Santa Maria dell’Orto dell’Istituto Antonio Maria Gianelli is a 20th century Fascist-era convent and school chapel, rebuilt in mid-century after war damage, which is located at Via Mirandola 15 just north of the Tuscolana train station. This is in the Tuscolano quarter.

There is an erroneous address being used in online information. Those looking for number 21, rather than number 15, will find themselves at a jazz club (a good one, too).

The dedication is to the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of "Our Lady of the Garden", and apparently there is a subsidiary dedication to St Antonio Maria Gianelli. There is no historical connection to the old church of Santa Maria dell'Orto.

Status Edit

The edifice is often referred to as a a church, for example by the sisters of the convent. There are two good reasons for this. Firstly, the edifice has the architectural dignity of a church. Secondly, it served as a parish church for ten years.

However, the Diocese refers to it as a chapel. This is because no public liturgical activity occurs here (which is the fundamental definition of what a church is).

Given all that, this must be a candidate for the most impressive purely private convent chapel in Rome.

History Edit

The Sisters, Figlie di Maria Santissima dell’Orto (Daughters of Our Lady of the Garden) were founded at Chiavari in 1829 by St Antonio Maria Gianelli. For this reason they are generally known as Gianelline.

In 1931, the congregation opened a large school and convent complex in the nascent suburb established just east of the Via Appia Nuova and south of the ancient city walls. The Superior General of the sisters, Mother Maria Elisabetta Pedemonte, acted as her own architect. The result was certainly striking, although absolutely not according to the architectural fashions of the time (which caused a little derision). The complex included a seriously large chapel, amounting to a full-sized church.

The local parish of Santi Fabiano e Venanzio was set up two years later, in 1933. Initially, the parish shared the chapel -and this might have become a permanent arrangement.

However, in 1943 a bombing raid on the railway led to a high-explosive direct hit on the nave. The right hand aisle survived as a ruin, but the rest of the nave was reduced to rubble. The chapel was rebuilt, but in a different style -much plainer, and rather anodyne.

The parish was finally provided with a church of its own in 1959.

Old chapel Edit

Exterior fabric Edit

The chapel designed by Mother Pedemonte in 1931 was in a very sui generis interpretation of the neo-Romanesque style.

The plan was basilical, involving a central nave with side aisles of six and a half bays. The half-bay was at the entrance end, and contained the organ gallery. There followed the sanctuary, flanked by continuations of the side aisles.

The central nave was very tall, towering over the side aisles which themselves had two storeys each. Each side wall of each bay of each aisle had two pairs of round-headed windows, one above the other except for the entrance half-bay which only had two singletons. The aisle bays were separated by pilasters, as were the bays of the central nave side walls above. Each bay of the latter had a single round-headed window in each side.

The central nave had a gabled and tiled roof, and the side aisles had single-pitched roofs.

Over the sanctuary was a dome with an octagonal drum and a tiled cap. The overly tall central nave impinged on the near side of the drum, with the central ridge-line of the roof touching the dome's cornice. The other three cardinal sides of the dome each had a round-headed window within a recessed frame. There was a tall drum-lantern with eight round-headed window slits and its own tiled cap with a ball finial.

The far end wall of the left hand side aisle carried the campanile. This was a gabled bell-cote with two round-headed apertures, one above the other. A large buttress supported it on the left hand side (standing on the far end of the left hand side wall of the aisle), and to the right was a flat-topped extension containing a third bell-aperture.

Façade Edit

The façade was, frankly, bonkers. There were three vertical zones corresponding in width to the central nave and side aisles behind, but the façade was false because all three zones were higher than the roofs behind -for the central nave, grotesquely so.

The chapel stands above the level of the street, and the old one had a monumental stairway in two flights and flanked by decorative railings, which terminated at a patio in front of the façade.

The side zones of the façade each had a sloping cornice mimicking the slope of the aisle roof behind (which was lower). The frontage of each had an enormous, tall recessed blind arch with no decoration but a frame in three receding steps. Within each arch, a simple door led into the side aisle behind.

The central zone had three storeys:

The first storey was a blank wall with a pair of thin round-headed windows near the upper corners. In front of the main entrance door was a propylaeum or porch in an early mediaeval style. This had a pair of Corinthian columns flanking a round-headed portal, topped by a gable fronting a pitched and tiled roof. The storey was flanked by a pair of very thin stone Corintihian semi-columns, with a cornice having modillions running across the top between the capitals.

The second storey was a very large rectangular mural, with the top corners coinciding with the upper ends of the tops of the side aisle frontages. The cornices of these were joined by a matching cornice at the top of the panel. The theme of the mural was St Antonia Maria Grassi presenting children to the Madonna and Child.

The third storey was a blank wall with a sharply angled gable and a simple frame in relief. This was topped by a protruding cornice at the gable. The only other decoration was a large circular tondo containing a star-cross device -this was at the level of the central ridge of the nave roof behind.

The bombing raid left the entire façade as loose rubble, except for the right hand side zone.

Interior Edit

The side aisles were separated from the central nave by arcades, and had galleries over them. The nave bays were divided by rectangular piers, and each bay had two arcade arches in each side between the piers. These sprang from Corinthian semi-columns attached to the piers, and were supported by a matching central column. The high central nave roof was vaulted, with engaged support pilasters running up the inner faces of the piers.

