San Giovanni Bosco is a mid 20th century parish, conventual and titular church, and also a minor basilica. It has a postal address at Viale dei Salesiani 9, which is in the quarter named Don Bosco after it north of the Via Tuscolana. The main entrance is on the Piazza San Giovanni Bosco. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons are here.
The dedication is to St John Bosco.
The cardinalate title is San Giovanni Bosco in Via Tuscolana, but the church itself has the simple name of San Giovanni Bosco. It is the only church dedicated to the saint in the city.
The area was rural until the foundation by the Fascist government of the nearby film studio complex of Cinecittà in 1937. The development of the suburb began immediately after the Second World War, and in response the parish was set up in 1953. It was put into the care of the Salesians, whose founder St John Bosco was.
The church had already been begun, with the laying of the foundation stone on 12 September 1952 by Cardinal Clemente Micara, but only finished in 1958 and consecrated on 2 May 1959 by Cardinal Benedetto Aloisi Masella. The architect was Gaetano Rapisardi. Work on the interior decoration continued until 1964.
The edifice was treated as the focus of the layout of the new suburb, and has an impressive monumental setting.
This is one of the best Roman churches built in the period between WWII and the Second Vatican Council (there is not much competition), and gives witness to the vitality of the Salesians at the time. They had already been responsible for another great domed Roman church, Sacro Cuore di Gesù a Castro Pretorio. It is still regarded as one of the most outstanding modern churches in Rome, and is a treasure-house of mid 20th century religious art.
The success of the Salesians in obtaining the funds for this very expensive church is partly owing to the popularity of their schools, known to provide a high-quality education in a disciplined environment. Oddly, a remote cause of the quality of the church here was the relative failure of the Italian state to provide educational services that could meet the expectations of high-status people. Hence the Salesians, as well as other teaching religious orders in Italy, did well in the 20th century (before problems caused by a lack of vocations set in). Scandinavian countries, where public education is very good, can find this very odd -but the United Kingdom has had a similar experience, where a corrupt, self-interested and ideologically compromised state teaching profession ensured the survival of private (including "public") schools.
The church was made titular as a diaconate in 1985. The present cardinal deacon is Robert Sarah.
The sanctuary was re-ordered in 1992 by Costantino Ruggieri. The work is of good quality, although unfortunately there was some destruction of original fittings.
The basilica is on a monumental axis, overlooking a large piazza (the Piazza San Giovanni Bosco) which is continued by the wide Viale San Giovanni Bosco to another large piazza, the Piazza dei Consoli. The medium-rise flat-roofed blocks in white concrete which surround the former piazza have aged well, and are vaguely Le Corbusier.
The road in between the church and the piazza is duelled, and where the major axis crosses the reservation is a fountain made from an ancient Roman marble bath-tub. Next to it is a fine single specimen cedar of Lebanon (did it have a companion that died?).
The piazza itself is laid out in cobbles (sanpietrini) with areas of lawn in the form of a Maltese cross. Clumps of ilex trees grow in the corners. It is rather bleak.
Layout and fabric Edit
The church has a spectacular Modernist design, with Classical hints. The plan is based on a simple rectangle, 78 metres by 45, and is basilical. After an entrance bay there is a central nave of seven bays with narrow side aisles, then a sanctuary of three bays. Beyond the sanctuary is the convent, an integral part of the structure, with the sacristy on the ground floor.
Beyond the church is a large school complex run by the Salesians, the Istituto Giovanni Bosco. It is connected to the convent by two covered corridors.
The elevation is a rectangular box with a flat roof on which is set two domes, a very large one (40 metres across and 67 metres high) over the nave and a much smaller one (20 metres across and 46 metres high) over the sanctuary. A matching pair of tower frame campanili are at the far corners, flanking the convent block, and these are 38 metres high.
The exterior walls consist of high-quality travertine ashlar limestone cladding set in a concrete box frame (the roofline beams for this are discernible, hidden behind separate zones of cladding).
