The Diocese considers this to be a church, not a chapel.
Origins of Oblate Sisters Edit
The congregation of Oblate Sisters of St Philip Neri (Filippine) which used to occupy the large convent here had its origins in a charitable outreach by one Rutilio Brandi, a disciple of St Philip who died in 1634. He established a house of refuge for poor homeless girls next to the church of San Filippo Neri a Via Giulia, and the female volunteers who ran this were the beginning of the new congregation. The sisters soon moved to the Palazzo Bossi near Santa Lucia del Gonfalone, but in the reign of Clement XII (1730-40) they were numerous enough to move here.
They bought a 17th century villa or casino from the Sforza family (hence the name of the street), and this survives around the corner in Via dei Quattro Cantoni. At first they did not have a public church.
However, in the early 19th century the community decided to extend the convent with a new block facing onto the Via Sforza. This was to replace a smaller structure, and to include a church open to the public. Construction of the block began in 1827, the high altar of the new church was consecrated in 1829 by Archbishop Giacomo Sinibaldi, and the whole church by Giacomo Cardinal Brignole in 1842 (the delay might have been because the nuns had to pay off the debts that they incurred).
According to Armellini writing in 1891, the sisters kept their former convent chapel as the choir. This was located behind the high altar of the church, and had a picture of The Nativity as the altarpiece.
The architect is given as Giovanni Battista Cantini, but this needs checking.
However, the convent was sequestrated by the Italian state in 1873 and now contains a department of revenue collection for the government (the Agenzia delle Dogane). Oddly, the little church was not deconsecrated but kept as a Mass centre dependent on the nearby parish church of San Martino ai Monti.
Even more oddly, the present rector or priest-in-charge is a titular bishop, Monsignor Lorenzo Leuzzi. He has an assistant, Don Emilio Bettini.
Present convent Edit
The Suore Oblate now have their Rome convent at Via Monte Pertica 23, in the Della Victoria quarter. If you are in the vicinity, have a look at the convent frontage which has two large reliefs of putti holding baskets of fruit over the entrance. The doorway has a pair of rusticated Doric semi-columns supporting a pair of posts each with a star, in turn supporting a broken triangular pediment with a relief of a large Greek vase inserted into the break. All this is in white, but over the door is a plaque with a flaming heart, the symbol of St Philip, which is painted red and is very striking.
The church has no separate architectural identity, as it is part of the 19th century convent wing fronting the street here. From the street, its entrance is marked by a simple stone doorcase with a slightly oversized triangular pediment containing a relief carving of the Sacred Heart (that is, the organ in isolation). It is opposite the entrance to the Colosseum Hotel. There is a little campanile or bellcote with spaces for two bells, but this is invisible from the ground.
The main entrance to the former convent is not here, but round the corner to the east in Via dei Quattro Cantoni. It has a much more impressive façade.
The little interior is on a rectangular plan, with a tiny vestibule and a segmental apse behind the high altar. The nave has six bays, the last of which is now part of the sanctuary and contains the altar pro populo. The interior is colourful, but whether the architect used polychrome marble or paint is not clear to the writer (hence the conditional "looks like" in the description below).
The bays are separated by shallow Ionic pilasters in what looks like yellow alabaster, and these support an interior entablature on which the shallow barrel-vaulted ceiling sits. The pilasters are on plinths in what looks like grey marble, and these are connected as a dado. The architrave and cornice of the entablature are in what looks like a greenish grey marble, and strips of the same substance flank the pilasters and run across the tops of the dado panels. The walling is otherwise marbled in pink.
The first two bays of the nave are occupied by a large floating gallery with a diapered fretwork screen, which was where the sisters could hear Mass. It is accessed via a floating stairway from a lower balcony entered through an archway in the right hand wall of the third bay. The screen balustrades of gallery, stairs and balcony are on what looks like a sub-frieze of black-and-white marble. The counterfaçade has two of the yellow pilasters, left blind without capitals.
The right hand side wall has two large windows, in the fourth and sixth bays, and these are surrounded in what looks like grey-veined white marble.
The fifth bay has a pair of side altars, each with frontals in pink marble which curve out and up and are bounded by a pair of volute corbels supporting the mensa. There are no aedicules, but the altarpieces are hung within large round-headed niches treated in the same way as the window embrasures. St Joseph is to the right, and Our Lady to the left.
There are marble tomb-slabs in the floor.
The little apse has a further two of the little pilasters. Again there is no aedicule, but on the wall is hung the altarpiece which is a copy of the famous painting of St Philip by Guido Reni. In between this and the pilasters are two panels in yellow framed in what looks like violet marble, depicting bunches of fruit hanging on ribbons. A matching larger pair of panels are on the other sides of the pilasters, displaying vine-scrolls with putto's heads.
Behind the tabernacle, and now obscured by a statue of Our Lady, is the original communion grille for the sisters. They would receive Holy Communion through it during Mass. The tabernacle is in the form of a little saucer-domed church.
Access and liturgyEdit
According to unofficial sources, the church is open on Sundays 11:00 to 12:30 with a Mass at 11:30.
The feast of St Philip Neri is celebrated as a Solemnity on 26 May.
(Photos of the interior are hard to come by.)
Nolli map (look for 158) (shows the convent before the church was built).