New chapel Edit

Exterior fabric Edit

The chapel was so badly damaged in the bombing that it was decided to demolish the remains and to rebuild on the same footprint. However, the plan was not kept. Now, the chapel has a single nave of seven and a half bays followed by a domed sanctuary with a shallow rectangular apse. Structural side aisles flank the last two nave bays, and continue alongside the sanctuary to access a flat-roofed sacristy and ancillary block attached to the back of the chapel.

The fabric seems to be in reinforced concrete.

The side walls are rendered in a pink orange-pink, over a high dado which looks like travertine limestone slabbing. Each bay of each wall has a round-headed window lower down, and a pair of vertical rectangular windows framed in stone further up. The side aisles of the far two nave bays have the round-headed windows, but the roofs of the aisles only reach as far as just below the rectangular windows above.

The convent abuts the church on the right at the first two bays, where there are no windows.

The main roof is gable pitched and tiled, but the side aisles are flat-roofed.

The sanctuary has a triplet of the rectangular windows in each side wall above the aisles.

The dome now has a circular drum in white stone, on a square plinth rendered in white and containing twelve large vertical rectangular windows reaching. The tiled cap is pitched in eight low sectors, and carries a lantern on a cog-wheel plan having eight vertical slit apertures and a concrete cap in three steps which carries a little flèche.

The apse is a tall gable, with its own pitched and tiled roof. The far exterior wall has a large, tall, shallow round-headed niche in white which has a simply molded frame. The wall is otherwise blank, in the pale orange render.

The campanile is still occupying the far corner of the left hand side aisle, but now is two tall concrete arches at right angles to each other. Each contains two bells, one above the other.

Façade Edit

In contrast to the old chapel, the new chapel's façade is very boring. It is entirely revetted in what looks like large slabs of white limestone, and has three simple entrance the central one of which is larger. A string course runs across the façade above the entrances, and above this is a large round window with a narrow molded frame. That is all.

The monumental entrance staircase is still there, but has lost its decorative iron railings.

Interior -nave Edit

The nave is now single. The impressively tall space has a simple barrel vault, cut into by lunettes containing the paired rectangular windows -one pair for each side in each bay. Below each of these pairs is a single round-headed window. The upper windows are in clear glass, but the lower ones have heraldic stained glass.

The interior walls are in an attractive bluish grey, but the vault is in white. The vault melds with the side walls, and at the springers a string course in yellow marble runs across below each pair of upper windows -these string courses do not continue across the springers.

Each of the lower windows is framed by a large panel, the frame being molded and also in yellow marble. The frames of adjacent bays come close together, separated by a narrow wall strip in the background bluish grey which gives the impression of a recessed pilaster and each of which has a bas-relief panel of a set of the Stations of the Cross.

The entrance bay contains the organ gallery, and above the organ is a large round stained glass window of good quality, depicting St Antonio Maria Gianelli.

The structural side aisles flanking the last two bays of the nave are side chapels. There are two in each side, entered by very tall rectangular portals separated by a square pier. These portals are framed in the same way as the nave side panels. The pair of chapels on each side is connected by a very tall round-headed portal. The first chapel on the left is dedicated to Our Lady, and the intrados of the arch to the second (dedicated to the Sacred Heart) is decorated with lilies.

The nave floor is paved in marble of different colours -pale brown for the centre and yellow for the sides with the colours separated by bands of grey-veined white marble.

Interior -sanctuary Edit

The sanctuary has a triumphal arch, and has matching arches to the sides and for the apse at the back. These arches are undecorated, outlined in yellow and form the supports for the dome. There are no proper pendentives. The side and apse arches reach the level of the base of the drum, which springs from a horizontal surface, but the triumphal arch is lower.

The triumphal arch is flanked by two tall, narrow portals which open onto shallow recesses entered by the sanctuary side arches. These contain choir galleries. The rectangular portals each have a little balcony below, and above this is the end of a much larger longitudinal gallery occupying the entire width of the side arch. This floats, and the frontage protrudes.

The shallow rectangular apse has a blank far wall, decorated with an enormous mural in two registers. Below, St Antonio Maria Gianelli, is shown being adored by angels. Above is depicted Christ in Majesty, Accompanied by the Evangelists. The style is winsomely realistic, in pastel hues.

The sanctuary now has two altars:

The newer altar stands at the entrance to the sanctuary, on a platform of three steps edged in grey-veined white marble. The mensa is supported by a hollow hemi-cylinder with its curve facing downwards and standing on a block, so that the profile as viewed from the nave is of a stemmed cup.

The older altar, bearing the tabernacle and embellished with polychrome marble panels, has a Fifties take on a mediaeval baldacchino or ciborio. This consists of a massive open cuboidal frame in a dull orange marble, which has a text from the Gloria of the Mass on its top beams: Tu solus sanctus, tu solus Dominus, tu solus Altissimus. The canopy is circular, supported by twelve little square piers in the same stone which meld into a ring cornice bearing a low conical cap in what looks like white metal.

External links Edit

Official diocesan web-page

Website of the Order

Info.roma web-page

"Appiotusclano" blog page

"Romasparita" photo

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