There is a crypt, the floor of which is 6 metres below street level.
The church is set back from the street, and in front of this is an open area containing a set of six wide steps arranged in a semi-circle but interrupted by a ramp on the major axis. The paving is in basalt cobbles again, with edging in limestone.
The blank walling of the rectangular façade is enlivened with eight regularly spaced blind rectangular pilasters in shallow relief, with two at the outer edges. They do not reach the roofline, but break off without capitals at the roofline beam cladding.
Occupying the entire width between the central pair of pilasters is a very large rectangular portal, and on the lintel of this is a simple dedicatory inscription with the year that the church was finished (Sancto J. Bosco A.D. MCMLVIII). Over this in turn is an unframed relief sculpture of the Apotheosis of St John Bosco by Arturo Dazzi, and the top of this reaches to the roofline cladding. The portal is completely filled by a pair of enormous chased bronze doors, ten metres high, displaying the four symbols of the Evangelists and four scenes from the life of St John Bosco: Pope Pius IX Approves the Foundation of the Salesians; Pope Leo XIII Approves the Building of the Basilica of Sacro Cuore; St John Bosco Celebrates Mass at Sacro Cuore, and The Apostolate of St John Bosco to the Youth of Rome. The work is by Federico Papi.
Either side of the central pair of pilasters are two very high arched portals, actually higher than the central rectangular one but not reaching to the level of the top of the central relief sculpture. These have smaller bronze doors in their entrances, also recessed but with false lintel beams in front of them in the same plane as the façade. On these beams stand statues of the archangels Michael and Gabriel, which are by Ercole Drei, Above the doors are large windows reaching to the curves of the arches.
In the zones between the remaining pilasters are four rectangular apertures containing statues of saints and popes. St Francis de Sales is by Giovanni Amoroso (a Neapolitan sculptor), St Joseph Cafasso is by Antonio Venditti and Popes Pius IX and Pius XI are by Francesco Nagni. The two saints were the remote and proximate inspirations respectively for St John Bosco's work.
The domes are hemispherical, of anodized aluminium looking like bronze, and are on cylindrical drums. The drum of the main one has two rows of recessed rectangular stained glass windows separated by square piers supporting a blank frieze, these two rows themselves being separated by a very thin string course.
Above the main storey of the drum is a second storey with thin rectangular recessed windows, two over each window below. The dome itself has a smaller diameter than the drum, there being a narrow walkway between it and the balustrade of the drum. On top of the dome is a flat glass lantern, sheltered by a large structure amounting to a round table with splayed legs in white metal. On this is a bronze sculpture of four angels by Alessandro Monteleone. The angels support a crown in the form of an anulus and a cross, above which is a crowning finial in the form of a horizontal cross within a circle
The drum of the smaller dome merely has vertical slit windows. The lantern is of a similar design to the main one, but has no angels.
Exterior walls and campaniliEdit
The side walls of the church are decorated with twelve rectangular pilasters in the same style as the façade, rising from a slightly projecting dado which runs along the ground and marks the top of the crypt. These pilasters create eleven vertical zones, which have three styles of window arrangement. Zones one, five, nine and eleven have a large arched window over a large square one over a horizontal slit one in the dado. Zone ten has a second square one instead of the arched one. The other zones each have a little vertical rectangular window, and a row of four little ones in the dado.
These windows indicate the interior arrangements. Zone one is occupied by corner chambers flanking the entrance foyer, zone five is the midpoint of the nave, zones nine to eleven belong to the sanctuary and the little windows belong to ten nave side chapels.
The exterior wall behind the altar is actually that of the convent, which is part of the edifice but not of the sacred spaces. Hence, the fenestration here is of the sort appropriate to an apartment block.
There is a twin pair of rectangular frame campanili on top of the outer corners either side of the convent. Each has six vertical piers, connected by horizontal beams to form six open boxes, two in each of three storeys. The cap has segmental pediments, two on the long sides and one on the short ones.
