Cappella Istituto Asisium is a later 20th century college, convent and public chapel at Via di Grottarossa 193 in the suburban zone of Tomba di Nerone.
The Suore Francescane Missionarie del Sacro Cuore (Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart) were founded at Gemona del Friuli near Udine in 1861. They were affiliated to the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans) as tertiaries in 1892, and received definitive papal approval in 1905.
The congregation began to build a very large new school and headquarters (Generalate) in 1963 on a pleasant country site, and had it structurally completed two years later. The architects were Clemente and Saverio Busiri Vici, a father and son team from a noted family of architects. Unfortunately Clemente died during the work, and his son had to complete it alone.
The chapel of the complex was intended to be private, but in common with some other convents in Rome it is now allowing the local parishioners (San Filippo Apostolo) to attend for a weekday Mass. Owing to a continuing fall in the number of priests, the provision of purely private Masses for convents in Rome is now under threat.
This is an impressive complex. The school and convent occupy a series of wings arranged in a zig-zag layout on both sides of the central chapel which faces down the long driveway. There are extensive gardens and sports facilities.
The chapel is also impressive, and is one of the best church edifices of its date in Rome. It stands over a crypt which is partly underground, and so is approached by a monumental flight of outwardly curved white stone steps. There are fourteen of these in total, and the staircase is wider than the chapel on both sides. The rose garden at the bottom has a bronze statue of St Francis with a sheep.
The chapel itself has a single nave of five bays, plus a lunette-shaped entrance bay which fits into the curve of the staircase and which thus has a bowed façade. There follows a transept bay with diagonal side walls, which joins onto the narrower sanctuary. The back wall of the latter abuts the convent behind.
The fabric consists of a reinforced concrete frame, and infill in pink brick.
The nave roof is very striking, as it is in copper sheeting. It has a transverse curve, and also a strong slope from the low entrance façade to the transept. This roof is in steps, with the boundaries between the nave bays each being marked by a lunette window occupying the whole width of the roof and which is filled with stained glass in square panes of different colours. There are three of these windows. The roof also has a downward curve, being almost flat next to the transept.
The transept and sanctuary share an ordinary pitched gable roof which is part of the roofing of the convent and school.
The façade, as mentioned, is low. It has four zones of unequal width, topped by a dark grey concrete cornice with overhanging eaves and containing rectangular brackets. The zones are separated by thin square light grey concrete piers, including two at the corners, which stand on a white stone plinth. The central zone is occupied by the impressive double doors, with the theme The Tree of Life. The bottom part in bronze (?) show a tree-trunk, and the upper part in stained glass show the Cross. The side zones are in pink brick, and each has a window at the top fitted into the curve of the cornice. These contain stained glass also, a continuation of the Tree of Life theme.
The nave side walls have little crypt windows at ground level. The nave bays are divided by thin concrete piers with brick infill in between. Each bay wall contains another pier, dividing at the top into a Y which contains a window in the shape of an inverted triangle.
The brickwork of the transept and sanctuary walls is overall in red. The transept walls each have a pink brick dado, above which is a vertical rectangular window topped by a little triangular one. The sanctuary walls are each decorated with pink brick in a grid pattern, around a large vertical rectangular window.
At the junction of the nave and transept roofs is the striking campanile. Two long metal spikes intersect to form a triangle, and within this are a cross over two concentric circles intersecting an inverted arrowhead, all made out of metal rodding. The three bells are hung in the arrowhead. Two shorter spikes point away diagonally at the bottom angles of the triangle, and behind are two more solid spikes looking like small spires.
The interior is also of good quality. The windows throughout contain stained glass in a wavy abstract pattern dominated by blues and yellows.
The entrance bay is separated from the nave by a clear glass screen.
The nave side walls are panelled in pale wood having a diaper pattern, with the concrete framework piers showing, and the floor is in pale brown terrazzo with a central black stripe.
The high altar has been brought forward into the transept, and the floor of the latter has been raised to match the level in the old sanctuary with three steps up. The transept is separated from the nave by two free-standing concrete piers supporting the back beam of the nave roof. The sanctuary has a low flat ceiling concealing an attic, so the transept has a back wall above a rectangular portal framed by a pair of engaged concrete piers supporting a beam.
The diagonal side walls of the transept and this back wall have murals featuring Franciscan saints, in a slightly naïve realistic style. The back wall features St Francis Preaching to the Birds and Animals. The right hand side wall has depictions of Our Lady over St Colette and St Clare (at the bottom). The left hand side wall shows a group of Franciscan nuns in the Umbrian countryside.
The sanctuary now contains the tabernacle for the Blessed Sacrament with (unfortunately) the chapel's organ over it. These are flanked by six wooden screen panels of slightly decreasing height, matching the nave side walls and placed in an apsidal arrangement (the sanctuary is rectangular as a structure). Instead of windows, the tops of these panels have inverted triangles with abstract paintings evoking heavenly bodies on a blue background.
A public Mass is celebrated on weekdays (only) at 7:00.
As part of a working school, the chapel is not otherwise accessible to casual visitors.