San Benedetto al Gazometro is a 20th century Fascist-era parish and titular church at Via del Gazometro 23 in the Ostiense quarter, near the Ostiense train and metro stations. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here.
The dedication is to St Benedict of Nursia.
The Diocese has a policy of giving preference to parish churches in naming, and so refers to this one as San Benedetto without a suffix. However San Benedetto in Piscinula is a more well-known church in the city, so the need for a suffix is felt. The parish uses the name San Benedetto al Gazometro, "at the gasometer" (with an alternative spelling of Gasometro which seems to be gaining favour).
The cardinalate title is San Benedetto fuori Porta San Paolo, which is not the name of the church.
The remote motivation for the foundation of the church was the development of the banks of the Tiber below the Centro Storico as an industrial zone -not that Rome has been an important centre of industry in modern times.
One of the most important early industries was the gasworks, established after 1870. The main use initially for the gas was in street lighting, which had been installed in Rome on a wide scale from 1854. The gasometers used to store the coal gas being made are still prominent landmarks; there are three smaller ones, and one famous large one next to the river. The local neighbourhood that grew up to the west of the Via Ostiense was mainly populated by gas-workers and their families.
At the end of the 19th century, the territory of the parish of San Paolo fuori le Mura began at Porta San Paolo. The little church of San Salvatore de Porta had existed for the original tiny suburb outside the gate, but had been demolished in mid-century. The new working-class quarter was, however, provided with some sort of temporary chapel in Via Caboto to the south of the present church. This was demolished in 1915, and replaced by a hut (barocco) in the following year by the parish priest of San Paolo.
Pope St Pius X, meanwhile, had donated a plot of land to the north of the chapel for a permanent church in 1912 -but this was a long time coming. His successor, Pope Benedict XV, took a close interest in the project after his accession in 1914 and asked that the dedication be in honour of his patron saint. Also, this dedication was an allusion to the ancient Benedictine abbey that had been in charge at San Paolo for centuries.
Work started to a design by Clemente Busiri Vici, but stopped after the pope's death in 1922.
After a pause, the new parish was officially erected by Pope Pius XI in 1926 and entrusted to the Compagnia di San Paolo. However, the church was only completed in 1936. The parish territory was carved out of that of San Paolo.
A bombing raid in 1944 caused serious damage. Repair work was only begun in 1949, and the church was re-consecrated in 1953.
The gasworks were abandoned in the late 20th century, and left a large site seriously polluted with coal-tar distillates. These are carcinogenic, and so the site was left derelict until 2015. In that year, a project was launched to build a new high-class neighbourhood here -which would certainly change the tenor of the parish.
Meanwhile, the parish of San Paolo has been suppressed, and part of the territory transferred to the parish here. This was part of the fall-out after Giovanni Franzoni, the abbot of the Benedictine abbey at the basilica, had apostatised and the monastic community had virtually disintegrated.
A major restoration of the fabric is underway (2015).
The church was made titular as a diaconate in 1988. The first cardinal deacon was Achille Silvestrini, who was promoted to cardinal priest pro hac vice in 1999. (This means that he holds the title of cardinal priest as a personal dignity, and will not pass it on to his successor when he dies.)
Layout and fabric Edit
The church has a basilical plan. There is a central nave with aisles of five bays after an entrance portico, followed by a transept of a single bay leading into an external five-sided sanctuary apse.
The fabric is in brown brick, with some architectural details in limestone. The side walls are rendered. The central nave and sanctuary bay are under one pitched roof, but the lower apse is separately roofed with five pitched sectors. The much lower aisles are flat-roofed.
The façade is in exposed brickwork, of thin brown bricks carefully laid. It fronts a separate entrance bay which is higher than the nave roof behind, and has its own gabled roof. It contains an entrance loggia, and is of two storeys.
The first storey is a wide wall, mostly in blank brick -it is actually wider than the aisles on both sides. It contains an arcade of three brick arches, separated by square brick piers without any capitals or imposts. The two side arches are slightly smaller than the central one. The three portals are approached by a flight of stairs, and lead into the loggia.