There is a central nave of seven bays, 29 metres wide with narrow side aisles each only three metres wide, and a flat ceiling into which the openings of the dome drums look as if they have been cut (there are no pendentives). The interior decoration was only finished in 1964, and is sumptuous.
The fourth bay on each side is occupied by a large round-headed stained glass window, but the other six bays have side chapels (twelve in total). designed by Luigi Montanarini. The windows feature two visions of St John Bosco: The Ship of Peter in the Storm and The Raft of Salvation.
The ceiling is supported by square concrete nave aisle piers, six on each side, and two more in a transverse row either side of the sanctuary. These have no capitals or imposts, and are clad in veined red marble (rosso orobico) arranged in symmetrically patterned slices. The aisle walls and counterfaçade are clad in yellowish Siena marble, and have engaged square pilasters matching those on the exterior. The floor is in what is described as vanvitelliano Mondragone.
The church is lit by a set of thirty-two lamps patterned with floral and angelic motifs, and using golden glass from the factory at Murano near Venice.
The counterfaçade has two large round-headed stained glass windows by Lorenzo Gigotti, inserted in 1994. The themes are the foundations of the male and female branches of the Salesian Order. Each window has two scenes. The left hand one features La Casetta Pinardi, the first oratory of the Salesians, and St John Bosco's interview with Cardinal Antonio Tosti. The right hand one depicts Our Lady, Help of Christians, patroness of the Sisters, and also the foundress St Mary Domenica Mazzarello with St John Bosco and Don Domenico Pestarino who supported her in her work.
Below each window is a floating balcony with the solid balustrade embellished by a bronze angel by Eugenio De Courten. The two confessionals against the counterfaçade also have four angels by him.
At the bottoms of the side aisles are two bronze statues by Attilio Sélva, one of Christ the Redeemer and the other of St John the Baptist. They are in a realistic Classical style, and are in round-headed niches over doorways into ancillary chambers.
The holy water stoups are in granite from Solberga in Sweden, carved by Renato Ranalli.
Main dome Edit
The main dome begins with a ring frieze bearing a mosaic by Augusto Ranocchi, which shows mystical dreams and visions experienced by St John Bosco. He had many of them (about forty) which he took as guides to his life and career. Here, you can discern an allusion to the dream that he had aged nine which convinced him of a priestly vocation, as well as to symbolic dreams about roses, crows, the way to Hell, the ferocious wild beast in ambush for young people and the three doves of vocation. St Dominic Savio in heaven also features.
Above this frieze is a railed walkway.
The stained glass in the dome drum is of very high quality, and is arguably the glory of the church. There are thirty-two depictions of themes from the Old and New Testaments, each in two panels arranged vertically. Each panel can be a combination of several events. The artists were Marcello Avenali and Lorenzo Gigotti, and their styles are quite distinct.
The themes are divided into four groups by the church's major and minor axes. Two are from the Old Testament, and two from the New. Beginning at the altar end of the major axis and proceeding clockwise, we have eight themes by Avenali:
The Creation of Heaven and Earth; The Original Sin of Adam and Eve and the Fall of the Evil Angels; Cain and Abel; The Story of Noah; Abraham; Esau and Jacob; Joseph and his Brothers; Moses and the Exodus.
Then come eight themes by Gigotti:
Redemption (not a Biblical theme, but a theological one); Saul and David; David and Solomon; Elijah and Elisha; Jonah and Daniel in the Fiery Furnace; Judith; Esther; The Maccabean Martyrs.
The next eight are by Avenali:
God the Supreme Judge (a theological introduction to the New Testament cycle); Annunciation and Nativity; The Finding of the Boy Jesus in the Temple and the Batism; The Temptation in the Desert and the Marriage of Cana; The Cleansing of the Temple and the Woman Caught in Adultery; The Transfiguration, The Samaritan Woman at the Well and the Raising of Lazarus; The Good Samaritan and The Prodigal Son; The Entry into Jerusalem and the Betrayal by Judas.
