Santo Volto delle Benedettine Reparatrici is a later 20th century convent chapel, established in mid-20th century premises at Via della Conciliazione 15 in the rione Borgo.
The dedication is to the Holy Face of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
19th century Edit
The remote origins of the devotion behind the dedication of this chapel lie in the visions of Christ experienced by a French Carmelite nun of Tours called Soeur Marie de Saint-Pierre. The devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus that she initiated was taken up by Leo Dupont, and when he died in 1876 his house was converted by the city's bishop into the first Oratory of the Holy Face. To administer this, a diocesan congregation of priests called Priests of the Holy Face was set up.
The devotion stressed the need for reparation for acts of blasphemy and the "violation" of the Church's feast-days. The latter concerned those nations where the major feast-days of the Roman Catholic Church were originally protected in secular law by the prohibition of paid work and commercial activity, but where the protection had been removed as societies modernised and secularised. This occurred firstly in France at the French Revolution.
At Rome, the conquest of the city by the Kingdom of Italy and the downfall of the Papal government in 1870 brought about this "violation" of some (not all) such feast-days, and also engendered a strong hostility among some native Romans to the continued Papal claims to be the legitimate secular government of Rome. The various types of socialism familiar in the 20th century were being erected as political movements at this time, and were becoming influential in Rome. In response, Pope Leo XIII expressed the desire that an Oratory be established by the Priests at Rome in expiation for this "blasphemy and violation". He did this in 1885 when he approved the devotion.
In response, the Priests opened an oratory in the city in 1891, which was paid for by public subscription in France. The first superior was Fr Jean-Baptiste Fourault, who wrote several books about the devotion. See Volto Santo ai Prati. This oratory did not last long, but vanished in suburban development just over a decade later.
20th century Edit
Theological doubts were, and are, raised about the correctness of separately venerating anatomical parts of the Body of Christ -this is one reason why devotion to the Sacred Heart took so long to be approved. Once it was, the objection was re-asserted since the Sacred Heart is symbolic of the reality of Christ's humanity as a whole.
However in 1936 Blessed Maria Pierina De Micheli, a nun of Milan, began a series of visions of Christ which engendered a renewal of the Holy Face devotion and acts of reparation associated with it. One result of this was the foundation of the Benedictine Sisters of Reparation of the Holy Face (Suore Benedettine Riparatrici del Santo Volto) in 1977. Its origins lay in the establishment of a Sodality for prayer and reparation in 1950, by Abbot Ildebrando Gregori. He was the Abbot General of the Sylvestrine Congregation of monks, now Benedictine but then independent, and as such was resident at the Curia (headquarters) of the congregation at Santo Stefano del Cacco. He combined a devotion to the Holy Face with a concern for Rome's neglected street children, many of them displaced refugees from war zones, and founded the Sodality to both ends.
The Roman convent was founded in 1973, and was intended to be the Generalate (headquarters).
Pope St John Paul II also had a strong personal attachment to the devotion, and as a result the new parish of Santo Volto di Gesù received a dedication to the Holy Face. However the devotion received no recognition in the Church's liturgical calendar, and an apparent wish to make the chapel a Roman pilgrimage centre for the Holy Face did not bear any fruit.
The congregation has no website, but according to the DIocese the convent is no longer the Generalate even though (paradoxically) the Superior General resides there -she is the only sister listed as resident in the Diocese! The sisters also own a retirement home (Casa di riposo "Maria Santissima Regina") at Via Tuscolana 1685, but presumably this is administered by lay staff.
In 2008 the sisters had seventeen convents in Italy, Poland, Romania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but had shut two by 2018. The total number of sisters then was 146. For a recently founded congregation, this is not good.
The entrance, shared apparently by certain other institutions, at number 15 is a simple arched portal in rusticated limestone ashlar blocks.
The failure to make this a pilgrimage destination means that the chapel is entirely private.