The wall on either side of the arcade sports a slightly recessed brick tondo containing a Greek cross in black. The top of the first storey has an incomplete entablature, with a frieze and molded cornice but no architrave. The frieze has an epigraph: Obsculta, o fili, praecepta magistri; ora et labora ("Listen, O son, to the teachings fo the master; work and pray"). The first part is the first line in the Rule of St Benedict, and the second is the motto of the Benedictine order.
The second storey fronts the central nave, and is also in blank brickwork up to the gable. Just above the entablature of the first storey is a string course forming an inverted V, thus creating a false pediment. A horizontal string course runs below the gable, creating a second one. In the centre is a large protruding tondo with a frame in three steps, which contains a transenna or a stone plaque pierced with holes. It has a relief carving of a cross, with the four quarters bearing Christian symbols (dove, crozier, fish and Chi-rho). On the top string course is a relief coat-of-arms of Pope Pius XII, added in the 1949 restoration.
The loggia contains a plaque commemorating the creation of the cardinal diaconate in 1988 by Pope St John Paul II.
The church has the unusual feature of two campanili, which are transverse slabs in brick attached to the far sides of the entrance bay. The brickwork is blank, and each has a vertical rectangular aperture at the top containing the bells. Above the aperture is a little triangular pediment.
The interior consists of a wide central nave of five bays, with narrow aisles. The aisle arcades are arches cut into the nave walls, not having pillars as such. However, Doric pilasters of what looks like red marble are attached to the walls between each pairs of arches, and these rise to the ceiling. There is a large round-headed window above each arcade arch.
The ceiling has a low elliptical cross-vaults without ribs, with the springers supported by the pilasters just mentioned. The bays of the vault are separated by archivolts with a very gentle curve, and each contains a central tondo.
The walls are rendered in warm light brown, while the ceiling and the frames of the arcade arches and windows are in white. There is overall a protective wall dado in red to match the pilasters, with a flat cornice in yellow. The aisle walls are also in white.
The pulpit on the far left hand side is cubical, in brick with a brick plinth. The two free sides are flanked by little ribbed pilasters with lotus-leaf capitals, framing a tondo in green marble.
The transept is a simple continuation of the nave, distinguished by having no aisle portals, windows and by having a simple barrel vault. A pair of the red pilasters is folded into the far corners, but otherwise it is in white.
The sanctuary apse has a wide semi-circular triumphal arch without imposts but with a two-step molding around its entire edge. The far wall of the transept into which it is inserted, as well as this molding, is all in the brown colour.
The polygonal apse of five sides is entirely in white. The altar has been brought forward and is now free-standing at the head of a flight of three steps, but the original tabernacle has been left in situ behind it. It is attached to a dark red screen wall cutting off the back of the apse, with two round-headed doorways in it. The church organ is in the apse behind, with the pipes flanking the original altar aedicule in the dark red. This has two pairs of Doric pilasters supporting a horizontal entablature in limestone, with the text Ora et labora. ("Pray and work"). The altarpiece that it contains is a painting of St Benedict by Ferruccio Terrazzi.
Side chapels Edit
The left hand aisle is a series of four chapels. The first one is dedicated to the Sacred Heart, with a mosaic by Armando Baldinelli. The next chapel has a Madonna and Child by Silvio Consadori of 1951, and the one after that St Joseph with the Boy Jesus by Filocamo Luigi of 1953.
The Lady Chapel has been provided with a pair of matching marble tablets, one commemorating a visit to the church by Pope St John Paul II on 2 February 1988, and the other one commemorating Blessed Andrea Carlo Ferrari, the founder of the Compagnia di San Paolo.
There is a painted wooden statue of St Benedict in the right aisle. This has a raven holding a small loaf, an allusion to a legend which alleges that the bird saved the saint from an attempt at poisoning.
The church is open:
Weekdays 7:15 to 10:00, and 17:30 to 19:15;
Sundays and Solemnities 7:45 to 13:30 and 17:30 to 19:30.
Mass is celebrated:
Weekdays 7:45, 18:30 (19:00 summer), 19:30 (not Saturdays);
Sundays and Solemnities 8:30, 10:00, 11:30, 18:30 (summer 9:00, 11:00, 19:00).
"Summer" here is from 1 July to 15 September.
There is Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on First Fridays for an hour from 19:00, and on the third Sunday of the month from 17:00 to 18:30. In addition, on Thursdays in Advent and Lent there is Adoration for half an hour after the 18:30 Mass.