Santo Volto di Gesù is a late 20th century parish church at Via Caprese 1 in the suburb of Nuova Magliana in the Portuense quarter, just by the Via della Magliana. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here.
The dedication is to to the Holy Face of Jesus.
History[edit | edit source]
The parish was re-dedicated to the Holy Face of Jesus in 2001, and so this was the dedication for the new church when it was completed in 2006. See Volto Santo ai Prati and Santo Volto delle Benedettine Reparatrici for the history of this devotion at Rome.
The church was designed by a partnership of Piero Sartogo and Nathalie Grenon, and is considered one of the most successful and important modern churches in Rome. As a result, the photographic archives available online are unusually good.
Plan[edit | edit source]
The plan is rather complex.
The basic unit is an isosceles right-angled triangle, with the hypotenuse forming the wall behind the altar. Facing the altar, the left-hand side of the triangle has a segmental curve except for a short section just before the right angle. An extension at a lower elevation, to the plan of one end of a parallelogram, is attached to the right hand side of the triangle, but does not take up the entire side. The 45-degree angle to the right (north) protrudes beyond this, and the entrance is in the extension by this angle.
A glance at the aerial photo on the "info.roma" web-page, or a look at Google Maps, may be needed to make this clear.
Exterior[edit | edit source]
Church[edit | edit source]
The post-modern edifice utilizes travertine stone and concrete, with the result that it is mostly white. However, the extension is in light grey brick. The roofs are flat, except for a large and unadorned semi-dome above the altar, the bisection of which is a continuation of the hypotenuse wall.
There are few windows. Six of them are small portholes in a row on the wall facing the street (the diagonal side of the parallelogram mentioned) and one is tucked away to the right of the main entrance, but the main one is an enormous and spectacular round clear glass window behind the altar, the bottom half being part of the hypotenuse wall and the top half entirely occupying the bisection of the dome. The fenestration of this is inspired by the sun with its rays (although it ends up looking like a spider’s web). To the left of this (facing the altar) is a set of two vertical rectangular windows and one square one, mimicking the design of the entrance doors.
The main entrance has doors in verdigris bronze, formed of 48 square panels arranged twelve by four and each with a clear glass panel in its centre. The side entrance, in the curved wall by the right angle, has three separate doors in a row, each with identical bronze panels in six by two.
Parish block[edit | edit source]
The separate block containing the priest’s house and parish offices is part of the overall design, and parallels the hypotenuse walls leaving only a narrow and atmospheric alleyway between it and the church.
The street frontage of the parish block is shaped like a grey slab with triangular buttresses (although the plan is much more complex), but has a concave curve opposite the large church window in the alleyway so as to let in the light. Here there is a rectangular portal to the right, leading to a little garden with a statue of Our Lady. The alleyway ends with a monumental free-standing cross by Eliseo Mattiacci.
Unusually, the bells are housed in the top corner of the north end of the parish block (presumably the architects did not expect anybody to be indoors there when the bells are rung).
The spiky set of railings enclosing the precinct, made out of vertical welded steel rods, is by Giuseppe Uncini. As well as being striking visually, the have the advantage of being unclimbable.
If you go round the back of the parish block, you will get a surprise. Instead of white, the edifice here is in purplish pink with large recessed panels done out with grids of white squares on a dark grey background. These panels contain rows of square windows, and have sills in black.
Interior[edit | edit source]
Main church[edit | edit source]
The main interior, which is not large, is almost entirely in white but with a floor in very pale brown marble slabs. It is dominated by the enormous sunwheel window, in clear glass. The central circular pane of this used to be blank, but now has a crucifix formed of a cross with a cut-out outline of Christ's body. The architects originally seemed to wish to avoid having any figurative art in the church, but obviously this would not appeal to ordinary parishioners.
The sanctuary furniture is in smoothed limestone, rectangular or cylindrical in form. To the left is the cubical font, accompanied by the simple cylindrical Paschal candlestick. The actual semi-circular sanctuary area is approached by two steps, and has a free-standing altar which is a simple stone block balanced on a smaller one showing a cubical cross-section in front. This pedestal is about one-sixth of the width of the entire altar. The two benches for servers at the back are of a similar design, each being a long L-shaped piece of stone on a pedestal. The president's chair is cubical, with two steps and a backrest sloping diagonally. The cylindrical lectern is inserted into the two steps.
Near the font is now an icon of the Holy Face, executed on blue glass by Pietro Ruffo. This used to be kept in the confessional area.
The pews are (unusually for churches of any period) an integral part of the overall design, in what looks like beechwood and having an individual rectangular back for each person.
The holy water stoups are in the form of hollow spheres set into the wall, with a quarter-segment cut out.
To the right of the side entrance, which is opposite the altar, is a large rectangular recess with a door to one side leading to the confessionals. The recess is painted in royal blue, and has a fresco depicting a white sphere on a black circular background. This abstract work is by Marco Tirelli.
Stations of the Cross[edit | edit source]
There is a set of Stations of the Cross, comprising glazed ceramic tiles by Mimmo Paladino. The colours are dominated by brown, black, blue and white There are fifteen tiles in all, including one for the Resurrection, plus an extra introductory tile. The subject of each Station is represented in a semi-abstract way, allusive sometimes to the point of obscurity. If you are not familiar with the devotion, take a booklet along so that you can work out what each tile represents.
Ferial chapel[edit | edit source]
The parallelogram extension houses a so-called ferial chapel (for use during the week, when Mass attendance is expected to be small), which has an engraved glass screen separating it from the main church. This work is by Carla Accardi.
The chapel walls are in royal blue, with three round windows on the left hand side, and the ceiling is in white. The pews are in the same style as those in the main church, in very pale brown. The sanctuary furniture is also similar to the main set, except that the president's chair has only one step and the altar has a smaller main block. The lectern is more traditional in form, in the form of an inverted L with a vertical slab supporting a sloping bookrest.
This is the Blessed Sacrament Chapel as well. The free-standing tabernacle is a sphere set on a round column branching off in a Y with short branches. It has a circular bronze door.
Popular devotion has ensured the presence of an entirely traditional polychrome statue of Our Lady, on a little shelf at the back of the chapel. There is also a traditional crucifix in the sanctuary here.
Getting there[edit | edit source]
The easiest way to get here from the Centro Storico is to catch the number 8 tram from Piazza Venezia to Trastevere rail station, then bus 780 or 781.
Liturgy[edit | edit source]
Mass is celebrated in the church (parish website, July 2018):
Weekdays 8:00 and 18:30;
Sundays 8:00, 10:00 (not summer) 11:30, 18:30.
The parish has two external Mass centres:
Suore Povere Figlie della Visitazione. They have a large convent immediately across the road from the church, at Via della Magliana 173. Most of this is now a retirement home, the Casa di Riposo Santi Pietro e Paolo. Mass in the house chapel is open to the public at 7:15 daily, with an extra Mass on Sundays at 9:00.