Our Lady at the foot of the Cross. God the Father is depicted at the apex of this fresco, and flowering trees with doves at the base. The background colour is blue, for Our Lady,