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San Giuseppe a Via Nomentana

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San Giuseppe a Via Nomentana is an early 20th century parish and convent church the postal address of which is Via Francesco Redi 1, although the main entrance is on the Via Nomentana just west of the Villa Torlonia in the Nomentano quarter. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons are here.

The dedication is to St Joseph.

History Edit

Natività di Maria a Villa Bolognetti Edit

The church had a predecessor, a little chapel built in 1742 and dedicated to Our Lady's Birthday (Natività di Santa Maria). Does anyone know of photos?

The Villa Bolognetti was begun in 1738 by Cardinal Mario Bolognetti on a vineyard that he had purchased, when he was still only the Treasurer of the Apostolic Camera (he was made cardinal in 1743). The layout included a little chapel described as rococo, which was completed in 1742. The architect was Nicola Salvi, and the decoration was supervised by Girolamo Toma.

The chapel was on a square plan, and was domed. The interior was an irregular octagon with shorter diagonal sides, occupied by the triangular dome piers. The sides of the piers forming the diagonals each had an apsidal niche. In between the piers and the walls was a corridor running round the entire interior except at the altar. There were three doorways in the cardinal sides apart from the altar, and a pair of columns occupied the space in between the piers in front of each door. Behind the altar wall was a priest's house.

The altar had an aedicule in the strict Doric style, with a pair of columns supporting an entablature and a segmental pediment. The entablature was embellished with triglyphs.

The Patrizi family bought the villa in the 19th century, and combined the property with their adjacent Villa Patrizi.

The chapel was demolished in 1902 (see below). The actual site is in the pavement (sidewalk) and roadway to the left of the church façade, as the demolition took place in order to widen the road.

Proposal for parish church Edit

The mother parish of the church was Sant'Agnese fuori le Mura, the territory of which was divided to form the new parish. Since they were in charge of Sant'Agnese, the Canons of the Lateran also took responsibility for San Giuseppe from the start.

The project for a full-sized parish church was first mooted in 1897 by the canon who was parish priest at Sant'Agnese, one Giacomo Veccia. Until the latter 19th century the parish territory had been very large, but mostly rural and thinly populated. However, suburban development along the Via Nomentana after 1870 had put a serious strain on the facilities at Sant'Agnese and Don Giacomo flagged up the problem.

Pope Leo XIII appointed a commission in 1898 to obtain the necessary funds. However, there was initially a poor response until the Abbot General of the Canons, Luigi Santini, intervened and obtained large loans from the Diocese and from the Figlie di Maria which was a pious sodality with a branch at Sant'Agnese. These enabled the purchase of the present site from the Patrizi family in 1899.

The initial intention was to build a vast basilica as a centre of Roman devotion to St Joseph, and a design was drawn up by Luigi Monti. However, money remained a problem and nothing happened for two years. Then, in 1902 the little chapel was sequestered and demolished in order to widen the road and allow the laying of an electric tramway (where the express bus now runs). This left a serious pastoral situation.

Foundation of church Edit

Santini decided to downgrade the project, and build a simple parish church. Monti's design was discarded, and a design by Clemente Busiro Vici was commissioned. The foundation stone was laid in 1904, and the church completed in a year -amazingly quickly.

However, Santini died in the same year and there was a hiatus in providing suitable interior fittings. More seriously, the proposed tower campanile was put on hold and in fact was never built.

The parish was finally erected in 1906, when the church was fit for worship. The decoration of the sanctuary by Eugenio Cisterna was completed in the following year.

Subsequently Edit

Although the later fittings of the interior are of high quality, the intention to make this the cult centre for St Joseph in Rome was not realised. That dignity is held by San Giuseppe al Trionfale.

The Canons remain in charge of the parish. In 1936, a project was begun to build a large convent as the Generalate (headquarters) of the Canons as well as their central house of studies, but the Second World War put a stop to the full realisation of the scheme. However, the Generalate was moved here. The Abbot General remained resident only until 1958, and then the administrative offices of the Generalate moved away in 1970.

The complex is now the headquarters of the Roman province of the Canons. Only two of them are permanently resident here (2016).

Exterior Edit

Layout and fabric Edit

This is a building of high quality.

The plan is basilical, with a central nave and side aisles but no transept. The nave has three deep structural bays, beyond a fourth shallower entrance bay occupied by a loggia. The sanctuary is a large attached five-sided apse almost as wide as the central nave, and is flanked by two much smaller apsidal chapels at the ends of the side aisles.

