Santa Maria degli Angeli a Balduina is a demolished later 20th century school and subsidiary parish church at Via Lattanzio 27 in the suburb of Balduina, which is part of the Trionfale quarter. Pictures on Wikimedia Commons are here.
The dedication was to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under her aspect of "Queen of the Angels".
Name problems Edit
The church was built by the Sisters of the Infant Jesus (IJS), a French sisterhood committed to education. In Italian they are the Suore di Bambino Gesù, and in French the Sœurs de l'Enfant Jésus. Unfortunately, the name leads to serious confusion with other congregations, including a home-grown Roman one at Bambin Gesù all'Esquilino. The latter is one of another FOURTEEN separate congregations of sisters operating in Rome with "Child Jesus" in their names.
Owing to their long history, this congregation has had other names. In English, they have been referred to as Sisters of the "Holy Infant Jesus" or "Holy Child Jesus", and an old French nickname of Dames de Saint-Maur is often found. This derives from a street in Paris where the first Generalate (headquarters) was located. Recently the congregation has taken to referring to itself as "Infant Jesus Sisters" (non-native English speakers might need to be reminded that the adjective "Infant" governs "Jesus" and not "Sisters").
This congregation was founded at Rouen, France in 1666 by Bl Nicholas Barré, a Minim friar. He wished to create an unenclosed sisterhood dedicated to teaching poor children for free, which was an idea mooted by the Ursulines in the previous century. Barré had noted in the Ursulines a tendency to focus on teaching children from wealthier families, and reacted by founding a new congregation. Unfortunately in the history of female teaching congregations, the concentration of teaching activity on those whose parents can pay fees is a perennial tendency. It is manifest in Rome today.
The congregation has had a complicated history, including a wide and very successful missionary apostolate especially in the Far East. This was started in 1851, and as a result the sisterhood received papal approval in 1866. The Generalate remained in Paris until the late 20th century, but now (oddly) is in a domestic residence located in Pound Hill, Crawley, England.
The original habit of the sisters, kept until the mid 20th century, resembled the garb of a widow of the minor nobility in France in the 17th century. This involved a long black dress with a train dragging the ground, and a bonnet in black silk framing the face with a Gothic arch. A veil in crêpe was attached to this. The dress especially was ridiculous in any modern context, and was replaced with an ankle-length one in the mid 20th century. Then, after the Second Vatican Council, the habit and veil were abandoned entirely. This has since put the sisters in danger of displaying the over-familiar ROBIPAC look (Retired Old Bag in Perm and Cardie).
The congregation has halved in numbers since then, down from about 1 500 in 1950 to about 740 in 2010.
Roman foundation Edit
The congregation opened a small convent with an infants' school in Balduina in 1936. It was decided in 1952, when the congregation had lots of vocations and Romans had lots of children, to build a very large school with provision for the entire range of school ages from infants to university qualification. This was opened in 1953, and had a house chapel in one of the ranges of the complex.
In the early Sixties, the bizarre project was entered into to provide a new church attached to the school. This was despite the local parish church of Santa Paola Romana being only a short walk away. The context was the holding of the Second Vatican Council, which encouraged a brief but intense burst of naïve optimism that the Roman Catholic Church was about to enter a period of unprecedented growth after accepting modernisation (aggiornamento). The church was completed in 1964, and consecrated in 1966. This was the worst possible time to open a new church with the expectation that Mass attendance locally would suddenly grow, because instead it nosedived.
The school as an institution was too small to support the wide age range for which it catered. Also, it was on a very restricted site in a crowded suburb and the lack of outdoor facilities became unacceptable.
Also, the congregation suffered a steady decrease in numbers as vocations in Europe dried up. With other schools run by Catholic sisterhoods in Rome, this has generally meant that administration has passed to seculars and the schools are thus enabled to continue. Here, however, the school was not in premises capable of much improvement.
The congregation's response in 2010 was the decision to leave Rome entirely, close the school and redevelop the site. The church had never been pastorally justified, and it closed as well. However, the school website has survived as a fossil despite being last edited in 2004 (no malware as at February 2019, link in "External links", enter at own risk of course).
The site was sold for residential redevelopment. This involved the total demolition of the complex, including the church, and this took place in 2017. Unfortunately, the complex included below-ground ranges and these had to be dug out. The resultant cavity was protected by concrete revetting walls, but one collapsed and the adjacent street with several parked cars fell into the excavation.
In a sense, it was a pity that this church was demolished because it was a contender for the title of "Ugliest Church in Rome" and a good specimen of "fuck-you" Sixties modernism of the minimalist school.
The edifice was a straightforward cuboidal concrete box, with a flat roof inset within low and thick parapets formed by the tops of the walls. This was attached to the school buildings at the back, and also at the further left hand side. It stood over a crypt.
There was an alarming lack of fenestration -it must have been very dark inside without artificial light. The side walls near the front corners each had a large shallow square protrusion not reaching roof or ground, and this was flanked by a pair of thin window strips. That was it.
The frontage had a wide single doorway, without a porch. This must have been accessed via a flight of steps originally, but a horrible transverse ramp was substituted before demolition. Above, the façade had a huge cross in thin steel beams.
The concrete walls were painted in three horizontal swathes, light grey at the top, a pastel tan colour for most of the walls and a lighter shade of the same at the bottom. However, this scheme was compromised by the need to paint out graffiti.
The writer has not been able to find photos of the interior. According to the Italian Wikipedia, the church had a semi-circular sanctuary apse embedded in a school range at the rear, and this had a mosaic of The Mother and Child with Angels executed in 1968. The nave floor was in red marble. The sanctuary was on a platform raised on three steps. There was a gallery over the entrance.
A painting of Bl Nicholas Barré was executed by a former pupil of the school in 2000.
Official diocesan web-page (unrevised, Feb 2019)
School website (still up, Feb 2019)