The last eight are by Gigotti:
The Church Militant and Triumphant; The Agony in the Garden and the Arrest; Christ Before Pilate, the Flogging and the Crowning with Thorns; The Via Crucis; The Death on the Cross and the Descent into Hell; The Deposition and the Burial; The Resurrection; The Ascension and Pentecost.
The narrow windows in the second storey of the drum are in clear glass, giving much needed natural light to the interior. The interior of the actual dome is undecorated, and has an oculus glazed in sixteen clear glass sectors.
The sanctuary has three bays, and as mentioned has its ceiling supported by a row of two pairs of piers running transversely at the far end of the nave. Between the outer piers and the back wall on each side a floating gallery is suspended, the left hand one holding the church's organ. The tops of the gallery frontals have eleven busts of angels each, by Angelo Sabbatini.
At either side beyond the galleries, the side walls each have three large stained glass windows between which are bronze panels from the lost former sanctuary railings (see below). The windows on the left are by Virgilio Guzzi, and to the right are by Rolando Monti. They have abstract designs in small quarries of different colours, and are visually impressive. It is worth comparing the two styles.
The floor of the sanctuary is in red marble. It is raised on two steps, and the altar is on a platform three steps higher.
Altar furnishings Edit
The original arrangement of the sanctuary was by Luigi Venturini, although it was re-ordered in 1992 by Costantino Ruggieri in response to changed liturgical expectations. A bronze sanctuary screen by Venturini with three gates was destroyed in the process, but sculptural elements depicting angels and Eucharistic symbols were salvaged and re-positioned in the new sanctuary. See the panels in between the stained glass windows on each side.
The new altar is a solid block of smooth white marble from the Apuan Alps, weighing ten tons and having a carving of a hill at the base of the frontal representing Calvary. This intaglio has some deliberate fissures symbolizing the Breaking of the Bread. The ambo or lectern, to the right, is in a similar style with one side carved so as to evoke a ploughed field -this symbolizes the mind of the believer ready to receive the seed of the Word of God (see lectio divina).
The new font to the left (replacing the church's original baptistery) is a large cup with incisions intended to evoke water flowing from a rock.
Behind the altar is a long curved marble bench for the liturgical ministers, with the president's chair in the middle. This bench has two pairs of gracile bronze angels at its ends, executed by Lyda Preti in an attractive realistic style. Each pair holds a box reliquary in crystal with a bronze frame, the left hand one containing the second cervical vertebra (the axis bone) of St John Bosco, and the right hand one a kneecap from his schoolboy disciple St Dominic Savio.
Flanking the bench is a pair of plinths holding two more pairs of bronze angels. These hold sanctuary lamps, and are by Francesco Messina.
The bronze paschal candlestick to the left is also by Preti.
The old altar has been left in place for the tabernacle. It has a backdrop of pink Portogallo marble, with a carved frieze along the top by Venturi. This has seraphim and fern-leaves. The altar frontal is described by the church guidebook as "lapis lazuli" which is not easy to believe -is it azurite? The candlesticks (four on the altar and six larger ones on the backdrop) are interspersed with bronze angels, and all these are by Venturini.
The tabernacle is set into a block of violet marble which is the throne for the monstrance above, and has a chased silver door depicting The Resurrection. Above is a silver crucifix embellished with amethysts, and this is venerated by a pair of bronze angels. Above the throne is an enormous and spectacular bronze sunburst monstrance with a further pair of adoring angels, and further smaller angels among the sun's rays. The ensemble is by Pericle Fazzini.
The back wall of the sanctuary has an enormous mosaic, measuring a hundred square metres and containing fifteen million tesserae, which depicts The Apotheosis of St John Bosco. It is by Giovanni Brancaccio, and depicts the saint being taken up to heaven by angels. Unusually, the artist has provided an orange background instead of the usual blue. Our Lady with angels is at the top.
