Santa Maria Madre di Dio a Villa Lais is a deconsecrated early 20th country former country villa chapel at Villa Lais, with a postal address of Piazza Giovanni Cagliero. This is in the Tuscolano quarter.
The name as given is according to the consecration of the present chapel in 1905. However, the villa occupies the site of an old farmstead and it is known that a previous chapel here was dedicated to St Anthony of Egypt.
Hence, you might find the chapel referred to as Cappella di Sant'Antonio. This is incorrect.
The chapel was desecrated when the villa became derelict in the later 20th century. When the building was restored at the start of the 21st century, the chapel became a venue for civil marriages. As such, it was not reconsecrated and is not a place where Mass is celebrated.
It is a good guess that the farmstead chapel here dated back to the 16th century, although documentation on the site seems lacking. Info.roma claims that the old chapel had a work called Notte by Giovanni Francesco Grimaldi, executed 1663-5.
The dedication to St Anthony of Egypt involved a joke referring to the isolated country location -he was a famous monk of the Egyptian desert. It was first recorded in a survey of 1818.
The present villa complex was the work of Filippo Lais (1853-1941). He was a hydraulic engineer, but was well read in Roman history and the villa demonstrates his erudition in the subject. The chapel fresco work is attributed, on stylistic grounds, to Oreste Mander.
After the death of Lais, the complex suffered neglect and ended up derelict. It was bought by the city in 1979, but a thorough restoration had to wait until 2006.
The desecrated chapel was restored as a civil marriage venue, to complement the more famous one at Santa Maria in Tempulo. The interior survived its period of dereliction very well, and if you wish to have a non-religious marriage in what passes for a church full of religious symbolism (but is one no longer), then you can do so here. Presumably the main appeal is to those already divorced and so unable to re-marry in a Catholic church, and who wish to keep some contact with religious realities.
The chapel is part of the main villa block, which has two ranges sharing the same major axis. Facing the front door, the left hand one is two-storey and the right hand one, three. The chapel is in the ground floor of the latter.
The plan is odd. The nave is a semi-circular apse protruding from the right hand end of the block, while the tiny sanctuary is within the main structure.
The apsidal nave is in dull red brick, and has a projecting cornice with a row of brick dentillation. This cornice is supported by brick corbels, each in three inverted steps. The corbel supports a single arc of sloping pantiles, but the rest of the roof is flat. It is protected by metal railings in a diagonal cross pattern intersecting nested squares, and these are supported by five solid square brick piers. Oddly, each pier has a stone stemmed vase planter containing pot plats.
The nave has two narrow round-headed windows, flanking the single entrance. The latter has a heavy marble lintel supported by a pair of longitudinal corbels which incut the upper corners of the door. The lintel also supports a semi-circular tympanum sporting a fresco of a cross being adored by two doves (this is an ancient Christian motif).
The tympanum is protected by a floating gabled brick canopy, resting on projecting stone cushion corbels themselves topping a pair of very shallow brick pilasters framing the door.
The interior really is sweet. The tiny semi-circular nave has its brick walls rendered and frescoed so as to imitate ashlar stonework with the "blocks" decorated with crosses and chi-rho symbols. The roof is in wood stained dark, with the rafters embellished with curlicues and the panels with rows of stars, both gilded.
The two round-headed windows have dished frames decorated with grotesque detailing.
The superb fresco work is executed so as to imitate ancient mosaics. Over the entrance is depicted a half-length bust of Our Lady in the orans (praying) position, within a semi-circular background imitating a tympanum. Below is an epigraph reading Pulchra es et decora, filia Ierusalem ("You are beautiful and gracious, daughter of Jerusalem").
The floor is in octagonal tiling of grey-veined marble, with little black squares filling the interstices.
Triumphal arch Edit
The minute sanctuary, on a square plan, is within the main villa building, and is flanked by a pair of sacristies. The triumphal arch is inserted into the villa wall here, and the sacristies each have a narrow doorway.
The arch has no relief decoration, but the archivolt sports a fresco epigraph in gold on blue, reading Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini, hosanna in excelsis (Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest). Over the keystone is a tondo portrait of Christ.
The sacristy doors each have a tympanum, featuring pairs of birds drinking from a vase on a red background. Peacocks are on the left, doves on the right. These also are very old Christian motifs.
The far nave wall above the triumphal arch and tympani bears a large fresco divided by the tondo portrait, featuring two deer facing each other over sheep. The animals occupy flowery meadows. To the left the text is Ierusalem, to the right Bethlem.
The two sacristy doors give the impression that the triumphal arch is flanked by a pair of piers, although there is no structural distinction. These two narrow widths of wall are decorated in the same way as the rest of the nave, but the left hand one also has an epigraph tablet recording the dedication of the chapel to the Mother of God in 1905.
The intrados of the arch has a chi-rho symbol in a blue tondo.
The sanctuary contains no altar now, only the furniture for doing the getting-married business on in front of the registrar.
The side walls are frescoed in faux-ashlar stonework, but unlike the nave here the work is done with dark grey stripes bearing crosses.
These side walls each have a round-headed portal leading into the sacristy there, with a round-headed aperture (not a window, because unglazed) beyond that. The inner surface of each aperture is decorated with a stylised flower bouquet on a gilded background.
There is a single cross-vault, frescoed with the symbols of the Evangelists on a starry blue background, with a central tondo in gold featuring the Lamb of God with six candlesticks, the Scroll with Seven Seals and a jewelled cross.
If you really want to get married at this venue, see the city web-page here. Beware -the space available inside is tiny, so if you have a lot of friends and relatives who want to be there then it's not really suitable.
If you simply want to visit the interior, turn up at the opening times on the website and wait for a marriage to finish in order to have a look around. The next marriage might be rather soon, though.