Santa Maria di Nazareth is a 21st century parish and convent church (re-using 20th century fabric) at Via di Boccea 590, on the eastern edge of the suburb of Casalotti to the west of the Grande Raccordo Anulare (Circonvallazione Settentrionale).
This church is in the municipality of Rome, but belongs to the diocese of Porto Santa Rufina.
The original, first church on the same site is still in use as a ferial chapel. A second church edifice has been replaced with the present one (number three).
The history of the parish is bound up with that of the (now defunct) Collegio Internazionale di Terra Santa (International College of the Holy Land).
This enormous red brick complex was built in 1960, as a college and seminary for the Custody of the Holy Land which is the territorial unit of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor responsible for the Roman Catholic administration of the ancient holy sites at Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth and elsewhere. Although the headquarters of the Custody is in Jerusalem, it was found impossible to obtain permission to build a seminary in Israel.
Back then, the area was rural but the suburb of Casalotti developed quickly. In response, a parish was founded with a dedication obviously alluding to the Holy Land (the local nickname for the complex was Terra Santa). A little church was built on the east hand side of the entrance piazza of the college, up a driveway from the main road. The Franciscans priests resident were responsible for pastoral matters.
After the small church became inadequate for big liturgical events, the college authorities allowed the parish to use the college's chapel which doubled up as a lecture hall or aula. Hence, this became the parish's second church.
As it transpired, building such a big complex was a very serious mistake. The Custody began to run out of both money and friars at the end of the 20th century, as vocations dried up and the number of seminarians collapsed. So, in 2003 the college was closed. Initially the authorities of the Custody promised to keep the parish staffed with Franciscans Friars Minor, but a continued decline in vocations led to a complete withdrawal on their part.
The college complex then passed into several ownerships. The city has a public school in part of it, and (apparently) private developers have bought other bits for possible residential conversions. However, the Diocese of Porto Santa Rufina intervened with an offer to buy the college's entrance hall (not the lecture hall already in use as a church) and convert it into a permanent church. Despite a shortage of money, the entrance hall and accommodation for a small convent was purchased. Consecration of this hall as a church, after necessary renovation, followed on 4 July 2015.
The parish is now under the care of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, a contemporary reform branch of the Franciscan family.
Old church Edit
The parish church before 2015 is now used as a ferial chapel.
The former college complex is accessed by a driveway from the junction between the Via di Boccea and the Via di Casalotti. This leads to a car park, with the new church to the right and the old church at the far end. The latter is a small brick box on a basilical plan, having a central nave with side aisles and a rectangular sanctuary the same width as the central nave. The fabric is in red brick, and the roofs are flat. There is a row of seven round windows in the central nave side walls, low down at the level of the side aisle roofs.
The frontage is occupied by a covered corridor running from the convent building to the right to a doorway at the bottom end of the left hand aisle. This corridor incorporates the entrance porch, accessed by a single door, and also has a flat roof with a deep cornice in concrete. The external wall of the corridor is continued slightly beyond the left hand corner of the church to incorporate a gateway into a garden, and turns at a right angle forwards before terminating.
The church façade wall is completely blank brickwork. It is extended well above the central nave roofline to a horizontal coping, and in the centre of this stand-alone section is a large square aperture framed in concrete. This contains the bells.
The simple interior is all in buff-coloured brick. The side aisles are separated from the central nave by square piers in this material, which support a massive dark grey concrete beam providing a trabeation which supports each central nave side wall.
There is an icon of Our Lady of Nazareth hanging on the far wall of the sanctuary.
Second church Edit
The second church continued in use until July 2015, and pictures of the last major liturgical event are here.
To the right of the new church frontage is a four-storey block, which forms an L with a very long wing which runs parallel to the right hand side wall of the new church and well beyond. This was the main body of the college. Behind the frontage block just mentioned is a yard which was attractively laid out as a small garden, and beyond that was the chapel which doubled up as a college meeting hall (aula). This joins onto the long wing mentioned by means of an entrance bay (structurally separate), and has its major axis perpendicular to that of the new church.
The nave of this second church is a reinforced-concrete box-framed structure, infilled with red brick and with a flat roof. The box frame has four piers in each side wall, supporting transverse slab-beams forming the skeleton of the roof. The latter is joined by a massive concrete beam along the major axis. Hence, the nave is divided into five bays. Each bay of each side wall has a window slit occupying its entire width, flanked by a pair of beams. The piers and beams show in the exterior walling.
The sanctuary is the same width as the nave, and has its own roof which slopes backwards in a single pitch. In the vertical gap between nave and sanctuary roofs is a row of seventeen vertical rectangular windows in concrete framing.
The interior has its walling in yellow brick. The transverse roof-beams are revealed as very deep, occupying the entire depth of the space between the window slits and the roof.
This is a thoroughly boring edifice, presumably now deconsecrated and not publicly accessible.
New church Edit
The third church, the "new church", is the former college's entrance hall, and so is a simple rectangular box having a flat roof within a parapet. The four-storey block on its left hand side now contains the convent and parish offices, but the corresponding block to the right (mentioned above as part of the main L-layout of the college) is now privately owned.
The frontage is occupied by an open flat-roofed porch joining these two blocks. On its roof, in the centre, is an odd cuboidal structure which has a depiction of the Cross of Jerusalem on its front, in red tiles on white.
Inside, the straightforward rectangular space has its walls in large buff-coloured bricks and the roof in diapered coffers. Over the altar is a panel painted with the famous Franciscan emblem of the Crucifix of San Damiano. There is a choir gallery over the entrance. That's about it.
Mass is celebrated (parish website, June 2018):
Weekdays 7:00, 18:00 (18:30 in summer) -in the "Old Church";
Sundays and Solemnities 8:00, 11:30, 18:00 (18:30 in summer).
On Thursdays, there is Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the old church from 7:30 to 23:00.
This parish has also been hosting celebrations of Mass in the Extraordinary Form:
Sundays and Solemnities 8:00 (the former weekday Mass seems to have been dropped).