Santa Maria Madre della Famiglia is the earlier 20th century Fascist-era church of the Governatorio in Vatican City, and is in the gardens west of St Peter’s.

The dedication is to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under her title of Our Lady, Mother of the Family. It used to be dedicated to St Martha until the name was changed in 2007.

Do not confuse this building with the demolished church of Santa Marta in Vaticano, regarded as its predecessor although on a different site.


This church was begun in 1928 as the chapel for a new seminary for the Diocese of Rome, which was to be accommodated in a large stand-alone block just to the west of St Peter's. The new chapel's large size was intended to accommodate all the putative seminarians of the Pontificio Seminario Romano Maggiore, which was to be moved here.

However, as a result of the Concordat agreed between Mussolini and the Church in 1929, giving territorial sovereignty to the Vatican City, the new main building was converted before completion into the Palazzo di Governatorio or the Palace of the Governor of Vatican City. The seminary was established at a site near San Giovanni in Laterano instead -see Santa Maria della Fiducia.

The architect was Giuseppe Momo, who also designed the railway station just to the south.

The programme of works giving access to the station had entailed the demolition of Santa Marta in Vaticano, hence the new seminary chapel was dedicated as a church in honour of the same saint and had several artworks transferred to it in 1930.

There was a restoration in 1966, and the church was re-consecrated in honour of Our Lady, Mother of the Family in 2007. The Diocese now seems to regard it as a private chapel.


Layout and fabric Edit

The church has a single nave of three bays, with very narrow lower structural side aisles divided internally into side chapels. The nave has a pitched and tiled roof with eaves that overhang substantially, except at the façade. The aisle roofs are flat. There is a three-sided external apse with its own tiled roof in three sectors.

The fabric is in red brick, with architectural details in limestone.

There seems to be a crypt, as the entrance is approached by a flight of steps. A covered passage leads from the right hand side of the church to the palazzo.

Façade Edit

The façade has a single storey, slightly narrower than the nave. A pair of gigantic brick pilasters with limestone Corinthian capitals occupy the corners, and support a brick entablature with shallow posts above the capitals. Above this is an oversized and projecting triangular pediment, the same width as the nave. The tympanum contains an ornately carved Baroque coat-of-arms embellished with festoons, which now displays the heraldry of Pope Pius XI. This looks re-carved, so the sculpture probably came from the demolished church.

Two very narrow side zones, set back, are under the ends of the pediment and mark the corners of the nave side walls. The central zone of the façade, in between the pilasters, has a plain brick frame within which is a gigantic molded arch with its keystone touching the top of the frame. This is divided into two horizontal registers by a line substantially below the springing of the archivolt. The area above this line is completely occupied by an enormous window fenestrated with squares of yellow selenite (a mineral related to alabaster, translucent when cut into thin sheets).

The entrance has a molded doorcase with a raised segemental pediment broken at the top and with the breaks curlicued. This pediment intrudes into the window. Into the break is inserted another carved Baroque coat-of-arms, again looking as if it from the old church. The zones in between the doorcase and the sides of the arch are occupied by a pair of recessed panels with stepped frames, rendered in an off-white.


Layout and fabric Edit

The nave has three bays, with three side chapels to the left and two to the right. The sanctuary occupies a semi-circular apse. The missing central chapel to the right is occupied by the entrance to the covered passageway leading into the palazzo.

The interior is Baroque which looks playful enough to have been modelled on the interior of the old church (is this actually the case?). The overall paint scheme is in an off-white, with details in white and light grey. The stucco decorations are inspired by Bernini, and if they replicate those in the old church then the designer was Alessandro Algardi (according to info.roma).

Nave Edit

There are no arcades, but the side chapels are trabeated which means that their entrances have horizontal lintels. Each of these is supported by a pair of Ionic columns with swagged capitals, and forms part of an entablature with a plain frieze which runs around the interior. The pairs of columns stand very close to matching pairs of side pilasters supporting the ends of the trabeations. In between each pair of chapels is a blind pilaster, and in front of this is another column which supports nothing but an entablature post and an empty curlicued pedestal.

The barrel-vaulted ceiling springs from the entablature, and has three large lunette windows on each side. On the entablature in front of each window is a blank lute-back tablet with fronded curlicues and a molded arc cornice. The ceiling lunettes, bordered with molded ribs, do not meet but touch a curvaceous central fiddle-back panel outlined with molding but containing no fresco. There are stucco frond and scallop details where the lunettes touch this, in the corners where the lunette ribs meet and on the lunette window archivolts.

The entrance has a very shallow bay, over which the entablature runs. The latter is supported by a pair of the Ionic columns. In the near corners of the nave is another pair of the columns supporting posts, from which springs a wide dished archivolt with a single curve of trapezoidal coffering. This encloses the organ gallery, tucked in over the entrance bay and which has a pin balustrade. The archivolt fits into the curve of the ceiling vault.

Sanctuary Edit

The triumphal arch is semi-circular, springing from a length of entablature on each side supported by a square pilaster and free-standing column in the same style as those of the nave. The archivolt is substantially lower than the curve of the ceiling vault, and the space in between contains fronded incurves meeting at a crowning curlicued Papal heraldic shield displaying an eagle. This is untinctured so the attribution is not obvious, but the eagle was the emblem of Pope Leo XII (1823-9).

The sanctuary has a very shallow bay before the apse proper. The entablature is doubled by the addition of a sub-entablature, posted over a set of six blind pilasters which are painted in white to contrast with the light grey of the wall. The main entablature has matching posts, which are fronded, and the conch has ribs springing from these. The ribs have each a single leafy pendant festoon, and meet at a stucco glory containing the Dove of the Holy Spirit within a triangle. The very short bay vault in front of the conch contains a large stucco rosette.

In 2007 an icon of The Madonna and Child with SS Joachim and Anne, by Francesco Melanzio (1465-1519) from Montefalco, was hung on the wall over the high altar. This replaced an altarpiece of St Martha by Giovanni Baglione, which came from the old church. The same must apply to the fine polychrome marble tabernacle on the high altar.

The altar pro populo (for Mass celebrated facing the congregation) consists of a mensa sitting on a Composite column capital which apparently came from Castel Gandolfo.

Side chapels Edit

The five side chapels are identically treated. They are bare-walled cuboidal spaces, with matching altars. Each of the latter has a mensa corbelled out on a pair of incurved brackets, which flank a grey marble wall panel into which a yellow Greek cross is set. Above, the altarpiece painting is within an elliptical tondo in a completely gilded wide neo-Baroque frame with curlicues.

The five paintings look as if they were commissioned for the 1920's church project.

The dedications have been given as, clockwise from the right of the entrance: The Sacred Heart, "St Sebastian" (looks like St John the Baptist), (top left) St Joseph, Our Lady of Guadalupe (with a more ornate frame than the others) and finally "St Veronica" (looks like St Mary Magdalen).


As the church is in the Vatican Gardens, it is not open to the general public. Further, the Palazzo di Governatorio blocks the view from the dome of St Peter's as the church is to the west of the main building.

You will catch sight of it if you go on a guided tour of the Gardens (groups only).

Musical concerts are held there on occasion.

External links Edit

(For the demolished church that this one replaced, see Santa Marta in Vaticano.)

Info.roma web-page (this uses the old name of St Martha)

Article on re-dedication

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