The fabric is in red brick, with only a few architectural details in limestone, and the nave and apse roofs are pitched and tiled. The side aisles are tall, because they accommodate second-storey galleries, and have single-pitched roofs.

Campanile Edit

The failure to build a tower campanile led to the provision of a very odd structure occupying the two sides of the near right hand corner of a large flat-roofed convent block immediately behind the church.

Each side of the corner has what amounts to a miniature double triumphal arch in brick, with limestone slab imposts. These two structures are joined at the corner, like Siamese twins. The two arched apertures in each have their sills on the parapet, and each has an arc of eyebrow-molding in brick dentillation above the archivolt (this echoes a design feature of the façade). The top of each structure would have been gabled and tiled, except that into the tip of the gable is inserted a third, smaller arch with its own gable.

Façade Edit

The red brick façade has two gigantic rectangular brick pilasters occupying the edges of the central nave frontage, and these rise from stone plinths on the ground to the lower ends of the roof gable. There they join integrally with a decorative inverted-V row of pendant arches running under the gable, and supported by little stone columns with capitals, standing on corbels. The gable roofline itself has a dentillate cornice with stone modillions (little brackets).

Fitted in between the pilasters is an arcade of three equally sized entrance arches leading into the loggia, with two grey granite columns having capitals. These capitals are interesting, since they are based on the Composite but the acanthus leaves are partly replaced by rosettes. The ends of the arcade spring from imposts which are continued across the pilasters as little corbels with beading and supported by modillions. The voussoir bricks of the archivolts are outlined by inset dentillations in the brickwork.

Above the arcade is a very high quality dedicatory inscription, in gilt lettering on a marble tablet with its own floating cornice. The inscription reads: Deo sacrum in honore Sancti Ioseph, MCMV. This is flanked by the heraldry of the Canons of the Lateran and of Pope St Pius X, in real colours.

Above this in turn is a round window, with a complex pattern of fretwork stone mullions based on a Greek cross.

There is an arch of the same size in each aisle frontage, but these only have stone imposts (as do the outer piers of the central arcade). Above these is a pair of three round-headed narrow vertical windows, the centre of each triplet being taller than the others and each set being recessed within a brick relief arch. Below each set of windows is a row of three square stone panels bearing a cross motif. The sloping rooflines of the aisles have a similar decoration of pendent arches to that in the main gable, but these rest on corbels only without columns.

Interior Edit

Nave Edit

The loggia contains three doorways, one leading into the central nave and the other two into the side aisles. The former is flanked by a pair of round windows.

The narrow structural entrance bay contains this loggia, above which is an organ gallery. This is fronted by a solid arcade of three arches with Doric piers, above which is a horizontal cornice from which springs the first transverse arch of the ceiling vault.

Each of the three main bays of the nave has a simple cross-vault without ribs, and these are separated by three more transverse arches (including the triumphal arch of the sanctuary apse). Each of these arches spring from a pair of tall rectangular pilasters attached to rectangular piers and which have molded impost springers.

Each side wall of the nave bays is identically designed, and has three storeys. The first storey is an arcade of three arches separated by a pair of granite columns identical in design to those in the loggia arcade. The archivolts are outlined by a thin string course. Above is a horizontal floating cornice with modillions, which bears a second arcade of three arches opening into the gallery. This arcade has Doric piers, not columns. Above this in turn is a pair of round-headed windows with the tops tucked into the curve of the vault. This curve is outlined by a thin archivolt supported by two thin square pilasters which flank the main vault pilasters on the piers giving a clustered effect to the latter.

Because the funds available for decoration were concentrated on the sanctuary, the nave is simply decorated. The vault and main vault surfaces are in white, while the pilasters and archivolts are in a pale tan.

Apse decoration Edit

The apsidal sanctuary is spectacular, and makes the church well worth visiting. The decoration is by Eugenio Cisterna, who finished it in about 1907. The intention was to make a (then) archaeologically accurate copy of what a Roman basilica's apse might have looked like in the 12th century. The figurative mosaic work is in a developed Byzantine style influenced by realism.

The five-sided apse has a conch, and contains four large round-headed windows.

The apse wall is revetted in what looks like cipollino marble, a famous ancient Roman stone from the Greek island of Chios, with two horizontal bands of yellow Siena marble. In between these are four large square panels in opus sectile in Cosmatesque style, each featuring a quincunx with the central roundel replaced by a square blue panel with the chi-rho symbol. The far side contains a round-headed niche in surrounded with gilded mosaic, and in this is a white marble statue of St Joseph with the Christ-Child by Giuseppe Magni.

