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San Bernardo da Chiaravalle is a late 20th century parish church at Via degli Olivi 180, in the Prenestino-Centocelle quarter between Via Prenestina and Via Casilina. A picture of the church on Wikimedia Commons is here.
The dedication is to St Bernard of Clairvaux.
Chiaravalle is not the name of the locality, but the Italian renditioning of Clairvaux which was a French abbey. The suffix distinguishes this church from the other one dedicated to the saint in the city, San Bernardo alle Terme.
The parish was set up in 1974, but had to wait for its permanent church. This was designed by Luigi Leoni, and the project was begun in 1987. The consecration was in 1993. The important stained glass was by Costantino Ruggieri.
The church is a low building in white reinforced concrete, pleasantly situated in a large public park with mature trees. It has no street presence, but is approached via a fairly long path from the Via degli Olivi.
The edifice has a very unusual asymmetric lenticular plan, with two curved sides rather like a squinty eye. The entrance side has a shallower curve than the far side.
The ancillary parish accommodation is in two separate flat-roofed blocks. One joins onto the right hand corner of the church, and sweeps in a crescent curve behind it. The other almost touches the left hand corner, and sweeps in a sharper curve to touch the right hand block, thus enclosing a large triangular garden courtyard.
The church entrance is at the right hand corner, next to the entrance to the parish offices.
There is a crypt containing the ferial chapel.
The fabric is in blank white concrete. The two curved walls start low at the right hand corner, and increase in height towards the left hand one. This means that the flat roof has a pronounced pitch downwards from left to right. Although it is not immediately obvious from the outside until you notice the fenestration, this roof is supported by concrete piers at either end but not in the middle.
The fenestration is central to the design. The entrance wall is taken up by a huge, long rectangular stained glass screen window not parallel to the sloping roofline above. The right hand side of the altar wall is occupied by another very large window, but here it runs right up to the roofline. The left hand side of this wall has a round window.
The very unusual campanile is in the form of a transverse concrete slab inserted into the very acute angle between the altar wall and the right hand ancillary block. It has become a well-loved local landmark.
It is an irregular concrete trapezoid, set on its shortest side and made up of a juxtaposition of geometric forms bounded by straight lines and curves, looking rather Cubist. This encloses two voids, of irregular shape, in which the bells are hung. These form a carillon, which can play tunes (the bells do not swing).
A cross in fluorescent light tubing is on top.
The main entrance is over to the right hand side of the front wall, and has a porch comprising a massive horizontal trapezoidal concrete slab supported on two engaged piers and protruding over them. In between the piers the frontage is taken up entirely by glass doors, the clear glass being formed in geometric shapes.
Immediately to the right of the porch is another one, leading to the parish offices. This has another concrete slab top, narrower and slightly higher than the church roof at this end of the church. It is supported by a length of wall on the right, but has a concrete column on its left which is touched by the top of the church entrance porch.
Main church Edit
The very understated exterior makes the spectacularly colourful interior a real surprise for first-time visitors. The colour comes from the stained glass in the two enormous screen windows by Constantino Ruggeri.
The congregation seating is arranged in a horseshoe shape around the free-standing sanctuary furnishings (there is no structural sanctuary). These are in Carrara marble. The altar is a massive marble block carved around the base to invoke waves, and this stands on an oval platform with two steps. To the left there is a U-shaped extension bounded by a very low wall (rather like a paddling pool) containing a rectangular plinth on which stands the hexagonal font. The back of the main platform has a curved stone bench for the ministers, looking uncomfortable with no backrest and interrupted by an elevated throne for the principal celebrant (again with no back). The lectern is another block of marble, with carving to resemble vine tendrils.
The huge window behind the altar depicts the heavens schematically, and had an azure blue background on which geometric forms in other colours appear. Central is a yellow ring on which is a black triangle and a red eight-pointed star, forming a group with an irregular angular form in orange that seems to point. The moon is depicted to the right of this group. The window continues to the right after an interruption caused by a pier supporting the roof.
The round window over to the left of the main window depicts The Dove Hovering Over the Waters. Here there is an elevated choir area, with the organ.
The window in the entrance frontage also features coloured shapes on a blue background, dominated by a large orange disc.
Ferial chapel Edit
There is a crypt, the Blessed Sacrament Chapel which is used for Mass on weekdays. It contains the tabernacle, the Stations of the Cross and a statue of Our Lady as well as another stained glass window in the same style as the main ones.
Mass is celebrated:
Weekdays 8:30, 18:00 (in the ferial chapel, except Saturday evenings);
Sundays and Solemnities 8:30, 10:00, 11:30, 18:00 (in the church).
The parish website advises that the main church is not regularly open Monday to Friday, except for one-off liturgical events such as funerals and weddings.