Sacra Famiglia alla Garbatella is a mid 20th century convent chapel at Via David Salinieri 5, next to the Garbatella metro station in the suburb of the same name to the south of the city. This is in the Ostiense quarter. The façade faces onto the Piazza Giancarlo Vallauri. Pictures of the chapel on Wikimedia Commons are here.
The dedication is to the Holy Family.
The "Sisters, Servants of the Sanctuary" (Suore Ancelle del Santuario) were founded at Piacenza in 1882, with a charism based on the life of the Holy Family at Nazareth (hence the chapel's dedication). They were put under the direct authority of the Holy See in 1930, and the Generalate (headquarters) was built here in mid-century.
Very oddly, the sisters then had a full-sized church edifice built next to their convent in 1961 (not in 1978 -this date arises from confusion with Sacra Famiglia a Via Portuense). The result was big enough to function as a full parish church, and perhaps this was the original intention. If so, there is no hope of its ever becoming parochial. The Diocese considers it to be a dependent chapel of the parish of San Francesco Saverio alla Garbatella, without the status of a church.
The writer is of the opinion that this might be the largest stand-alone chapel in Rome.
As with several other large convents in Rome, the decline in vocations has led to the premises becoming underused. In response, the sisters now run a well-appointed hotel (casa per ferie) which, being next to a metro station, is very convenient for visitors to the city.
The chapel counts as a full-sized and distinctive modern church building, on a modified basilical layout. There are three main zones. First comes a deep entrance foyer, after which is the main nave with a central dome and structural aisles. This is on the plan of a longitudinal rectangle, almost square. To each side is a polygonal chapel with five sides. The third zone is the sanctuary apse, which is also five-sided but much larger and deeper than the side chapels.
The chapel stands on a crypt.
The sacristy accommodation is to the right of the apse, and this has a campanile perched on its roof. To the left of the apse is what looks like a three-storey chaplain's house. A single-storey block connects all these elements to the massive four-storey convent edifice behind, and also contains the main entrance to the latter.
The fabric is of good quality, unfortunately being marred by graffiti. There is a reinforced concrete frame, with infill in highly fired red brick. The crypt walls are, however, faced in travertine limestone.
The entrance lobby side walls each have two large, thin vertical rectangular stained glass windows which run from crypt to roofline in a slight recess. At the bottom is a panel in what looks like yellow stone, and a second such panel interrupts the fenestration towards the top. These two window strips flank an area of walling which contains twenty-seven Greek crosses in yellow, arranged three (horizontally) by nine.
The main nave side walls each have a conjoined row of seven vertical rectangular stained glass windows in a frame of the same yellow stone, which is tucked under the main roofline above the side chapel. Each side chapel has blank walls, the back one having a single yellow cross. There is a pair of window strips at the junctions with the main nave, each having a light grey square lattice grid.
The roofing arrangement, not readily visible from the street, are complicated. The side wall rooflines each support a wide single pitch, which are connected behind the façade by a flat zone. These pitches are otherwise separated by a flat area lower than their top edges -the reason for this is obvious in the interior. This flat zone of the central nave roof contains the dome, around which the top edges of the side roof pitches divert without touching it.
The side chapels each have five pitches meeting at a top mansard, as does the apse. The priest's house has a double-pitched roof, but the ridgeline has a backwards slope.
The roofing material is anodised metal, in a mid-grey.
The dome is not easy to see, and the best view is up the slope of the street in front of the main convent building.
It has a low drum clad in limestone, with twelve round-headed windows. The dome itself is conical, and is incurved with overhanging eaves. A very unusual feature is a large horizontal metal ring, like a halo, supported by thin metal rods fastened to the dome. Also, the crowning ball and cross finial is supported by thin rods.
The campanile is a tall by lightweight cage arrangement on the sacristy roof, made up of thin steel rods some of which protrude as spikes. The intention seems to be to evoke the Crown of Thorns -the cross finial stands on a fuzzy ball of small spikes.
The presence of the crypt means that the main chapel entrance (rarely used?) is well above the street. Access is via a pair of transverse side staircases leading to a small concrete patio in front of the door, which stands above a concrete revetment itself on a limestone plinth.
This patio is sheltered by a porch, which stands on four thin concrete piers springing from corbels attached to the front of the revetment. These piers support a horizontal concrete framework of three squares, and on this rests three open triangular gables forming a zig-zag canopy. The piers, framework and the edge of the zig-zag are in dark grey, but the piers have white sheaths for half their height and the underside of the canopy is also in white. The lower angles of the zig-zag spring from the front horizontal beam of the porch framework, but the upper angles are well in front so that the gables float.
Metal railings provide a patio balustrade.
Within the porch, the single large entrance doorway has a decoratively molded marble doorcase that looks as if its salvage from an older building. The actual doors are in bronze, and above is a stained glass transom window fitted in below the doorcase lintel. The entrance is flanked by a pair of vertical rectangular stained glass windows within recesses having their vertical edges chamfered, and each with a spiky set of railings protecting the lower half and leaning outwards.
The chapel frontage either side of the porch is in blank brickwork, topped by the sloping rooflines of the side pitches of the roof of the entrance bay behind. However, the portion above the porch is in white. It is divided into three zones by four light grey concrete pilasters, supporting three more zig-zag gables in the same style as the porch below but at a more acute angle. Each zone contains a parabolically curved stained glass window within a shallow recess that is also a parabola.
Layout and fabric Edit
After the entrance bay, the main nave area of the church is basilical. The side aisles have flat ceilings, which are supported by a transverse parabolic concrete arch at each end. These ceilings are the bases of the galleries (matronea) of the sisters, which accounts for the odd roof layout mentioned above. The four near piers of these arches abut on thicker piers, which support the dome via four pairs of angled struts.
The entrance arches for the two side chapels are also parabolic, as is the triumphal arch into the sanctuary apse.
The galleries have metal grilles for balustrades, angled outwards.
The décor is in an attractive variety of pastel shades. The ceilings and dome interior are in white, the apse is in blue, the other walls are in pink and architectural elements are in light grey.
The median strip of the floor, in between the pews, has a polychrome marble geometric pattern in red and green. The rest of the floor is in white.
The original high altar has been left in place against the back wall of the apse, and now has the tabernacle for the Blessed Sacrament. This has a very attractive polychrome relief of The Annunciation on the frontal, in a realistic style. On the wall above is a polychrome relief of The Holy Family.
The altar stands on a three-sided raised platform, having three steps. A new altar is in front of this, in the form of a mensa on a bronze wheatsheaf.
Side chapels Edit
The right hand side chapel is dedicated to the Sacred Heart, and has a relief sculpture above the altar in the same style as that in the sanctuary. The altar frontal is in polychrome marble work using green, violet and yellow marbles and looks much older than the church.
The left hand side chapel is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady, and the wall figure here is in the same style as the two just mentioned.
Mass is celebrated:
Sundays and Solemnities 10:00
The Divine Office is celebrated here:
Lauds and Meditation after the Mass, except on Sundays when they are at 8:15;
Vespers, Meditation and Rosary at 18:00 daily.
(These times are as at May 2016.)