There are four groups of subsidiary figures. To the top left are Blessed Michael Rua, first superior of the Salesian Order after the saint, Don Andrea Beltrami and Blessed August Czartorisky. To the top right is St Dominic Savio, with two anonymous fellow schoolboys. The group to the bottom left represents the Order's missionary outreach to South America, and depicts Cardinal Giovanni Cagliero with Blessed Ceferino Namuncurá and other individuals of the Mapuche (Native Americans of Patagonia). The group to the bottom right represents the Order's missionary outreach to East Asia and depicts the Order's protomartyrs who were killed in China: SS Luigi Versiglia and Callisto Caravario. Also here are Blessed Laura Vicuña and one of the Salesian Sisters, representing the feminine side of the order.
The mosaic is flanked by eight marble bas-reliefs, four vertically on each side, by four artists but to the same style. They depict scenes from the life of the saint. From the bottom, the first two are by Alessandro Monteleone and show The Dream of the Saint When Aged Nine and The Death of the Saint. The second two are by Luigi Venturini, and show The Saint Teaching and Playing with Boys and The Missionary Outreach of the Order (note the coconut palms). The third two are by Francesco Nagni, and show The First Mass of the Saint and The Foundations of the Sisters. The last two are by Ludovico Conforti, and show The Establishment of the First Oratory and The Foundation of the Salesian Order.
Sanctuary dome Edit
The sanctuary dome is a smaller version of the main nave dome, with a single storey of twenty four windows in its drum. Its ring frieze has another mosaic by Ranocchi, containing the text of the introit of the Mass of St John Bosco: Dedit illi Deus sapientiam et prudentiam multam nimis et latitudinem cordis quasi arenam quae est in littore maris” 1 Kings 4:25 ("God gave him very much wisdom and prudence, and breadth of heart like the sands that is on the shore of the sea". It originally referred to King Solomon). The mosaic features Christian symbols, including Eucharistic ones.
Baptism; Confirmation; Confession; The Manna; The Multiplication of the Loaves; The Last Supper; The Eucharistic Consecration; First Communion; Priestly Ordination; Extreme Unction; Marriage.
Giving Food and Drink to Hungry and Thirsty People; Clothing Naked People; Hospitality to Pilgrims; Visiting Sick People; Visiting People in Prison; Burying Dead People; Strengthening Those in Doubt; Instructing Ignorant People; Admonishing Sinners; Consoling Afflicted People; Saving Those in Danger; Putting Up with Harm Done to Oneself; Praying for the Living and the Dead.
There are twelve chapels, six on each side in the aisles. These amount to an exhibition of Italian religious art of the mid 20th century, by many artists. Ten of them have altars, and the other two have a crucifix and the former baptismal font. The number of side altars is a reminder that this is a conventual church, with a fairly large community of priests expected to be in charge (there are nine Salesian priests here at present -2016).
The chapels have a common design, involving an altarpiece surmounted by a marble bas-relief. The altar frontals are in coloured stones, using red marbles, onyx, and violet breccia. The chapels are separated by the engaged piers of the side walls.
The candlesticks are all matching, and are by Alcide Ticò.
The description is anticlockwise from the right side of the entrance.
The first chapel on the right is dedicated to the Crucifix. The crucifix in bronze is by Venanzo Crocetti, with the corpus in a traditionally realistic style. The bas-relief above shows The Entombment of Christ and is by Michele Guerrisi.
The second chapel on the right is dedicated to St Pius X. The altarpiece depicting the saint is by Augusto Ranocchi, and the bas-relief by Giovanni Amoroso shows his visit to the oratory of St John Bosco when still a young priest.
The third chapel on the right is dedicated to St Charles Borromeo. The altarpiece (in oils) shows The Visit of St Charles to the Lazzaretto at Milan, and is by Silvio Consadori. The bas-relief by Enzo Assenza shows The First Communion of St Aloysius Gonzaga (administered by St Charles).
The fourth chapel on the right is dedicated to St Joseph. The altarpiece depicting St Joseph the Worker is by Emilio Notte, and the bas-relief depicting The Escape to Egypt is by Oddo Oliventi.