The sills of the windows rest on the upper yellow band. The windows contain stained glass, each of them incorporating a depiction of one of the four Latin Doctors of the Church: SS Gregory, Augustine, Jerome and Ambrose. St Gregory is depicted with the Dove of the Holy Spirit whispering into his ear (this is his attribute), and St Jerome is shown holding a scroll with the Hebrew word תּוֹרָה (Torah) in allusion to his ability as a Hebrew scholar.

The upper register of the wall, into which the tops of the windows intrude, has a mosaic depicting ten angels -two in each side of the apse. They are depicted as standing on a flowery meadow. Each angel represents one of the nine Choirs of Angels, except "ordinary" angels which have two; from left to right: Thrones, Powers, Seraphim, Virtues, Angels (a pair), Cherubim, Principalities, Dominions and Archangels. The two angels hold a plaque over a representation of San Giovanni in Laterano in mediaeval times, and this reads: Ecclesiae Urbis et orbis omnium ecclesiarum mater et caput ("Mother and head of the Church of the City and of all the Churches of the world").

The bottom of the conch has a dark blue band bearing an epigraph: Te, Ioseph, celebrent agmina coelarum, te cuncti resonent christiadum chori. This is the first line of the Vespers hymn sung for the feast of St Joseph on 19 March: "The armies of the heavens celebrate you, Joseph; all the Christian choirs resound [in praise of] you".

The conch itself shows the sky over a flowery meadow. On this stands St Joseph in the centre, as the Patron of the Universal Church. He is shown standing on a scarlet cushion and accompanied by lilies, with the label Ecclesiae protector. Accompanying him are four other saints, separated by palm trees, and above is a cloudy empyrean containing a bust of Christ. The saints are: Agnes, Alexander (see Sant'Alessandro), Nicomedes and Emerentiana. They are all martyrs buried on the Via Nomentana.

Sanctuary furnishings Edit

The altar has a gilded baldacchino or ciborio obviously inspired by the genuinely mediaeval one at San Giorgio in Velabro. Four pavonazzetto marble columns with simplified Corinthian capitals support a square entablature with a mosaic frieze having a cross pattern. This supports twenty little marble columns, which themselves support the gabled canopy. The gable facing the nave has a roundel of the Lamb of God, and the interior saucer dome has a depiction of the Dove of the Holy Spirit. The interior of the entablature bears quotations from the Roman Canon of the Mass.

The actual altar is a white marble cuboid only decorated with a small frontal cross in a red roundel. The oversized mensa has a frontal strip of Cosmatesque mosaic, and is supported in front by four twisted Cosmatesque columns on little sculptures of feline animals.

The lectern or ambo is over to the left, and is accompanied by the Paschal candlestick which is a tall twisted Cosmatesque column. In front of the ambo is a metal grating made of circular and ovoid rings of different sizes, containing enamelled cross-medallions. This looks Fifties.

Chapels Edit

The chapels at the ends of the aisles contain altarpieces by Giuseppe Bravi, one of The Sacred Heart and the other, Our Lady of Suffrage. The walls in these are painted to resemble hanging curtains, which is a very old palaeochristian fresco style in Rome.

The baptistery opens off the side at the far end of the left hand aisle. It is completely frescoed with a theme which resembles multi-coloured tiles at the bottom of a swimming pool, being viewed through the water. The effect is striking, and quite clever. Over this is depicted vine and olive branches, and in the little saucer dome is The Hand of God. On the far wall is a marble relief of The Baptism of Christ.

In the right hand aisle is an altar with a large polychrome statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. Opposite is a little apsidal chapel dedicated to St Augustine, a miniature of the sanctuary apse. The wall is revetted with cipollino marble around a modern icon of the saint in strict Byzantine style. The conch is a dark blue empyrean with The Dove of the Holy Spirit.

Liturgy Edit

Mass is celebrated:

Weekdays 8:00, 18:30;

Sundays and Solemnities 8:30, 10:30, 12:00 (not July to September), 19:00.

As a convent church, the Divine Office is celebrated here:

Lauds is at 8:25, except on Sundays and Solemnities;

Vespers is combined with the evening Mass, except on Sundays and Solemnities when it is at 18:30.

Rosary is recited at 18:00 daily.

External linksEdit

Official diocesan web-page

Italian Wikipedia page

Info.roma web-page

Parish website

Canons' web-page

Archive material on Natività chapel

Youtube slide-show (starts at 3:55)

Youtube video of bells

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