The fifth chapel on the right is dedicated to St Dominic Savio. The charmingly realistic altarpiece depicting the schoolboy saint also shows scenes from his life. It is by Mario Caffaro Rore. The bas-relief shows The Vision of St John Bosco of St Dominic Savio in Heaven. The latter had died young, and this dream inspired St John Bosco to seek his canonization. He remains the youngest non-martyr saint.
The sixth chapel on the right is dedicated to the Sacred Heart. The altarpiece shows The Appearance of the Sacred Heart to St Margaret Mary Alacoque, and is by Primo Conti. The bas-relief by Tommasso Bartolini has the theme Come to Me, All You Who are Heavy Laden.
The sixth chapel on the left is dedicated to Our Lady, Auxiliatrix. This is a special title of hers by which she is venerated by the Salesians, and the altarpiece by Gisberto Ceracchini shows her being venerated rather excitedly by the Salesian family and by some of those who inspired its foundation. St John Bosco is to the right, and a scratch choir of schoolboys is at the bottom. Also depicted are SS Philip Neri, Francis de Sales, Bl Filippo Rinaldi, Pope Pius VII, SS Peter Nolasco, Maria Domenica Mazzarello, Giuseppe Fagnano, SS Charles Borromeo, Aloysius Gonzaga, Dominic Savio and Bl Laura Vicuña. The bas-relief by Antonio Venditti depicts The Battle of Lepanto, victory at which was ascribed to Our Lady's intercession by Pope St Pius V who is on the right.
The fifth chapel on the left is dedicated to St Mary Domenica Mazzarello, who founded the Salesian Sisters. The altarpiece depicting her by Paolo Giovanni Crida also shows scenes from her career. The bas-relief by Goffredo Verginelli depicts her audience with Pope Pius IX who authorized her foundation.
The third chapel on the left is dedicated to St Anne. The altarpiece by Lorenzo Gigotti shows her with Our Lady as a little girl, teaching her to read, and also three scenes from the legend of Our Lady's birth. St Joachim, Our Lady's father, features. The bas-relief by Enrico Martini shows The Presentation of Our Lady.
The first chapel on the left is the baptistery. The font is a striking piece in orange-red Solberga granite by Emilio Greco, in the form of a hemispherical cup with a stem. There is a column rising from the centre of the cup, and on this is a bronze device in the form of a panelled drum topped by a ribbed cone. Two little angels inhabit the drum, and one is on the tip of the cone. Two larger bronze angels dance charmingly on the rim of the font. The bas-relief above is also by Greco, and depicts The Baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch.
The spacious sacristy is behind the sanctuary. It has another holy water stoup in Solberga granite, and a ceramic bas-relief depicting Moses by Renato Rosatelli. There is also a bronze crucifix with angels by Silvio Olivo.
The small convent chapel, simply decorated in white, was re-ordered in 1985. The free-standing altar is on a cylindrical cage of vertical metal bars. The altarpiece on the far wall is a crucifix in metal, mosaic and blue and red stained glass. To the left, on the wall also, is a statue of Our Lady as a teenage girl. To the right is an impressive tabernacle in red and light grey, comprising a cube in front of two nested hoops the outer one of which has radial spikes incorporating coloured balls.
This church must be in the top five of those to be visited by anyone interested in modern religious art at Rome.
It is open:
Weekdays 7:00 to 12:00, 16:00 (17:00 July and August) to 19:30;
Sundays and Solemnities 7:00 to 13:15, 16:00 (17:00 July and August) to 20:45.
Mass is celebrated:
Weekdays 7:30, 8:30, 9:30, 18:00 (19:00 July, August);
Saturdays and eves of Solemnities 7:30, 8:30, 9:30, 17:00, 18:30;
Sundays and Solemnities 7:30, 8:30, 9:45, 11:00, 12:15, 17:00 (not July, August), 18:30, 20:00.